The whisper of history: Château Haut-Brion,Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux,France

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

References:

Chateau Haut Brion:   http://www.haut-brion.com

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.)

Spectator magazine: http://www.spectator.co.uk

Bordeaux wine region: Loupiac AC : a hidden gem

 

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.

Loupiac AC is one of the grouping of Graves and Sweet Bordeaux wines including vins liquoreux in the Bordeaux wine region.

Sweet wines and vins liquoreux from 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.

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.

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.

References.   http://www.vins-loupiac.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vancouver International Wine Festival, British Columbia, Canada, February 25 – March 3, 2013

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013

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

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.

References:

Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery:    www.sebastiani.com

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013: http://www.vanwinefest.ca

The Colours of Rose – Bordeaux style

IMG_3159Le 8 restaurant, Ste Foy La Grande

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

Le Rose de Laregnere,   See http://www.cavelaregnere