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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tour de Bordeaux - Chateau Lynch Bages - Saturday AM

Chateau Lynch Bages. Saturday morning and our week is already over. We spent the morning at Lynch Bages and the afternoon in the City of Bordeaux, truly a hustling bustling metropolis. 
Our group with Jean-Michel Caze. David, Kent, Elizabeth, Jean-Michael, Chuck, Peter, Patricia and Jeff
Chateau Lynch  (pronounced "Linch" not "Launch" as I had become accustomed to calling it) Bages is located but a stones throw from the City of Pauillac. Thomas Lynch, whose father John emigrated in 1691 from Ireland to Bordeaux, inherited an estate in the village of Bages through his wife, Elizabeth, in 1749. The estate was purchased by the Caze family in 1938. After Jean-Charles Cazes' death, aged 95, in 1972, the estate has been largely managed by his grandson, Jean-Michel Cazes.  Caze is, according to many people, one of the real movers and shakers in Bordeaux, who has had a huge impact on it and the Bordeaux wine business. The estate includes about 220 acres of land and produces about 25,000 cases of wine per year, mostly red although it does make a white wine, Chateau Lynch Bages Blanc.
Peter with Jean-Michel Caze.
 During our tasting we tasted barrel samples of the 2010 Echo (their 2nd wine) and their 2010 Lynch Bages. Both were interesting and very attractive wines.  The 2011 Lynch Bages will be a blend of 75% Cabernet, 15% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot.

The wine making process at Lynch Bages is a bit different that most other Chateau in the Medoc. They sort their grapes on portable sorting tables in the fields before they are delivered to the winery. We obviously did not see this process, but I imagine that it is not as detailed and specific as happens with many people on a sorting table in the winery,  The grapes are then delivered to the winery and dumped into a large hopper with a screw conveyor in the bottom.  They are then destemmed, crushed and pumped into the tanks.  I must say I was a bit disappointed in the winery operation. This is, and always has been, one of my favorite wines.  It continues to be.  But, their equipment and winery shows its age and is in dire need of an update to keep pace. To me they seemed decades behind the other wineries that we saw. Galvanized steel catwalks above the tanks, that were probably constructed 50 years ago should be replaced by stainless. Screw conveyors are in need of conversation to gravity handling and crushing probably needs to be replaced with whole berry fermentation.  Jean - Michel Cazes did say that his son was now running the operation and had significant plans for upgrading it. 
I was also a bit disappointed in what seems to be their general approach.  When I asked Jean-Michael Caze where his son, who was now running the winery got his wine training, he said that he had a business degree, not a wine making degree. "We can hire enologists and viticulturists easily," he said. "Today it is more important to know how to run the business."  Oops.. I think that is the kind of thinking that got Mondavi in trouble and it is also the reason that I don't think public corporations can make great wine.  The focus is on the wrong thing.  Sorry to get on the soap box, but in my view, the minute a winery starts to think that maximum profit is more important than making great wine, they are bound to be on the wrong side of the equation.

There was one very interesting feature in the winery.  A stainless tank for white wine with a cooling coil in the center of it to keep the temperatures consistent. I had not seen one before, but it sure makes a lot of sense.
Photo taken inside the tank showing the stainless steel cooling coil inside.

That all being said, they have a wonderful museum area with historic winery equipment.  See the photos below.
 Peter in front of an old oak tank.  
All were different so they had precise volume measurements on the front

The platform vat into which grapes were dumped to be stomped.

On the second floor. Grapes where hoisted with the bucket and dumped into the tanks. 
Pumps were not around yet.

I am not exactly sure how they used this gadget. Perhaps to rack the wine from the barrel, leaving the sediment behind.

Ok wine making buffs, what is this gadget?
Just a big suitcase on wheels with a top that lifted up and inlet and outlet ports.   It is a filter!  They would fill it with Diatomaceous earth (DE) and run the wine through it.  Incidentally, DE is still used today as a filtration material. DE consists of a fine white powder that is the fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae.

Lynch Bages does have a beautiful (aren't they all?) barrel room (Chai) shown here.

