One of the best aspects of Bella Wine Tours is that we get behind the scenes at the famous Chateaux in Bordeaux.
Here are a selection of photos from recent tours.
Explaining the vineyards at Chateau Mouton Rothschild.
Standing in the Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande vineyards next to Chateau Latour.
Meeting charismatic Chateau owners such as Xavier Planty at Chateau Guiraud in Sauternes.
Taking in the fantastic views of Saint Emilion.
Or just chilling out at Chateau Margaux.
All of our tours are tailor made for your requirements. We can add specific Chateaux to visit if you have favorites. We can often accommodate extra activities such as visiting a chocolate maker, eating in restaurants in Bordeaux or even going horse racing.
We are quoting for wine tours throughout 2012 and in to 2013. Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your proposed dates and how many people in your group.
With the higher prices for the top wines from Bordeaux and also the emerging culture of counterfeiting and fraud, it is excellent to see that the top Chateaux are doing something positive. Chateau Lafite Rothschild have added the prooftag system to their labels/capsules.
Here is an excerpt from their press release:
Château Lafite Rothschild adopts the Prooftag system
In order to ensure high quality support for consumers and to strengthen the authentication system for its wines, Château Lafite Rothschild introduced Prooftag’s «Bubble Seal» security system in February 2012.
The objective of this seal is to guarantee traceability right through the distribution chain to the final consumer. The seal has been affixed directly at the Château on all bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild and Carruades de Lafite labelled since February 2012.
It will be present on all bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild from the 2009 vintage, and all bottles of Carruades de Lafite from the 2010 vintage. This initiative will also apply to bottles of earlier vintages released from the Château after February 2012.
The seal is applied to the bottle neck (at the back), partly on the capsule and
partly on the glass.
It provides two levels of protection:
1 / a unique «bubble code» that cannot be reproduced.
2/ a 13 character alphanumeric code that is associated with the bubble code
The combination of the bubble code and the alphanumeric code enables you to authenticate your bottle and access information about the bottle, previously registered by the Château and stored in a database.
The authentication page is also available in mobile phone version.
In a couple of weeks time the majority of the serious global wine buyers, traders, brokers and journalists will descend upon Bordeaux to taste the barrel samples of the 2011 vintage. The grapes were picked last September/October and they have finished their first (alcoholic) fermentation and also their second (malo lactic) fermentation. The grapes have now become wine and they are ready to be assessed. The wines will not be released for physical sale for another 15-18 months, as they will need to be matured in oak barrels before bottling. But this is the crucial time when judgements are made on the quality of the wines. The prices will then be released from the Chateaux from the end of April through until June. These prices are 'Primeur' or 'Future' prices and will determine the success or failure of the vintage. Many of the top Chateaux have allocations to their negociants (Bordeaux merchants) and then the negociants distribute throughout the World to importers. These allocations can be crucial when there is high demand for a sought after vintage such as the 2009 or 2010 Bordeaux vintage, but the allocations can also be a financial burden if there is an obligation/commitment to buy wine that is more difficult to sell.
The 2011 Bordeaux Growing season
Another very dry and unseasonably warm winter in 2010/2011 preceded an exceptional warm Spring. The vines shut down in winter during their dormant (pruning) period, but they burst in to life much earlier than normal. Many viticulturists were talking about the growth on the vines being 3 weeks in advance of normal during May 2011. The prediction would be for a very early harvest if the Summer was true.
After the advanced growth and early budding the vines continued to thrive. There was no late Spring frost, which is always the fear for viticulturists when the vines are so advanced. The warm weather continued to a mighty crescendo at the end of June, when it turned in to a heatwave. The vines suffered and some bunches were heat effected.
After the precocious start to the growing season July and August turned rather flat. There was no heatwave like 2003, there was no gradual and consistent warmth like 2009 and 2010. there were patchy days of heat and dullness. There was even rain in August after the 15th. This rain and the dull Summer set the vines back a few weeks.
Having originally thought that harvest would be taking place 3 weeks early (possibly in August), the harvest dates were not as advanced.....1 week earlier in most places.
In fact Chateau d'Yquem in Sauternes were suggesting that this could be the most advanced harvest since 1893, but this opinion soon changed after the mediocre Summer.
If vines are not effected by frost (in the Spring time), then one of the other major concerns for Chateau owners are hail storms. These hail storms can strike at the end of Summer, especially when the weather is changing after a warm period. Hail can be localised and very destructive. In 2009 a swathe of hail hit the Entre Deux Mer and Saint Emilion (Troplong Mondot and Trottevieille were badly effected) as well as the southern Medoc area near Margaux.
