Posts Tagged ‘saint-emilion’

This past Saturday Keith Garrett and his fiancée Kelsey hosted the February MPA Wine Tasting.  I organized a blind tasting of 3 Bordeaux reds, and 2 sweet whites, one from Sauternes and the other from Jurançon.  I had originally intended to do a classic Bordeaux horizontal tasting but due to our limited budget and the limited selection at La Grande Epicerie, this proved impossible.  Nonetheless, the tasting proved to be quite interesting and loads of fun, as always.

Regional Overview …

Saint-Estèphe AOC (1,230 hectares) is the Northern most grand cru commune in the Rive Gauche’s Haut-Medoc.  The wine production is exclusively dry red wine, made from predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  Carménère is permitted but virtually non-existent.  The wine is characteristically more hefty and tannic than Saint-Julien and Margaux, often expressing good structure and notes of cassis.

Saint-Emilion AOC (5,330 hectares), on the Rive Droite, makes exclusively dry red wine from the same varietals as Saint-Estèphe, however, Merlot is the dominant grape.  The wine is characteristically rich, with supple tannins, earthiness, good complexity, vanilla, cedar, chocolate, brambleberry and plum notes. (more…)


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St Emilion’s train station is a great place. You gotta love it. Why ? Well if you’re there, it means you’re in an absolutely gorgeous part of France. Imagine the picture: vineyards everywhere, the blue sky, 5 min walk time from the beautiful village of St Emilion, and this unique French lifestyle atmosphere.

Toward the end of July, something made this place even more special when I came across a young man approximately my age. Obviously he wasn’t from here, so I asked where he was from:
“And what brings you here ?”
“I’m here until September, and am visiting as many Chateaux as possible. Wine is my passion.”

I then paused for 2 seconds, thinking about how this area seems to be synonymous for passion, and therefore attracts passionate people from all horizons. And meeting Kenny this day reminded me it’s always a gift to connect with such people.
As we started to discuss back and forth, Kenny proposed to add me as a contributor to his blog. The desire to contribute was quite obvious from the beginning, even though I had no precise idea about what my contribution could be about.

Here is some info to give you an idea of who Seb is :
Name : Seb Zar Bourcheix
Age : 31
French, currently living in St Emilion area.
Profession : no such word in my language, I make a living with my PASSION. My passion is to create Art. Sculpture, and more.
See my work here : www.sebzar.com

You will learn more as we go on this journey together. I’m really looking forward to this adventure. While I’m certainly not a wine expert (yet !), wine is in my DNA and I am convinced that the value for thegrandcrew visitors is the different perspective that I can bring. As you perhaps suspect, the process of producing wine and the process of producing art, have more similarities than one would expect.

Talking about expectations, make sure that you work on your French, as there will be posts 100% in French, making this blog your multi-cultural / polyglot wine rendez-vous.

Alors levons tous nos verres pour célébrer le partage de nos passions qui nous rassemblent !



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Château AngelusOn Monday I visited with Hubert de Boüard de Laforest, owner of Château Angelus, a Saint-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé (as of 1996).  The estate manages roughly 32 hectares of vines, composed of 50% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The average age of the vines is nearly 40 years and the yields are rather low at around 25 to 30 hectoliters per hectare.  The vines are planted in the Mazerat Valley, on a southerly slope.  The soil is composed of calcareous clay loam and sand.

Throughout vinification there is a lot of attention to detail and the whole process is very hands on.  Roughly 30 workers are employed at the sorting table and in the winery, as compared to 20 in the vineyard.  The grapes go through a cold pre-fermentation maceration and the winery employs both punching down and pumping over throughout the long maceration, which lasts anywhere from 18 days to 5 weeks.  Afterward the malolactic fermentation takes place in the barrel and the wine rests on its lees during a 6 to 9 month period.  The above technique is considered to be traditionally Burgundian; however, similar to Château Valandraud, many Bordeaux estates employ these techniques.  Furthermore, Mr. de Boüard explained that classifying such practices as Burgundian is not very useful, as these techniques have existed in Bordeaux for over 150 years.  After completing the maceration, the first label wine is aged in 100% new oak barrels for between 20 and 24 months.  40 to 45% new oak is used for the 2nd label, Carillon de l’Angelus, and 20% new oak is used for the 3rd label.  The annual production for the first, second and third labels is 90,000, 20,000 and 10,000 bottles respectively.

