Posts tagged Bordeaux Superieur

Merlots at any price — really?

For some time, whenever anyone asks me for a really good Merlot recommendation, I’ve been saying “Bordeaux.” Too often, US Merlot wines are lacking…well… almost everything except fruitiness. I want a Merlot that tastes like well-made wine. That IS a well-made wine. And you have to go way up in price if you want to get that in the US. This week I opened a few different Merlots, and I started with the two lower-priced wines: both nicely crafted and both, surprisingly, $20 or under.
The first two were Bordeaux Supérieur wines. 2009 Chateau Timberlay: buttery, cheery, bright fruit aroma, with lightish tannins. Medium-light body up front but a more solid finish. The flavors deepened with food; great with a plain hamburger.
The 2009 Chateau de Bel “La Capitaine” was finely restrained in both its aroma and flavors. Mild dark cherry, cassis and some leather, backed by very nice tannins. Hamburger or steak would be great here.
Twomey’s 2007 Napa Valley Merlot is a prime example of a US Merlot I would recommend. Across between red and black fruits, nicely integrated tannins. Moderate finish with a hint of cinnamon in its wood notes. Needs to accompany a little more complicated dish than plain meat; a beef stew flavored with onions, carrots and wine does the job nicely. Price? You have to go up; this one averages about $45.
Moving on to a less common American wine, I found a lot more fruit. I had pulled out a 2004 Dr. Konstantin Frank Merlot from the Finger Lakes, and found it bursting with fruit, pleasant and easy-drinking; quite a nice accomplishment in a Merlot from this area. And when I just looked up the price, it seems to go for only around $16 — fun if you can find it.

Bordeaux Soup, Part IV — Along the Dordogne River, on the Arcachon Bay, and Through the Vineyards

Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur vineyards also line the wide Dordogne River. There, several new families have taken up residence and are re-working the traditional vineyards according to the new AOCs’ specs. Near a traditional river fishing-hut with its winched-up net, Frederic Mallier is also going organic at Château de la Vielle Chapelle. Despite the frost, hail and other problems during the 2007 season, he has produced an extremely nice “everyday Bordeaux” with 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc which was my favorite in the tasting.
Also along the river are Dominique Meneret’s park-like gardens, golden at the end of the day, next to his vineyards. Since he acquired Château Brondeau in 1980 and Château Courteillac in 1998, he has been working to make a “cashmere wine,” smooth and elegant. Many of his wines have the feel of a Cru Classé; the 2009, still in barrel, was extremely promising, too.
Next door, at Château de Bel, Olivier Cazenave has fulfilled his dream of establishing his young family in a small house with vineyards. When we arrived one evening, we found he had also invited friends from Chateau Belgarde and Chateau La Mothe-du Barry to come over with their wines for an informal dinner. This was preceded by a long Apéritif during the sunset on a deck over-looking the river, where we sipped everyone’s wines while waiting for the mascaret – an remarkable, twice-daily tidal bore that comes up the Dordogne 70 km from the sea during certain seasons. And impressive sight I had never heard of before; I learned that in warmer months when the wave is higher, people surf this wave all the way up the river.
We experienced true historical life at Stefaan Massart’s Château Vilatte, where he grows his own wheat and bakes bread in the 19th century oven he renovated. He took over the estate at 19, when his father died in the early 1980s. Stefaan’s friend brought over a buggy drawn by a spectacular draft horse, to take us on a tour of the vineyards. Back at the house, looking at his curious collection of historic winery machines, we enjoyed a traditional, regional stew Stefaan had been cooking all day. Even his wines tended toward the historic, meant for ageing, like his merlot-based 2000: big, fruity and vibrant and great to drink right now, ten years after it was made.
Xavier Milhade of Château Recougne chose a different mode of transportation: he took us out on a simple oyster barge on the bay at Arcachon (Bordeaux’s seaside getaway). Along with blue-eyed, curly-haired Jonathan, our pilot, we had our aperitif wine – sauvignon blanc with a good balance of crisp and fruity — on the boat. Afterward, we went back to Jonathan’s oyster shack and feasted on fresh seafood matched to Xavier’s wines.

To hear more about my travels through the region, listen to me on iwineradio
To learn more about the region, visit the Planet Bordeaux visitor center – it’s about 20 minutes east of the city of Bordeaux — or check out the Planete Bordeaux website

Bordeaux Soup, Part III – Castles, Gardens and Terraces

…More on great Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur wines, most $15-$25…
Out in the countryside, we visited the amazing, still-lived-in 16th century Château le Grand Verdus which has been owned by the Le Grix de la Salle family since 1820. (It is now a national historic monument.) There, earnest, boyish 32-year-old Tom (who has three kids of his own – but they were in school when we visited) works the vineyards in an organic style with his father. After WWII, Tom’s grandfather realized that traditional family farms weren’t going to work in the future, and retooled it to vineyards. Thirty years ago, he even sent his son (Tom’s father) to work with Robert Mondavi in California because, by the 1970s, Mondavi had created a wine business of out very little. Now, Tom is looking forward to buying an optical sorter for the grapes, to save time; this estate is a very large producer – 70,000 cases.
Seventeenth century-style gardens greeted us at 17th century Château Pierraill, where Alice and Jacques Demonchaux’s son Arelien is now winemaker. Some have new owners, like Per Landin at Château de Parenchere, a Dutch businessman with a longtime passion for the wines and the region of Bordeaux. Astutely, he retained beautiful, young Julia Gazaniol as his marketing manager when he purchased the property from her family a few years ago, as Julia’s father Jean was ready to downsize. Jean continues to consult, and we enjoyed both their 2000 and 2007 Cuvée Raphael reds with our lunch.
At Château Lamothe de Haux, a property that houses four generations, we had lunch outside on a terrace above 19th century limestone caves, carved out for stone buildings built in the city of Bordeaux. Our terrace was also overlooked by the windows of a bed-and-breakfast apartment, available to rent in the chateau.

