Guest Wines Tour de France
Bordeaux, known for its world famous châteaux, has many more gems that are easy to find once you know where to look. This is particularly relevant to what is referred to as the ‘Côtes de Bordeaux‘ that encompasses the appellations of Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon and Francs amongst other appellations, such as Côtes de Bourg as well as the St Emilion satellites. Here can be found some fantastic wines for extremely reasonable prices. We had the good fortune to be able to visit all of these appellations whilst staying in the region.
As harvest came to an end, the signs of autumn were now beginning to show, lending a wonderful array of colours to the landscape. It was truly breathtaking to see the change of colours and the quite sudden transformations of the vineyards.
On our first Côtes trip out, we headed to the large town of Blaye where we stopped for lunch and a wander round the ancient Citadel providing impressive views of the Gironde estuary splitting into the Dordogne and Garonne rivers. It was nice to get away from the traffic behind the impressively solid walls!
The Maison du Vin shops that are scattered around Bordeaux each represent a specific appellation and give you a chance to see what is on offer from a variety of producers and enable you to come away with a range of wines. We luckily found a Maison du Vin specialising in what Blaye had to offer, where we were given a wine tasting of good examples from the region, these were excellent value and on average cost less than 10 euros.
Further down the river, we stopped at the smaller Citadel of Bourg, set high above the river, we took in the views looking down upon the sea of tiled rooftops below, there was a strong sense of history all around. A game of boules was being seriously played out by a group of local men in the square in front of the church, completing what was quite a classic French scene.
The area had a certain rustic feel to it but still had a sense of grandeur with its majestic buildings and impressive architecture.
Lyre Trellising at Château Bertinerie
We made a beeline for Château Bertinerie, a producer of particular interest after reading about their lyre trellising system that enables them to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon almost every year. We pulled into the château and had a good nosey at the trellised vines, however we soon realised that we might have come to the rear of the building finding no sign of an entrance. Taking a quick drive around to what was in fact the front of the property, we were greeted by a lady who had been tending to the gardens. She welcomed us into the building and commenced a tour of the winery for us. It was quite hard to imagine the hustle and bustle that must have taken place just a few weeks earlier with the harvest in full swing as it was now so still and no one else was around.
As the tour continued, we enquired who the owner was, to which our guide revealed this to be herself. Jacqueline Bantegnies and her husband Daniel run the business with their sons and come across as very down to earth, even emphasising that they don’t have any airs and graces hence they endeavour to host each winery tour themselves preferring to see all those they receive as equals. Daniel later joined us while we had a tasting although he was rather anxious to get off to the shops on what was now early Saturday evening, but this didn’t deter Jacqueline from giving us a thorough and proper tasting of their wines. This lead to some good humoured banter between husband and wife and made for a very enjoyable tasting leaving a lasting impression. We were very appreciative of their time and hope that they managed to get all their shopping done after we left. We thought they were a great couple and it is certainly a place we hope to return to in the future. We were pleasantly surprised when given a couple of the bottles that had been opened for our tasting to take home with the wines that we had purchased. We thought this was a very kind gesture and the wines were enjoyed that evening.
One lovely sunny day, having a moment of respite from our work in the winery at Château la Tour de Chollet, we took a drive up to Castillon and Francs, which were just up the road. We wanted to find a couple of places, one of which was Château d’Aiguilhe as we had picked up their second wine, Seigneurs d’Aguilhe 2008, for €8.50 in our local E.Leclerc – a fantastic wine at a fantastic price.
Following this, we found the hilltop and windswept village of Francs where we enjoyed the beautiful views surrounding us along with a picnic lunch.
We stopped for a walk around the town of Cadillac on a rather damp afternoon, true to Bordeaux’s changeable weather. The town was undergoing some cosmetic restoration to return it to some of its former glory. Our arrival coincided with France’s leisurely lunchtime so the place was quite deserted and everything, including the castle, was closed up.
On our travels, we came across the inconspicuous Château Marjosse, the home of Pierre Lurton, who happens to own both Château d’Yquem and Cheval Blanc. The handwritten sign made us smile considering the grandiosity of the other Châteaux revealing that underneath all this are people who prefer to maintain a level of modesty.