The estate has been in the de Boüard de Laforest family for seven generations, dating back to 1782.  Mr. de Boüard’s daughter is in line as his likely successor.  The name Angelus derives from the famous Angelus bell, which in the past could be heard ringing simultaneously from all three local churches within near vicinity of the estate.  During the 60s and 70s Château Angelus was known for intense fruity wines; however, the wine did not hold up with age.  In the 80s, with the help of Michel Rolland, all this changed.  The estate began aging the wine in 100% new oak barrels and the results were very positive, producing a much more complex and structured wine, yet still maintaining the rich, fruitiness from earlier vintages.

Before visiting the winery and vineyards with Mr. de Boüard, I had the opportunity to sit down with him and pose a few questions…

Hubert de Boüard de Laforest

Regarding Mr. de Boüard’s personal story in wine, it begins quite literally from day one.  In fact, he was actually born at the Château.  After spending his youth absorbed in the surroundings of the beautiful Saint-Emilion wine country, Mr. de Boüard enrolled at Bordeaux University where he obtained a degree in oenology.  He was one of the last apprentices under the world famous Bordeaux oenologists, Émile Peynaud and Jean Ribéreau-Gayon.  Throughout the 80s, Mr. de Boüard went on a “world tour” of wine, working in wineries and vineyards throughout Burgundy, the Rhone Valley, and Napa Valley.  By 1985, he jumped on board at Château Angelus, as the General Director.  Immediately, in collaboration with his close friend and fellow Peynaud pupil, Michel Rolland, Mr. de Boüard made a number of changes to improve the wine and the overall operations.  In addition to aging the wine in 100% new oak, he reinstituted the double extraction method (pigéage and remontage) throughout the fermentation and maceration.

Mr. de Boüard’s success as head of Château Angelus allowed him to further grow his holdings.  In 1997, along with Bruno Prats of Cos d’Estournel and Lowell Jooste of Klein Constantia Estates, he bought Anwilka in Stellenbosch, South Africa.  The following year he bought La Fleur de Boüard in Pomerol; and just one year ago, Mr. de Boüard bought Château Bellevue, a Saint Emilion Grand Cru estate.  2008 was his first vintage.  In addition to his holdings, Mr. de Boüard also stays busy as a viticulture and wine consultant for over 20 labels.

Château Angelus

Next, Mr. de Boüard explained some of the more important characteristics of the estate’s terroir.  He breaks down the southerly facing slope into three sections—Upper slope, mid slope, and lower slope.  The two main distinctions Mr. de Boüard made were in the proportion of clay found in each section and the varietals of grapes planted.  The upper slope is planted with virtually 100% Merlot and the proportion of clay is roughly 18%.  The mid slope is planted with a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and has a 12% composition of clay.  Finally, the lower slope is composed of 100% Cabernet Franc with a composition of 6 to 8% clay soil.  Mr. de Boüard explained that the higher proportion of clay in the upper slope allows for the Merlot, which is always the first of the three grapes to ripen, to ripen later than normal, resulting in much closer harvest dates than what is typical.

Château AngelusRegarding Mr. de Boüard’s winemaking philosophy he detailed a few key points.  One, he seeks to maximize the ripeness of the Cabernet Franc, producing a marked richness in the wine.  However, at the same time he wants to be careful not to over ripen the Cabernet Sauvignon, which would produce overly accentuated notes of chocolate and coffee.  Once in the vat, Mr. de Boüard prefers a long maceration with periodic punching down and pumping over, versus a maceration with the extraction crammed into a much shorter window.  The aim behind the longer maceration is to achieve a much more subtle and soft vinification, resulting in a richer and more elegant wine.  Furthermore, the estate prefers wider, versus taller vats to carry out the maceration, allowing for a larger surface area to be in contact with the grapes.  I found it very interesting to learn that the estate uses cement, oak and stainless steel vats.  Mr. de Boüard believes that all three types of vats have something to offer throughout the vinification.  Cabernet Franc is often vinified in the cement vats; however, for the Merlot Mr. de Boüard prefers more oak and stainless steel.  Furthermore, the older vines are typically vinified in oak, which imparts more structure into the wine.  However, for the young vines Mr. de Boüard believes that a better marriage is achieved in the stainless steel vats.