To hear more about my travels through the region, listen to me on iwineradio
To learn more about the region, visit the Planet Bordeaux visitor center – it’s about 20 minutes east of the city of Bordeaux — or check out the Planete Bordeaux website

Bordeaux Soup, Part II — Mechanical Harvesting and Hollywood in the Vineyards

Veronique Barthe of Chateau la Freynell

Not only have the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Sup proprietors been improving their vineyards, they have also had to learn to cut costs. No matter that unemployment is high now, it’s almost impossible to find people to work in the vineyards, especially during harvest time. Many people have found the price too high, with the French requirements for a 35-hour work week, lunch provided, etc. so they’ve mechanized. People like Veronique Barthe, who now rents the vineyards of the family’s Château La Freynelle, who was very vocal about the problem of unwilling workers. She is the winemaker as neither of her brothers was interested, when their parents handed on the reins to the next generation. Her white was a great aperitif, and her rosé wine was hearty enough to pair with a full-course lunch.

At another place we visited, the small, family-owned At Château Penin—where they also make ends meet by exporting friends’ wines to the Netherlands—they tend to do small, targeted mechanical harvests, whenever the grapes are ready in their different vineyards. Their 2008 Bordeaux “Grande Séléction” from 30-year-old vines was rich and velvety.

Chateau Couronneau dates from the 15th century

Christophe and Bénédicte Piat, who purchased the15th-century Château Couronneau in 1994, were in the midst of a quick mechanical harvest when we arrived, but didn’t let it get in the way of having their two children politely greet everyone with a handshake. There they grow organic Merlot and Sauvignon Gris, and are concentrating on reducing the use of chemicals by 90% in their replanted vineyards. And, as it happens, this beautiful property, a medieval setting with gardens, horses and ducks, will appear on the next CD by jazz musician Kyle Eastwood (Clint’s son) who had just finished recording there.

Hollywood has also touched the large Cooperative of Sauveterre. This co-op also blends wines for one of Francis Ford Coppola’s projects. There, we did our own blending with cellar master Philippe Cazaux. His evaluations were extremely diplomatic – though I noticed he didn’t happen to preserve any of our blends.

To hear more about my travels through the region, listen to me on iwineradio
To learn more about the region, visit the Planet Bordeaux visitor center – it’s about 20 minutes east of the city of Bordeaux — or check out the Planete Bordeaux website

Bordeaux Soup, Part I — I mean Bordeaux Sup. [Supérieur]

Excellent wines are pouring out of Bordeaux, at prices from $10 to $25 –several notches up from what you’d expect at these prices – a great choice for a “weekend wine.” Look for the words Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur on the label.
The winemakers refer to Bordeaux Superieur as Bordeaux Sup., which I can’t help envisioning as Bordeaux SOUP. (Yum) I had a great time exploring these wines earlier this fall, meeting the winemakers at their homes, in a variety of picturesque scenes and activities. And getting some of my questions answered.
For instance, have you been wondering what happened to Merlot? Didn’t it use to be a great wine? Yes, and it still is, in Bordeaux. The Bordeaux and Bordeaux Sup red wines are Merlot-based — sometimes blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc. And they’re very good: structured and fruity, meaty and lightly tannic. Wines for a meal you can sink your teeth into, wines that are served with grilled steaks and stews, pâtés and all types of cheeses.
In addition, most of the producers in the southern and eastern parts of this region make white wines that are usually a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. These whites are an integral part of the local ritual of the Apéritif: a chilled glass is poured, a plate of sliced pâtés and salamis is brought out, and people come together to relax for a few minutes and talk about their day, before lunch or dinner. Always a very welcome respite in the hectic schedule our little band of writers maintained for our week in Bordeaux.
Traditions like these die hard in the countryside, and for that I’m thankful. It’s part protocol and part hospitality. Like the kids: every single child we met said a polite hello and kissed every guest on both cheeks, or shook hands. As they did at Château Bellevue, where genial Yves de Ponton d’Amécourt and his artistic wife Sophie have six beautifully-behaved children, each of whom came out to the vineyards next to the house to greet us as they arrived home from school.
In the rolling hills along the border of the Dordogne region, in addition to his other red grapes, Yves now plants a little Malbec, too. As does his neighbor, Regis Chayne of Château Ballan-Larquette – to add character to the wines, they explained over dinner. As at most of the chateaux (wineries) we visited, they also make some white wine. Two of my favorites at that meal: 2007 Château Ballan-Larquette dry white, with good fruit and enough body to pair with turkey for dinner, and then, with Camembert, the 2005 Château Bellevue “Friends Reserve” red.
To hear more about my travels through the region, listen to me on iwineradio
To learn more about the region, visit the Planet Bordeaux visitor center – it’s about 20 minutes east of the city of Bordeaux — or check out the Planete Bordeaux website