Showing posts with label Saint-Emilion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Saint-Emilion. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sipping, almost slipping, in Saint Emilion

Sipping, almost slipping, in Saint Emilion
The hand of man and mammon can seem particularly powerful here. This quote from the World Atlas of Wine refers to Saint Emilion and indeed rings true as you walk around the narrow streets of this much visited historic town, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1999.

The little town is a busy commercial spot. Here, in the blink of an eye, a restaurant can fill up with a bus load of tourists and the shiny wine shops invite you in to talk about en primeur. It is not easy to find parking here. You’ll have to queue for the toilet, though I followed the example of the local males and used the open air pissoir (it did have metal wings at the sides to provide decent cover). And you won't get too far without someone offering you a little taste of their famous macaroons.

But even Atlas of Wine authors, Michael Johnson and Jancis Robinson, acknowledge it is not all about mammon. “...the comfort of St-Emilion to the ordinary wine-lover is the number of .. chateaux of moderate fame and consistently high standards which can provide relatively early maturing, utterly enjoyable, reasonably affordable wine”.

Here are three, from that category, that I sipped. And the slipping? Well there was a close call or two on one of the steepish streets. Here the surface consists of big stones, but so well worn and shiny - the Romans were here - that you can find yourself slipping even in dry conditions. So, careful as you reach out for that macaroon sample!

#1 - Chateau Haut Traquart, La Grace Dieu Cuvee Passion, St-Emilion Grand Cru 2010, 13.5%, €28.55
#2 - Chateau Haut Rocher, St-Emilion Grand Cru 2009, 14.5%, €18.35.
#3 - Chateau La Grace Dieu, St-Emilion Grand Cru 2009, 14%, €17.85.

As you probably know, the plump Merlot is the most widely planted variety here and, more often or not, its main partner in the blend is Cabernet Franc (known locally, I’m told, as Bouchet). The pattern is followed in these three: #1 90% M, 10% CF; #2 65% M, 20% CF, 15% Cab Sauv; #3 80% M, 20% CF.

All three have Grand Cru on the label but this doesn't mean a great deal, "rather akin to the difference between basic Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur" according to the Wine Doctor Chris Kissack, a regular commentator on the area. 

Nevertheless, these are three really good wines with #1 having something more. It is warm and smooth, well balanced, good fruit and some pepper notes, barely noticeable tannins and an excellent finish.

#2 also has an excellent “final”, as Sean Kelly might say. Another well balanced wine, a harmonious blend, red and black fruits and again some spice.

#3 is quite lush, those same fruits evident, again some spice, tannins yes but just about in play, and again an excellent finish.

Bought all three at the Maison du Vin in Saint-Emilion itself last month and the prices quoted are those that I paid on the day. If you’d like to try wines from this area - you may not get these three exactly - why not check with the likes of Mitchell & Sons, Terroirs, Honest2Goodness, Wines Direct, Tindal, Karwig, Bubble Brothers, Curious Wines and Le Caveau. For short account of my trip to Saint-Emilion, click here.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Satellite Merlot

Satellite Merlot. Lussac Saint-Emilion
Chateau Haut-Jamard 2011, 12.5%, €8.00.
Chateau Busquet 2008, 13%, €13.35.
Chateau Lucas, Grand Cuvée de Lucas Cuvée Prestige 2010, 14%, €12.35.

You like Merlot in a Bordeaux blend? But how much of it?

If you buy a bottle in Lussac, one of the four satellite towns of St Emilion, you’ll have a choice. Take the three bottles above, for instance. All are from Lussac and all have Merlot but the amount in the blend ranges from 50% in the last to 80% in the first!

Generally you won't know from the bottle. In a conversation with a French wine worker in the Dordogne a few years back, it was suggested that France had lost out in world markets because it didn't have the variety on the label. The man, a Serb who had settled locally, was fed up with such suggestions. “Around here we can use up to 13 varieties. How are we going to get all of them on the label?” A not unreasonable reaction.

But things could be changing. Chateau Lucas had the blend on the label and it was fifty fifty Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Jamard is 80 Merlot, 15 Cab Sauv and 5 Cab Franc while Busquet is 60 Merlot, 30 Cab Franc and 10 Cab Sauv. Quite a difference between the three.

Must say I preferred the Lucas and not just because of its motto: Sans Ceres et Bacchus, Venus est de glace. My translation: Without Ceres (food) and Bacchus (wine), Venus (love) is ice. We need a little of all three. In any event, I would be disposed to a wine in which Merlot and Cab Franc are major constituents.

And some love has already been expended on this wine as it comes with three silver medals to its credit. Harvesting is manual and they've come up with a near perfect blend, full and balanced and generous of flavour, with a lovely long finish.
Who's for the washing up?
The Haut-Jamard is the youngest of the three and quite a pleasant wine. On the palate it is round, tannins present but quite soft and again the finish is long.

All three are aromatic, the Busquet perhaps a bit more pronounced. This is smooth and mildly spicy, really well balanced, the tannins present but almost unnoticeable.

All three were bought last month in the Maison des Vins in St Emilion itself. While the blend info does not generally appear on the bottles, they had mini-info cards mounted alongside each bottle that gave the breakdown and other info such as the appellation and the soil type.

The other three satellites of St Emilion are Montagne, Puisseguin and St Georges. “At their best, the wines from these areas are every bit as good as a Saint-Emilion grand cru. At their worst, they are attenuated and rustic.” I quote from the Wines of Bordeaux by Clive Coates. This was published in 2004.

Rustic is often used when speaking of lesser known appellations, often applied to the likes of Listrac and Moulis as well. But times have changed as Coates noticed in 2004 “the last few years have seen an encouraging increase in quality”.

Indeed, he also had good things to say about the Lucas wines. And the prices are attractive. Three bottles from the satellites cost me €33.70 while three from main AOC came to €64.75, not a very scientific comparison admittedly. But do watch out for quality good value wines from Lussac in places like Mitchell’s, Curious Wines, Tindals and Le Caveau.

* By the way, I have updated the 2014 list of favourite wines here.