Before ending our discussion, I asked Mr. de Boüard about his favorite vintages and his thoughts on the 2008 vintage, scheduled for bottling around September 2010.  He is very pleased with the 2008, comparing it distantly to the 2005 and highlighting its very velvety, cashmere-like tannins.  Regarding past vintages, Mr. de Boüard said that clearly the 1989, 1990, 2000 and 2005 are top vintages; however, he is also very fond of the 2004 and 2006, which he considers to be very characteristic of what Château Angelus looks to achieve in its wine.

Below I have summarized my tasting notes from the 2008 and 2006 vintages…

Château Angelus2008 Château Angelus
Blend: 62% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Franc
Tasting Notes: (in barrel, 3.2 TA, 3.85 pH, 13.8% ABV) Fresh, bright red fruit on the nose.  Still not too expressive; however, showing nice notes of spice, mineral, and cassis.  Very rich and full-bodied in the mouth, with smooth, silky tannins and a nice balance.  There are flavors of dark chocolate and black fruit.  The wine grows a little bitter on the finish with subtle notes of grapefruit.
Rating: 15-17/20 (WS 89-92)
Price: N/A

2006 Château Angelus
Blend: 58% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Franc
Tasting Notes: Much creamier and more elegant on the nose, with a nice hint of cedar.  There is good acidity in the mouth and the tannins are tighter and more pronounced than the ’08, nonetheless still controlled and well balanced.  This wine expresses a nice fruitiness and minerality with flavors of coffee, chocolate, cedar, and cherries.
Rating: 15-16/20 (WS 93)
Price: $215 USD, upon release @ Wine Spectator

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Monday marked The Grand Crew’s first visit to Saint-Emilion and oh what a visit it was!  I met with Jean Luc Thunevin, owner of Château Valandraud, and Michel Gracia, owner of Château Gracia.  Both men are internationally revered garagistes and share one clear common quest—to make the best quality and most pure Saint Emilion Grand Cru money can buy.

Right-left: Michel Gracia, Kenny Galloway, Jean Luc ThunevinWithin 5 minutes of meeting Jean Luc it was clear what type of a person he is.  He is genuinely charismatic, cares deeply about his 45 employees, has an endless sense of humor and laidback attitude, and is involved in everything.  He’s a proprietor, négociant, and celebrity wine consultant, working side-by-side the likes of Michel Rolland (oh yeah, and he’s also a fellow blogger).  It’s no wonder that while taking a stroll through Saint-Emilion, it appeared that Jean Luc knew everyone.  He’s also completely unaffected by any criticism that may trickle down from the Bordeaux aristocracy, which is not used to competing against an estate with less than two decades under its belt.  In a tongue and cheek way, the nickname “Bad Boy”, bestowed upon Jean Luc by Robert Parker, fits him well.  This is a man that anyone interested in working in the wine industry should meet.

Jean Luc, an Algerian immigrant, started his life in wine as a wine merchant and restaurant owner in Saint-Emilion.  In 1989 Jean Luc figured that there was no reason he couldn’t start making his own wine, and so he and his wife, Murielle Andraud, purchased a tiny plot of vines, .6 hectares to be exact, in Saint-Emilion.  By 1991 Chateau Valandraud bottled its first vintage.  The estate quickly became a force to be reckoned with, producing high quality and powerful wines during the difficult 1992, 1993, and 1994 vintages.  It was all uphill from there as Jean Luc slowly but surely acquired more vines and grew his consulting network.  Today Thunevin is attached in one way shape or form (proprietor, consultant, or négociant) to over 20 labels, and his Château Valandraud is listed in Robert Parker’s “The World’s Greatest Wine Estates”.

