Fine Wine has always, in my mind, been connected to Fine Art.
It’s partly what I mean when I write that, for me, wine opens the door to other interests; culture, food, art etc.
Along these lines it’s interesting to see wineries make this connection when they commission artists to design paper labels for their wine bottles.
Chateau Mouton Rothschild is a perfect example of this creative practice. They started commissioning artists to design labels in 1924 – nearly a century ago – and Jean Carlu, a graphic designer who made an enormous contribution to commercial art, was the first artist to have this honour.
After a pause before and during the Second World War, Chateau Mouton Rothschild re-ignited this approach and have commissioned an artist designed label every year since 1945.
A few of the impressive list of artists commissioned by Chateau Mouton Rothschild since 1945 include Miro, Chagall, Picasso, Braque, Dali, as well as Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, now King Charles 111. The complete list of artists with illustrations is published on the Ch. Mouton Rothschild website.
The most recent artist to work with the Chateau is the acclaimed figurative artist, Peter Doig. Peter Doig is a ‘man of many nations’ (Christie’s). He was born in Edinburgh in 1959, moved to Trinidad as a baby, yet he grew up mostly in Canada. He studied in London, England. He lives between Trinidad, London and New York. His paintings now sell for double digit multi, multi million £ prices.
In his label painting for the Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2020 vintage Pauillac first growth wine, Peter Doig uses the vineyard as the setting to celebrate the work of the people involved in making wine before it is bottled.
I really applaud this twinning of wine and art by Chateau Mouton Rothschild and I am on the hunt to find a bottle of the 2020 vintage Pauillac and see this painting on the label in real time!
Looking at trends is key to effective marketing. Being aware of wine trends is no exception.
Recently a few articles have appeared about low or lower alcohol wines as consumers consider their alcohol intake for all sorts of health and safety related reasons.
This trend leads me to consider the importance of the label on all bottles of wine, which must identify the alcohol percentage by volume of the wine, described as …%alc./vol. or sometimes …%vol.
Interestingly, most articles giving advice on wine don’t give the % alc./vol. of wine they write about. I too have neglected to do this in the past!!
The range of % alc./vol values in different wines is surprising.
I did a quick check on the wines in my “cellar” and purposefully selected wines with less than 14% alc./vol., which is quite a common figure for many red wines, in particular.
7 wines with lower alcoholic values
The 7 wines in the photo demonstrate an alcohol range from 10.5 % to 13.5% alc./vol The scale of difference is worth considering as the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at 13.5% alc./vol. is 28% more alcoholic than the Riesling at 10.5% alc./vol.
The alcohol level in wines is not a static measure and will vary year by year as a factor of the terroir where the vines are grown: influenced by weather, sunlight, soil, latitude, altitude, vineyard management etc. Alcohol production in wine is a natural fermentation process of the interaction of yeasts on the sugar in the must (pressed grapes and often stalks) producing alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). The greater the sugar the higher the alcohol.
In general terms what this can translate to, if choosing wines with a lower alcoholic value, is choosing wines from cooler climates.
White wines from Northern Europe will likely have less alcoholic content: consider a Riesling from Germany, a Pinot Grigio from Northern Italy or a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, the Bordeaux area or British Columbia. Champagne is always a good choice for a lower alcoholic wine!
Red wines from Burgundy like a Pinot Noir or a Beaujolais are not only generally lower in alcohol but they are also a good flexible choice to pair with a number of dishes. Pinot Noir from British Columbia also fits the bill.
The list below itemizes the 7 wines in the photo and their alcoholic levels, for illustrative purposes only.
Toni Jost: Bacharacher Riesling, 2016 Kabinett Feinherb, MittelRhein, Germany
Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon
Lock and Worth Winery, 2019, Poplar Grove, Naramata, BC.
Champagne Veuve Clicquot, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, Reims, France
Beaujolais – Village 2016, Joseph Drouin, Beaune, Burgundy, France
Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve, 2020, Okanagan Valley, B.C.
Black Hills Estate Winery, 2017
Okanagan Valley, B.C.
Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Valley 2018, Maclean Creek Rd Vineyard, Okanagan Falls, B.C.
I’m not advocating only drinking wines lower than 14%. Many of the beautiful Bordeaux wines that I wrote about in the last couple of blog posts as well as other wines I enjoy are in that range.
I am advocating carefully checking the bottle labels to be better informed about the wines we select.
What an invitation! To time travel to the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s with these images of wine bottle labelsfrom Bordeaux wines!
Bordeaux wine labels from the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.
These labels and others, carefully removed from the bottles and kept over the years, are a wonderful and much appreciated gift.
The Bordeaux wine area consists of two main geographic areas on the banks of the Garonne, Dordogne and the Gironde, which is the estuary where the Dordogne and Garonne rivers meet: left bank for Medoc and right bank for St Emilion and areas.
Bordeaux wine area
A closer view
The world famous Bordeaux wines are a blend of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot together with lesser amounts of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. What’s interesting about the Bordeaux area is that the percentages of the wines in the blend vary according to geography. For example, the Medoc area wines generally feature more Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the St Emilion areas feature more Merlot.
The roles that these predominant varieties play in the wines is important in considering which type of wine to buy from personal preference and to pair with different dishes.
Cabernet Sauvignon provides more structure to the blend, considering tannins and acidity. It also provides dark-fruit flavours of blackcurrant and bell pepper.
