Sunday, September 28, 2014

starting new rituals at Château Doisy-Daëne

"Limestone. You must understand why our wines are so unique. It's all because of the limestone." So says Fabrice Dubourdieu, member of the 4th generation of Dubourdieus running this estate.
As in the rest of Sauternes, Barsac saw a lot of rain during the growing season, but the botrytis is coming along nicely. Again, another year of low volumes, although quality is promising.
The chai was busy the day I was there. The sauvignon blanc for the dry whites had just been pressed, and a shipment of new barriques was waiting to be unpacked. There's no glamour in a working winery - just a lot of hard work and time spent on the Blackberry.
It's so peaceful in here. Just the soft sound of barrels being filled. Like music.
"You ask me how we tell the story of Doisy-Daëne and Sauternes to people who don't know us. We need rituals. If there is a ritual around drinking sweet wines - they will sell."

Tasting notes:

2013 Château Doisy-Daëne Sec: A dry white, 100% sauvignon blanc grown on limestone and bottled in early July. I tasted 2 bottles of this - one opened for 2 weeks, and one fresh bottle. The difference was remarkable. The older one was tired - still had some fruit, but otherwise a goner. The freshly uncorked bottle was tight, with slight notes of reduction. Delicate and mineral, fabulous smokiness on the palate. Plenty of dry extract and structure, finishing very dry. An exceptional wine. "Thanks to our friends from New Zealand, people now know what sauvignon blanc is." - Fabrice 

2011 Château Cantegril: Ripe, round; a simple but balanced wine. Fresh fruit, good concentration.

2011 Château Doisy-Daëne: Complex and smoky, a big, big nose. Viscous, very concentrated and dense. Lots of minerality and extraction, a little hot on the alcohol, but absolutely delicious. Needs time.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

from the vineyard into the bottle at Château de Rayne Vigneau

What a beautiful estate. Look at it. Rows and rows of green, pert and manicured. A vision of health and centuries of steady stewardship of the land. 
Rayne Vigneau sits on a plateau, looking onto the Ciron River.
They've found precious stones in the vineyards - agate, onyx, amethyst, and sapphire. How they got there is anyone's guess, but it's clear this place is special.
After a rainy growing season, September suns came, and botrytis is coming along nicely. 'Taste one', Nelly told me. A lesson in concentration - sugar and acidity. 
With the new labels. A new face on a wine that's a direct line from vineyard to bottle, despite that tired cliche. To get it into new glasses, however, cliches have to be replaced with stories. Rayne Vigneau has plenty of stories to tell. Are we able to listen?

Tasting notes:

2011 Le Sec de Rayne Vigneau: The estate's dry wine, 100% sauvignon blanc. Fresh and delicate, but real power on the palate. Mineral and pure, dry extract gives real density and structure.

2008 Madame de Rayne: The second wine. So pure here, fresh - apricots, soft ercolina pears. On the palate, delicious. Texture and roundness with impecable balance and acidity. Some spiciness at the end. O, this is very, very good.

2009 Château de Rayne Vigneau: So much power and presence. Dense fruit, very young. Alcohol apparent. Great texture and raciness on the palate, plenty of extract and spiciness. Botrytis character booming. What a beauty.


Monday, September 22, 2014

the crosses of Château Carbonnieux

The holy cross looks over the barrels of Carbonnieux ...
... and the library of dusty, old glories ...
... but it's always just about the wine. Always just about the wine.

Tasting notes:

2012 Château Carbonnieux Blanc: A blend of 70% sauvignon blanc, 30% sémillon. Oak here with bright fruit, minerality and that green sauvignon fruit. Lovely lift and energy on the palate. Great extract and focus.

2008 Château Carbonnieux Blanc: A blend 65% sauvignon blanc, 35% sémillon. Integrated oak, but fruit slightly dried. Subdued. Bright palate with focus, tension, and great acidity. Very elegant here, developing in a good way.

2012 Château Carbonnieux Rouge: Racy nose, dark fruits and spice. Aggressive tannins, good acidity. Very young now, but already elegant, with very obvious potential.