Château Valandraud and company currently manage 24 hectares of vines in Saint-Emilion (Jean Luc owns more vines throughout other regions of France).  The annual production of Valandraud is around 12,000-15,000 bottles.  The second label, Virginie de Valandraud, pumps out around 30,000 bottles.  Calvet-Constance, a Roussillon Vin de Pays d’Oc, completely separate from the 24 hectares in Saint-Emilion, has the largest production with 130,000 bottles.  The grape varietals (Saint-Emilion only) are broken down into 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 2.5% Malbec, and 2.5% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Valandraud is a true garagiste winery, focused on organic farming and attention to detail all the way through to the bottling.  All grapes are harvested by hand and a uniquely Burgundian style is implemented throughout the vinification.  The grapes go through a cold maceration, encounter 100% malolactic fermentation in barrel, and the resulting wine is aged on the lees.  Additionally, closing the Burgundian loop, Jean Luc utilizes both pumping-over and pigéage throughout the maceration.  In fact, Jean Luc was one of the first to re-implement the pigéage technique, and today he has many followers.  To steal a quote from Robert Parker, “Bordeaux’s leading revolutionary (…) Thunevin has inspired an entire new generation of young vignerons to produce wine of higher and higher quality.  For this, all of Bordeaux has benefitted enormously.”

The majority of my discussion with Jean Luc centered on the business end of the wine industry, not viticulture and winemaking.  After all, Jean Luc pays Michel Rolland for the key decisions of vinification, which is not to say that Jean Luc isn’t known for having a strong palate and a keen sense of winemaking methods and techniques.  But at the end of the day, Jean Luc’s success and near celebrity status is largely a result of his strength as a business man.  He’s mastered the wine trade and the majority of the consulting he does is on the business end of the industry.  Regarding his business philosophy it can be most quickly summed up with an old dictum he repeated to me in French… “on ne vend pas un produit, on vend difference.”  Quickly translated, “we don’t sell a product, we sell difference”.  This won’t come to any surprise to anyone who’s been successful in business.  If your product has no unique selling point, then it’s just like any other.  From day one, Jean Luc has strived to produce a wine with distinction and expression, unlike any other in Bordeaux.

However, even such a successful business man as Jean Luc isn’t immune to an international economic crisis.  I asked him about his en primeur sales, pre and post crisis.  He noted that up through the 2005 vintage, 90 per cent of the Chateau Valandraud, priced between $150 and $400 USD, sold en primeur.  From 2006 to 2008, only 50 percent was sold en primeur.  For any United States residents interested in getting their hands on whatever’s left over, Heidelberg, a large beer and fine wine importer out of Ohio and Kentucky, distributes Valandraud.

Château Gracia

As is mentioned in the title, and briefly at the beginning of this post, I also met with Michel Gracia, owner of the garagiste Saint Emilion Grand Cru winery, Château Gracia.  Michel runs a tiny estate of 4 hectares; however, his wines are by no means tiny.  This visit was completely impromptu.  As Jean Luc and I were leaving his wine shop, L’Essentiel, to walk over to his “garage”, he spotted two individuals sitting on a bench, just outside of the shop.  Jean Luc hollered over at them, making some humoristic Jean Luc-esque remark.  Honestly, I had no idea who they were, because to a foreigner’s eye, they appeared to be just ordinary town folk, enjoying a beautiful day in Saint-Emilion.  However, the older gentleman was Michel Gracia and the younger gentleman was an aspiring winemaker, whose name escapes me.  Anyways, I quickly discovered who Michel Gracia was and low and behold I found myself in the midst of a conversation with two of the most influential garagistes in Saint Emilion.  Unfortunately, I don’t have much information on Michel’s winery.  It’s quite young, founded in 1997.  Similar to Jean Luc, Michel is a first generation immigrant, originating from Spain.  Also similar to Jean Luc, Michel has a killer personality and an endless air of authenticity and passion for making quality wine.  After less then a decade since his first crush, Michel was already recognized by Robert Parker as one of the twenty best wine estates in France in 2006.  So after checking out Jean Luc’s winery, we stopped by Michel’s “garage” to taste some wine from the barrel.  Michel’s wines are expressive and lively, granted I only tasted one finished wine, and the rest were single varietals, awaiting the assemblage.  But for 30€ to 60€ at wholesale, considering that this wine stands side by side any top growth Grand Cru, this is a wine to get your hands on.