Merlot is usually juicier and adds some softness with more fruit flavours. These two varieties complement each other and provide long term potential for ageing when made by skilled winemakers.
Given that winemakers create their own preferred ratios of Cabernet Sauvignon to Merlot depending on soil, climate, and all the aspects of terroir, it is important to always look at the back label to see the percentages of the varieties in the Bordeaux wines one is buying, because this will give an indictation of the ambiance of the wine. In addition to this, also factoring in the geographic area within the Bordeaux area that the wine is coming from is important.
The Bordeaux Medoc and left bank wines (those typically with a higher percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon) werefeatured on my earlier December blog with a chart comparing the assessment of Jane Anson, Master of Wine and Decanter’s Bordeaux Correspondent with the wines available through the (British Columbia) BC Liquor Stores for the 2018 wine releaseavailable in September this year.
As I highlighted in that earlier blog, Jane Anson wrote her En Primeur Report in the Decanter Magazine June 2019 issue, with not only an assessment of the 2018 vintage overall but she also assessed each individual château and identifies those châteaux she considered at the time to be Top Value, Producer to Watch or Potential 100 (i.e. possibility of being rated 100 points).
The chart below comparesthe Decanter Magazine assessment of the Bordeaux St Emilion and other right bank appellations (typically those wines with a higher percentage of Merlot) with the wines available through the BC Liquor Stores.
It’s interesting to note that 2018 was a year of high sugars and high tannins for the Bordeaux right bank wines.
The chart demonstrates where the opinions of Jane Anson MW coincide with the opinions of the BC Liquor Store Masters of Wine buyers. Again, only the chateaux highlighted by Jane Anson as Top Value, Producer to Watch or Potential 100 points for the St Emilion right bank wines are included in the chart. It’s a smaller list than the Medoc and Left Bank comparison list and none of Jane Anson’s Producer to Watch category made it to the BC Liquor Stores list.
For me, a second opinion from a valued source is always helpful.
2018 Bordeaux Right Bank
Jane Anson, MW
June 2019, En Primeur Report for 2018
BC Liquor Stores
BC Price $C per bottle
Château Beausejour Duffau-Lagarrosse
Château Beausejour Duffau-Lagarrosse
97 points Wine Advocate
Drink: 2024 – 2044
Château Cheval Blanc
Château Cheval Blanc
100 points Decanter
Drink: 2028 – 2042 Decades!
Pomerol & Lalande de Pomerol
Vieux Château Certan Pomerol
Vieux Châteaux Certan Pomerol
99 points Wine Advocate,
Drink: 2027 – 2057
Pomerol & Lalande de Pomerol
100 points Jeb Donnuck,
Drink: 2025 – 2065
Château La Serre
Château La Serre
94 points Jeb Dunnuck
Drink: 2026 – 2040
Pomerol & Lalande
Château Lafleur – Gazin
94 points James Suckling
Drink: 2024 – 2038
Côtes de Bordeaux & St Emilion Satellites
Château Joanin Bécot, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
Château Joanin Bécot, Castillon
Côtes de Bordeaux
93 points Jeb Dunnuck
Drink: 2022 – 2036
There are,of course, many more Bordeaux 2018 wines than those listed here available in the BC Liquor Stores.
The two charts of what was anticipated about the 2018 Bordeaux vintage in the En Primeur tastings in 2019 compared with the availability of wines in British Columbia Liquor Stores are helping me build an expanded list of possible wine producers to consider and watch for in future vintages.
Bordeaux wines are fascinating in their complexity and subtleties. I applaud the magic of the winemakers in producing superb wines and appreciate the efforts of the highly skilled Masters of Wine in presenting these wines and relevant information to consumers.
Wishing all a happy and healthy 2022,
Decanter Magazine June 2019
BC Liquor Stores 2018 Bordeaux Release Guide
Elizabethsvines December 2021 blog post: Bordeaux Release
The end of summer in Vancouver coincides with the annual Bordeaux wine release by the BC Liquor Stores. September is the important month.
Excitement builds as aficionados wait for the online and print catalogues as well as notification of the prebooking opportunities. It looks like the 2018 vintage will be a very good year, like 2015 and 2016.
The Bordeaux Release is quite the show! Especially when you see shopping carts loaded down with multiple cases of wine being wheeled out to nearby parked cars.
For me, the catalogue of wine is not just about the wine. The catalogue is like a travel brochure as each name that I know conjures up the place: the countryside, the beautiful chateaux themselves, and the rows of vines and the sense of history – the whole ambiance is like magic for me.
I have visited the Bordeaux wine region – left bank, right bank – several times either on arranged tours or one-off visits to a particular chateau. Seeing the names is like reading poetry that you know well, there’s a rhyme to the words: Chateaux Margaux, Palmer, Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion, Cheval Blanc, Figeac, Leoville Barton, Lynch Bages, La Dominique, Quintus…
Some are chateaux I have visited for the first time in the last few years, often with my wine expert friend. Yet others like Chateau Margaux and Chateau Palmer I first visited decades ago with my parents and have happy memories of those introductions to the world of Bordeaux wines !
Putting aside these fine memories, I got down to the business of modestly buying some of the 2018 Bordeaux Release!
When the wine is released in the ‘liquor stores’ run by BC Liquor Stores, there is a mad rush of people swooping in with determination written on their faces as they grab a copy of the catalogue, which is an excellent reference guide with helpful information, and decide what they will buy!
