Tag Archives: Bordeaux

THE WINE BUNCH Tasting: BORDEAUX REDS under €25 May 2012

Martin Moran 1Ernie 1

BORDEAUX REDS under €25 Week One

The charms of Bordeaux red wines are not lost on the Irish wine drinker, writes Ernie Whalley. ‘Claret’ has long been our  tipple of choice when the occasion causes for a wine de luxe. A birthday, an anniversary, the boss coming to dinner, away go the Chilean cabernet and the Aussie shiraz and in come the St.Emilion, the Pomerol, the Margaux, etc.

It’s worth remembering that Bordeaux’s blandishments are very vintage specific. Talking it through, Martin and I decided that the best advice we could dish out is “If Bordeaux’s had a bad year, go south.” Frequently a good way south, to warmer parts of Europe and to the New World.

As with pinot noir, we are splitting the results of this tasting – 38 wines in total – over three weeks. 25 of these were priced in the sub-€25 band, of which we have selected eight. Here are the first four. I’m sure it won’t escape your notice that the wines below are all from the stellar 2010 vintage.

Mademoiselle L 2010 Haut Medoc €24, The Vintry, Rathgar D6 and selected independents SILVER

EW: Beautiful wine, soft and polished yet with a well-structured tannic backbone  making it ‘a keeper’. Absolutely unblemished with most of the things I’d expect from Haut Medoc in a great vintage.

MM:  I could sniff this for ages with its classic Medoc aromas of graphite and black fruits. It’s still got some firm tannin so aerate it if drinking now. 

17/20

Château des Laurets Puisseguin Saint-Emilion 2010 €23.99 www.mitchellandson.com  SILVER

EW: More classical in style, the merlot shining through the steely cabernet. There’s a Baron Edmond de Rothschild family restraint about this well-structured, stately wine.

MM: A wine that takes itself very seriously. Quite closed and tannic at first but air softens it to reveal damson, redcurrant and floral notes. Will become more complex as it ages.

17/20

Château Bauduc Clos des Quinze 2010 Côtes de Bordeaux €16.99 www.curiouswines.ie, Cork;  www.rednosewine.com, Tipperary  BRONZE

EW: Developing beautifully and thanks to the effulgent 2010 vintage, good enough to squirrel away for a year or three. Supple and quite elegant.

MM: A wine to watch under the guidance of clever winemaker Gavin Quinney with enough attractive fruit and spice to drink now and structure to age if you prefer.

16.5/20 

Château Haut Rian 2010 Côtes de Bordeaux www.winesdirect.ie €14.50 BRONZE

EW: Good quality spicy Cabernet fruit backing up the Merlot makes this a real hit for the modest ask. Luscious, liquorice, cinnamon, cloves amid nicely resolving tannins.

MM: A basic quality level wine but a good year, 2010, means it’s punching above its weight and shows interesting floral aromas mingling with spiced plum, supple tannin and elegant acidity giving finesse.

16/20

BORDEAUX REDS UNDER €25 Week Two

The hinterland of Bordeaux, France’s fourth largest city, is the country’s largest delineated wine growing region (AOC), writes Ernie Whalley. Located in the southwest corner of France, adjacent to the Atlantic, the region benefits from the coastal maritime influence, typically enjoying wet springs, fairly gentle summers and mild winters. The Gulf Stream exerts a warming influence on the region. However, summer weather can be fickle, making for interesting issues when it comes to getting grapes to ripen. In any given decade the wines of Bordeaux personify not so much The Good, The Bad and The Ugly but The Great, The Good and The Indifferent. Well-ripened grapes represent the building blocks for the classic vintages – 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010 are examples – and wines from these vintages are crafted for the long haul. There is, however, a bonus involved in guying a vintage merely fêted as ‘good’. The wines will be more affordable and ready to drink earlier. This week we continue the ‘sub €25’ theme and here are four more recommendations from the 38 tasted.

Ch.Peychaud Maisonneuve 2006 € 20.50 Brechin Watchorn, D6 BRONZE

EW: 2006 was a vintage that started with high hopes and ended up plagued with problems. Some minor wines escaped the general mediocrity and this is one of them. Savoury and complex but just a tad short of ‘elegant’.

MM: Age has added spicy, savoury leathery notes to rich damson fruit and there’s still a rake of tannin, so give it some air to soften it.