Below are my day’s tasting notes …

2000 Château Bel-Air-Ouÿ, St-Emilion Grand Cru
Château Bel-Air-OuÿTasting Notes: Very fresh red fruits on the nose with notes of subtle oak and minerality.  Medium to full-bodied in the mouth with medium tannins and god acidity.  There are flavors of black cherries with chocolate lingering on the finish.
Rating: 15/20 (WS 88)
Price: $20 @ Wine Spectator on release

2005 Château Bel-Air-Ouÿ, St-Emilion Grand Cru
Tasting Notes: A very pleasant nose, showing nice fresh fruit.  There’s good acidity in the mouth and although currently the oak is too pronounced, this wine is young and judging on the 2000, the oak with mellow out in the next 2-5 years.
Clos BadonRating: 14/20 (WS 88)
Price: ~17€ @ Snooth

2001 Clos Badon, St-Emilion Grand Cru
Tasting Notes:
A complex nose with notes of game, earth, musk, and black fruits.  The acidity is strong in the mouth, yet balanced, with flavors of chocolate, oak, and cassis.
Rating: 14/20 (WS 84)
Price: 25€ @ Snooth

2005 Virginie de Valandraud, St-Emilion Grand Cru
Tasting Notes: A fresh, elegant, and soft nose with notes of crème de cassis and raspberry.  A dry mouth with a Virginie de Valandraudgood, balanced acidity, and marked tannins that should open up over time.  There are pronounced flavors of blackberries and plum.
Rating: 16/20 (WS 88)
Price: $62 @ Wine Spectator on release

2001 Château Valandraud, St-Emilion Grand Cru
Tasting Notes: A beautifully concentrated and strong nose, expressing overall fruitiness, raspberry notes, and a creamy overtone.  Great balance and acidity in the Château Valandraudmouth, this wine is full-bodied and shows complex flavors of herbs, minerals, cherries, cherry jam, currant, and oak.  This wine is already excellent and will surely get even better over the next 5 to 10 years.
Rating: 17/20 (RP 94)
Price: $150 @ Wine Spectator on release

2007 Les Angelots de Gracia
St-Emilion Grand Cru

Blend: 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc
Tasting Notes: (tasted in stainless steel vat, ready for bottling) A very fresh nose, still alive, with notes of cassis.  Silky sweet tannins in Les Angelots de Graciathe mouth with powerfully expressed flavors of chocolate, blackberries, and black cherries.
Rating: 16/20
Price: 30€ wholesale

2008 Les Angelots de Gracia, St-Emilion Grand Cru
Blend: 100% Merlot
Tasting Notes: (tasted in barrel, prior to blending) A little tight on the nose, showing notes of game and earth.  With wine is acidic and rich with medium tannins.  Plum is pronounced through the palate, along with sour cherries, cocoa, sweet berries and an overall candy-esque mid-palate to finish.
Rating: 14/20
Price: N/A

2008 Château Gracia, St-Emilion Grand Cru
Château GraciaBlend: 100% Merlot
Tasting Notes: (tasted in barrel, prior to blending) Light spice and sweetness on the nose with notes of oak, licorice, and graphite.  There is a good balance and acidity in the mouth with flavors of cherries and espresso.
Rating: 15/20
Price: N/A

2008 Château Gracia, St-Emilion Grand Cru
Blend: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Tasting Notes: (tasted in barrel, prior to blending) A tighter nose with aromas of oak, black fruits, cherry, and leather.  Good balance and a vibrant acidity in the mouth with slightly overly bitter tannins, a thick and jammy texture, and blackberry notes.
Rating: 14/20
Price: N/A