I have to admit I probably had that same look of determination on my face as we decided what to buy. I didn’t have time to do any research before buying. I know from previous experience that if you dither, the choices you would like will have gone!
The wines in the 2018 Bordeaux Wine Release were selected at the en primeur tastings in Bordeaux in 2019, and are now released for sale in 2021.
After we bought some wine at the release, I serendipitously rediscovered my Decanter magazine issue of June 2019, in which Jane Anson, Master of Wine and Decanter’s Bordeaux Correspondent gave her En Primeur Report for Bordeaux 2018.
Not only does she write about the vintage overall but she also assesses individual chateau and interestingly, identifies those chateaux she considers to be Top Value, Producer to Watch or Potential 100 (i.e. possibility of being rated 100 points).
I compared this list with the wines available through the BC Liquor Stores and prepared the following chart of those wines which appear both on Jane Anson’s three criteria list from 2019 and the BC Liquor Store release in 2021 for left bank Bordeaux wines. Here it is, rather a short but informative reference list.
Jane Anson MW – Decanter Magazine
BC Liquor Stores
BC Price $Can
Ch. Cambon La Pelouse
Ch . Cambon La Pelouse
Ch. Ormes de Pez
Ch. Ormes de Pez
Les Tourelles de Longueville
Les Tourelles de Longueville
Ch. du Glana
Ch. du Glana
Ch. Leoville Poyferré
Ch. Leoville Poyferrê
Producer to Watch
Ch. Clerc Milon
Ch. Clerc Milon
Ch. Lafite Rothschild
Ch. Lafite Rothschild
Ch. Mouton Rothschild
Ch. Mouton Rothschild
Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalonde
Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalonde
Needless to say, both the Decanter article and the BC Liquor Store catalogue list many more wine choices.
The above chart is a very short list of those Bordeaux left bank red wines which were assessed as either Top Value, Producer to Watch or Potential 100 points of Left Bank Bordeaux 2018 red wines and were also available in the BC Liquor Stores 2018 Release. These were the criteria for inclusion.
The value to me of this comparison chart is that it fine tuned the information in the BC Liquor Store catalogue and has introduced us to some vineyards we didn’t know about at the lower end of these price points that we will keep an eye on for future purchases.
Enjoy the magic of Bordeaux!
References: Jane Anson MW, Decanter Magazine June 2019, Vintage Preview: Bordeaux 2018
2018 Bordeaux Release – BC Liquor Stores.com
and with recognition to my wine expert friend who always encourages my interest in Bordeaux wines.
Let us raise a glass to commemorate the bicentenary of the deaths of both Napoleon Bonaparte and Mrs Sarah D’Oyly with a glass of Port, a fortified wine popular in their days.
Mrs. D’Oyly of Curzon Street, London and Twickenham died 200 years ago this year. She might be surprised to know that she is being written about so long after her death and nearly 300 years after her birth in 1725.
Napoleon Bonaparte also died 200 years ago – it’s the bicentenary of his death this month of May and much will undoubtedly be commented upon regarding his considerable legacy.
Mrs. D’Oyly’s legacy, by virtue of the auction of her wine cellar contents in 1822, provides a window into a 19th century collection of Choice Old Wines – a gift to anyone interested in the history of wine and its context.
Photo of Mr. Christie’s poster advertising Choice Old Wines by auction in 1822.
Sarah D’Oyly was a child of the Enlightenment Period in the 18th and 19th centuries, whose three principle concepts were: use of reason, scientific enquiry and progress. It was a time of intellectual and scientific advancement to improve human life and a time of prominent thinkers like Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu, Adam Smith and Kant.
I recall reading Candide by Voltaire in my A level French studies at school and enjoyed the debates between Candide and the philosopher Pangloss and Candide’s encouragement that, “we must cultivate our garden”.
We now talk about the great changes in our lifetime and yet so much change happened during Mrs. D’Oyly’s lifetime. For starters, the American War of Independence 1775 – 1783, the French Revolution 1789 – 1799 and the Industrial Revolution 1760 – 1840.
So who was Sarah D’Oyly? She was the widow of Christopher D’Oyly, a barrister and administrator. They lived in Mayfair in London and also had a villa in Twickenham, 10.5 miles from their London home. Twickenham was first recorded in AD 700 as Tuick Hom and is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 following the Norman Conquest in 1066. In fact, D’Oyly is an old Norman name.
May showing Curzon Street, London and Twickenham
Upon the death of her husband in 1795, Mrs D’Oyly remained both at Twickenham and their Curzon Street house in London until her own death in 1821 at the age of 96, a considerable age at any time and in particular 200 years ago. She was buried at Walton on Thames beside her husband and her memorial reads:
“In memory of Mrs Sarah D’Oyly,
grand daughter of Sir Hans Sloane, Bart
and widow of the late Christopher D’Oyly, Esq who departed this life on the eighth day of September 1821, in the ninety seventh year of her life”
Sarah D’Oyly was the granddaughter of Sir Hans Sloane, (1660 – 1753), an Ango-Irish physician, naturalist, collector and prominent figure in 18th century London. Sir Hans Sloane’s collection of 71,000 objects from around the world were bequeathed by him to the British Nation on his death and were the foundation of the British Museum, the British Library and the Natural History Museum. Currently, this and other collections are being evaluated in the context of how these significant collections from the Enlightenment Period contributed to the development of knowledge and understanding with an attempt to understand the world in which the collectors lived.