In 2011 the hail dumped on Friday 2nd September in northen Pauillac and Sainte Estephe. Early indications were that Cos d'Estournel, Cos Labory and Lafite Rothschild were effected. The decision for the vineyard manager is whether to treat the vines (a bit too late if they are already 90% ripe) or whether to pick all the hail effected (tatty bunches) grapes. Whatever the situation it is a dilemma!
Many of the top Chateaux have invested in advanced technology recently for selecting and sorting the grapes. One of the 'must have' toys is an Optical Grape Sorting machine, which has been adapted from pea sorting machines. The irony is that this technology has hardly been used in the great vintages of 2009 and 2010. But in 2011 these investments were certainly going to pay off. Chateaux such as Smith Haut Lafitte, Pichon Longueville and Brane Cantenac (as well as many more) would benefit from this severe selection and sorting.
The comments from the Chateaux at harvest time were very positive. Generally there seemed to be surprise at the health and quality of the fruit after such a topsy turvy growing season.
I have yet to taste a wide range of 2011 Bordeaux, as I will immerse myself in to over a thousand samples in the next few weeks. But the initial reality is that 2011 is not a Top vintage. The uneasy and uneven growing season did not help. The malo lactic fermentations were very early for this vintage. Sometimes when we taste in early April the wines are not knitted together and cumbersome and awkward. This year the wines should be more stable, so we can assess the quality. Early comments are that the vintage resembles 2008 or possibly 2001.
This overview has mainly been based around the red grapes, however I am hearing extremely positive and encouraging reports from Barsac and Sauternes for another unprecedented excellent vintage for the sweet wines. Sauternes was hit by an early hail storm on Easter Monday, when large parts of Chateau Guiraud(up to 60%) were effected. But this early hail storm is less lethal than an August/September hail storm. Maybe the gap between the top reds and the top whites will narrow for the 2011 wines?
As always the prices are crucial for Bordeaux. Many Chateau owners have trebled or quadrupled their prices in the last two vintages. They have taken an enormous amount of money out. The prices for the exceptional 2009 and 2010 wines have remained high, but over the course of time will go higher. The quandary for the Chateau owners is how low to go. If the top Chateaux halve their prices they will still be higher than the 2008s (which might be a better vintage). If the Chateaux reduce their prices by more than 50% they will feel that they are destroying their own brand rather than developing/establishing it. Many people feel that with the new wave of Chinese buyers and general World interest in Fine Wine the prices of 2009 and 2010 are a new platform. It will be an interesting 'Primeur' campaign. I am not sure that there will be a high global demand for the wines........but I am looking forward to tasting them and assessing for myself.
I adore cheese.
This is the magnificent 'chariot de fromage' at the excellent L'Ambassade restaurant in Beziers.(picture taken on 23rd Feb 2012)
Cheese has so many different textures and nuances. It has the delicate soft yoghurts and soft cheeses, the mild cheeses, the mature cheeses and then the incredible blues and the stinky mature gooey cheeses. I am certainly no expert on cheese, but I adore a few good ones such as Saint Agur, Brie de Meaux, Roquefort, English Cheddar, Stilton, Parmesan and the delicious Burgundian smelly and gooey Epoisses.
I have no set 'education' with what is right or wrong with cheese. I just taste and enjoy what I like. And so often cheese can be a fantastic accompaniment to wine. The salty blue cheeses often need a bit of sweetness such as a good Sauternes or Barsac or a Saint Jean de Minervois, whilst the harder cheeses such as Comte, Cheddar or Parmesan can be great with dry reds. Otherwise I just enjoy!
The link between pure natural artisanal cheese and pure natural beautiful wine is an elixir of harmony.
There is a wonderful American lady called Jennifer who writes about cheese and she has set out to taste and write about all the cheeses of France. Her blog about life and cheese is here. She has tasted most of the cheese in France and has a good perspective.
Recently I spent a few days in the UK with Eric Mari, the owner of Domaine La Prade Mari wine estate in the Minervois. We were visiting wine shops and wine wholesalers who stock Eric's excellent wines and generally introducing the new wines and new vintages that are available. This was only Eric's second ever trip to England, which is slightly bizarre for a 35 year old French man. The first trip was two years ago when he kept commenting that the 'bricks in England are much smaller than the stones in Minervois'....yes, a bit odd I know.
So, on this trip I thought we would immerse ourselves in England. I picked him up from Stansted airport and we immediately went out to lunch at a lovely local restaurant in Sawbridgeworth called The Goose Fat and Garlic. My treat for Eric was some rare Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding accompanied by a bottle of Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 from Chile(a nice wine but very oaky). The cliche of the English being called 'Les Rosbifs' had to be encountered.