16/20

Chateau Mouras 2007 Graves Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin; www.64wine.ie; www.fallonandbyrne.com, D2 €19.99 SILVER

EW: Totally typical Graves with abundant redcurrant fruit, cinnamon and clove hints and the give-away powdery ‘afterfeel’ high up on the roof of the mouth. Savvy winemaking. 

MM: Very successful for a difficult year like 2007 with attractive and characteristic Graves style showing redcurrant fruit rather than black and gentle spice with a little tannin.

17/20

Ch.Mahon Laville 2010 €17.99 www.drinkstore.ie, D7 BRONZE

EW: Almost hypermodern. A massive chunk of blackcurrant and brambly ripe fruit. The thought struck – could this be the Bordeaux that could lead lovers of Chilean wine back to the source? 

MM: A very modern style with shiny black fruit pastille like fruit and distinctive vanillin oak character.

16/20

Mitchells Claret 2009 €12.50 www.mitchellandson.com, IFSC and Glasthule, Co Dublin BRONZE

EW: Well made wine from a really good vintage. Decent weight of rich fruit with the tannins kept in check. Just about as good an introduction to red Bordeaux as you could get.

MM: A great vintage like 2009 means even on the lower rungs of the quality ladder you ret rich smooth plumy fruit enlivened by a dash of spice.

16/20

READ ERNIE WHALLEY AND MARTIN MORAN EVERY SUNDAY IN ‘SUNDAY’ IN

THE SUNDAY TIMES (IE)

GLEESONS-GILBEYS PORTFOLIO TASTING Feb 2011

"Stuck in an appellation" Saint Emilion

A day in a wine writer’s life. I get up, dress, eat my porridge then phone the Guinness Storehouse to see if they have a wheelchair. Oh dear, apparently they don’t. I should maybe make it clear that my request stems not from the previous night’s over indulgence but from a knee operation. The Storehouse is The Land That God Forgot for us D4, southside wine scribes – can’t get there by public transport, there’s no parking and a cab costs a fortune. Ah, well, needs must…

I grab my crutches and limp up the road towards the taxi rank. Three traffic jams later I arrive at the Gleesons Incorporating Gilbey’s Portfoilio Tasting, bit of a mouthful? No, it’s a lot of mouthfuls, 41 tables, groaning with wines from all over the world as well as ports, sherries, brandies and beers. Here’s a flavour.

Before I kick off I’ll issue the usual caveat. This is a personal view of a tasting on a particular day. Other folk may love wines I hated or hate wines I loved. Make of it what you will.

Scanning the catalogue I find lots of old familiars, known quantities. This saves me time. For instance, while I know that, say, Les Charmes de Magnol Medoc 2008 is going to be of merchantable quality it won’t excite or surprise so I pass. The Cheval Noir Grand Vin de St.Emilion 2005 (€18.50, selected independents) on did surprise and pleasantly so, good budget claret.

Louis Latour, as usual, have quite a presence but, as ever, I find you have to get into the upper echelons of their list before thye start to charm. Louis Latour Montagny (Super Valu €19.99) is much more inviting than their Chablis. Simmonet-Febre’s Chablis (€18.99, O’Brien’s) was nicer, less steely.

On the Chateau de Sours stand I re-encounter owner Martin Krajewski, nice man. His Petit Cantenac St.Emilion 2008 (€22.50) has plenty of potential. The Bordeaux Rosé,  as always, was well up to the mark (€14.99, independents).

I’m a massive fan of the wines of JCP Malthus as people who read my Herald and the old Sunday Independent columns may have noticed! Bordeaux, Barossa, wherever there’s a roundness, a loveliness, a warmth about them and something that just shouts “Hey, this is bloody good winemaking”.  Area Manager Myriam Carrere tempts me to a vertical – 2006/7/8 – of Ch.Teyssier St.Emilion – I seem stuck in this appellation at the minute – the 2008 promises much but if you can find it, buy the ’06, it’s simply stunning. Entry level Pezat was good as ever. Seems to be some confusion as to whether this and Ch.Lacroix are the same thing. I came away none the wiser.

Can’t help thinking that Jaboulet Ainé have lost their way.Though Caroline Frey has expunged the bad winemaking of Jabs from ‘90s days the newer wines still seem to be struggling to find a house style. Maybe I just liked the big ruggery-buggery wines I remember from the 1980s? Anyhopw, I think they’ve lost something in power, shape and robustness while recovering the finesse that  went missing for so many years.