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Saint-EmilionAfter nearly a month off, travelling around the US and Mexico, the Crew is now settled in its new temporary home… BORDEAUX!  I’ll be hangin’ out in this stunningly beautiful, college town through the end of August, with the intention of visiting as many Chateaux as possible, granted my intensive French course at Alliance Francaise will keep me rather tied down.  Anyways, this first in a series of Bordeaux posts is quite random and unfortunately without much attention to detail.  I picked up a half bottle of beginner-level 2007 Saint-Emilion during my first trek to the local Champion supermarket.  So since there’s really not much to speak on in terms of the Chateau, lemme quickly sum up Saint-Emilion and the 2007 vintage.

With 5,330 hectares of vines planted, Saint-Emilion is located on the rive droite and produces more wine than any other rive droite appellation.  The town is known for being the most beautiful in the region, so much so that it even attracts visitors with no interest in wine.  The soil is divided into two general types.  To the south of the town the topography is hilly with a soil composed of a mixture of gravel, sand and alluvial soils.  The west is characterized by the gravelly limestone plateau.  The wines produced to the south tend to be lighter and shorter lived.  But overall the wines, dominated by the Merlot grape, are rich, light in tannins, earthy, and complex, with vanilla, cedar, and chocolate notes.  The 2007 vintage is an underperforming year, producing aromatic and lightly fruity wine with subtle tannins and an occasional sense of overextraction.

Here’s what I tasted today …

2007 Chateau Moulin Bellegrave
Appellation: Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux, France
Tasting Notes: Violet ruby red in the glass.  A very fresh nose, almost suggesting a still active fermentation.  There are aromas of sour red fruits, cherries, and plums.  Very juicy, medium-bodied, dry, and bitter in the mouth with a slightly unbalanced acidity, lacking texture and showing a linear form.  Overall very fruity with cherries throughout the midpalate and a yeasty, rubber band like bitterness on the finish.  An overall disappointment, albeit commercially viable.  12.5% ABV.
Rating: 10/20
Price: 6€

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This past Wednesday, 27 May, marked the last In Vino Veritas tasting of the year, well at least for yours truly, since there’s a tentative final tasting scheduled for June 10.  Me, I’ll be on the beach with the family in North Carolina.  Sorry Phil.  It’s a rough life.

The featured producer was Vignobles Comtes Von Neipperg.  Magali Mallet, in charge of communication and marketing for von Neipperg, hosted the tasting.

Neipperg Family

The von Neipperg family origin and nobility can be traced back to the Roman Empire.  The family has contributed diplomats and soldiers to the history books throughout the centuries.  And on a much more interesting note, at least for my tastes, the family has been involved in wine making since the 12th century.  Whether wine or war, the family has always maintained a strong focus on and loyalty to their land.

The von Neipperg own and manage Vignobles Comtes Von Neipperg, which is comprised of 8 separate Bordeaux vineyards—Clos Marsalette in Pessac Léognan; Château Guiraud in Sauternes; La Mondotte, Château Canon La Gaffelière, Clos de l’Oratoire, and Château Peyreau in Saint-Emilion; Château d’Aiguilhe in Côte de Castillon; and last but not least, Château Soleil in Puisseguin-Saint-Emilion.  Magali highlighted four of the eight vineyards for Wednesday’s tasting.  They’re briefly described below.

Aiguilhe EstateChâteau d’Aiguilhe is located in the rive droite on the border between the Côtes de Castillon and Saint-Emilion appellations.  There are 50 hectares of vineyards with an average age of 28 years.  The plantings include 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc; and the soil composition is clay and limestone.  The vineyards are south-facing with excellent drainage.  According to the von Neipperg this terroir produces a wine of power and finesse, finding a perfect marriage between the roundness of the Merlot and the concentration and complexity of the Cabernet Franc.  The wines tend to have good ageability; however, it can be enjoyed as early as 5 to 6 years after the vintage.