18th Century enamel wine label of Cyprus wine, Commandaria
KEO St John Commandaria
The collection of Choice Old Wines for auction by Mr. Christie in 1822 highlights the taste for sweet fortified wines in that era. The practice of fortifying wines with grape spirit also reflects the long voyages required to bring the wines to England in a drinkable state. Additionally, with fortified wines, there was the advantage that the wines kept longer once the bottles were opened.
A typical cellar of the period could also have included Claret from Bordeaux and Champagne, at that time usually a still red wine.
The 18th and 19th centuries saw considerable innovation in grape and wine production in various parts of Europe, permitting a number of distinctive wines such as Madeira, Port, Sherry, Claret and Champagne to be marketed. However, there were high import duties so wine was a luxury.
Wine labels from the collection of Dr Richard Wells that match the wines in the poster
The main market in Britain at that time for alcoholic beverages was beer and spirits and even by 1815, the annual consumption of wine was low due to the high cost.
Between 1816 and 1820, Portuguese wines were the highest percentage of available wines for home consumption in Britain, as in Madeira and Port, and Sherry and Port accounted for approximately ¾ of all British imports of wines before 1860. Port became firmly established in the lifestyle and habits of a section of the British public.
Another 19th century wine cellar inventory that I am aware of corroborates that fortified wines were the mainstay of a wine cellar at that time.
Late 18th Century enamel labels for Cyprus wines, courtesy of Dr. R Wells
Perhaps these differences in wine taste between then and now illustrate one measure of changes over the centuries. A more significant difference between the lifetime of Mrs. D’Oyly and now, relates to transportation. The railway reached Twickenham in 1848. Throughout Sarah D’Oyly’s long life, she would have used horses and horse drawn vehicles to move between her homes in Mayfair and Twickenham. This contrast speaks volumes about the difference in lifestyle then and now.
Over the past few blog posts, I have reflected upon the Choice Old Wines in Mrs. D’Oyly’s wine cellar that were auctioned in 1822 and tried to put them in perspective from a historical viewpoint. As a visual cue, the wines have been beautifully illustrated by a photo-montage of historic enamel wine labels from the collection of Dr. Richard Wells.
I like to think that Sarah D’Oyly, following her long life, would be amused by this interest in her wine cellar.
Reference: Twickenham Museum www.twickenham-museum.org
I’ve been asked if Mrs. D’Oyly was a relative of the D’Oyly Carte family of Gilbert and Sullivan musical fame. My conclusion is probably not. Apparently, the word D’Oyly was used by Richard D’Oyly Carte and his sons as a forename, not part of a double surname. If anyone knows of a connection between the families, I would be interested to hear more.
Today, I saw the Heartman as I was walking along the seawall in Vancouver.
Floral love art by the Heartman, West Vancouver
The Heartman, as we call him, creates beautiful arrangements of flower petals on the earth or grass, always in the shape of a heart. He radiates calm and peace and his delightful work inevitably brings a smile or a photo opportunity moment to passers-by.
This heart symbol seems particularly appropriate as we all do our best to: “Be Kind, Be Calm and Be Safe”; the affirmation that British Columbians have taken to heart, literally, coined by Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer of British Columbia.
The focus on compassion and safety is reflected in the approaches to winery visits this summer where social distancing and safety are paramount for visitors to be encouraged to venture into winery tastings.
The key message for people planning to visit wineries during their summer holidays, whether here in BC or in other wine growing areas, is to anticipate the need to make an appointment for a wine tasting. For now, drop in wine tastings are a thing of the past. Additionally, the numbers of people tasting at any one time is sharply reduced, so check out how many people can be in the tasting party. And, ask about the guidelines on spitting wine at the tasting area: some wineries provide a disposable spit cup, so a good idea to clarify this before the tasting begins!
Each winery creates their own wine tasting procedures as long as they keep to the guidelines around social distancing and sanitation. This affects where the wine tastings take place, indoors or increasingly in outdoor spaces. A point of enquiry is the definition of social distancing. Here in British Columbia, we are operating with a 2 metre social distance. In France, the social distance is 1 metre. Figure out what that distance looks like, so you can conform to the expectation or leave more space. Its important everywhere to know the guidelines, so you can: “respecter la distance de 1 mètre” or 2 metres, whichever is relevant.
Winery visitors can expect highly professional levels of sanitation for everything from counter tops to wine stemware to pour spouts on wine bottles with visitors being discouraged from touching bottles of wine for sale, unless buying them!
I visited the websites of two award wining wineries I know well in SW France to see what is on offer in these Covid times. Both these wineries have 5 stars with Trip Advisor for their winery visits.
Sue and Humphrey Temperley, proprietors of Château Lestevenie
Bergerac Wine Region showing Saussignac and Sigoulès
The Hare at Chateau Lestevenie, Gageac et Rouillac, Dordogne.
Chateau Lestevenie has clear instructions on their home page about phoning to arrange wine tastings. They indicate that wine tastings are strictly by appointment to one household group per time in order to maintain social distancing. Chateau Lestevenie is a beautiful countryside winery offering a wonderful visit and opportunity to learn with Humphrey and Sue Temperley and admire the work they have also done to promote the flora and fauna on their property.
