Monday, January 17, 2011

Salon des Vignerons Indépendants – part un

After a long silence, in part due to a lengthy flu, a failed trip to the Canary islands, then the ordeal that are the Christmas holidays, it’s time to shake off the dust and get this blog back up and running. A lot has happened since the last post and there is no shortage of topics to chime in on, despite the fact that there will be no reviews of Tenerife wineries as was originally planned. Foremost among these would have to be the Salon des Vignerons Indépendants at the Porte de Versailles November 25-29. Being the serious enojournalist that I am, I obviously had to go twice; both the Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the events of which I shall relate over two parts; the first installment of which, from the Saturday, is this.

But first....

The plan was to begin the dégustation at noon, but the friend who I was bringing along fell asleep on the train in from Amsterdam and remained at the station for almost an extra hour. As a result, the other friends we were going to be meeting there had a bit of a head start. We met them at a Champagne producer's stand, which was a fine way to kick things off. Not being especially focused on champagne this time around, I did not dedicate my fullest attention here and so there's not a whole lot for me to recount.

After the champagne, the first official stop was with burgundy producers Domaine des Moirots; Muriel, Christophe and Lucien Denizot for a taste of my latest obsession. In their cellars one might find Montagny 1er Cru, Bourgogne Rouge, Bourgogne Blanc Côte Chalonaise, Bourgogne Aligoté, Crémant de Bourgogne and Givry Rouge, but it was the Givry Blanc that I came for. I do not remember this long after the fact which of their wines we actually sampled, but it was indeed the Givry Blanc that was the standout and eminently reasonably priced to boot. Because it was the first stand of dozens I was planning to visit that afternoon, I only bought two bottles, something that I regret now.

For those who are not familiar with it – and I expect most people not to be as this appelation was only brought to my attention a couple of months ago - Givry Blanc is a dry white that, to me, has the complexity of a fine red. It is made entirely from the Chardonnay grape, and it is quickly becoming my favorite dry white appelation: of the few bottles I have sampled, only one was merely very good; the others have been excellent. This example, the 2009 Domaine des Moirots, was one of the second group and comfortably held on to the title of best dry white of this incarnation of the Salon for me.

Next on the agenda were the good people from the Soucherie, producers of all sorts of wines in the Loire valley. These include the Anjou Blanc and Rouge, Savennières, Rosé de Loire, Cabernet d'Anjou, Crémant de Loire and, of course, the Coteaux du Layon and Chaume which I had the pleasure to discover at the Festibacchus at the Bercy village in Paris earlier in September. I must have made an impression then because they remembered me.

Now I can no longer remember which vintages we tried, but I am reasonably sure that we did try every varietal and assemblage they brought, including the several vielles vignes versions available. Unfortunately, the reds from this part of France have never impressed me; perhaps due to the fact that Anjou is too far North and too continental, I find that they have too much acidity. The dry whites – the Anjou Blanc and Savennières – though good, continued this theme. However, it wasn't for the reds and dry whites that I came for as Château Soucherie make some excellent dessert wines. And even though they did not wow me as much as they did the last time I tried them, the 2008 Coteaux du Layon and 2004 Chaume were still very good and I left with two cases of them.

A closer look at their offering can be found at their website,

After this was a much needed sandwich break and I succumbed to a delicious, albeit overpriced, foie gras sandwhich on a baguette de campagne. I resisted trying a Sauternes at this point -- that would come later. We did the Jurançon instead, courtesy of Domaine de la Malarrode.

Jurançon is a fairly unique appelation. Situated at the foot of the Pyrenées, it's effectively a Catalan wine. The cépages used, Manseng, Petit Manseng and Courbu, are sure to be unknown to all but the most dedicated winos. It is my goal to become one of those noble elites.

