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France - Bordeaux

Featuring Châteaux Pichon-Lalande and de Pez; wine touring in Côtes de Bourg and Listrac-Médoc; 2005 vintage: Pomerol, Saint-Emilion, Pessac-Léognan; Château La Ligne; Bordeaux: 'under a tenner... mostly'; 2010 vintage report: Grands Crus; 'Some posh old Bordeaux'; Château Tulipe de la Garde and Château Guiraud...

Featured in my 2010 vintage 'Grand Cru' report (linked below).

For the latest Bordeaux posts and articles, click on these links:

"These two châteaux don't actually have anything in common, as far as I know, apart from being loosely 'in Bordeaux' albeit about 70 km from each other; one to the northeast of the city near the Dordogne river and the other a good trek southeast along the Garonne..." (Jan. 2015)
Bordeaux: 2010 "A resurrected mini-retrospective of two dozen very tasty 2010 Grands Crus reds sampled in London last year, rather at random across a few well- and not-so-well-known appellations and properties..." (May 2014)
Bordeaux: "under a tenner... mostly." (April 2013) "Half a dozen reds, white and rosé from Bordeaux Undiscovered, Lidl and M&S..."
Château Fougas: Côtes de Bourg (profile and notes, Feb 2012).
Châteaux Pichon-Lalande & de Pez and more: Roederer estates masterclass with vertical tasting & report (June 2011)...
Some Posh Old Bordeaux (July 2010) featuring 1996 Lynch-Bages, 1998 Branaire-Ducru, 2001 Canon La Gaffeliere and 2002 Guiraud Sauternes...