These comments above assume that the winery visit will be in person. A growing element in wine tourism now is the advent of the virtual wine tour and tasting.
Caro Feely, Co-Proprietor, Chateau Feely, Saussignac SW France
Château Feely owned by Caro and Sean Feely
Another local winery in the Dordogne is Chateau Feely where Caro Feely has been busy launching a range of virtual experiences to enable people to experience Chateau Feely from anywhere.
Caro says: “We have been working flat out days, nights, weekends to get these new products developed and the response has been great. We had started developing ideas for online courses as part of our wine school the last couple of years and the coronavirus offered the push and the ‘time space’ we needed to get the first products done.”
Caro has produced several videos on their website describing the biodynamic vineyard of Caro and her husband, Sean, including a one minute video produced about their new Virtual Discovery Wine Course.
‘Down the road’ from these country wineries, in Ste Emilion and the areas around Bordeaux another approach to wine tasting takes place. This year, many of the most famous chateaux in the wine world are conducting their wine tastings with merchants using video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Microsoft teams etc. Samples of wines are shipped to the merchants in advance and then the tastings take place virtually with the chateaux technical directors discussing the wines and answering enquires from the merchants. This is how the 2019 en primeur wine sale to merchants is taking place for many chateaux. The good news is that it appears 2019 was a year producing a high quality vintage.
Economically speaking 2020 looks like a tough year for winemakers. At the en primeur level of wine sales, many chateaux are discounting their 2019 vintage prices to encourage sales. Inevitably, this price challenge will ripple down through the industry and affect all the wine-makers.
In the time of Covid, let’s be kind to our wine-makers and support them through an unforgettable year, which is bringing many challenges as well as opportunities for change.
It’s about 3.30 p.m. on a sunny, warm autumn afternoon in November. We walk uphill into a bosky, oak wood with sunlight filtering through the leaves. The ground is covered in acorns that crunch noisily under our feet in this quiet space.
There before us with wings spread wide is the Quintus Dragon
The Quintus Dragon, Château Quintus, Saint-Emilion.
All two tons of bronze on a stone plinth.
“Why is there a dragon here?” we ask our host, François Capdemourlin, the Estate Manager at Château Quintus.
He tell us that, in mythology, dragons protect treasure or special places. The proprietors of Chateau Quintus in Saint Emilion consider that their 28 hectares of wine growing slopes are special. Hence the protective presence of the dragon, he says.
Commissioned by Prince Robert of Luxembourg, President and CEO, Domaine Clarence Dillon and created by Mark Coreth, a world renowned British sculptor, who specializes in large scale, dynamic animal and wildlife sculptures, the Quintus Dragon is spectacular.
The view from this wine property is also spectacular. On a clear day such as we enjoy, its possible to see not only famous Saint Emilion chateaux, such as Chateau Angelus before us across the vineyards but also the areas of Pomerol and Fronsac, great wine areas in the distance.
Château Quintus chai on the hill
Looking east from Château Quintus
Views across Saint Emilion vineyards
Saint Emilion vineyards
Chateau Quintus is owned by Domaine Clarence Dillon, which owns Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion in Pessac Leognan in the Bordeaux Wine Region. I wrote about Chateau Haut Brion in January: see the Whisper of History.
Bordeaux wine areas – see Graves and Pessac-Leognan and Saint Emilion
Chateau Quintus represents a relatively new venture for Domaine Clarence Dillon as it extends into creating the more merlot-centric wines of the Right Bank of the Bordeaux wine area through the acquisition of two existing but separate wine properties. Merlot, as the predominant variety in Saint Emilion wines, is the grape variety that gives softer tannins to wines.
As we talk about Merlot based wines, we smile as we reminisce about the 2004 film ‘Sideways’ featuring proponents of Merlot and Pinot Noir and wonder how many people remember that film now.
Back at Château Quintus there is an aura of calm efficiency about the property. This is a working vineyard: no wine tourist shop or public tasting area in sight. This is the norm in the Bordeaux wine area with only a few exceptions. Visits are by appointment only. Wine tourism centres for this area are located in the UNESCO heritage town of Saint Emilion.
We tour the new winemaking area in the renovated chai or vat room and then drive to the Chateau business centre in a different area of the property, where there is a small tasting room. Behind the tasting area, we can look through the glass partition to the wine barrel ageing room where the wine is quietly and patiently ageing.
Tasting room with barrel ageing room behind the glass wall.
It’s in this tasting room that our host tells us the story about pirates!
Images of Pirates of the Caribbean and swashbuckling figures come to mind and I can’t wait to hear the tale.
This is what happened. On a diving expedition in the Indian Ocean, off the Island of Mayotte, some years ago, divers found a cache of treasure on the seabed. In this cache, covered with the debris of years on the ocean bed, was a 19th century wine bottle, still intact. On the neck of the bottle was the raised seal of Chateau Haut Brion engraved on the glass, still visible after all these years. Inspired by this historic find, the wine bottles of Chateau Quintus are especially made in the same 19th century style, in this instance with the raised engraved seal of Chateau Quintus.
I’ve mentioned dragons and pirates, now its time to mention the wine!
Chateau Quintus focuses on red wines and these wines are part of the Saint Emilion appellation. As mentioned, the grape variety grown is Merlot together with Cabernet Franc. In terms of wine production, the vintage has been controlled by Chateau Quintus since 2011.