Another trip found us driving through Fronsac, one of the St Emilion satellites that is starting to get back on form, and we were pleased to see several shiny new Vignobles de Fronsac welcome signs having read in Oz Clarke‘s Bordeaux book that the signs were particularly dilapidated. The area is an interesting mix of grand châteaux as well as smaller farm-esque “châteaux”, all set in very pleasant countryside.
Château de la Riviere, Fronsac AC
We especially enjoyed a moments stop off at the hill top village of Cars, which at first seemed deserted, until we stumbled upon the village hall, desperately in need of a loo break, only to be met by what seemed to be the entire village, who were all going out on a 12 mile walk of which we were kindly invited to join. We politely declined having other places to visit that day but we did accept the offer of a hot cup of coffee and a chat.
Being able to visit all these places, wine tasting aside, gave us a real sense of history and a glimpse into the bigger picture of what Bordeaux is.
Join us next time for a taste of the sweeter side of Bordeaux.
Guest Wines Tour de France
We hope this year brings all our followers prosperity and continued enjoyment in discovering new wines as well as rediscovering old favourites. We shall begin the year by turning the clocks back just a little to continue our French wine adventures.
Entre-Deux Mers produces most of Bordeaux’s AC wine and does particularly well with rosé wines, the vast swathes of vines stretch as far as the eye can see across rolling hills interspersed by picturesque fortified towns, such as Sauveterre-de-Guyenne where we stopped off for a brief stroll one day.
It is in this appellation where we were introduced to another English couple, Mark and Fran Dean, when Paul went to meet them on one of the day’s of our stay (from Château la Tour de Chollet), to offer his advice on starting out in the winemaking business.
Mark, an ex-RAF pilot (now working for a private airline), along with his wife Fran, have been converting their Château from its derelict burnt out state for the last five years and it’s still a work in progress. They are also fitting out a modern chai since the responsibility for the vines on their property, which were previously under lease, have now returned to their control and they have taken the brave step of deciding to have a go at winemaking themselves.
We returned to “Château Dean” a week or so later with Kirstie and Paul to have dinner in what was the old barn, now converted with an open terrace, on a lovely October evening. Using the wines each of us had brought, including a couple from Château La Tour de Chollet, we also gave a brief introduction to wine tasting, which seemed to go down well.
It will be interesting to see how this couple get on and we will keep a keen eye on any developments as we are very much looking forward to sampling their range in the future. In the meantime, the Deans are getting to grips with the alchemy of winemaking!
“Château Dean’s first vintage“
There was another English couple on our agenda to visit in this particular area, Gavin and Angela Quinney of Château Bauduc, near Créon, whose wines have made headlines and now feature as the house wines in Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein’s restaurants as well as Hotel du Vin. The Château has also featured in Oz and James’s Big Wine Adventure. Unfortunately, on this occasion we were unable to coordinate our schedules to make a visit but we would certainly like to return here in the future.
From here, join us as we continue to explore Bordeaux where we discover more excellent and value for money wines.
Guest Wines Tour de France
Returning to our Tour de France wine journey, we now find ourselves in Bordeaux. Our journey to the infamous Médoc region began with a stroll around Bordeaux city itself on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It was surprisingly easy to navigate our way into the centre and find parking because it was the first Sunday of the month, when apparently cars are banned from the citys’ central streets and cycling is very actively encouraged. It’s actually great once you ditch your car as you can happily walk around without much concern for traffic sneaking up behind you the minute you stop to admire a view. As a result the city was surprisingly buzzing, being a Sunday we knew most things would be shut but in fact a number of places were open.
The grand buildings lining the Esplanade des Quinconces appeared ahead of us as we crossed the Pont de Pierre, over the Garonne River, alongside shiny trams that quietly floated by. It is understandable to see why it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lots of people were enjoying the sun on the Esplanade, an assorted mix of walkers, cyclists, skate boarders, roller skaters and even someone on a pair of running blades who bounced past.