We started our work with a trip to Norfolk to visit a very professional and slick wine merchant who might stock the wines, then we went to Newmarket to visit Waitrose and Majestic to give an overview of 'high street and supermarket' wine retail. Some very well priced wines and an incredibly competitive international market place.
We visited customers in Hertfordshire, Surrey, Sussex, Bristol, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire over two days. I zoomed through central London one evening to show Eric Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, Downing Street and the City of London. We tasted and presented the fantastic organic wines that Eric is currently producing and we ended up in a characterful and quality wine shop, wine bar, restaurant called No 2 Pound Street in the small town of Wendover.
The final evening was my turn to really turn the screw.
Here you will find a picture of Eric Mari tasting a fine slection of English (Yorkshire and Gloucestershire) and Welsh cheeses.
Yes we should be very proud in the Uk of excellent and interesting cheeses and even more proud of companies such as No 2 Pound Street for educating and offering such delicious platters of cheese. Even French people like them.
It was a hectic and busy couple of days, but great fun. I think Eric is certainly more impressed(and understanding) of English cuisine and the attitude towards quality food and wine that so many independent shops, bars and restaurants purvey.
I am very pleased to welcome Simon Woods as our next Guest on this blog. Simon is a charming award winning wine journalist, whose excellent humour and bright demeanour always enliven wine tasting events. His knowledge and diverse communication skills bring the often complicated and confusing subject of wine to a wider receptive audience. Simon makes wine fun! He is certainly worth following on twitter @woodswine and looking at his excellent and funny video blogs on his website: www.simonwoods.com
1. You have been writing about wine for some time Simon. What drew you to this subject and why?
Flavour – even though we didn’t have an especially exotic diet at home, I noticed at a reasonably early age that there was a difference between the bad, the OK and the best. Couldn’t work out in my teens how my friends could drink vast quantities of grotty beer when there was better stuff on offer for just a few pence more a pint. After a brief dalliance with the electronics industry, I spent a year in Australia during which time I picked grapes, worked in a bottle shop and visited several vineyards on a bike. Since then, I’ve managed to carve out a job that let me share my opinions with others.
2. Have you ever wanted to make wine and develop your own label? And if so, which area would you choose?
With so much interesting wine around, it would be hard to settle on a particular region. Also, running and promoting your own estate seems to be extremely hard work. But it would be great to develop a brand that covers many regions, something that is consistently good but which encourages normal people to spend just that little bit more to explore the world of wine.
3. You write mainly for the UK market which is facing some challenging times at the moment. You taste extensively all around the World. When you are polishing your crystal ball in the evening what do you think are the most exciting wines (area, region or country) that we are about to discover on the UK merchant shelves?
The traditional wine producing countries of Europe offer so much in terms of the spectrum of flavours, but most of the time, their promotion is very poor, and often forgets that the target audience is normal people rather than the wine trade. At the same time, countries outside Europe are often seen in the UK as simply sources of easy-going varietal wine, meaning that the more ambitious offerings are seen as overpriced. My concern is that our obsession with ‘getting a good deal’ will cause many wine producers to bypass the UK and seek out more appreciative audiences in other countries. So while there’s lots in both the Old and the New World that excites me, I’m not holding out much hope of our shelves being overwhelmed with whites and reds from Galicia, Austria, southern France, Swartland and Beiras, new wave Australian Chardonnay, Greek whites, post modern Bordeaux reds etc
4. What do you think of organic and biodynamic wines? Do you think the customer cares?
Love the idea of wines being made that are sympathetic to the environment, but for most customers the organic/bio status is a bonus rather than a reason for buying in the first place.
5. You live in the North of England. Are there enough tastings and activities for northern based journalists, consumers? Or do you feel that the wine trade is Londoncentric? What percentage of your time is spent travelling??
The wine trade IS very London centric: with regard to trade tastings, there are events in the north, but they often coincide with more interesting ones darn sarf. But there are several enterprising northern retailers who make sure their customers get plenty of chances to try wines. As for me travelling, family demands mean I do quite a lot less than in the past, but I’m still away from home – both in London and on trips to other countries – for maybe 80 nights a year.
6. Which journalist has the best reach to the audience? Which journalist do you read and appreciate the most?
They write for different audiences, but I’ve heard that reccos from Jancis Robinson, Jane McQuitty and Matthew Jukes translate into sales. I love reading Andrew Jefford, and just wish he had a decent outlet for his impassioned purple prose, but he’s never going to be mainstream.