Malarrode brought with them four wines: a 2006 Jurançon Sec codenamed “La Pierre Blanche” for the type of stones found in the vineyards; a semi-sweet 2008 Jurançon Moelleux nicknamed the “Douceur d'Automne”; a 2004 Jurançon Moelleux, the Quintessence; and a Vendanges Tardives Jurançon Moelleux, or late harvest, for maximum sweetness from the grapes.

The Pierre Blanche was nice but not revelational, but for the price (7 €), not a bad value. The Douceur d'Automne was similar in that it was also enjoyable but not paricularly memorable, and still reasonably priced. Semi-sweet wines are often hit or miss for me: they don't pair especially well with very many foods and can easily be bland. The Quintessence, a bit more expensive than the Douceur, was a definite hit, however. It was almost as sweet as a liquoreux or vin doux naturel with equally lovely aromas, for it too is a Botrytis-afflicted wine. The final one, the Vendanges Tardives, was actually less impressive despite being over twice the price. The Quintessence de Jurançon was the clear winner here.

Up next was Château Gibalaux-Bonnet, producers of Minervois wines in the Languedoc-Rousillon greater geographic area.

Minervois is a spicy red from one of the southernmost parts of mainland France and is made from Carignan, Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and a little-known and impossible to pronounce grape called Lladoner Pelut.

In contrast to the powerful, masculine reds of the Médoc, Minervois are what I would call very feminine reds; silky, smooth and – I got a fair amount of flak for this – with hints of strawberries. Gibalaux-Bonnet Minervois were perhaps less strawberry-ish than some others that I have tried, but were still an excellent bargain for the reasonable price the owners were asking.

From there was a short but wobbly walk to R-45 to Domaine Tour Saint-Michel, who are situated in the south of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appelation in the Côtes du Rhône greater region.

Like most producers from that region, they make both the broader Côtes du Rhône wine, which is  less demanding and, in general, significantly cheaper while often still being very good; and the more exclusive Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is finer, more elegant, but also more expensive. Since both often come from the same vinyards and share the same grape assemblages (thirteen grape varieties are permitted in total, so too many to list, but the dominant one is usually Grenache, although Syrah and Mourvèdre are also common), it is fair to think of the former of being the Château's second wine and the latter its first.

Tour Saint-Michel had brought with them the following wines:
a 2008 Côtes du Rhône;
a 2008 Châteauneuf-du-Pape blanc;
a couple of vintages of red Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée des 2 Soeurs;
a couple of vintages of red Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tour du Lion;
and a 2007 red Châteauneuf-du-Pape called Feminessence.

The Côtes du Rhône was pleasant, but a fairly average red for an average price. A decent wine that is fit for your everyday meal, but that's not the kind of wine we came to buy at the Salon. The CdP blanc was very nice: crisp, fresh, fruity; but on the heals of the excellent Givry from earlier, not worth the price, which was nearly double. The two red CdPs were exquisite, though, and held up to be at least the best red wines of the first day. The difference between the two, the Cuvée des deux soeurs and la tour du lion, is the container in which they were aged. The former was aged in concrete tubs while the latter in barrels. The two wines were both silky smooth and refined, though also sufficiently different in taste to warrant separation. It was actually refreshing to taste an excellent, aged red that was not kept in oak barrels in the cuvée des deux soeurs. What you smelled and tasted were the qualities of the grape and nothing else. That said, the extra complexities of the Tour du Lion were also lovely, so it's tough to pick a winner between the two.

A final red CdP was the Feminessence which was an even velvetier version of the Tour du Lion. The quality may have been a tiny bit better but the price was double, so the Cuvée des deux soeurs and the Tour du Lion shone brightest for me and those are the ones I purchased.

For more information on Tour Saint-Michel's vineyards and wines, interested parties can check out their website at

But we didn't stop there. The next stop was at a bordelais producer, Château La Bridane & Domaine de Cartujac, part of the greater family of Vignobles Bruno Saintout. La Bridane was the lone Saint-Julien at the show which, for those unfamiliar, is an appelation right next to Pauillac in the Médoc from the village of the same name, and so the wines carry considerable repute and come with a price tag to match.