Bordeaux autumn 2009
Côtes de Bourg and Listrac-Médoc

Côtes de Bourg

Côtes de where? Not the favourite coastal or riverbank hang-out for Jean-Luc Picard's scariest enemy, but a lesser-known "Right Bank" Bordeaux appellation. Somehow, it's surprisingly easy to get your geography in a twist on this side of the river and forget you're actually opposite Margaux "just across" the water. It feels far away as the "river" is imposingly wide here, almost the beginning of the Gironde estuary in fact. Another common misconception: I've even seen official tourist maps of Bordeaux drawn with the Gironde flowing merrily through the city, technically the Garonne which then merges with the River Dordogne a little further north on their way out to sea. Sorry for being pedantic, but I had to double-check on a proper map myself! Anyway, the "other side" might as well be the far side since there are no bridges across in the Bourg area (there's a ferry from Blaye to the north); and they poke fun at Médoc people for not venturing over into their wine world implying there's a cultural as well as physical divide...
Back to Bourg, for "detailed files" on the appellation (hectares, % of varieties, all producers, soils etc.), check out www.cotes-de-bourg.com with the funny wee tippling dog on it (called Bob I think: not convinced it's the smartest idea I've seen for a PR campaign icon...), which is teaming with useful information a touch too dreary for me to studiously rehash in this article. Instead, I've focused on things like image, Malbec and wine tourism... Oh, it's worth reiterating that there really are "Côtes" in this wine area and it's not just a made-up name, i.e. in some places almost steep slopes facing the river, even if the highest vineyards don't quite make it beyond 50 metres (165 feet) altitude. Which makes these winelands more undulating and prettier than some parts of the Médoc for driving, cycling or walking around.
On the image and appellation front, Côtes de Bourg winemakers also decided not to be part of the new Côtes de Bordeaux communal AOC (bringing together four other right-bankers: Blaye, Castillon, Cadillac/"Premières Côtes" and Francs), strongly believing they have their own distinct history and identity. While I understand what they're saying and can see what they mean in terms of landscape, climate zone, soils, what the wines taste like etc. And, as I said, there are "Côtes" and the AOC does centre on the riverside town of Bourg, even if spreading out over 4000 ha (10,000 acres) is hardly synonymous with one special identifiable terroir.; they might perhaps regret it, especially when getting the message across in export markets (for the moment, there still appears to be enough traditional wine drinkers in France who seem to like all these different AOC names and layers of complexity/mystery that go with it).
An enlightening lesson at the Maison du Vin in Bourg had us tearing grapes apart and tasting them, tutored by "technical director" Hervé Romat. I'd always assumed you just pick a grape, chomp it around a bit and crunch the pips all in one go, as a way of gauging its ripeness. But to try and assess the "three stages" of ripeness accurately, you have to do just that: colour and tannins for the skin, acidity and sugar (= potential alcohol) in the pulp and whether the pips are bitter, ripe or show any faults. So, first you carefully remove the skin: does it come off easily, is the colour seeping into the pulp? Try to hold the skin and taste just the pulp first (while keeping the pips in your mouth!) to get an idea how sweet vs acidic it is. Then taste the skin lightly chewing it: it should still be aromatic with non-astringent tannins otherwise it's not ripe. This could mean waiting longer to pick but not too long, as paradoxically its ripeness can actually deteriorate along with its texture and desirable elements such as antioxidant qualities.
"The best terroirs and properties are located where skin ripeness is at its peak for a longer period of time," Hervé explained, "and shorter where they're not as good." Meaning, if you plotted this length of time on a graph (don't worry, I'm not going to get that geeky), the curve would be less severe than for the pulp and pips where ripeness "peaks and flattens out quicker." The three stages "usually happen more or less at once but not always and, in certain sites, it's never the same." This potential lag in ripeness is mitigated by many of Bourg's vineyards being next to the river (but certainly not all of them), with its moderating effect on temperature, and its "deep limestone soil base with clay and gravel on top." Hence a "long history here of matching variety to site." Anyway, back to the pips still loitering in your mouth. When ripe, they should be crunchy but not hard. The key, of course, is to achieve the best possible balance of all three when choosing the moment to pick a certain variety or plot.
Relating this to winemaking and, in particular, extraction, Hervé quipped that nowadays everyone goes on about "a long maceration, but if you look at great old vintages from great estates, it was rarely more than 15 days." So, we attempted to apply our new-found knowledge juggling berries, skins, pulp and pips of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec, which was a fascinating exercise actually. Oh finally, I wanted to quote our mentor further as he said some thought-provoking things about so-called 'minerality' in grapes and wine - mineralité exists in French and seems to in English now, as it's become fashionable (I too am guilty of writing it in tasting notes without being very precise!). Firstly, there's the stuff from "the surrounding environment that can stick to the outer skin so ends up in the must." Second, it might come from the soil or stones via the roots, but "we don't know how it could transmit into the flavour." So, unlikely yet "you can taste silex (a type of flint common in parts of the Loire valley) in certain Pouilly-Fumé wines!" Third, it could perhaps be transferred by water from the ground into the plant, although the same still applies as above...
Moving on from a few rather techno paragraphs, a significant thrust of their winegrowing and marketing philosophy is the minor Malbec (aka "Cot" de Bourg among a paragraph-long list of other aliases) renaissance going on in Côtes de Bourg. I say minor in terms of number of vines, as it currently only represents 6% of plantings (cf. Merlot 67%) which is nevertheless much more than anywhere else in Bordeaux; but not in its potential to make its mark on the region's blends, wine styles and maybe unique character. They estimate Malbec could increase to over 10% of vineyard area in a few years; the variety has been planted here for a lot longer than that and has had its ups and downs, although arguably responds better to the area's microclimate or whatever. Having said that, out of the wines we tasted, I can't honestly say that the "best" or my favourites could be pinned down to percentage of Malbec in them - if there's an overall pattern here, I'd say it was probably vintage variation that's the distinguishing factor - except Château Relais de la Poste's delicious wine (see note below), obviously distinctive and different as the only 100% Malbec we tried.
As a travel destination, the Bourg region certainly warrants a short stay for wine tourists looking to explore beyond the predictable village names over the "other side," and is less than an hour from Bordeaux city centre. A few ideas: how about a soothing boat trip down the Gironde? Call in at the Tourist Office (www.bourg-en-gironde.fr), where you'll also find details of their "Pass Dimanche" day-package including the boat trip plus guided tour of the village, tasting at the Maison du Vin and lunch at Le Plaisance. Or what about discovering some extraordinary 25,000 year-old cave engravings? Check out the curiously named "Pair-non-Pair" located near Prignac. Other events include a "Portes Ouvertes" weekend on 8-9 May 2010 and "Artissimo," a music & arts festival 11-13 June. By the way, the picture is from the cover of "Verticale" (evidently) by Jean-Charles Chapuzet, billed as the "first wine tourism novel" which is set in the area. I won't give anything away as it's a good read (although only published in French) if you're looking for something fresh and well-written. Finally, back to the handsome stone "MdV"; a difficult place to avoid for the information hungry, where they have lots of wines from across the region on sale from under €5 even (there's good value to be had in Bourg) to €50+ a bottle... See my tasting notes and recommendations below.