Now, you have read the story, go buy some of their wines.  That is why the entertain us, so we will be ambassadors for the wines.  This wine is always one of the great ones and it is very favorably priced (in relative terms) compared to many of the first growths which are not particularly better.  Try it, you'll like it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tour de Bordeaux - Friday PM - Cordeillan Bages Dinner

Restaurant Cordeillan Bages on the Lynch Bages estate is a Michelin 2 Star restaurant. Previously run by the renowned Thierry Marx, it has since been taken over by Jean-Luc Rocha (a Meilleur Ouvrier de France award winner) who was the second in command prior to Marx's departure.  The building is a wonderful 18th century Mansion that is both a restaurant and a hotel. The Hotel is part of the Relais and Chateau group.  The dinner was, in my humble opinion, the best and most inventive of the of the trip.
Le Menu

The course including the soft boiled egg was truly extraordinary.

Patricia with Jean-Luc Rocha

Following dinner we all got a tour of the restaurant's wine cellar.  Many familiar names were present. But, not surprisingly, no Napa wines.  We will have to talk to them about that.

The wines served were a Chateau Villa Bel Air 2010 Bordeaux Blanc, a Chateau Ormes de Pez 2003 from an estate owned by the Cazes family in Saint Estephe and a 1996 Chateau Lynch Bages.  All were very nice and paired well with the meal. 

This was a wonderful experience and a stop everyone taking a trip to Bordeaux should make.  Easily qualifies as a Michelin 2 Star experience.

Off to bed.  We visit Lynch Bages and the City of Bordeaux tomorrow.

Tour de Bordeaux - Friday Noon Lunch - Pontet Canet

Our tour and lunch at Pontet Canet was certainly one of the highlights of the trip. And our host and owner Albert Tesseron was one of the truly delightful people that we met.

Pontet Canet is a Grand Cru 5th Growth Château in Pauillac. Pontet Canet sits across the road from Château Mouton Rothschild and "just down the road" from Château Lafitte Rothschild. It has approximately 200 acres of vines and as such, it is one of the largest producing Château in the Medoc, making about 20,000 cases of their first wine Pontet Canet and 20,000 cases of their second wine, Les Hauts de Pontet. The vineyards include 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot and 4% Cabernet Franc. Although "only" a fifth growth, this is a wine you want to buy and own if you are willing to afford any current Bordeaux wines.  It was certainly one of the best that we tasted on the entire trip. The winery is run by Alfred Tesseron who's family made their money in the Cognac business. They have owned the Château since 1975 and also own Château Lafon-Rochet.

We arrived at the Chateau to note an American Flag flying over the estate. 
I asked why.  "To honor today's guests," said Albert Tesseron; a very good start to our afternoon.

Tesseron took us straight to the vineyard when we arrived.  "This is where it all happens" he said. "Grapes make wine, wine makers don't."  And, he clearly believes that he has one of the best vineyards and Terroir in the world. I would not argue.
Peter listens intently to owner Albert Tesseron 
Tesseron explained that Pontet Canet is the only certified Organic and Bio dynamic vineyard in the Medoc. They have even purchased draft horses and are using horses more and more often in the vineyard. He explained that they have no "carbon footprint"  and the don't pack down the soil like a tractor does since they step in a different place each time. We didn't talk about their methane output. It is interesting, however, that when pressed,  all Bordeaux owners reluctantly admit the regular use of sulfur and I notice everywhere little plastic dispensers hanging in the vineyards, spaced every few plants, that contained a chemical that was an artificial pheromone to disrupt the mating of the European Grape Vine moth. Is that a pesticide?  It isn't sprayed, so maybe not, but the bottom line is that they do what they have to in order to control pests, albeit with organic products.

Tesseron has an amazing long term view of the vineyard and, indeed, the winery. "What is important,"  he said, "is Pontet Canet.  Not me. And not my children. We are just passing by, and it is our responsibility to care for this estate not for ourselves, but for future generations."  It is an important concept and it had a significant impact on my thoughts about our own vineyard.

Someone asked him if he worried when it gets close to harvest and he had another sage-like statement. "I can't worry too much about the grapes, for things I cannot control; when they are not ripe, I go to the cellar, take a bottle of wine, and wait."  I have to remember to do that.

The wine tanks at Pontet Canet.  Oak above and Concrete below.

The tanks at Pontet Canet are all either oak or concrete.  No Stainless. According to Tesseron, the temperature during fermentation is much more consistent with either concrete or oak.  In fact, he said that he took all of the thermometer gauges off the tanks to prevent the cellar workers from tinkering too much with the  temperature of the wine during fermentation. He also refuses to use an optical sorter for sorting grapes prior to fermentation. "It can't work as well as people on the sorting table," he said. 
Albert Tesseron explains the sorting process to David & Liz Berka-White, Peter and Chuck Horn 

We did a tasting in the sorting room; barrel samples of both the 2009 and 2010.  Both are elegant, even as barrel samples, and once again one could argue that "Each vintage is better than the other."
Albert pours the new wines, Patricia looks on

Lunch was spectacular.  Starting with a '99 Tattinger Comptes Champagne en Magnum and appetizers, we then had a Langoustine course,  Veal in a cream sauce, a plate of cheese and desert.
Le Menu

Wines served were all Pontet Canet, 2003, 2000 and 1996.  All great vintages and all great wines.