Domaine de Cartujac is the vineyard situated in Saint-Laurent de Médoc and, hence, yields red wine of the Médoc appelation. They use technology wherever applicable, be it mechanical harvests or pneumatic pressing. The grape juice – 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot – is fermented in either steel or cement tanks.

The Saint-Julien, Château La Bridane, is treated in almost the same way, but the terroir is nobler. The only difference in treatment is that 2/3 of the barrels the wine is kept in from nine to sixteen months are new, whereas only 1/3 is new for the Médoc. Regardless, on this day, neither wine truly impressed, despite trying several vintages, but I purchased a 1996 anyway as it showed potential and I figured that on another occasion, it would really wow me (I have had this happen to me before with other bordelais).

Still going strong at this point (I never spit out the wines; I told one of the winemakers that spitting would be an affront to her excellent wine – though I don't remember which one because I didn't spit), the next stop was Vignobles Dubourg, who were represented at the salon by their Saint-Emilion, the Château Maurins; and their Sauternes, Château Landion.

In between were a couple of unremarkable stops, including a Pessac-Léognan that lacked any lustre, which was unfortunate, as Pessac is usually among my favourites.

Like Vignobles Bruno Saintout just before, Dubourg made just about every wine possible in the appelations they dabble in. To get an idea of the area they cover, Sauternes is in the south of Bordeaux's rive gauche, and Saint-Emilion is in the north of its rive droite, and they do everything in between. As far as representatives of these respective appelations go, both were very reasonably priced. Furthermore, both were very good, which was a pleasant enough surprise as you'd expect that a jack of all trades would be a master of none. Dubourg's ambassadors at the salon represented well. For more info:

As lucid and coherent I still was at this point (my friend tells me he was amazed at how intelligible I was, asking pertinent questions and schmoozing still eloquently – he even tells me that because I was talkative with them, the vintners were filling my glass up more than others, but that's neither here nor there), I cannot claim to remember the vintages they had on sample at the stand, especially not this long after the fact. What I can remember, however, is that I did buy a bottle of the 2008 Château Maurins Saint-Emilion, which was quite a good value and one of the better reds of the afternoon; and another bottle of the 1999 Château Landion Sauternes, which edged out the Malarrode Quintessence de Jurançon and Château Soucherie Coteaux du Layon as the best dessert wine of the day.

It has to be said that Sauternes is an extraordinary dessert wine. Crafted exclusively from grapes afflicted by the noble rot botrytis, it is delightfully sweet and tangy, with aromas of honey, dried apricots, roasted almonds – a miracle of serendipity.

We closed out the day at another Champagne producer; a salute to what, by all metrics, was a very succesful day. The fact that our glasses still smelled of Sauternes only made the Champagnes better – giving them a sweet aroma of honey and apricot essence. A fitting way to end the day indeed.

All in all, an excellent day one at the salon. Winners would have to be the Domaine des Moirots Givry Blanc from dry whites; the Domaine Tour Saint-Michel Châteauneufs-du-Pape from the dry reds; and the Château Landion Sauternes from the liquoreux.


Wines reviewed:

2009 Domaine des Moirots Givry Blanc         ♣♣♣♣♣
2009 Château Soucherie Anjou Blanc        ♣♣♣
2008 Château Soucherie Savennières Clos des Perrières      ♣♣♣
2008 Château Soucherie Coteaux du Layon        ♣♣♣♣♣
2004 Château Soucherie Chaume        ♣♣♣
2006 Domaine de la Malarrode Jurançon Sec La Pierre Blanche         ♣♣♣
2008 Domaine de la Malarrode Jurançon Moelleux La Douceur d'Automne      ♣♣♣*
2004 Domaine de la Malarrode Jurançon Quintessence de Jurançon       ♣♣♣♣♣
2008 Château Gibalaux-Bonnet Minervois      ♣♣♣
2008 Domaine Tour Saint-Michel Côtes du Rhône       ♣♣♣*
2008 Domaine Tour Saint-Michel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc      ♣♣♣
2008 Domaine Tour Saint-Michel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée des deux soeurs     ♣♣♣♣♣
2005 Domaine Tour Saint-Michel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tour du Lion       ♣♣♣♣♣
2006 Domaine du Cartujac Haut-Médoc       ♣♣♣
2008 Domaine du Cartujac Haut-Médoc       ♣♣♣
1996 Château La Bridane Saint-Julien       ♣♣♣♣
2008 Château Maurins Saint-Emilion        ♣♣♣♣
1999 Château Landion Sauternes        ♣♣♣♣