Out of interest, white wines made in the Saint Emilion wine region are characterized as Bordeaux Blanc.
We taste a Chateau Quintus 2014 and their second wine, Le Dragon de Quintus 2014. 2014 was a challenging year with a hot Indian summer in the area that saved the vintage after difficult summer conditions.
Wine tasting at Château Quintus – note the raised seal engraved in the glass.
The Chateau Quintus 2014 is made from 69% Merlot and 31% Cabernet Franc. This is a smooth wine with red fruit and spicy notes. It is a wine to age and enjoy over the next decade or so.
Le Dragon de Quintus 2014 is made from 77% Merlot and 23% Cabernet Franc and is a wine with soft tannins and plum notes to fully enjoy now.
It is interesting to hear the Estate Manager talk about vineyard management and the wine making process used at Chateau Quintus as it benefits from the expertise of the teams at Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, all part of the Domaine Clarence Dillon organization.
Several examples of this collaboration are discussed:
One example is that the vineyard workers have been specifically trained in the way that Domaine Clarence Dillon prefers to prune the vines.
Another is that Chateau Quintus benefits from the on site cooperage or barrel making service resident at Chateau Haut Brion.
Yet another example is that the staff from the three different chateaux gets together for the wine blending process to determine the percentages of varieties in the year’s vintage. Team members share their expertise to arrive at the optimum blend. Once the blending has been determined the wine is put in oak barrels for ageing over approximately two years.
I am always interested to know about initiatives that develop talent and skill within an organization and enjoy hearing these examples given by François Capdemourlin, who is clearly enjoying his exciting role managing this integrated wine estate. Chateau Quintus is a new name in the Saint Emilion wine world, finding its way and supported by the investment of resources from the Domaine Clarence Dillon. Watch this space, as the pundits say.
We’ve enjoyed an interesting and informative visit to Chateau Quintus and its time to thank the Estate Manager for his time, find our car and drive off towards road D33..
D33 is the main road on the way from Bergerac to Libourne and the city of Bordeaux. Up high on the right hand side sits the town of Saint Emilion with its vineyards spread over the hillsides. We frequently drive that road.
Now I know where the Quintus Dragon lives, in that bosky wood on the hill high above the road. I know where to look when driving by.
The Quintus Dragon
Next time, I will raise my hand in a silent salute.
It’s mid November, on a cool yet hazy, sunny day when we navigate our way through Pessac on the outskirts of the city of Bordeaux to find the entrance gates of Chateau Haut-Brion. We have a 3.00 p.m. appointment for a visit to the wine estate.
Chateau Haut-Brion, looking out to the vines, Pessac, Bordeaux
The whisper of history murmurs to us as we enter the Chateau Haut-Brion driveway. Saying nothing, we listen to the echoes of nearly five centuries since wine has been made at Chateau Haut-Brion. Wine has been produced on this land for centuries before that. Before finding our way to the parking area, we stop and take photos of gnarled vines in their closely planted rows.
November scene, vines at Chateau Haut-Brion
Gnarled vine at Chateau Haut-Brion
The whisper of history tell us that:
In 1533, Jean de Pontac, by purchasing an existing noble house in Haut Brion united it with the vine growing land, leading to the birth of the Chateau Haut-Brion.
In 1660 – 1661, the cellar records of King Charles the Second of England, who was known to be a bon-viveur extraordinaire, note 169 bottles of “ Vin de Hubriono” (sic) are held for guests at the royal table.
In 1663, Samuel Pepys, the famous English diarist, wrote that he had drunk at the Royal Oak Tavern in London: “…I drank a sort of French wine called Ho-Bryan (sic) which had an especially good taste that I had never encountered before. “
In the 17th century, writers were commenting on the nature of the soil in the area of “white sand with gravel” and the particulars of the terroir.
In 1787, the American Ambassador to the French Court, Thomas Jefferson, later the third President of the United States, visited Chateau Haut-Brion. A wine connoisseur, he also commented on the nature of the gravelly terroir. In his writings, he identified four great wine houses of the area including Chateau Haut-Brion. In this, he anticipated the identification of Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Lafite, Chateau LaTour and Chateau Margaux in the official classification system of 1855, as Premiers Grands Crus wines of the Gironde. Chateau Mouton-Rothschild was reclassified to Premier Grand Cru in 1973 and added to the prestigious list.
Chateau Haut-Brion changed hands several times during the centuries. There is an apocryphal story about one of the owners in the Pontac family in the 17th Century. It is said that he lived to over 100 years, an age almost unheard of at that time. This gentleman attributed his longevity to his daily glass of Chateau Haut-Brion!
The present owners since 1935 are the Dillon family. The current head of the Domaine Dillon is Prince Robert of Luxembourg, who is a great grandson of Clarence Dillon, the New York financier and purchaser of the property. Since the purchase, the family has invested significantly in the property through a program of continuous renovation, innovation and improvement both to the historic chateau building and to the winery facilities.
Entrance Hall at Chateau Haut-Brion and portrait of Clarence Dillon
On this particular November afternoon, after ringing the intercom bell at the visitor entrance, our guide, who was informative about the estate and interested in our visit, joins us. Following an introduction to the past and present owners through the medium of their portraits, we are given a detailed look at the topography of the vineyard and its proximity to the neighbouring estate, also owned by the Dillon family, which is Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion; a story for another time.