2010 Château Carbonnieux Rouge: Very ripe, pruney nose - quite one-dimensional at this point, but a HUGE palate. Big tannins with good acidity behind it, needs a lot of time. A crunchy, visceral wine.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

a new story at Domaine de Chevalier

I've wanted to visit Domaine de Chevalier for a long time. Because of the wines, bien sur, but also because of the man. The man behind it - what an incredible force. I've met Olivier Bernard many times in Toronto and his energy, his enthusiasm, are infectious. He simply radiates excitement when you ask about his projects. There was no doubt - I had to come see this estate for myself.
Newly installed concrete vats for fermenting the white wines ...
... followed by a slow, steady aging in cask ...
... sometimes even in the mother egg.
This is what I came for. A new story that M. Bernard is telling. A story of new beginnings, of authenticity, and of great possibilities. A 55 hectare plot of vineyards in Sauternes, producing both dry and sweet wines. Pure excitement.
DF and the man himself. Thanks very much to Veronique for showing me around, and M. Bernard for always being a source of inspiration.

Tasting notes:

2011 Domaine de Chevalier Rouge: A blend of 65% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 5% petit verdot. Inky with good depth; a fine and complex nose. Dark berries, still very young. Coating tannins, but very elegant.

2013 Clos des Lunes Blanche: The most widely exported bottle, through exclusive distributors. A beautiful nose, pure fruit with a touch of spice. Vibrant and sparkly on the palate, some creaminess. Lovely and bright, missing a bit of concentration, but a very, very exciting wine. Look out for these.

2012 Clos de Lunes d'Or: The flagship of the dry whites here. Immediate oak, great creamy, buttery notes. Bright fruit, viscosity is obvious - some alcohol showing (14% abv). Apricot on the palate, like a Sauternes, with great weight and roundness. A beauty in crushed velvet.

2013 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc: A barrel sample, but oak is very integrated. Elegant, fresh fruit, lots of dry extract and power on the palate. Pulsing with energy.

2013 Clos des Lunes Sauternes: Sulfur hits here. Apricots and freshness on the nose, but dries out on the palate. Very thick, but remains juicy. Balance is spot on ... I mean absolute finesse. Perfection here.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Visiting Château Smith Haut Lafitte

It was a foggy morning. The first day of estate visits. Slightly nervous climbing behind the wheel of a car again after more than 12 months, to do some real driving out into the countryside.
But why you nervous man? You've been wanting to come here since you were 18. You've read and researched the wines, the terroirs, the personalities of Bordeaux countless times. You've dreamed of them, and finally you're here.Untitled
Yet I was nervous. Coming here, to arguably the greatest (and certainly most famous) wine region of the world ... sometimes living up to expectations is hard.
A first stop at Smith Haut Lafitte. A history lesson, first. Then a tour through the chai. Large oak vats to macerate and begin primary fermentation in ...
... as well as their on-site cooperage (750€ per).
This is amazing to see. To be here, to see the birthplace of the wines I've not only come to admire but to love. Shit I can't believe I'm here.
Quick ... what are the 3 types of wood used in a traditional barrique bordelaise? The staves are oak, of course. The trim, chestnut. And the bar across the ends is pine.
I started thinking ... you know how a mark of a great chef is how clean and orderly the kitchen is? The same must also apply to winemaking. The installation is impressive, but considering the money behind it, it better be. It's the attention to detail, the constant maintenance that makes the difference ...
... from staining the barriques used to age the red wines in with sponges soaked with racked off lees ...
... to the absolute alignment all the way down the chai.
I wasn't nervous anymore. There's a sense of peace here, total tranquility. And it's not just because of the expensive topiary or modern art scattered around the estate ...
... it's the sense that everything here is what it was meant to be ...
... authentic, purposeful, and of the highest quality. No need to be nervous no more.


2012 Les Hauts de Smith Blanc: Bright citrus nose, minerality which follows on the palate; great extract, tightness and energy, mineral and very linear. Touch of roundness from oak, alcohol comes up on the finish.

2007 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge: Earthy, slightly bretty, thick mushroomy fruit. Sharp acidity on the palate, lean, and just not much there in complexity. Thin fruit, prickly tannins, bitterness on the finish.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

13 thoughts on my first day in Bordeaux

So I'm back in Barcelona, back in the madness. Classes beginning in a few days again ... second year let's go! But my head in still in the clouds, still in all the things I saw and tasted in Bordeaux. I can't begin telling you how excited, how inspired I am after this trip. Totally re-affirming, that this thing I'm working on is what I was meant to do. Alright. Enough looniness. I spent my first real day in Bordeaux driving to Pessac-Léognan, visiting 3 estates. A focus on dry white wines, but as always, lots of surprises. More on each property to follow. A few thoughts after a first day back in France, back on the wine trail ...