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Château Rauzan-Gassies and two other wines from the Quié estates

The prestigious village of Margaux is famous for being home to 22 of the great wine producers ranked in the 1855 classification of the Médoc, including the likes of Château Margaux itself, Châteaux Palmer, and many others that sell for hundreds of euros a bottle. Many of those estates were split up from larger estates when they were passed on from generation to generation, including Léoville and Pichon Longueville, as well as Rauzan itself, which was split into Rauzan-Ségla and Rauzan-Gassies.

By the time the classification of the Médoc took place in 1855, these estates were already split up, so Rauzan-Gassies was recognized for its own wines rather than those of its parent terroir. While the Rauzan family was still in charge, the wines excelled. Noted historical Bordeaux wine lover Thomas Jefferson was a known customer, buying many cases.

Since the division in 1792, at the height of the French revolution, the property changed hands numerous times. Presumably, up until 1855, the quality was maintained, if not improved, but over the years that followed, it began to fall into neglect. In 1946, it was purchased by the Quié family, whose descendants still run the estate today, as well as two others: Château Bel-Orme Tronquoy-de-Lalande, an Haut-Médoc Cru Bourgeois; Château Croizet-Bages, a 5th Grand Cru Classé from Pauillac; and, of course, the Margaux in question, Château Rauzan-Gassies.

These days, it is the brother-sister duo of Jean-Philippe and Anne-Françoise who run the production, with father Jean-Michel looking on from the sidelines.

The vineyards themselves are mostly in gravelly soils, although some are in sandy areas. In general, this means that filtration is very good, and that the risk of flooding to the vines is minimal. Of the nearly 30 hectares in total, roughly 65% are Cabernet Sauvignon, a quarter are Merlot, and the remainder split fairly evenly between Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, which can be considered as a sort of Cabernet on steroids.

The vines are, on average, in their late thirties or early forties, which means they are in their prime. They are planted rather densely, which means that in the 30 hectare estate, there are some 300 000 vines producing wine grapes. The better estates would have a lower vine density to prevent transfer of disease, among other things.

One area in which Rauzan-Gassies really differs from its competition in is that much of the work is done by machine, whereas in the majority of other vineyards in the region, all work is done by human hand. Summer leaf removal is part manual, but the harvest is almost entirely conducted by machine. After harvest, the grape must is cold-macerated for 48 hours and then put through temperature-controlled fermentation in steel vats, before making it's way into oak barrels – part French part American – where it spends a year under regular supervision. At the end of the ageing process, egg whites are whisked into the barrels where they collect the sediments, and the wine is bottled.

In the top Margaux properties, the wines are aged for upwards of 18 months, so it appears that Rauzan-Gassies employ a bit of a shortcut in this regard. Another shortcut is that only 30% of the barrels are new for each vintage, but then, the strong perfume of oak in Médocian wines is not to everyone's flavour.

Thus, after a brief tour of the property's main building, we arrived at the tasting table, ready to sample a few of the Quié estates' fine vintages.

The first wine offered was the 2004 Château Bel-Orme Tronquoy-de-Lalande, the Cru Bourgeois of the Haut-Médoc appellation. This was a nice Bordeaux wine, for lack of the inspiration required for coming up with a better word, with good balance, a pleasant Cabernet-dominated aroma, and decent persistence. In hind sight, this would be the best of the three wines tasted, but still not particularly inspiring, ranking between 3.5 and 4 out of five.