The delightful Anne Trimbach is in Dublin to present the wines of this brilliant house. Unlike some of their Alsace rivals I can’t think of one wine in their portfolio that doesn’t hack it. Everything is ‘sorted’. Trimbach Alsace Riesling 2009 (€15.99, SuperValu, O’Brien’s, independents) is a classic of the genre.  As for the Cuvée Frederick Emile 2004 (€34.99) every wine lover should have at least one bottle squirreled away for a joyous occasion.

Next table, Gruner Veltiner, Austria’s signature from ex-hippy Laurenz Moser. Named ‘Singing’, ‘Sunny’ and ‘Charming’ (€15.99-€24.99, Donnybrook Fair and independents) the wines are as beguiling as the titles. German wines, happily, are back up and bouncing, after a rocky couple of decades.

Lingenfelder’s German riesling and gewürztraminer (€13.99, independents) with their engaging bird and hare labels should be sought out and bought.

Black Tower roll on, now with added varietal choice. Stick with the Riesling, honest wine for the €9.35 ask. The sylvaner is a bit grim.

Moving up the price scale, if you can still find Lo Zoccolaio’s Barolo 2001 for the stated €37.49 (McHugh’s had some) grab the merchant’s hand off, this is classic kit.

The Dalmau Reserva Rioja 1985 at €85 is daft money, considering you could have, as alternative, 4 bottles of the very quaffable Marques de Murieta Reserva 2005 (O’Briens, Dunnes, Molloys) and a taxi home. This wine, for me, wiped the floor with the popular Faustino equivalent.

The Bodegas Portia Prima Ribero del Duero 2007 (€25, selected independents) is currently dead sexy. Baby brother Ebeia Roble 2009, almost half the price, is good too.

Simonassi Malbec 2006 was decent for the money (€9.99).

Vergelegen Cabernet 2004 was good kit but at €29.45 I can think of a couple of dozen reds I’d rather drink or lay down. The better South African wines still impress, rather than charm.As a ‘how to’ they should look at the complexity St.Hallet are cramming into St.Hallet Old Block Shiraz 2005 (€34.95) , the 2004 of which I remember from a big Aussie seminar last year where it kicked sand in the eyes of a good few more expensive shirazes. The ’05 has all the poke of  a traditional Barossa red with lots of other nice things revolving round the glass.

Chileans Terra Andina gave us a well-priced Reserva Pinot Noir from Leyda (€10.99, Donnybrook Fair, Centra) and an electrifying, invigorating Sauvignon Blanc (€9.99) that carried more than a hint of old-style Marlborough before the Kiwis started shining it up.

More? Luscious the Lane ‘The Gathering’ Semillon-Sauvignon from Adelaide Hills (€22, independents); Hunter Estates Chardonnay from NZ, always class; and St.Hallett Old Block Shiraz 2005 (€35, O’Briens, Tesco) up there with the Barossa’s biggies.

Best of the budgets? No question. I give you False Bay Chardonnay, from South Africa’s Western Cape – classy stuff at ridiculous (€9.80, Londis, independents) money from Paul Boutinot, the Manchester maverick behind, among others, Chat en Oeuf (€9.10, Superquinn, Centra), one I’m always plugging for value. The 2010 False Bay Chardonnay is clean, non-cloying, more European than New World and altogther a worthy example of the sort of Chardy that should put noisy chavs like Pinot Grigio back in their box.

Can’t quit without mentioning the wonderful Julia Kennedy, whose organisation, as usual, was pluperfect. Great ideas of hers to get Fingal Ferguson there with mum Giana’s cheeses and his own salami, a huge quantum leap from when he started a few years back. The new mortadella, in particular, was a wondrous product.

Julia is off now to pastures new, Gleeson’s loss is Dillon’s gain.

Gilbey's Portfolio Tasting Feb 2009 – 10 that impressed

Trekking to the Guinness Storehouse, with sleet whacking down like stair rods wouldn’t be my favourite occupation but Gilbey’s Terry Pennington and Lynne Coyle  have assembled one hell of a portfolio, with smart niche producers alongside mainstream brands like Blossom Hill, Yellow Tail, Bargton & Guestier etc and venerable favourites of the ilk of Louis Latour, Trimbach and Jaboulet. And so, along with the rest of the ‘vinerati’ I had to be there. Anyhow, here are a few of my own highly idiosyncratic choices to give you a flavour of the day.