1. The city of Bordeaux is absolutely beautiful ... at once stately and elegant, a great sense of presence and identity.

2. Roads here are super easy to drive (even after a year without a car), but I can't imagine doing it without Google Maps. Roundabout after roundabout, with the most obscure signage.

3. The morning fogs and mist here are a very real thing. So dense you feel like you're floating in it.

4. The vineyards are immaculately maintained ... driving through the countryside is a seemingly endless canvas of dreamy greenery.

5. Each chateau's chai is a masterclass on how to build functional, beautiful installations of fine winemaking. The tools and toys don't make the wine, but in the right hands, they are the absolute difference in a very good wine and a great one.

6. The Bordelais take their oak very seriously.

7. Likewise their reputation as France's (and therefore the world's) preeminent wine region.

8. French women have this uncanny ability to be both elegant and sexy ... totally distracting when you're trying to focus on tasting, but we do derive pleasure from the context of wine don't we?

9. On that note, is there anything sexier than a woman who's competent behind a bar?! Damn near stabbed myself with my fork staring.

10. American tourists are 10 times worse in wine country than they are anywhere else. They're allowed to ask questions.

11. Talking to chateau proprietors and vineyard managers is always tricky - they after all are bound to talk up their estates. But in Bordeaux, they tend towards sensibility and humility, a refreshing attitude.

12. Spaniards! Please learn from your neighbours to the east and offer a carafe of tap water with dinner. On principle, I will not accept paying for ridiculously priced bottled water at a restaurant.

13.  Finally, after 13 months in Spain ... I had the chance to eat real French food. Simply divine. Soul warming, good for the morale and spirit.


Monday, September 8, 2014

On the wine trail, at last

I'm in Bordeaux! Everything went smooth, according to plan. Makes me a little nervous when things are like that, but no complaints. A little running around in the morning, to and from IESE to pick up some stuff, arriving in El Prat a little sweaty and just a bit out of breath. Did you know it's only 75 minutes from Barcelona to Bordeaux? And by car, it's only 20 minutes from Bordeaux Airport to the city centre? 

The lineup to get my rental car took longer than getting on and off the plane, but got my keys, and jumped into my Toyota Auris. Hybrid, a big plus already, but that feeling of getting behind the wheel after more than a year ... absolute bliss. Absolute bliss. And off we went, stopping by a (ludicrously enormous - think XXL Ikea sized) Carrefour to pick up breakfast, lunch, and water for the next 3 days. We save where we can. Flat's nice, but yeah, I did it again, another clogged bathtub drain. Bed's great though, triple the size of the one I'm sleeping on now, so I've got that going for me. No complaints.

What a beautiful city. Drove through just to see if it was worth the walk, and even through the window, it was a sight. Parked at the flat, and took the tram down - every major city really needs a light rail system (Toronto, get your shit together). Sunset stroll by the Garonne, and what a magnificent view. Like The Bund in Shanghai, but cleaner and much more elegant. Stately. Dinner at Le Petit Commerce, that grilled dorade I've been dreaming about. Dreaming about. 

Happy. An absolute dream come true, to be back in France, to be back on the wine trail (sorry Alfonso, borrowing that one). #DFonthewinetrail - on IG all week - @d2fang. Drunk and stuffed. Good night.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

the rocks and boulders of history

I didn't do much sight-seeing in Zaragoza. Something about hating being a tourist. But on the weekends, between the work and the beer, stepped out a bit, to wander around ...
... because everyone loves a good obelisk ...
... and kissing the pillar in the grand Basilica ...
... although the (relatively) tiny La Seo Cathedral on the side had its charms too ...
... and who said Medieval peeps didn't know how to get down.
My last weekend there, I made it a point to get out to the Aljafería Palace, on a Sunday of course - who passes up free admission?! Not this idiot ...
... and it was worth every penny ...
... arches and carvings, all a wonderful mix of Moorish/European influences ...
... a dining hall fit for a king ...
... but a humble little prayer area to remind all of his piety.
And just when you're feeling all inspired from what you've seen, you walk by this on the way home. Com'on Spain, get your shit together.