This perhaps less talked-about appellation, lying roughly between Margaux and Saint-Julien although further west of the river, has been established for 50+ years although this is a newish name: i.e. they added "Médoc" (sensibly enough) to help boost their profile, but there certainly are a few well-regarded chateaux in this relatively small region (630 ha/1550 acres). It borders green forestland on one side and naturally vineyards on the other. There's more Merlot in Listrac than elsewhere in the Médoc mainly because there are more clay-limestone soils, a more logical match according to the growers here; and the Cabernets (Sauvignon and Franc) tend to be planted where there's more gravel following a well-established empirical "rule" (c.f. further north along the river).
More generic info @ www.bordeaux.com.

Le Quatuor de Listrac

This Romanesque title (I wasn't going to add "what did they ever do for us," but...) was dreamed up by four sumptuous adjoining chateaux, who’ve united their family coats of arms to lay on a one-day wine tour program with a bit of a twist. It’s a good excuse too to savour some of the imperial grandeur of these handsome properties and get to know wines from Listrac-Médoc better: Château Fourcas-Dupré (owned by Patrice Pagès), Château Fonréaud (Caroline Chanfreau-Philippon), Château Lestage (Jean Chanfreau) and Château Fourcas-Hosten (purchased in 2006 by Laurent and Renaud Momméja). See my notes on their wines below.
I'll only give an outline here of what this "day of discovery" entails: click here to read a fuller article about it. First stage: identifying the area’s four grape varieties from their leaves, bunches and berries; next: tasting and blending single varietals from tank to give you a feel for how they choose the final blends; followed by a few barrel samples from different coopers to understand their subtle (or not so subtle) influences; and finally a blind tasting of two vintages from all four properties. To exercise your thighs as well as your brains, they supply a bike to criss-cross vineyards and roads covering a fairly flat three/four kilometres, weather permitting (a splash of Bordeaux rain never did any harm)! And of course, it includes a slap-up buffet lunch at Château Lestage (pic above) in all its grand Napoleon III style (19th Century, stole it from the colonies style...).
More info - Château Fourcas-Dupré: +33 (0)5 56 58 01 07, fourcasdupre.com; Château Fourcas-Hosten: +33 (0)5 56 58 01 15, fourcas-hosten.com; Château Lestage and Château Fonréaud: +33 (0)5 56 58 02 43, vignobles-chanfreau.com.
(NB: this has since been disbanded unfortunately, Ed.)

Côtes de Bourg

Tasted over dinner at the lively wine bar/brasserie "Le Plaisance" (www.restaurant-le-plaisance.com) in the village of Bourg itself (a recommended stop-off: lots of wines, mostly Bordeaux of course, available by the glass; reasonable menu options e.g. lunchtime €12, €20-€40 evening market menu; live music and on-line wine store too):
2008 Blanc de Brulescaille (12.5%) - light yeast-lees bite and subtle wood spice vs very crisp Sauvignon blanc style, a touch rounded and creamy too with nice balance. 85+
2006 Château les Eyquems "Impertinence" ((MerlotCabernet Sauvignon  12.5%) - attractive quite classic style showing lightly leafy cedary edges vs riper/smokier notes; quite lean framework initially yet fairly rounded tannins, aromatic spicy cherry fruit with blackcurrant leaf notes then turning more savoury; quite bright and elegant "claret."85-87
2005 Château Labadie (14.5%) - beefy and a bit soupy / rustic at first, but it does also have leafy/cedar cassis undertones and white pepper even, then darker damson fruit; firm vs rounded mouthfeel showing "sweet" vs savoury characters then dry bite. 87-89
2006 Château Haut-Guiraud "Péché du Roy" (MerlotCabernet Sauvignon 14%) - developing leather notes vs leafy and oaky, bigger Merlot-dominated style although again quite soft and mature (with food anyway) vs a touch of dry bite and freshness; less open perhaps than the 05s. Coming back to it later (the second bottle in fact), it was weirdly oakier on the nose yet smoky too showing nice solid style, and finally more fruit than oak; almost a different wine! 87-89
2005 Château Fougas "Maldoror" (MerlotCabernet Sauvignon,Cabernet Franc, 13%) - smokier and richer showing fair power, concentration and extraction too with grippy tannins adding to its quite big structure; seductive nose and initial palate showing nicely lush fruit vs cedary backdrop, it does end up a tad extracted on the tannins although still attractive overall. 88-90
Latest on Fougas here (2010 vintage).
2005 Château de la Grave "Caractère" (13%) - peppery and lightly smoky/rustic (brett?) vs dusted coconut and cassis, quite soupy savoury and dry with meaty oxidising notes; nice to start although beginning to fade in the glass vs austere tannins to finish. 85-87
2001 Château Tayac "Prestige" (Cabernet SauvignonMerlot Cabernet Franc13%) - pretty farmyardy nose although maturing and seductive with it; quite lush and tasty "sweet & savoury" fruit, then firmer tarter bite on the finish. Overall, quite classic style despite that nose. 86-88
2005 Château Gros Moulin ((MerlotCabernet Franc  Sauvignon Malbec- 13%) - a bit stalky vs savoury maturing, a touch oxidised even yet rather dour..?