The second was the fifth growth, the Château Croizet-Bages from Pauillac, also a 2004. This was the worst of the three; imbalanced with too much sourness, an aroma that signalled potential but, ultimately, one that was untapped. The wine was disappointing, though not especially bad, so I would give it between 2.5 and 3 out of five.

Finally, it was time to taste the tour-de-force, the Rauzan-Gassies Margaux, yet again a 2004. Its noble status as a Deuxième Grand Cru Classé meant that I was looking forward to this one the most, and perhaps because of this, my expectations were a little too high for, alas, I found the wine to be quite underwhelming.

I am not one to mince words, so let's call a spade a spade: the wine was mediocre. That isn't to say it was bad – far from it – just very average without anything particularly memorable about it. Perhaps that is too harsh, as it was certainly towards the good end of mediocrity, but for a wine of such stature, more is required. I would find it hard to justify spending ten euros on a bottle, let alone thirty or more.

It's possible that the problem was that the Rauzan staff chose a particularly poor vintage in the 2004 to represent their estate, but if that is the case, they are fully responsible for choosing the ambassadors to their vineyards that they do. Furthermore, the truly great properties produce exquisite wines even in the poorer years.

This isn't an indictment of the Quié family, however, as by all accounts, they have actually increased the quality of Rauzan-Gassies wines since taking over control in the forties; but they still have a very long way to go if they want to restore this estate to true second growth status. Otherwise, that their wine continues to receive it's second growth classification is an indictment against the classification system itself. However, the wine does retail for significantly less then other second growths – or even many third or fourth growths, for that matter – which means that the 1855 classification is not the be all and end all for the Médoc wine market. Indeed, in what can be considered a triumph of the free market, quality seems to be the main component of prices.

One suggestion for improvement is a manual harvest of the berries, which could improve quality by the more diligent culling of berries that are not quite ripe or in any other way unfit to go into the first wine. In general, it would benefit Château Rauzan-Gassies greatly if the culture of shortcuts was replaced by a new culture of pedantry and insistence on quality.

The 2004 Rauzan-Gassies Margaux scores a 3 up to 3.5 out of five in my system, but that's as much as I can give it.


Wines reviewed:

2004 Château Bel-Orme Tronquoy-de-Lalande Haut-Médoc ♣♣♣*
2004 Château Croizet-Bages Pauillac ♣♣*
2004 Château Rauzan-Gassies Margaux ♣♣♣

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Three great wines for under 10 €

This week I will concentrate on three quality wines that are also very affordable. Since I live in France, the focus will be on French wines as these are the wines that I have the easiest access to but, naturally, there are great wines from most wine-producing countries that can be found for a reasonable price. For example, I have yet to go wrong with any Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, regardless of the producer.

A second caveat is that these wines are very cheap in France, but they may be slightly more expensive in other markets, such as North America, due to higher taxes and import fees. Despite this, they should still be inexpensive there, although they may be more difficult to locate. One way to track them down is to contact the properties directly and ask whether they export their wines to that particular market and if so, where they can be found.


Anyway, the first wine I want to promote is the 2009 L'Héritage des Collines Bandol which comes from the region around the small, eponymous fishing village in the South-East of France between Marseille and Cannes.

There are some superb red wines produced in Bandol, but they are more expensive and are meant to be aged a few years before drinking. Rosés, on the other hand, are cheaper and meant to be drunk young, although the Bandol rosé won't be harmed by several years in a cellar.

The grape varieties that compose this wine are the Mourvèdre, which must make up at least 50% of the volume (Bandol is actually the only wine region in France to be dominated by this cépage), Grenache and Cinsaut. The colour is pale and salmony, but the aroma is vibrant, fruity, and crisp. The wine is harmonious and aromatic, with flavours and perfumes of strawberries and pears, but with the crispness of a green apple. It is anything but bland, perfectly balancing a refreshing acidity without being sour while also being relatively high in alcoholic content – 14%.