During our visit, the wine making process is explained to us. At Haut-Brion, our guide explains, traditional approaches are employed while at the same time using modern and efficient equipment with a program of regular reinvestment and improvement. For any aspiring wine maker, an opportunity to work at Haut Brion would seem a great privilege. My impression is that wine making at a wine estate with such a historical context would be more a vocation than an occupation.
The Cuvier or vat room at Chateau Haut-Brion
The Chai at Chateau Haut-Brion where young wine is aged in barrels
One of the things that I appreciate at Chateau Haut-Brion is that it has its own cooperage service or barrel maker on site. Supporting and fostering these artisanal skills such as barrel making in the wine industry is important for their continuation. This on-site barrel-making workshop is “the fruit of a partnership between Haut-Brion and Séguin Moreau” and has been in place since 1991.
The barrel making workshop at Chateau Haut-Brion
All wine starts with the soil in the vineyards, the selection and management of the vines and the choice of particular varieties for individual parcels of land. The high standard of care of these vineyards to produce grand cru wines has been consistent over the centuries.
The conclusion of most wine tours is to taste the wines produced on the property and our afternoon at Haut-Brion is no different. We are guided to the 18th century Orangerie, which was renovated in 2001 and is used as the tasting room.
The Orangerie at Chateau Haut-Brion
We are offered the 2011 vintage wines, which our guide tells us, are just being opened now. Haut-Brion records indicate that 2011 was a very good year for their wine. It was the driest year registered since 1949. With enough rain in the summer to allow the vines to work their magic, the harvest took place from August 31 to September 27. All this data and more are recorded by Chateau Haut-Brion and available for review.
Tasting the 2011 Chateau Haut-Brion
The typical blend of grape varieties in the red wine at Haut-Brion is Cabernet Sauvignon 45%, Cabernet Franc 15% and Merlot 40%. These wines are created for laying down and building a cellar for future enjoyment. The Haut-Brion recommended life of the 2011 vintage is from 2020 to 2035. In 2017, we are tasting this wine in its teenage years; in the process of ageing and developing its full expression of the terroir and all the wine making expertise that has gone into its production.
Standing in the Orangerie, tasting these magnificent wines and looking out at the garden and the old Chateau itself, has to be a memorable wine moment. So much so that when I look back, I remember hearing the whisper of history and at the same time, tasting the richness of the red wine, the deep black fruit, the chocolate aromas with developing smoked tones and that sensation of enjoying a beautifully crafted wine.
A December 2017 article in the British weekly magazine, Spectator, written by their wine writer, Bruce Anderson, summed up this sentiment well when he wrote about “wines of a lifetime.” Coincidentally, in that article he also refers to a Chateau Haut-Brion wine, in that case a 1959 vintage that he enjoyed with a friend.
In preparing to leave, we thank our guide for our visit.
For me, the visit to Chateau Haut-Brion will be up there in my list of chateaux visits of a lifetime.
Bordeaux wine areas – see Graves and Pessac-Leognan and Saint Emilion
Note: A point of appellation detail: Chateau Haut-Brion retains its 1855 Premier Grand Cru classification although it is not in the Medoc area. It is in the Pessac Leognan appellation, which was previously part of the Graves appellation. (See the attached map of Bordeaux and the Neighbouring Regions.)
From my perspective, one of the many pleasures of exploring the world of wine is to enjoy a new wine experience and its environment. Attending a gathering of the Confrérie des Compagnons des Vins de Loupiac is a perfect example of this.
Roman history and a hidden gem of vins liquoreux come together in the Loupiac wine area near the city of Bordeaux in SW France.
Loupiac is named for the wolves which once roamed this area and the Roman heritage is in the original name of Lupicius, the wolf.
Loupiac AC and the town of Loupiac is situated 40 km to the south west of Bordeaux, nestled up against the better known Barsac and Sauternes Appellations yet on the right side of the Garonne River. Look at the map of the Bordeaux wine region too quickly and Loupiac is nearly invisible.
Part of the Bordeaux wine region showing Loupiac AC near Cadillac
Loupiac AC is one of the grouping of Graves and Sweet Bordeaux wines including vins liquoreux in the Bordeaux wine region.
60 winegrowers cultivate the 370 hectares of Loupiac appellation vineyards in small parcels of land, none of them larger than 10 hectares.
As with vins liquoreux in other areas of SW France, the grape varieties are: Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle and the blending percentages in Loupiac AC are generally 80%, 15%, and 5% respectively. All grapes are harvested by hand, in several consecutive passes.
It is the proximity to the Garonne River which produces the morning mists followed by hot, sunny afternoons. This climate in turn contributes to the creation of the noble rot or botrytis cinerea which concentrates the sugars in the ripe grapes and results in these honeyed, complex wines.
Increasingly, people are recognizing that these wines can be enjoyed with a variety of foods, not just the old fashioned view of sweet wine with sweet puddings.
At the Confrérie meal, the varied menu included pâté, rabbit, cheese as well as dessert.
Foie gras with apple
As we progressed through the menu, we sampled a range of Loupiac AC wines from different chateaux and different vintages, from 1995 to 2015 demonstrating how well these vins liquoreux age. I was intrigued by the unfolding aromas and tastes across the years. As one of the winemakers explained, the wines develop their mellow, honeyed almost fortified intensity over time not because they become sweeter with age but because the acidity drops with the ageing process thus bringing the sweetness to the fore.