David lines up a billiard shot
Following lunch we "retired" to the drawing room and had a small glass of exquisite Tesseron Cognac.  It even caused me to change my mind about Cognac.  It was spectacular although probably beyond our budget. David Berka-White then actually shot a few billiard shots with Alfred, the consummate host. We arrived before noon and it was 3PM by the time we left.  What an exceptional time.  Below are photos of what remained of our group (The Erdman's had to leave early) as we left Pontet Canet.  I can only hope that we have an opportunity to return the hospitality. Amazing.
Au revoir,  Merci beaucoup

Tour de Bordeaux - Friday Morning at Chateau du Tertre

 Friday morning and we are nearing the end of the week.  We are now staying at Cordeillan Bages in Pauillac which is owned by the Jean Michel Cazes.  It seems that there is little rest here.  I know, who will believe it is hard work tasting all of these wines and eating all of this good food, but there is, in reality, very little down time. So we are off to Chateau du Tertre again right after a light breakfast at Maison K which is the building in which our entire group is staying.  If you are ever going to Bordeaux with a group, this is an ideal spot. Built, ostensibly as a home for Sylvie Cazes, Jean-Michels daughter, when she is in Bordeaux, it has a large kitchen, media room and 7 bedrooms.  Perfect for a large group. It is right on the edge of the little town of Village Bages and within walking distance of Pauillac.
The town the Jean Michael Cazes built...or rebuilt.  Here the butcher shop.
Chateau du Tertre is a truly beautiful 80 hectare (198 acres) estate at the highest point of the Margaux Appellation. It has 52 hectares (128 acres) of vines. It was classified as a fifth growth in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification.  The estate has been owned since 1997 by a Dutch businessman Eric Jelgersma. There is also a strong relationship with Chateau Giscours (partial ownership I think?).  The winemaking team from du Tetre makes all of the wine as Giscours. Prior to his purchase, it had fallen into disrepair and disrepute but he has since made major investments and turned it into an absolutely stunning place, making good wines and very worth a visit.
Chateau du Tertre

It is a stunning place that even includes 5 guest rooms. Staying there would be fabulous.
The winery is an interesting combination between traditional techniques and modern approaches as indicated in the photo below of traditional oak tanks and a single concrete egg shaped wine fermenter.
New meets old.  An egg fermenter stands between old oak tanks.

We are starting to see egg fermenters all over the world now and they are beginning to make an appearance in Napa. In fact, a company called Sonoma Cast Stone, known for its fountains and countertops is now entering the business and, in talking to one of their reps, he told me they consider it a very strong and a real possibility for a growing market. The attraction of the concrete is that the fermentation temperature is arguably more stable and less subject to variation. The egg shape causes the cap, the collection of floating skins at the top of the wine, to be more submerged because the egg gets narrower at the top.
Our Hostess, Alaure Bastard (some name huh?) stands beside a concrete fermenter

One of things that I found interesting a du Tetrtre, and in fact all over Bordeaux, was that although they talked about systems that handled grapes gently and while many are using gravity rather than pumps to move the grapes and wine, all of the Chateau that  we visited were doing pump-overs instead of punch downs.  Both terms relate to the process by which the skins of the wine which float to the top of the tank during fermentation creating a firm "cap" of the must, are mixed with the wine in order to extract color and flavor from the skins.  Many winemakers think it is advantageous to punch the cap down into the wine using a hand held tool or a hydraulic puncher on a track others pump the juice over the cap to wet it . Well, in Bordeaux no one seems to worry about punch downs and pump-overs are absolutely routine. One other interesting note about du Tertre's wine making and perhaps one of the reasons they are not right at the top of the quality heap is that they use only about 50% new oak at Giscours and 40% new oak at du Tertre.

The tasting after our tour included both a 2010 du Tetre (70% CS, 20% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot) and a 2010 Giscours (71% Cabernet Sauvignon and 29% Merlot) . Both wines have a long way to go. I continue to remain to be surprised that everyone in Bordeaux sells these wines to the négociants so early and that the négociants are willing to buy the wine before they really get to see how it will age.  We also tasted a 2004 du Tertre which I thought was respectable but not great.  It had a bit of a thin, although somewhat long finish. It was made from 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 30% Cab Franc.