At Château Mercier just outside Saint-Trojan, where I was put up for a couple of nights: owners Philippe and Martine Chety do chambres d'hôte (B&B) here, and dinner on top if you like, and have a couple of spacious gites (self-catering) as well alongside the main house in front of the cellar (as do quite a few chateaux in the area so accommodation shouldn't be a problem). The Chety's do a good breakfast too: delicious homemade jams (fig, peach...), fresh grape juice if you're there at harvest time... More info @ www.chateau-mercier.fr. I tasted these wines, priced between approx €5.50 to €11:
2005 "Cuvée Traditionnelle" (MerlotCabernet SauvignonCabernet FrancMalbec) - attractive blackcurrant aromas on the nose; actually fairly full with nice tannins, a bit of weight and fruit vs grip to finish; drink now although would keep for 2 to 3 years. 87
2007 "Cuvée Prestige" (50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20%Cabernet Franc) - appealing lively blackberry/blackcurrant fruit with a tad of structure and vanilla coating; medium bodied and fairly easy going, drinking well now actually. 85
2006 "Cuvée Prestige" (13%) - more closed up showing spicy oak, medium bodied with reasonable depth though and dry texture vs cedar and cassis; well-balanced and attractive. 87
2003 Clos du Piat (7 ha/17 acre block acquired by son Christophe in 1999: +80% Merlot with Cabernet Franc) - plum and liquorice even vs savoury and tobacco notes plus background coconut oak; quite chunky and rich vs dry tannins and spicy undertones, maturing and turning savoury but still alive showing some depth and appealing bitter twist. 89+
2005 Clos du Piat - lush and powerful with good concentration, maturing tobacco and damson notes; thick tannins balanced by good depth, beginning to mature with a few years in it yet. 90
2000 Clos du Piat - complex and smoky vs leafy edges, lovely mix of towards liquorice vs cedar and spice; well balanced and quite stylish, still juicy vs developing savoury with grippy yet rounded tannins, long and quite subtle. Still has time on its side. 90-92