Clos Jean 1995
Domaine de Noble 2015
Domaine des Pins de Pitcha 2005
Clos Jean 2011
Ch Loupiac Gaudiet 2013
Loupiac AC Vin Liquoreux
I found this visit to Loupiac and the vin liquoreux and food pairing to be inspirational, especially with the aged wines.
Other wine and food pairing suggestions include chicken roasted in Loupiac wine, duck breast prepared with soy sauce and Loupiac wine, and lemon puddings. And, of course, as an apéritif. All served with chilled Loupiac AC wine, between 4-8’C.
I have already experimented making up a recipe for the foie gras and Granny Smith Apple starter with a biscuity base.
Experimentation is the order of the day, encouraged by the day of discovery at Loupiac.
The double doors open into a dimly lit meeting room of the Vancouver Convention Centre and in pour 100 wine aficionados, eager to taste the best of the pick at the Meet Your Match wine seminar hosted by Anthony Gismondi, wine columnist for The Vancouver Sun newspaper.
This is day 6 of the 35th Annual Vancouver International WIne Festival, this year celebrating California Wines and Chardonnay from around the world.
At the Meet Your Match seminar 10 international winery principals with their chosen wines sit at individual tables to greet the seminar participants divided into groups of 10. Argentina, Australia, Canada (British Columbia), France, Germany, the United States (California) are represented here. The event is choreographed so that the groups circulate clockwise from table to table after 8 minutes with each winery principal; each rotation signaled by the ringing of a bell. Standing to one side, it feels as though I am watching people dancing in slow motion around the perimeter of the room. Modelled on speed dating concepts, where people move from table to table meeting new people, it’s a popular event; fast paced and lively with great wines presented by the winery principal and often the winemaker. The sound of clinking glasses and general laughter increases with each rotation around the room.
This is my third event this day as a volunteer wine pourer. I’m asked to assist at the Sebastiani table where Mark Lyon, Winemaker is going to present Sebastiani’s Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon 2008. The first group of 10 people approach the tasting table where each small group will take up 2 rows in front of the winemaker. Mr. Lyon asks me to pour tasting glasses for the people in the 2nd row for each of the 10 groups he will present to during the event. This gives me a unique opportunity to learn about the Sebastiani Winery and the Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon by listening to his presentation about the history of the parcels of land, the cherry orchard pedigree, the grape varieties and the soil type.
The original block of old vines was planted on 10.8 acres of Sonoma Valley countryside in 1961 and 1962 by August Sebastiani. In 1985, Mr. Sebastiani renamed the estate Cherryblock with reference to its former life as a cherry orchard. Replanting of sections of the vineyard that succumbed to phylloxera commenced in 1997. The vines grow on Terra Rosa soil which is volcanic, rocky with low fertility yet good natural drainage.
Originally a single-vineyard designation, the Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon is now a proprietary blend supported by vines from nearby vineyards with similar Terra Rosa soils. The wine is a Bordeaux style blend: Cabernet Sauvignon (80 – 90%), with other Bordeaux varieties, Malbec (0 – 15%), Merlot (0 – 10%), Petit Verdot (0 – 5%) and Cabernet Franc (0 – 5%). The percentages vary relative to the vintage. The blend produces a dense, structured wine with aromas of cherries, cassis, cranberries, cedar, leather, dried leaves. The Sonoma Valley climate is warm enough to ripen the Cabernet Sauvignon yet cool enough to retain the balance and acidity necessary for great wines.
Beneath these descriptions, I hear Mark Lyon’s passion for his craft, his knowledge and attention to the science of winemaking and the art and perhaps alchemy of each year’s
Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013
vintage together with his enthusiasm for making beautiful wine. At the end of the event, when the participants have drifted happily away, I taste the Cherryblock – a sublime experience of tasting a dense, greatly satisfying wine that according to Mr. Lyon will be even better in 5 years time.
The 2013 Vancouver International WIne Festival was attended by over 25,000 consumers. 175 wineries from 15 countries were represented together with 62 wineries from the theme region, California.
Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery: www.sebastiani.com
The varying colours of Rose wine fascinate me. The degree to which, in simplistic terms, the length of time that the black grape skins are left in contact with the Must or unfermented grape juice and affect the colour and flavour of the wine is intriguing. The colours can range from pale strawberry to vivid crimson and shades in between: all encourage exploration!
A recent lunch at “Le 8 ” In Ste Foy La Grande, a 13th Century bastide town in the Bordeaux wine region and located on the edge of the Gironde and Dordogne Departments in SW France presented an opportunity to drink Le Rose de Laregnere, a Bordeaux Rose.
Red peach in colour, its pleasant dry style with subtle aromas of red fruit, citrus fruits and flowers was a flexible accompaniment to a varied four course menu of artichoke soup, pate de maison, duck with olives, chocolate cake (light and cut from freshly made sponges on the chef’s counter) and local cheeses all for 42 euros for 2 people.
Recently opened, “le 8”, was bustling at lunchtime. An open plan yet intimate interior where the chef was in full view of the tables gave a sense of dynamism to the place. The busy pace of the restaurant, the hum of happy lunch time chat was made all the more enjoyable by the good quality of the food and Le Rose de Laregnere.
Reference: Restaurant Le 8, 8 Rue Marceau, 33220 Ste Foy La Grande, 05 57 41 31 49