This is a perfect summer wine, ideal for accentuating fish and sea food dishes (especially shellfish), North African foods such as couscous or tagines, Thai, Japanese, and other light, Asian cuisines, as well as poultry and cold cuts. As such, it should be served well-chilled. This Bandol wine is easily four stars out of five for me, and a superb value coming in at around 5€ per bottle.


For those looking for a cheap but excellent red wine to match with their everyday dinners, one wine that I enthusiastically recommend is the 2006 Château Baudare Cuvée Prestige. This wine is a Fronton, and comes from the South-West of France, around Toulouse. The grapes used are Négrette, a variety unique and indigenous to the region, though originally from Cyprus, and Cabernet sauvignon, in roughly even proportions. The average age of the vines the grapes come from is 35 years.

This wine is very well balanced and velvety smooth. The nose is fruity and quite complex but also rather subtle. Oh, and it tastes good, too. It’s a perfect companion to most meat dishes and should be served at 18-19°C. The winemakers recommend that it be consumed five years after the harvest, which means that between now and the end of 2012 is the ideal time to drink this vintage. They also recommend that the wine be opened and decanted up to five hours before being served but, frankly, I don’t think it has the tannins to require this. Overall, this is an excellent wine at a fantastic value that I would rate four stars out of five.

In France, you can find Château Baudare Cuvée Prestige 2006 for around 5 € in the grocery store, but I would be willing to pay three times that given the quality. The 2006 Château Baudare Fronton Tradition is also very good, so in the absence of the former, this wine would be a fine alternative. I have also tried the 2007 vintage of the Tradition but found it to be disappointingly mediocre.

More info on Château Baudare wines can be found on their website,


The final entry for this week is a dessert wine, the 2009 Château Haut Marsalet Monbazillac. Similar in principle to Sauternes, this wine depends on the noble rot Botrytis to set on the grapes late in the growing season and to dehydrate the berries; concentrating their sugars, leaving behind a syrupy jam. Geographically, Monbazillac is not too far from Sauternes either, less than 100km North-East, by Bergerac.

The grape varieties are Sémillon and Sauvignon blanc, just like in Sauternes, but the proportion of Muscadelle is usually much higher than in the better known appellation. Most other traits are similar, but whereas the better Sauternes are light yellow in their youth, turning amber when they age, most Monbazillacs start off golden yellow and also darken over time.

True to its golden colour, the Haut Marsalet Monbazillac tastes of honey, as well as fruits such as apricots. The aroma is quite complex, both fruity and flowery, even a bit nutty, with hints of almonds, and the aforementioned honey. It is very well balanced, being at once very sweet and nicely acidic. Being a dessert wine, it is perfect for serving at dessert, either alone, or paired with a fruit-based pastry such as tarte tatin that is not sweeter than the wine. It also marries well to high-fat starters such as foie gras and stronger cheeses such as roquefort, gorgonzola, or any other blue cheese.

The 2009 is an exceptional vintage which will only get better with time. In the right conditions (low humidity, temperature, and minimal light), this wine can be stored for decades because of its high acidity and sugar content. However, it can also be enjoyed right away, served chilled with excellent results. I give this one 4 to 4.5 stars.


Wines reviewed:

2009 L'Héritage des Collines Bandol ♣♣♣♣
2006 Château Baudare Cuvée Prestige ♣♣♣♣
2009 Château Haut Marsalet Monbazillac ♣♣♣♣+

Friday, October 15, 2010

Inaugural post: Château Guadet in Saint-Emilion

Welcome one and all to my dabble in oenology. This is by no means the work of a professional in the business, but an amateur (in the purest sense of the word), intended to help my own evolution in the domain of wines, viticulture and oenology, as well as to encourage others to enter this fascinating world which may seem so intimidating and even pretentious to the uninitiated.