We happened upon the very lively market at the Quai des Chartrons, where there was plenty of fresh local produce to buy as well as to eat there and then at the pop up restaurant stalls. The market had a distinct Latin air about it with sounds of salsa drifting over the airwaves.
Venturing into the narrow streets that snake off from the Esplanade we strolled around the Chartrons District, famous for its wine merchant history, and found our way to the centre of the city, where pedestrianized streets that house shop after shop spread out around us.
We were pleasantly impressed by Bordeaux city and it gets even more interesting when you start Chateaux spotting. A mere 5 minute drive South and you soon find yourself surrounded by vines on either side of the road, that are themselves surrounded by urban sprawl. Welcome to Château Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, part of the Pessac-Léognan appellation.
As you leave the urban sprawl behind heading deeper into Graves, you start passing through small towns and villages, where pretty vineyard views stretch ahead of you. We called in at the picturesque Château Haut Bailly, for a walk amongst the vines, which seem to be always in the shadow of the chateau that stands proudly looking on.
Whilst, on the other hand, the journey North to Medoc takes you through a wine wilderness. Upon leaving the city of Bordeaux, we found ourselves in a large faceless industrial estate and if it wasn’t for Oz Clarke’s fantastic Bordeaux book, in which he describes the drive up the D2, we would have believed we had taken a wrong turn. However, perseverance pays off and one by one the famous Chateaux and vineyards began to appear.
It’s difficult driving as we looked on in awe at so many world renowned names on every corner of nearly every lane on our drive through the region. However, this contrasted somewhat with finding ourselves in the Grand Cru village of Margaux at lunchtime, with nowhere open, it was fitting that we should be sat in a car park in the rain eating our packed lunch.
Do you know your Chateaux? Chateau Palmer, Chateau Beychevelle, Chateau Margaux, Cos D’Estournel, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau Lynch-Bages, Chateau Latour, Chateau Pichon Longueville.
We stopped off at La Winery in Haut Médoc, established by Chateau D’Arsac in 2007 who aim to lead the way into a more new world type of wine tourist experience. Amongst its selection of wines, they even had a few bottles from “other countries”, well fancy that!
It was fascinating to see the variations in soils from one vineyard parcel to the next literally side by side. The meaning of ‘terroir’ was growing increasingly evident to us as we travelled around.
As we headed further North to St Estephe the rain clouds cleared away and the sun started to shine, giving us great views of the Gironde Estuary and vines sloping all the way down to the river banks.
We returned via Moulis in the sunset, which brought down the curtains on a fine day as we headed once again into the grand city of Bordeaux.
Our next adventure will see us moving from the Left Bank to the Right Bank.
Mid-November saw us return to the International Wine Challenge in London for the first stage of the 2014 competition that has now been split into two parts, with the first ‘Tranche’ being mostly dedicated to Southern Hemisphere producers. This time we found ourselves working at a different location than that of the April 2013 event, the Barbican, where we arrived on a cold, wet Monday morning to begin what would be an intensive fortnight. However, the thought of this was eased by the welcome sight of familiar faces amongst a few newcomers to the crew. It’s strange to think in only April this year we were the newcomers, yet now the new members of the team are coming to us for advice on how to do things and it was nice to know that we could give adequate answers.
The event has been slightly more relaxed than envisaged due to its present size in comparison to the April event, which made for smooth running.
Panel judges at work, alongside Co-Chairs Peter McCombie, Martin Moran, Oz Clarke, Charles Metcalfe, Sam Harrop, Jamie Goode, Richard Bampfield
This year, we were both given positions that had more of a key role to them, which was very exciting as well as a little scary as neither of us wanted any major, or minor, hiccups along the way. Ruth was given the task of ‘Floor Pit Boss’ to ensure the smooth running of the tasting tables, whilst Kel had the position of ‘Dispatch Pit Boss’ whose role it is to oversee the correct dispatch of tasting flights to the tasting tables. Jokes about husband and wife communications swiftly arose as our roles needed to ensure that we made ourselves clearly understood to ensure that the wines arrived at the tables on time. All went well reflecting that this husband and wife team are a perfect match!