At the Maison du Vin in Bourg 18/09/09 tutored by Hervé Romat, "technical director" (see blurb above):
2005 Château Lacouture "Carpe Diem" (60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec) - not very expressive showing stalky cedar tones although a bit lusher and darker on the palate, firm and spicy too with light black cherry and damson; structured and rather closed-up finish, it gets sweeter with aeration although seems to lack charm and flesh for a 2005. 83-85
2005 Château de Côts "Prestige" (60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Malbec - 13.5% alc.) - quite a lot of oak but is much richer and smokier on the nose; fuller mouthfeel with toasted coffee and coconut notes and complex maturing dried fruits as well, quite extracted with dry coating and power; needs a bit of time although not sure about those tannins. 87+?
2006 Château Gravettes-Samonac "Elégance" (75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon) - herbal cassis and plum notes, attractive pure fruit and more elegant and balanced; firm and tight palate vs "sweet" and savoury finish, touches of development vs closed and fresh. 87+
2007 Château le Tertre-Camillac (90% Merlot, 10% Malbec) - a bit hollow and stalky at first, it got fruitier with not bad tannins in the end; lacks substance though.
2007 Château Talaris "Tess" (80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc) - lots of oaky coconut spice and chocolate, very extracted fruit although has fairly lush tannins then dark chocolate finish; a somewhat "pretty" winemaking style although attractive enough.
Star of this tasting (bodes well for the higher-profile future CdB has planned for Malbec... see text above):
2007 Château Relais de la Poste (100% Malbec) - rich purple colour with brooding peppery perfumed nose (shades of Cahors perhaps); lush cassis fruit with spicy aromatic and floral edges, firm coating and structure vs floral and sweet-peppery too, chocolate oak nicely melted into the background. Very different and very nice. 88-90
A couple of favourites tasted at lunchtime downstairs:
2006 Château la Coulée de Bayon, JM Delhaye (a 0.65 ha plot: Merlot,Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon Franc 13%) - lovely mix of "sweet & savoury" vs leafy red cherry vs riper underneath; quite soft tannins and elegant finish, very nice style. 90
2005 Château Améthyste de Génibon (MerlotCabernet Sauvignon Franc Malbec- dry vs lush texture, quite firm vs attractive mix of cedar/herbal and fairly lush dark fruit; meaty/leathery notes too, overall good balance of power, tannins and depth of fruit. 90
Over dinner at Château Grand Launay:
2008 Grand Launay Sauvignon Gris (12%) - very lively, zingy and zesty Sauvignon style (think Chile meets Gascony), crisp dry and easy-going. 83-85
2005 Château de Croute ((MerlotCabernet Sauvignon Franc Malbec- 12.5%) - lacks a bit of charm although it's still quite tight, rather dry tannins vs underlying "sweet & savoury" fruit; gets smokier vs crunchy fruit, still a bit grainy.
2007 Château Haut-Guiraud - very oaky and extracted, has some richness vs bitter tannins; better with the cheese, perhaps over time it could round out although seems lack substance behind the oak and winemaking.
2006 Château Grand Launay - opposite of above, more classic "natural" style with leafy vs darker fruit vs solid dry coating, also better with cheese. 87
2005 Château Haut-Guiraud - the oak's much better integrated on this vintage, smokier and richer vs again quite extracted tannins and coconut/chocolate finish; but this has more substance (and alcohol too adding a bit of weight: apparently 13.5%). 87-89


Tried with a posh buffet lunch at Château Lestage:
2008 Château Fonréaud "Le Cyne blanc" (Sauvignon blanc Sémillon Muscadelle 12.5%) - attractive mix of toasty, yeast-leesy and fat vs underlying zesty citrus; light chocolate texture vs crisp mineral bite. 85
2005 Château Lestage Cru Bourgeois (MerlotCabernet Sauvignon,Petit Verdot 13.5%) - enticing developing smoky nose with plummy cassis notes and leafy/cedar edges; a bit of power vs reasonably subtle tannins and underlying richness, still aromatic with a touch of "sweet" cassis fruit vs savoury leather maturing tones; quite classic warm-vintage claret. 88+
2004 Château Fonréaud - spicy/leafy vs developed savoury notes and light fruit; traditional and elegant, lighter-vintage style with dry bite and understated depth; drinking now. 85-87
2003 Fourcas-Hosten (13%) - fairly rich and smoky showing ripe vs savoury fruit, developing liquorice and leather notes even; dry coating of tannins, some background oak and seductive, drink-now fruit (although should keep well for a few more years). 90+
2000 Fourcas-Dupré (12.5%) - lush and smoky nose underpinned by dried red fruits; drier tannins than the above vs ripe fruit and tobacco notes, complex flavours and length; opened up with aeration becoming more complex and maturing, tasty and melt-in-the-mouth with slices of cold duck fillet. 90-92

Tasted blind as stage four of the "Quatuor activity day" (and quickly too as I had a train to catch, hence the rather brief notes...) See above for further explanation:
2001 vintage
Fonréaud - developing nose with liquorice notes vs quite solid tannins.
Fourcas-Dupré - firmer than above vs similar maturing notes and more chocolate oak undertones.
Fourcas-Hosten - more austere and a touch extracted/bitter at this stage vs savoury fruit and powerful finish.
Lestage - firmer and tighter showing less development.
2006 vintage
Fourcas-Dupré - chocolate oak on the nose and palate, firm and closed up but fruity though.
Fourcas-Hosten - similar profile, perhaps tighter still and not very revealing.
Lestage - coconut flavours and texture vs chunky grip, again not showing that much at the moment.
Fonréaud - more concentration and power/weight, solid textured tannins.