WHITES

Borie de Maurel Nature Blanc 2007

Even discounting the romance, this is a very smart little French white, for not too much money. Organic it is, biodynamic it may be – though not officially certified as such. What the hell, the wine is good enough to stand on its own merits without the feelgood factor. Did I say romance? Okay, try this: Michel Escande works the land with horses, not tractors. And as if that isn’t enough, the wine is shipped to Ireland by sailboat. Ain’t that nice.

12,99 Jus de Vine, selected independents

Hunter’s Estate Chardonnay Marlborough 2007

As the old adage goes, “many are called, but few are chosen”. From the Cape to Casablanca (Chile) wineries are trying to take the rampant tropical fruit out of their Chardonnay and construct something more laid back and stylish. Not many succeed. Hunter’s Sauvignon Blanc is a regular award winner; there is a deal of noise being made about their Pinot Noir; for me, the engaging Chardonnay is the best wine they make.

19.49, selected independents

Knappstein ‘Three’ Gewurztraminer-Riesling-Pinot Gris, Clare Valley 2008

Me, Tomas, Raymond, Martin, JW, we’ve been banging on at readers for longer than I care to think, trying to persuade them to drink Riesling. I’m coming to think we’re flogging a dead horse, sad, but it’s just too austere, too difficult for the average punter. I’m backing off a bit but I’d still like you to try this – a fantastically full-bodied bundle of joy and an absolute steal for the dosh.

14.79, selected independents


Laurenz V ‘Charming’ Gruner Veltliner 2007

So sexy, innit? Gruner Veltliner, gru-vee, groovy, current darling of the posh restaurants. Almost single-handedly this ‘sauvignon-without-tears’ grape has rehabilitated the Austrian wine industry.The blurb in the catalogue tell us that the ‘Singing’ and the ‘Sunny’ are ‘more accessible’ than the flagship ‘Charming’. They are also considerably cheaper -by about €8, but there’s a massive quantum leap when you get to the top product and there can’t be many more enjoyable wines for the dosh involved. No stockists yet. I expect this one will end up in restaurants.

24.49

Trimbach Alsace Pinot Gris Réserve 2005

‘Way to go’ for what is currently the world’s most abused grape varietal! The Italians, the Aussies, the Chileans should drink this until they start to ‘get it’. Just superb, beautifully-crafted, elegant, food-friendly wine borne out of 12 empathetic generations. It sings! And, if you can’t afford it, do the Pinot Blanc at a value €13.99

19.59, Tesco, Superquinn, Dunnes, selected independents

REDS

Pézat Bordeaux Superieur 2007

Jonathan Maltus, Ch Tessier & Colonial Estates
Jonathan Maltus, Ch Tessier & Colonial Estates

My enthusiasm for the wines of Jonathan Maltus in general and this wine in particular have not gone unnoticed for I found an attributable quote in the catalogue. Whenever I encounter a Bordeaux Superior, the occasion begs the question “superior to what?” in this case, the answer is “ superior to almost any red wine you can find for under €25.” Pézat really is a beauty; rich, rounded, mellow, satisfying. Though the RRP has escalated since my first sip it’s still fine value for money. It’s also a plea in mitigation as to why the Merlot grape should be allowed to exist; don’t buy New World Merlot soup at a tenner a throw, save up and buy this.

19.59, selected independents

Lunarossa

Costacielo Cabernet-Aglianico, Campania 2007

On the outskirts of Sorrento there’s a rather good wine merchants. The owner, a man I respect, was raving about a local winemaker called Genarro di Maggio. And, guess what, now he’s here. With a food-friendly white and this classy, sassy red which employs the stiff backbone of Cabernet Sauvignon to balance up the big, smirky-smile bestowed by Aglianico (rough translation: the alien). As Paul Simon nearly wrote – “Here’s to you G.diMaggio…”

18.89, selected independents.

Paul Jaboulet Ainé, Crozes-Hermitages ‘Les Jalets’ 2006

Caroline Frey, Ch La Lagune & Paul Jaboulet Ainé
Caroline Frey, Ch La Lagune & Paul Jaboulet Ainé

First vintage from Jaboulet that Caroline Frey laid her hands on and the wine is all the better for it. Standards that had been dipping since the late 1990’s have been reversed and while it’s still dark-fruited, dense and meaty it’s much less ‘agricultural’ than of yore. The more expensive ‘Domaine-de Thalabert’ 2006 still needs a bit of work, imo.