For my inaugural entry, I will write about a recent visit to an estate in the picturesque Saint-Emilion village on the right bank of the Gironde department, just a stone's throw north-east of the capital of Aquitaine; Bordeaux. Whether one is a fan of wine or not, I would recommend the visit of this magnificent small town, a true UNESCO World Heritage site, to anyone .

Château Guadet (formerly known as Château Guadet-Saint-Julien), for that is the name of the estate in question, is located in the center of the town on a road bearing the same name, rue Guadet, both namesakes of the Girondin revolutionary who lost his head in Bordeaux towards the end of the Terror in 1794, having been discovered hiding out in the cellars where the wines are sheltered. It is a rather nondescript property, with no signs or publicity alerting anyone of its existence; just a building with an old, blue door facing opposite the Caisse d'epargne bank. To even know that it's there, one has to contact the proprietor and schedule a visit, as Guadet only accepts visitors on reservation. The owner, Guy Pétrus Lignac, is only too happy to go over some of the rich history of his château, owned by his family since before he was born, as well of that of the town.

Lignac is an interesting and charismatic man, with elegant style and a baritone voice that would have not been out of place broadcasting on radio waves. He is a modern day wine aristocrat; having been born into a vintner family and being the grand nephew of Mme Edmond Loubat, the woman who essentially developed Château Pétrus into what it is today. Upon her death, being childless herself, Pétrus was inherited by the two children of her sister, Mme Lily Lacoste-Loubat, and the father of our host himself.

Pétrus is where Lignac gets his middle name from, and he controversially missed out on inheriting the fabled estate as it was Jean-Pierre Moueix who ended up buying the Pétrus shares of both his father, in 1961, and those of Mme Lily more recently. Lily herself left with a few thousand bottles of the famous elixir and lived until the ripe age of 99, but in her frailty, was defrauded of a significant number of them by people she trusted, an inheritance that would have otherwise gone to Lignac, since she was also childless. It is a fascinating tale of intrigue and betrayal, but not really anything to do with the rest of this entry, so we move on.

Château Guadet, one of only two estates to have all its functions located on town premises, is also one of the few crus, or growths, in the Saint-Emilion appelation to have grand cru classé status, which unlike the classification of the Médoc of 1855, started one hundred years later and is updated every ten years. At least in theory; alas, there is controversy here, too.

Out of the 850 or so vineyards in Saint-Emilion, 13 have what is called premier grand cru classé, or first growth, status. These are further split between premier grand cru classé A and B, of which only 2 are A (Châteaux Ausone and Cheval Blanc, for those dying to know). A further 53 are grand cru classés, with no further distinction unlike in the Médoc. All remaining vintners must go with either Saint-Emilion or Saint-Emilion grand cru on their bottles, and even the grand cru status must be earned. As a result, achieving cru classé status can bring fortune to an estate as it can easily have the effect of doubling prices; and, consequently, demotion from grand cru classé status can lead to ruin.

The last update to the Saint-Emilion classification was attempted in 2006. That year, twelve châteaux were demoted and four châteaux were promoted in their place. One of those demoted was none other than Château Guadet. Guy Pétrus Lignac and the owners of the other estates filed suit, alleging that the classification was flawed, as several of the panelists involved in the judging were negotiators for several of the other properties, and hence a conflict of interest was inherent. The affair dragged on back and forth through the courts for a couple of years, but eventually, the ruling came in Lignac's and the other vintners' favour, and the 2006 classification was invalidated, restoring that of 1996. This caused the would-be promoted châteaux to despair, and so they counter-sued, and eventually, won the right to retain their 2006 promotions while everyone else will continue to use the 1996 classification until a new one comes out, likely in 2012.

This controversial issue was not discussed with Lignac, however; instead, he showed us around the estate, explaining the various stops the grapes made between harvest and when the wine is finally bottled and stored in the cellars or shipped.