The competition week went well and passed by quickly. It was great to meet up with many of the judges again and to witness their expertise at first hand – many red lips and teeth by the end of the competition.
The week was nicely rounded off with a curry dinner all washed down with a nice glass of wine … or two.
The results from this event shall be released on December 4th, so remember to look out for those medals and snap up the wines whilst you can… just in time for Christmas!
Tranche 2 is to be held at The Oval in London, April 2014.
An occasion that we had been looking forward to was a trip to The Assembly Rooms on George Street in Edinburgh to see Oz Clarke, Tim Atkin and Olly Smith at their Three Wine Men event. A leisurely drive up to Edinburgh didn’t leave us much time to check into our B&B, Dalry Guesthouse, and get across the assault course of tram works between Haymarket and the City Centre. Therefore, we arrived with all of 30 seconds to spare at Olly Smith’s Waxing Lyrical about Weird Wines.
Featured wines were:
Rockburn Pinot Gris, 2011, New Zealand, #strictlywine
Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko, 2012, Greece, #hedonismwines – Our top pick
Roccolo Grassi Valpolicella, 2008, Italy, #wineman- Kel’s top pick
Andeluna Malbec, 2012, Argentina, #spiritedwines
Kel got a mention from Olly and round of applause in celebration of his stripy jacket …
Later in the day, Tim Atkin presented cheese and wine matching with Tanny Gill of Tanny Gill Cheese and what a fabulous matching it was:
Chapel Down Bacchus, 2011 with Connage Crowdie (cow’s milk), Inverness, Scotland.
Jurancon Sec, Chant des Vignes, Domaine Cauhape, 2012 with Bonnet (hard goat’s milk), Stewarton, Scotland.
Faldeos Nevados Malbec, 2011 with Admiral Collingwodd (hard cow’s milk), Northumberland (stinky but oh so good!)
Bleasdale, The Wise One Tawny 10 year old, Langhorne Creek with Harrogate Blue.
In between these wonderful Masterclasses, we did a tour of the main hall where 27 suppliers were showcasing wines, cheese, fudge, Riedel glassware, as well as a WSET stand. Tim Atkin was displaying his photography, whilst Olly and Oz were promoting their latest books.
Majestic Wine, Caixas Godello Martin Codax, 2012, Spain – very drinkable.
Wines of Portugal, Alvarinho Solar de Serrade, 2012, Portugal – zesty.
Wines of Portugal, Pato Frio Antao Vaz, 2011, Portugal – nice to taste again.
Wines of Portugal, Quinta de Saes Encruzado, 2011, Portugal
The Wine Society, Castillo del Baron Monastrell, Yecla, 2012, Spain
The Wine Society, Vinha do Reino, Douro, 2010, Portugal – we liked this.
The Wine Society, Pitti (Pittnauer), 2011, Austria – impressed.
Falcon Wine Ltd, Herdade Tapada do Falcao, Rocha Rosa, 2009, 2010, 2011, Portugal
Wines of Brasil, Aurora Pinot Noir, 2012
Wines of Brasil, Lido Carraro Dadivas Pinot Noir, 2010
Lidl UK, Medoc AC, 2011, France
Lidl UK, Chateauneuf du Pape AOP, 2012, France – not bad at all.
Wines of Chile, Valdivieso Reserva Pinot Noir, 2011, Casablanca Valley, Chile
Wines of Chile, Valdivieso Single Vineyard Merlot 2009, Sagrada Familia, Curico Valley, Chile – full bodied, dark and smooth, ummm.
Wines of Chile, Carmen Carmenere Gran Reserva, 2011, Apalta, Colchagua, Chile
Wines of Chile, Novas Gran Reserva Carmenere Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010, Colchagua, Chile – Kel liked this one.
Vino Wines, Thorn Clarke Mount Crawford Riesling, 2012, Australia
Diemersfontein Coffee Pinotage, 2011, South Africa
California Wines, Parducci Small Lot Petite Sirah, 2009, California
California Wines, Bonterra Zinfandel, 2010, California – juicy, fruity and drinkable.