All rights © Richard Mark James November 2009

Château de la Ligne - Bordeaux

The intro blurb on their website is a nice piece of emotionally charged, Gallic-leaning prose: "Château de la Ligne is a revived vineyard immersed in a fascinating history of Nobility, Knights, Hospitallers (sic: what's that?), Crusades and renowned wine families. Take the time to discover this wonderfully engaging story and let the delicate nectar of our vines embrace your palate." Reading a bit further, it does sound a fascinating, cobwebbed-in-history place and certainly looks the part. The owner, Irish businessman Terry Cross has obviously spent a lot of money having the classically proportioned chateau lovingly restored, along with surrounding vineyards and cosy-looking holiday gite. Anyway, they kindly sent me a sample of their wine to try (tasted August 2008). I'll add more words here if/when I visit...
2005 Cuvée Prestige Bordeaux Supérieur (Merlot Cabernets 12.5%) - attractive cassis and plum with light red pepper edged with smoky, chocolatey & cedary oak; quite dense and concentrated with dry textured tannins, medium weight, nice bite & length. Quite oaky at first but the wine has good depth of fruit and that oak lifts off a little with air, revealing some tangier fruit, coated tannins and underlying fresh acidity. After one day open, it gets fruitier and more interesting; a good match for boudin noir (black pudding)! €7 ex-cellar 89. More info at chateaudelaligne.com.
Latest La Ligne vintages: 2007 and 2008 (link goes to original post on WW.com) tasted at the Belfast Wine Festival Sept. 2011:
"Chateau de la Ligne, Bordeaux - owned by N. Ireland businessman Terry Cross, more info and stockists on their site above. 2008: slightly leafy blackcurrant-y nose, quite smooth and tasty, fairly light but has substance too for not a great vintage. 2007: also a difficult year in Bordeaux weather-wise, this is a touch richer and firmer with a bit more oak, well-balanced though and more closed up than the 08 actually - £12.99."

More Bordeaux from the past (written Sept and Nov. 2005):
2005 vintage report Pomerol St-Emilion Pessac-Léognan.
And connected to it, a news item published in OLN: A breath of fresh air in Bordeaux?

Pomerol "invasion of MW students" in two parts: featuring Vieux Château Certan, Le Pin, Gazin (2003).
Château Falfas: "biodynamic in Côtes de Bourg" (2002).

Bordeaux feature
This piece appeared in the 20th September 2002 edition of Off Licence News.