7. If you had the choice of any other career.....what would you want to be?
Am too old now to be a footballer, but there may still be time to play lead guitar in a kick-ass band…
8. You do most of your reviews now on video – why?
There’s been a huge move to consuming information online rather than in print, with video leading a lot of the charge. Hopefully my enthusiasm for wine comes through in my videos, and not only exposes me to a wider audience, but lets people discover wine in a way that is more relevant to them
Simon is worth following for his humorous video blogs and his fun twitter activity.
www.simonwoods.com, twitter @woodswine
Yesterday Thierry Manoncourt passed away at the age of 92. Monsieur Manoncourt had run the exceptional Chateau Figeac(Premier Grand Cru Classe) since the 1947 vintage. He was a pioneer for many modern wine practises such as the use of 100% new oak for certain vintages; the effective use of malo lactic fermentation; varietal seperate fermentation. He also founded the Union de Grands Crus, which is now an effective promotional group for many top Chateaux.
I only met Monsieur Manoncourt once many years ago in Saint Emilion. I always felt that he was an extremely gracious and pleasant, friendly face of Saint Emilion.
Jancis Robinson wrote some splendid notes on Thierry Manoncourt's many many achievements over 3 years ago. Click here to see the full article. It is quite something for one man to have made the wine at one property for 63 years!.....But also to maintain an exceptional quality over all that time.
I love this comparison of purchases from this article in The Drinks Business, click here .
Although the global economy is still struggling and the UK economy is taking drastic measures to balance the books, there is still an enormous amount of wealth in this World. And an increasing amount of people who want to invest in wine, to drink wine, to enjoy wine.....and to have the very best quality wines on their dining room tables.
My only grumble is that wines such as Chateau Lafite Rothschild(pictured above) are becoming iconic collectors wines and are totally out of reach for the vast majority of us, who are not multi millionaires!
Even the second wine of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, which is called Carruades de Lafite is now trading(in the UK) at £3000 per case of 12 bottles for the 2009 vintage.
Wine is fun and enjoyable but the question is: Would you buy 8 bottles of wine or a Porsche 911?
When you have got 29 Appelations and 50,000 small and large growers and +/- 2 billion bottles of wine produced every year; it can be difficult to simplify the region.
But the CIVL (one of the governing bodies for the Languedoc wines) have now created the titles: 'Grands Vins' and 'Grands Crus'. This will obviously make it far easier for the consumer to understand!!!
It is difficult enough trying to explain the three main different classifications in Bordeaux.....one was introduced in 1855 (for the Medoc) one was introduced in 1953 (for the Graves) and one was introduced in 1955 (for Saint Emilion).
The article in decanter here tries to clarify the situation, but also confuses, as there are some exceptions to the rules that they are introducing.
CLARITY???? SIMPLIFICATION????.....I think not.
I have been busy trying to get a new website launched.
Please let me know what you think www.bellawinetours.com
An interesting initiative from the CIVB....the people who market and promote Bordeaux wines. They are trying to get a Bordeaux iphone App up and running. This will make it easier for any consumer in the World to identify a Bordeaux label and to learn more about that wine, the Chateaux and where it comes from. Click here for the story in Decanter.
This is all part of a new promotion 'Bordeaux Tomorrow', which sounds intriguing!!
The only difficult part could be:
'It is hoped the region's 9000 wine estates will upload information on their 15,000 to 20,000 wines during August and September despite the summer vacation and the impending 2010 harvest. '
I will follow this promotion eagerly. A positive initiative, but not too sure about the implementation.
This could be a very interesting week for release prices for some of the top wines from Bordeaux. There was an important wine show last week in Hong Kong (Vinexpo) and many of the Chateau owners would have been gauging the feedback and response to their wines. Also the top Chateau owners will have looked at which Chateaux have already released their prices and seen how quickly they have sold.
I have many UK customers who need large amounts of wine to fill their order books, but I am not wildly optimistic that I will get enough wine in order to fulfil the demand.
It could be a frustrating couple of weeks ahead!!
We also do not yet know the pricing for the 1st Growths. Will they release a small first 'tranche' at €300 per bottle? Then watch the secondary market add margings and re sell at double the price!
Lets see what happens.......
Decanter magazine have 'voted' Chateau Latour 2009 as their top wine from the Bordeaux vintage.
For the full article click here.
I have tasted Chateau Latour at the Chateau last week, as well as tasting Chateau Margaux (3 times), Chateau Lafite Rothschild (twice), Chateau Mouton Rothschild (3 times) and Chateau Haut Brion (twice).
Undoubtedly all the First Growths have made exceptional wines in the 2009 vintage. There are certainly more powerful (tannins and alcohol) wines produced. Wheras the top wines have a balance, poise and sheer class about them.
But for absolute pure elegance, charm, and beauty my vote would have gone for Chateau Margaux 2009.