Oratoire EstateClos de l’Oratoire
is located on Saint-Emilion’s Northeast slope.  The estate has 10.32 hectares of vines with an average age of 35 years.  The plantings include 90% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The soil composition is divided between the upper and lower slopes.  The upper slope is composed of clay, limestone and Fronsac molasses.  The lower slope is clay and sandstone.  A similar marriage between the Merlot and Cabernet Franc can be found, although Cabernet Sauvignon is added to the mix and overall Merlot is dominant.  The result is a wine with “pronounced fruity aromas” with a “smooth, soft and seductive” texture.  Again ageability is characteristic of this wine.

Gaffeliere EstateChâteau Canon La Gaffelière is located on the outer edge of Saint-Emilion at the Southern foot of the slope.  19.5 hectares of vines are planted, composed of 55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The average age of the vines is 45 years and the soil composition is clay and limestone with clay and sandstone found on the lower slope.  The increased proportion of Cabernet Franc is atypical of the Saint-Emilion appellation where Merlot is typically dominant with 70% of the grape constituting the typical blend.  The estate’s warm soil and high clay content lend itself to a higher concentration of Cabernet Franc, since the grape, which usually ripens later, is permitted to mature more early under these micro conditions.  The resulting wine has an “exquisite bouquet with spicy, floral overtones, as well as power and aromatic complexity.”

Mondotte EstateLa Mondotte is located on the Eastern end of the Saint-Emilion plateau, next to Troplong-Mondot.  The estate has 4.5 hectares of vines with an average age of 50 years.  The plantings include 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc and the soil composition is clay and limestone.  The sun exposure and steep slope provide for perfect growing conditions and early ripening.  Production is low at 11,000 bottles per year; and the wines are considered to be “well-structured” with “opulence” and “finesse.”

We tasted our way through the 2004 and 2006 vintages of each of the four chateaux …

2004 Château d’Aiguilhe, Côtes de Castillon
2004 Château d'Aiguilhe, Côtes de CastillonBlend: 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc
Vinification: Aged 18 months in oak (60% new oak), 13.5% ABV
Tasting Notes: Dark violet in the glass.  Aromas of black fruits, mineral, acid, oak, and very subtle cinnamon.  Medium-bodied with supple tannins and a balanced and fruity acidity.  Light oak flavors and not much complexity.
Rating: 13/20

2006 Château d’Aiguilhe, Côtes de Castillon
Blend: 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc
Vinification: Aged 18 months in oak (55% new oak), 13.5% ABV
Tasting Notes: Dark violet in the glass.  More complexity on this sweet and rich nose.  There are floral and cedar aromas.  Strong tannins and full-bodied.  Fruit forward and more acidic with flavors of cherry, black fruit, and dark chocolate.  Still too young but should age well.
Rating: 14/20

2004 Clos de l’Oratoire, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé
2004 Clos de l'Oratoire, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru ClasséBlend: 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc
Vinification: Aged 18 months in oak (80% new oak), 13.5% ABV
Tasting Notes: Ruby violet in the glass.  A rich nose with minerality, plum, spice, and oak.  More oak on the palate, as well as black berries.  This wine has medium tannins and a medium body, in fact medium everything.  Not a bad wine, but a little flabby and not too interesting.
Rating: 13/20

2006 Clos de l’Oratoire, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé
Blend: 95% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Vinification: Aged 18 months in oak (70% new oak), 13.5% ABV
Tasting Notes: Dark violet in the glass.  Red cherries and good fruity acidity on the nose.  Very tannic but possessing great balance and good acidity.  There are flavors of plums and black berries.  This wine will age well.  Drink through 2024.
Rating: 15/20

2004 Château Canon La Gaffelière, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé
2004 Château Canon La Gaffelière, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru ClasséBlend: 50 % Merlot, 45 % Cabernet Franc, 5 % Cabernet Sauvignon
Vinification: Aged 18 months in oak (80% new oak), 13.5% ABV
Tasting Notes: Ruby violet in the glass.  A refreshing nose of spearmint, spice, minerality and plums.  Full-bodied, acidic and tannic in the mouth with marked astringency, however, not discomforting.  There are flavors of black cherry and prune.
Rating: 15/20