17.99 O’Briens, SuperValu, selected independents

Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2007

Smart, keenly priced red from a Sicilian producer who’s been getting a lot of plaudits of late. Soft, joyful, no-nonsense everyday drinking.

11.99, selected independents

Bylines Shiraz – Cabernet Sauvignon , South Australia, 2003

A collaboration between ex-City gent the affable Martin Krajewski of Chateau de Sours and Australia’s David Fatches. They’ve managed to persuade John Duval, formerly winemaker of Penfold’s Grange to stir the cauldron. The result is a big, sexy red capable of ageing for aeons. Loads of competition at this price point of course but it’s well up to scratch. One thought – how come Shiraz-Cab blends work, whereas Cab-Shiraz ones almost invariably don’t? Strange.

€45.29, selected independents

Dunne's Delights

Alas the Sunday Indo has banged my column for a couple of weeks (it happens to everyone from time to time – usually because an advertiser takes a late page. At the end of the day, revenue is revenue).

This means that by the time I get round to telling you about Dunne’s new influx of wines from Bordeaux the sale could be over.
Here’s the nitty-gritty, just in case:- Dunne’s stores wine supremo Richard Ecock and Consultant Jacinta Delahaye have put in a deal of effort to source good wines from the region. I tasted their selection recently and was impressed by many, most notably Ch.Batailley 2002 (49.99); Ch.Bergat 2004 (39.99); Ch.de Bois Martin 2006 (24.99); Ch.Dubourg 2006 (23.99); Ch. Pontac-Lynch 2003, (23.49); Ch.Haut-Madrac 2005 (19.99); Ch.Lamothe Vincent 2006 (16.99); and a surprisingly classical Dulong Reserve Medoc 2006, a bargain at 8.99. Many wines from Dunne’s Bordeaux selection will be ‘on special’ during the month and I’d recommend you check it out. Lastly, a tip. These wines are not fruit laden ‘quaffers’. If you are a ‘red Bordeaux virgin’, try them with food first.

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Wine Notes June 2006 – Merlot

Kipper ties, two-tone shirts, baggy trousers, cowboy boots, where are they now?
Amazing how fast fashion changes. Here’s UK wine writer Suzy Atkins in 2003 – “I can’t think of anything more fashionable in the world of wine than merlot.” She goes on to chirrup about the grape being “hip and happening”. A year later, merlot withered on the vine. What killed it? A film called ‘Sideways’. More particularly the scene where wine snob Miles tells his pal before a double-date dinner, “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving.” Subsequently sales dipped. Not ‘plummeted’ as the tabloids claimed, but there was a measurable downturn.

Shame on filmgoers for picking on this smiley, bounteous grape. Merlot, an early ripener, is a welcome hedge for winemakers against pre-harvest downpours. For its drinking qualities it’s been called “cabernet without tears”, not a bad description. The tannins resolve nicely, giving the wine a velvety texture; the flavour is a pleasing melange of plums and dark cherries. And it makes a first rate running mate for cabernet sauvignon.

Merlot made in a hot climate can be sweaty and out of sorts. Pale-skinned freckly Celts will empathise. In Riverland, the boiler room of Australia’s wine industry winemakers are beginning to believe that Merlot is, as one of them put it, “a bloody weed” and are replacing it with varieties like sangiovese and barbera, swarthy Latins who can handle any amount of sun.

To appreciate merlot’s potential you have to go to Bordeaux where it’s the most-planted grape. Wineries there don’t usually list varieties on their labels but it’s odds-on that a wine from Pomerol or St.Emlion on what’s confusingly called ‘the right bank’ (many of the best vineyards are nowhere near the river) will have a majority of merlot in its make-up. Pomerol is ‘posh’ , hence absurdly expensive, but decently drinkable St.Emilion kicks in at around e12 for which Dunnes Stores have Chapelle de la Trinité 2004, a good value intro to this easy-to-assimilate style.

The 2001’s are drinking beautifully at the minute. I was pleased to find Mitchells still have some of the Chateau la Nauve (e.15.99) – a fine wine commissioned to mark UCD’s 50th anniversary. Upping the ante somewhat – to e24 – gets you what I think is a remarkable wine. The stark label of Berry Brother’s St.Emilion screams ‘plain Jane’ but don’t be kidded, this is Audrey Hepburn out of the Givenchy dress, creamy skin, come-to-bed eyes, bags of character, the works. A lot of loot for an ‘own brand’? Maybe. Until you realise it’s made by Alain Vauthier, co-owner of uber-sexy Chateau Ausonne.