57 Appellations, 12000 growers, 116000 hectares of vines and 6.8 million hectolitres – that’s about 75½ million cases of wine... Welcome to the diverse world of Bordeaux basking in all its glory and vastness, complexity and mediocrity. How can one region making so much wine send out a consistent message and product and please everyone from struggling grower to confused consumer? On the one hand there’s the aloof aristocracy of top quality Châteaux, who command very high prices and represent less than 5% of the total. On the other a mass of often indifferent wines that lead to disappointment with the area as a whole. And in between many unknown ACs or Petits Châteaux, which really do have something interesting to offer.
So what’s the way forward from within an institutionalised culture of ‘we make it so we have to sell it’? The French themselves still consume over 60% of Bordeaux wines, which are at home a more familiar or acceptable proposition to the majority of wine drinkers. To revive and maintain exports, savvy producers and marketers are creating and building new brands and styles. Is the taste and price right for the UK?
To set the scene, a few statistics: at towards 3¾ million cases, Bordeaux has around 4% market share here in volume and 6% in value (source: customs). In the off-trade 60% of these sales are Claret, AC Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur; with 28% dry white, and Médoc/Graves and Saint-Émilion/Pomerol/Fronsac each taking only 4% (source: Stats MR). Although the trend over the last ten years is up significantly, overall imports decreased by 3% last year (source: CIVB – customs).
CVBG – Dourthe is one of a visible handful of négociant/producer/estate owners, who appear to be making their mark with well-made brands such as Numéro 1 and Beau Mayne, new in the UK. Justin Howard-Sneyd at Sainsbury’s commented: “Marketing of brands needs to improve. CVBG’s new brand Beau Mayne is promising. Negociant system should be capable of making credible consistent brands if they have some degree of control over  production. Most of the best ones have a good relationship with regular growers.” This point was reiterated by Jean-Marie Chadronnier, managing director of CVBG: “Many small growers are very good viticulturalists but don’t know how to deal with their grapes and can’t afford the kind of cellar you need to make the style of wine people want. Companies like Dourthe are starting to encourage these people.”
Calvet was positioned at number 20 in the recent OLN top selling wines’ chart in multiple specialists and no. 35 in the grocers (source: ACNielsen), up on last year. “Calvet Bordeaux Reserve is the new market leader having taken over from Mouton Cadet,” confirmed Justin Howard-Sneyd. “In general Calvet understand the UK market well.”
Chris Hardy, Majestic Wine Warehouses’ Bordeaux Buyer reminded us of problems over pricing and quality: “Cheap Bordeaux and Bordeaux brands are decreasing in sales. The consumer has been frightened away by poor quality of branded generic Bordeaux, and this has had a negative effect on even the better branded wines such as Calvet Reserve Claret. MWW customers now want to spend £7 upwards on Bordeaux to ensure they get the right quality.”
Paul Williams of Pawthewine Consultancy and Carringtons, an independent merchant with three shops in Manchester, expanded on the price/style dilemma: “I like the new brands like Rothschild’s generic range and Sirius, I’m sure there is room for more. I think the basic problem at the low end is the wines still have to shake off the stigma of thin angular and brittle wines that lack fruit; because of this I think people have to trade up to £7-8 per bottle to get the body required, and this puts them off.”
“Bordeaux is not a region to produce high yield, good quality, low price wines,” Jean-Marie Chadronnier added, “(it) has to focus on its specificities caractèreélégancefinesse while showing what consumers like: colour, concentration, silkiness and pleasure. Bordeaux can be very competitive at £5-6, but the largest volume is sold at £4 or below! It’s time for a change…”
Yvon Mau, now part of the Freixenet empire, is increasingly working on the branded side with Premius, an AC Bordeaux that sells for £6.49 in Unwins. “It’s a Merlot dominated blend with a proportion of new oak, meant to be drunk young,” explained Richard Bampfield M.W. “The biggest issue for Yvon Mau is quality. There have been problems persuading growers that quality pays, as they will pay more for quality and consistency and have 4 or 5 trained viticulturalists helping.”
Undiscovered Appellations such as Côtes de Bourg, Blaye and Castillon are a source of good value, decent quality reds in the mid price sector. Safeway launched a £4.99 brand this year called Right Bank Merlot Cabernet Franc from the latter AC, made by French-based Australian winemaker David Morrison. Paul Williams also commented “the Côtes de Castillon seems to be on the up for Petit Château”. Dourthe owns Château La Garde in Pessac-Léognan, which makes an impressive red and white. This cru of the Graves has made strides in quality and wine styles but suffers from a lack of recognition in the UK: “Pessac-Léognan is not known, it’s not easy” Sarah Chadwick of Dourthe added.
The Bordeaux generic advertising and PR campaign, despite its high spending high visibility impact, has been criticised. Chris Hardy said: “Unlikely that they are worthwhile. The consumer has been frightened off by excessive pricing and poor quality offered by the Bordelais. Advertising is unlikely to entice them back. Efforts need to be made in the vineyard to dramatically improve quality in the sub-£5 sector, and then customers need to be re-educated with tastings.” Justin Howard-Sneyd backed up these sentiments: “Worthless. The effort should be on quality through enforcing the AC system and taking out the poor liquid from AC Bordeaux.” Fortunately for Bordeaux an increasing number of very influential players are listening and taking action.

"Bordeaux travel, in brief..." (scroll down to bottom of page) - Beychevelle, Ferrière, Margaux, Lafon-Rochet, Cos d’Estournel, Lynch-Bages, Lagrange, Rauzan-Ségla, Saint-Émilion, Bistro du Sommelier... (2001).


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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.