The Celler at du Tertre

A final note... Chateau du Tertre uses an underground cellar, shown above, which is very rare in the Medoc area of Bordeaux.It is unique because it is underground, most of the barrel storage areas are in Chai's, which again, are above ground storage areas.  Again, if you are going it is worth seeing.  The wines are good, the property extremely beautiful and the staff accommodating.

Off to Chateau Pontet-Canet for lunch.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tour de Bordeaux - Thursday Lunch at Chateau Palmer

I would like to start today's blog with a line from the Chateau Palmer Brochure: "Wine tasting is a meeting of two living bodies as they surrender to each other, the human being and the wine. Tasters always have expectations from the wine they choose: good wines meet them; Chateau Palmer exceeds item, in a mingling of sensations and emotions."
Chateau Palmer

Chateau Palmer makes two wines. A wine called Alter Ego and another, their main wine, called Chateau Palmer.  They emphasize that the Alter Ego is NOT a second wine, but rather wine made differently from the same grapes. Alter Ego is designed to be drunk earlier.  It is fermented at cooler temperatures and although it spends about the same amount of time in the barrel, they use only 25% to 40% new barrels for the wine. As a result it is fruitier and less tannic. Their wines are generally about 50% Cabernet and 50% Merlot which changes a bit with each vintage.

The host for our visit was Bernard de Laage de Meux, the commercial director for Chateau Palmer.  We started our tasting with barrel samples of the 2010 vintage. The best that I can tell is that they are quite right when they say it will be a great vintage.  The 2010 Alter Ego is a blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon and 49% Merlot.  The 2010 Palmer is 54% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Petit Verdot.
 Bernard de Laage de Meux pours  - Patricia and Kent Baum look on with anticipation.

Following the tasting we adjourned to a spectacular lunch, with some amazing dishes.  The first course was accompanied by a 2008 Chateau Palmer Blanc, a very different wine made up of 55% Muscadelle, 35% Sauvignon Gris, 5% Merlot Blanc and 5% Loset. An amazing combination.
A spectacular lunch for our group of 12

The second course was a gratine of green asparagus with Parmesan and and egg coulant raviole, served with the 2004 Alter Ego, a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Bernard passes out personalized hard cover books with the menu and a list of the wines served 
Elizabeth Berka-White is on his right (L in the photo)

The third course was a wonderful veal dish (Quasi de veau en cuisson longue) and a gratin of apples with crisp Parmesan. Also on the plate was a truly outstanding morel mushroom stuffed with veal. The course was served with two outstanding Chateau Palmer wines.  First came the 1994 which was a blend of 50% Cabernet, 47% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc. Second was a 1985 Palmer that was 57% Cabernet, 33% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot.
The Third Course

Chuck and Mealnie Horn in the middle of dessert celebrating Melanie's Birthday (note the candle).
Even the dessert was a work of art with an ice cream with mint and ginger.
Le Menu

 Satiated, our group departs Chateau Palmer

Tonight, I am looking forward to a quite less complicated dinner at Village Bages.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tour de Bordeaux - Wednesday Evening at Chateau Margaux

Chateau Margaux, a legend of fine wines, was our spot for dinner on Wednesday Evening.The Margaux estate encompasses approximately 650 acres of land. The red grape vineyard is 203 acres and the white grape vineyard is 30 acres.  They produce a total of approximately 365,000 bottles or 30,000 cases annually.

The entrance to Chateau Margaux.

When we arrived, we were met at the bottom of the massive staircase by a butler, carry cool drinks for all on a particularly warm day. Water and Orange Juice before we started our tour.
The butler returns to the Chateau after bringing us cool drinks upon our arrival.

We started with a tour and tasting hosted by General Manager an Director Paul Pontallier.  Paul is a legend in the wine community and has run the estate since taking it over at the age of 27 a number of years ago.

Paul Pontallier pours wine for a tasting after the tour

 We toured the wine making operation where one of the interesting observations was that the wine was produced in about equal amounts of stainless tanks and wooden vats.  All were about 15,000 liters and all were about a 1:1 ration of height to width.  Many of their oak vats were more than 30 years old and they had expected only about 15 years from them.  Now they are thinking that they might get 60 years. All their wines go through extended maceration, they remain on the skins, for 10-21 days after the wine is fully fermented. That also seems to be a standard practice in Bordeaux. Most Margaux wines are about 90% Cabernet Sauvvignon and 10% Merlot.