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Bordeaux For Beginners

A STARTER GUIDE TO THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS WINE REGION
Appellations
Appellations d’Origine Controlée, to give them their full title, operate at 4 levels:
Generic regional AC – Bordeaux, covers red, white, rosé and sparklers from the region.
Slightly posher is Bordeaux Superior – to achieve this a grower has to squeeze out an extra half per cent alcohol.
Specific regional AC cover large areas Entre-deux-Mers, Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux, Haut Médoc for exmple.
Village ACs – Within a few of the regions a few of the notable villages have their own AC, e.g. St-Estèphe, Margaux, Sauternes.
Assemblage
Blending of Bordeaux wines from their consituent varieties.
Barrique (Bordelaise)
The famous 225l Bordeaux barrel that had replaced the unwieldy 900l Tonneau by the end of the 18th century. Today the word is in use world-wide.
Bordeaux
Impressive city on the Garonne river on France’s West Coast. Total area under vines around 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) with around 12,500 producers. Centre of a huge wine trade, rising to pre-eminence in 1152 when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry Plantagenet, later King of England as Henry II.
Blaye
Northernmost area of Bordeaux where wine is part of the mixed agrarian economy. Drink Bertinerie and Haut-Bertinerie, leave the rest alone.
Courtier
Charming name for the broker who interfaces between the grower and the négotiant for a small commission. Another profit centre in the chain.
Château
Don’t look for any castles (the literal translation). Châteaux are sometimes palatial mansions like Margaux, Lafite, Bécheville, Cos d’Estournel. More often they are simple farmhouses. Some wine estates bearing the prefix ‘Château…’ have no house at all.
Côtes de Bourg
Area of some potential on the right bank of the Dordogne where it flows into the Gironde. Good earthy wines but Bourg growers need to modernise and invest if they are to rise above the mundane.
1855 Classification
The earliest attempt to introduce a pecking order (based on market price) and subsequently revised. Important to remember it was limited to the Médoc.
Entre-deux-Mers Beguiling white and red wine area between the Dordogne and the Garonne. Gorgeous landscape but much of the wine is only of average quality and marketed under the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur labels
Garagiste
Neologism for smart, small-scale producers making fruit-forward wines for early-drinking or good ones for a niche market. Some have been elevated to cult status. Many started in St-Emilion where land was relatively cheap.
Grape varieties All Bordeaux wines are blends. Principally Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc for reds and Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillion for whites. Others such as Malbec, Petit Verdot, Muscadelle and Columbard crop up in small quantities to do a specific job.
Graves & Pessac-Leognan
In the north, a bank of gravel now encroached upon by the suburbs of Bordeaux, disintegrating in the South into sand and clay amid pine forests, meadows and orchards. Produces both red (including legendary Haut-Brion) and white wines. Classified in 1953 and 1959.
Médoc
A monotonously flat, undistinguished-looking strip of land adjacent to the left bank of the Garonne, that hosts many of the greatest red wines of the world. To view the Médoc is to wonder why. The answer: soil, climate, tradition, all play a part. Incorporates the villages and communes of Margaux, Moulis and Listrac, St-Julien, Pauillac, St-Estèphe, Haut-Médoc and Médoc.
Negotiant (négoce)
There are 400 of them. French term for a merchant, many of whom in Bordeaux own châteaux. According to the CIVB brochure these guys have “a role of regulators with power to smooth the fluctuation prices that can be so harmful to the market” – hmm… we wonder! Some offer a technical service to poorer growers and are frequently abused by the same for bumping up prices. Not so all-powerful as in Burgundy but nevertheless an integral element in the Bordeaux wine trade that inhibits buying direct.
Noble Rot
An amazing process. The grapes shrivel after botrytis spores latch onto and weaken the skin. Farewell water content, hello high sugar, glycerol and acidity. The grapes eventually reach a ‘roasted’, totally shrivelled stage at which point they are carefully harvested and used, in Sauternes, to make dessert wines of explosive concentration.
Other Classifications
Graves had to wait until 1953 for reds and 1959 for whites. St.Emilion’s is revised every ten years. Pomerol has none.The Crus Bourgeois of the Médoc had a revision in 2003 and some are still whingeing.
Pomerol
Tiny, 7.5 sq mile, area NE of Libourne where Merlot is King. Rich, soft-centred wine exemplified by Ch. Pétrus, greatest and most expensive red wine in the world.
St-Emilion
Tourist gem town SE of Bordeaux with many vineyards that restore your faith in picturesque sites. Here Cabernet Franc, called locally Bouchet, thrives on the limestone slopes. Best wines are Chx.Ausonne and Cheval Blanc.
Sauternes and Barsac
Another area classified in 1855, for its luscious sweet wines of which d’Yquem is foremost. Until recently when they have staged something of a comeback Sauternes were ludicrously underpriced. Sémillon is the main grape employed.