Morrisons, Jackson Estate Stich Sauvignon Blanc, 2011, New Zealand
Morrisons, Castigilione Barbaresco, 2009, Italy – Kel liked this one.
L’Art du Vin, Velvet, Gerhard Pittnauer, NV, Burgenland, Austria – light and fruity.
L’Art du Vin, Mencia, Pittacum, 2007, Bierzo, Spain
Yapp Brothers, Savoie L’Orangiere: Tiollier Freres, 2012, France – fresh and smooth lemon.
Yapp Brothers, Crozes Hermitage: Alain Graillot, 2011, France
Waitrose, Magnus Hill Chardonnay, 2012, Australia
Reuben’s Wine Store, Circle of Life White, 2011, South Africa
Halewood Romania, Sebes Alba Sauvignon Blanc, 2012, Romania
Mud House Wine Company, Mud House South Island Pinot Gris, 2011, New Zealand
Mud House Wine Company, Mud House Gewürztraminer, 2010, New Zealand – we liked this one.
The day was nicely rounded off by a trip to Bon Vivant, Thistle Street, for a lovely glass of Villa Wolf, Riesling Dry, 2011 for Ruth and Alvarinho, Adega de Moncao, Portugal for Kel, followed by The Oxford Bar, Young Street (drinking hole of Ian Rankin’s TV Detective Rebus) for a pint with Oz Clarke.
Following on from our exploits working at the International Wine Challenge in April, we arrived back in London to crew the Taste of Gold event, a showcase of medal winning wines, including those awarded Trophies, Golds, Silvers, some Bronzes and Commended.
It was great to be back working with the gang again.
The first part of the day focused on trade tasting only, to be followed by public tasting in the evening.
Between us we looked after and promoted the following producers’ wines:
An easy drinking wine, juicy with fresh red fruits and soft tannins, great value retailing at £8.99.
Cono Sur 20 Barrels Limited Edition Pinot Noir, 2011 – Chilean Pinot Noir & Chilean Red Trophy & Gold
A beautifully crafted new world Pinot, cherry and raspberry entwined with savoury characteristics, complex and approachable. One of my favourites (^R). Retails at £19.99.
Vina Underraga ‘Terroir Hunter’ Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 – Maipo Valley Trophy & Gold
Intense blackcurrant nose with hints of cedar and mint, good structure and long finish. This wine received very positive attention from those who tried it. Retails at £12.99.
Cono Sur Ocio Pinot Noir, 2011 – Gold
More subtle than the 20 Barrels Pinot, depth of red fruit flavours with hints of nutty savouriness and oak. Retails at £35.
Cono Sur Single Vineyard Syrah, 2011 – Gold
Very well done Syrah with red fruit and bramble flavours, peppery spice and good oak balance. Another firm favourite for me (^R) and many who tried it, especially at this price. Retails at £11.49.
Marques de Casa Carmenere, 2011 – Silver
A powerful wine, spicy red and dark fruits, chunky tannins. Retails at £12.99.
Marques de Casa Chardonnay, 2011 – Silver
Lovely, fresh, tropical, pineapple, flavours, nicely integrated oak adding body and structure. I could quite happily quaff this one (^R). Retails at £12.99.
Calmel Joseph Cotes du Roussillon Villages, 2011 – Cotes du Roussillon Villages Trophy & Gold
Fresh, summer fruits with black pepper spice. Retails at £10.99.
Villa Blanche Chardonnay, 2012 – Commended
Tropical fruit aromas with citrus hints, good acidic balance. Retails at £8.99.
Calmel Joseph Caramany, 2011 – Guest wine from producer not entered in IWC
The 50% Carignan in this blend highlighted violets and spice. The winemaker described this as the big brother to his Cotes du Roussillon Villages. Retails at £14.99.
This was a really enjoyable event, as much by meeting and chatting with members of the trade and the public, as well as the IWC crew and Co-Chairs, Charles Metcalfe, Derek Smedley, Oz Clarke, Tim Atkin and Peter McCombie. Look forward to seeing you all again soon!