One of the Chai (Barrel Room) at Chateau Margaux

Did you know that a Chai is an above ground barrel room as distinguished from a cellar below ground? True.
The Chai at Chateau Margaux is a magnificent space with barrels stretching on forever.  It is a veritable Temple of Wine.  In this photo you can see all of the new  barrels waiting for the 2011 harvest.  All Barique Traditionale with black hoops and ash ends.  Neither the ash hoops, the pine boarded heads or the black hoops adds anything other than aesthetics to the process, but interestingly everyone, everyone, in Bordeaux uses the Traditional barrels.  I guess when you make the kind of money that they are making you don't have to worry about it and they need to look as good as they can to continue to sell their wines as luxury goods. The barrel room was redone at Pontallier's request.  It is exactly the opposite of a radiant heat system that we are familiar with.  It is a radiant cooling system.  The airspace above the ceiling is cooled in the summer so the cold will radiate down. Pontallier doesn't want any air movement in the space and does not want the vibration from any equipment to hamper the delicate settling of the wine. Interestingly the cellar was quite warm as cellars go, between 60 and 65 degrees, with very high humidity.  He said 85%, although it seemed more like 70% to me.  He said he wanted the wine to change temperature during the year because it helped it age gracefully.

Another Cellar at Chateau Margaux - "A temple of Wine"

 A barrel making shop at Chateau Margaux

At Margaux they also make some of their own barrels.  I think this is more out of tradition and to keep the barrel making facility for tours than for anything else. Their barrel maker can only make about 3 barrels per day, so they would never be able to make enough for their either production.  They also use many of the same barrels that we do, Seguin Moreau, Demptos, Boutes and Taransaud. 
 Peter and Patricia arriving for dinner at Chateau Margaux

Dinner was also amazing.  Our group was joined by the Pontalliers and their son and Agustin Que and his wife. Agustin is the Maitre of the Commanderie de Bordeaux chapter in Jakarta, Indonesia. This dinner, in  their main salon where, Kings, Queens and Presidents have dined was spectacular to say the least, We started with a lobster dish, accompanied by a 2001 Margaux Pavillon Blanc en Magnum. The Second course was a wonderful veal dish, accompanied by a  1989 Chateau Magraux and the cheese course was accompanied by a 1982 Chateau margaux!!! Even Margaux's brochure characterizes the 1982 as one of their 4 great wines of the 20th Century.

Le Menu

Napoleon's music box
Following dinner we adjourned to a drawing room for Cognac and cigars were offered.  I actually had one, the first in a year. One of the great treasures in the drawing room was a large exquisite music box that Napoleon commissioned to have built.  He then gave it to one of his generals as a gift after that general had won a particularly important battle. It ultimately found its way to the Chateau.  And the best part is... it actually works and provided some music for the event.

A big thank you to the Pontalliers for a particularly wonderful evening.

Tour de Bordeaux - Wednesday Lunch at Chateau D' Issan

Château d'Issan

Chateau D'Issan is a winery in the Margaux appellation of Bordeaux. The winery was classified as one of fourteen Bordeaux Troisièmes Crus (Third Growths).  The winery is under the proprietorship of  Emmanuel Cruse. Cruse is also the Grand Maitre of the Commanderie de Bordeaux world wide and a staunch advocate for Bordeaux wines.  The Chateau dates from the time of the Hudred Years war. It was purchased by the Cruse family in 1945 and Emanuel is the third generation Cruse to run the Chateau.  It is comprised of 45 Hectares, or 111 acres. The produce a classified wine, a Bordeaux Superior (lesser classification) and a Haut Medoc (from grapes outside of Margaux). Typical production is 8,000 to 9,000 cases.

Our group at the main dining table at Chateau D'Issan. David Berka-White at the end of the table and Mckinsey Erdman our youngest attendee (15 I think) on the far right.

We had a wonderful lunch of a lobster tartare accompanied by a 2008 Charteau Carbonnieux white Bordeaux wine, followed by Tournedos of Beef accompanied by a 2004 Chateau D' Issan, and then cheese with a 2000 D'Issan.  Both the 2004 and 2000 D' Issans are available in the market place and great bargains compared to may of the current Bordeaux wines. Go buy a couple of bottles and try them.
Patricia seated next to Emanuel Cruse at Lunch

Le Menu

Now time to go back to the hotel for a nap before dinner at Chateau Margaux.