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1999 and all that

From time to time you hear a wine scribe making cheerful noises about some example of 1999 vintage Bordeaux. Not often, but you do hear it. If you are in any way perceptive you’ll recognise the sound as the whistling noise you used to make when, as a child, you had to go down a dark lane on your own (nowadays, kids call for mum to get out the MPV). The noise you made had a multiple purpose – to frighten off any evil spirits that might be lurking in the mirk and to convince yourself that you weren’t afraid and that that the world was really an okay place.
The noise these cheerful Pollyannas make can be construed another way. It’s the same optimistic brouhaha that supporters of crap Premiership teams – and I know plenty about that phenomenon – make to build morale towards the end of an even- worse-than-usual season. What’s the phrase? Ah yes, ‘Too good to go down’.
Let me say it one last time and and say it loud “THERE IS NO BOTTLE OF 1999 RED BORDEAUX I COULD POSSIBLY AFFORD THAT HAS GIVEN ME SO MUCH AS A TINCTURE OF PLEASURE!!!” There, I’ve said it. By and large the 1999s are mean, joyless, sparsely fruited , overly tannic and odds-on to remain so.
It’s a curious place, Bordeaux. A society held together by an uneasy alliance between the local aristos who made the wine but could never be bothered to sell it and the gimlet-eyed negotiants, English, Irish, Dutch or German blow-ins, the kind of people who used to be stigmatised as being ‘in trade’. The two needed each other like Stan needed Ollie and still do. I’ve previously remarked on how the neophyte wine lover who makes a first trip to the region often returns enchanted by the pristine chateaux but perturbed by the lack of picnic tables and cellar door outlets. Try Margaret River, mate.
Today of course the aristocracy, the chateau owning class is not what it was. The titular head of a cru classe is as likely to be an insurance company executive as a milord. As a matter of fact this thought was coursing through my head when I received an invitation to meet Baroness Nadine de Rothschild who had just breezed into town, accompanied by samples of her wines, Chateaux Clarke and Malmaison. I scanned her CV, actress, model, socialite, wine maker and thought “Great!”
Alas the interview did not live up to expectations. Herself was all Pat Kenny’d out and was not in a mood to answer what Lyndon Johnson used to call ‘horse piss questions’. Sample: Q. “Did the baron arrive at the stage door after a performance with two dozen red roses, a magnum of Krug and sweep you off your feet?” A. “No, we met at a dinner party.” Her books turned out to be celebrations of the lives of her friends but she declined to dish any dirt on mesdames Callas, Bouvier-Kennedy-Onassis and Schneider. I ended up commiserating with their unhappiness. She had a suit in tow to answer questions on the wine; he gave me the bland corporate overview. Of the wines themselves I found the harsh astringency I’d come to expect in Clarke and a big ‘So what?’ in the Malmaison. Ennui overtook me and my probings, trite enough to begin with became even triter, if that’s a word. Overall, it was the worst interview I’d done since the uninvited arrival of an armed burglar interrupted my grilling of a Manchester furniture tycoon back in ’79.
But I can’t leave things on this doomy-gloomy note. Forget Bordeaux for the minute. For the same money as will buy a 1999 of a moderate minor chateau you could get a bottle of Chianti Classico riserva from a good producer and let a little light into your life. In recent weeks I’ve been fortunate to taste Antinori’s wonderful 2000 Badia a Passignano on three occasions – on the premises; in a fine Florentine restaurant; and at home in Dublin – boy does it travel well! The plums and violets that are the very essence of Sangiovese with a judicious dollop of unspecified foreigners adding backbone, this is joyous, vibrant yet refined wine that sings like 33 tenors not 3.
Also let me add my voice to that of Mary Dowey who elsewhere in this issue is carolling about Clos du Papillon. Honeyed, heathery, smoky-nosed, lovely golden coloured, splendidly fragrant Chenin Blanc, Domaine du Closel Clos du Papillon 2002 from Savennieres, a small appellation on the Loire is one of the nicest white wines I’ve had this year. A great weighty mouthfeel, slightly wax’n’honey flavours – everything balanced and controlled and expressive, truly a wonderful bit of winemaking. Normally young Savennieres is crude and unpleasant – drunk fresh you have to apologise to your guests and say “Of course this should really be put away for a year or three”. Not this Clos du Papillon, opened the minute you get it home it’s only brilliant. Such a refreshing change from the Sauv B/Chard overload so prevalent today. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Mine came from James Nicholson of Crossgar. Redmonds of Ranelagh might stock it and maybe a few other serious wine merchants. Around e20 and well worth it.