The grapes are harvested manually, usually in the beginning of October, although that depends on the year. Lignac claims that 2010 will be an excellent vintage, almost as good as 2009, which surprised me, because in the northern part of France, it was an exceptionally poor summer, with producers in Beaujolais abandoning their crops and producers in Champagne not having a 2010 millésime, or vintage. However, Lignac claims that the summer in Bordeaux was excellent, and he only wishes it had rained more. Time will tell if his claims are true; whether or not the 2010 vintage will be able to live up to those of 2009 and 2005, two of the greatest wine years of a generation.

Like all Saint-Emilion wines, Guadet are predominantly Merlot, with lesser percentages of Cabernets sauvignon and franc. The exact proportions vary year to year, depending on which variety the growing season was kindest to that year.

The control process at Guadet really is impressive, and the attention to detail and quality is very minute. From the separation of the grapes right after harvest right down to the length of time the wines are left to age in their casks, everything is very pedantic. After the initial fermentation, malolactic fermentation is still done in segregated vats. Once that stage is completed, the young wine is barrelled in young, French oak barrels where it sits from 18 to 21 months. Every couple of weeks, however, wine is poured into the barrels as it “disappears”. Lignac claims that the barrels are like people: they drink the wine. Every few months, the wine is poured into new barrels for the old to be checked for mold and treated with sulphur. At the end of the ageing process, whisked egg whites are poured in to remove all the sediment from the barrels so that only pure wine is bottled.

The end product is ready under two years from harvest, though Lignac tells us that it is meant to be conserved for ten to fifteen years before it is to be consumed, although the wines can still be consumed earlier or later, but that that would not be their prime.

After the tour came the moment of truth; or the dégustation. The first wine sampled was the 2001, a reasonably good vintage, particularly on the right bank, of which Saint-Emilion is a part. Lignac opens the bottle, sniffs the cork, frowns, sniffs the cork again, frowns again, pours the wine into a glass, smells the wine, pours it into another glass, smells the empty glass, then into another and another and another. He says the news is bad; “le vin est bouchonné”, the wine has been corked, which is a great pity. He passes the cork around describing how to tell. Indeed, the cork smells of a wet rag, and the wine is a bit fragrant, though not unpleasant in and of itself. Regardless, this bottle will be used to make vinegar.

So on to the next bottle, a 2007. Another fine albeit unexceptional year for Bordeaux wines. This one is untainted, and it is silky smooth, perfectly balanced and very elegant. The aromas are very subtle; nutty, with hints of caramel. The only thing it lacks is power, as it is perhaps too subtle, but it is a very impressive and delicious wine. The tannins are very delicate; so much so that I cannot see this wine still being excellent in 20 years, although time will tell. I won't get into things like legs, or the robe, how it is called in French, or the colour, as these things really make no difference if the wine is good or not, and are only imperfect indicators of whether or not it will be. Besides, as I have pointed out already, I am not an expert, only an amateur in it just for the pleasure.

In any case, this is a wine that I certainly recommend and, although not cheap, is not prohibitively expensive since it was 24 € at the château. On my scale from one to five, i will give this one a 4.5.

The next bottle was...well, there was no next bottle, and this was my big disappointment. We brought back four bottles for testing from the cellar, but after one spoilt wine and one good one, Lignac must have decided that he was throwing pearls before swine and the dégustation stopped there. So despite the last wine being decidedly good, the taste in my mouth when I left was bitter, which is regrettable. Ultimately, it was Lignac's loss as well, because I buy those wines I like but have a strict policy of not buying any that I have not tasted.

The epilogue to this tale is that the next day in Bordeaux I found a bottle of 2005 Guadet at a local caviste for 30% less than what was sold at the estate.




Visits to Château Guadet cost 8 € per person and are on reservation only. Information on reservations and such can be found through the Saint-Emilion tourist office located in the town centre.