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Cellar Restaurant game fortnight

The Cellar Restaurant at The Merrion Hotel in Dublin are holding a game promotion in October.
Chef Ed Cooney has devised some superb dishes. I was asked to select wines (chosen from the Merrion’s wine list) to accompany them. Here are my choices, and the reasons for making them:

“It’s a mistake to imagine that game is all about aggressive flavours. Partridge, in particular, can be wonderfully delicate and fine. And when it comes to finding wine to go with it I’d say that farmed deer is more versatile than beef. On the other hand, venison, grouse and wild mallard with their rowdy intensity do cause problems when it comes to finding wines to go with them. To give you a ‘for instance’ I love hefty, old-style Chateauneuf du Pape, Vieux Telegraphe, say, or La Nerthe; I also love venison, slow-roasted with aromatic herbs, juniper berries and bay leaves somewhere in the mix. But if I bring the two together, it’s not a match; it’s a mismatch, with only one winner – the wine gets floored, somewhere around the third mouthful.”

Pressed wood pigeon and venison terrine with apricots and sage
Sipp-Mack Rosacker Grand Cru Alsace Riesling 2000
This exceptional Riesling has had its fair share of attention from FOOD & WINE’s wine colunmists, me included. Goes beautifully with this colourful terrine that’s much more subtle than the ingredients suggest. Heightens the sweetness of the apricots without in any way cloying.

Prosciutto-wrapped rabbit leg with mustard mash and marjoram jus
Chianti Classico La Selvanella 1998
There’s a natural affinity between Chianti and rabbit, especially when you wrap it in prosciutto and cloak it with a marjoram jus, very nostalgic for me. A good producer and some bottle age puts some backbone behind the morello cherry flavours.

Breast of mallard duck, with confit leg, roast shallots, madeira jus and pommes Anna
Plaisir de Merle Chardonnay 2001 South Africa
I thought it would be wonderful to find a white wine to accompany this dish and looked long and hard before choosing the Plaisir de Merle. It’s quite a big mouthful but much more intelligent and restrained than many of its Australian cousins and stands up well to the slight sweetness in the roast shallots and Madeira jus.

Roasted red leg partridge with walnut mashed potatoes, chicory candied onions with its own juices
Palliser Estate Pinot Noir 2001
Any wine drunk with this dish has quite a bit to do for the flavours are complex.The safe route would be to put a right bank Bordeaux in there. Instead I went for the rounded delicacy of this new world charmer that’s rapidly becoming one of my favourites.

Braised haunch of red deer with celeriac puree, roast root vegetables and kummel cream
Chateau Ramage la Batisse, Bordeaux, 1998
Chateau Grand Puy Ducasse, Pauilac 1997
Two choices for this mighty dish in which Ed has allowed the glorious choir of gamey flavours to sing hallelujah with only muted background sha-la-las. Good Bordeaux with well-resolved tannins but with some presence is a must. Ramage is an old flame, ‘humble’ it’s not and I do like the ‘98s. Upscale, the ‘97s are drinking well, so the GPD is the ‘spoil yourself’ option. Lovely.

Salad of tea-smoked mallard breast with rosy grapefruit, peanuts and pickled wallnuts
Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc 1998
Casillero del Diablo Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
A couple of rugby analagies: Mondavi’s classic marketing ploy ‘Oak and smoke’ sells the dummy to the sweet-and-sour accompaniment while making room for the subtly-smoked mallard to play. In contrast, Chilean cabernet, of which this is a better-than-average example, is fruit-laden and combative, able to tackle the grapefruit and pickled walnuts head on.

The game promotion starts on 9th October

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