2006 Château Canon La Gaffelière, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé
Blend: 55 % Merlot, 35 % Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
Vinification: Aged 18 months in oak (80% new oak), 14% ABV
Tasting Notes: Dark violet in the glass.  A more complex nose with rich aromas of brambleberry and cedar.  This wine is full-bodied, tannic and a little bitter in the mouth with flavors of blackberries.
Rating: 15/20

2004 La Mondotte, Saint-Émilion
2004 La Mondotte, Saint-ÉmilionBlend: 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc
Vinification: Aged 18 months in oak (100% new oak), 14% ABV
Tasting Notes: Ruby violet in the glass.  Aromas of plum, cherry, pepper and beef jerky.  Fruitiness in the mouth with good balance between the acidity and tannins, however underdeveloped and lacking expression.
Rating: 13/20

2006 La Mondotte, Saint-Émilion
Blend: 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc
Vinification: Aged 18 months in oak (100% new oak), 14% ABV
Tasting Notes: Dark violet in the glass.  Good minerality and black fruits on the nose.  Full-bodied and balanced in the mouth with pronounced tannins and a rich and velvety texture.  Fruit forward all the way through the palate, including light oak.  Plums linger on the finish.
Rating: 14/20

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On Thursday I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with Paul Goldschmidt, owner of Baronne Guichard, a Pomerol producer.  It just so happens that Paul is the former boss of one of my current academic advisers, so I went for it!  We had a very open chat about the wine industry and possible career opportunities and afterwards I assisted Paul in a promotional tasting he had at Lafayette Gourmet in Paris.  Honestly, by “assisting” I am really just referring to opening bottles and some random gopher activities.  But needless to say I was very delighted to help out and who knows, maybe something will come out of it down the road like volunteering during harvest, for example!

Baronne GuichardSo a personal thanks goes out to Paul!  And here’s a quick glimpse of his Château.  The information is taken directly from Baronne Guichard’s website:

“From 1832 to 1949, the Brisson-Guichard family bought the estates of “Siaurac”, then Le Prieuré, and finally Vray Croix de Gay. Each generation committed itself to the region and played a real part in the region’s social and political life: mayor of Néac, member of parliament for the Gironde, initiator of the merger between the appellation of Néac and that of Lalande de Pomerol, volunteer nurse, manager of the Red Cross, founding member of the Baillis de Lalande de Pomerol…

Baronne Guichard1998 : With the enthusiastic support of his daughter, Aline and his son-in-law, Paul Goldschmidt, Olivier Guichard, one of the key founding members of the Gaullist movement, undertook the modernization of the 3 estates. He launched a complete restructuring of the vineyards and a total renovation of the cellars. Olivier appointed Yannick Reyrel as manager of the estates in 2001. Yannick had been assistant to Jean-Claude Berrouet, the wine-maker of Pétrus and Trotanoy. The vineyards found new life, the quality of the wines went up, the critics showed interest, and wine enthusiasts re-discovered the wines of Baronne Guichard.

When Olivier Guichard died in 2004, Aline decided to take over the family estates with her husband, Paul Goldschmidt. Changes were quickly introduced:
• Pulling up of plots and re-planting in the 3 vineyards.
• A new visual image of the Baronne Guichard brand.
• Launching of press relations.
• Development of direct sales in France.
• Creation of two new ranges of wine, The Easy-Drinking Wines and Wines for Sunny Days
• Taking over of exclusive distribution of sales on the French market as from the 2005 vintage.
• Arrival of the viticultural consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt, who would continue to develop, in collaboration with Yannick Reyrel, the quality of each of the terroirs, in the subtlest and most natural way possible.
• Re-positioning of export sales and building of partnerships with the merchants on the Bordeaux market.”

I was a little preoccupied during the tasting, and the vanilla potpourri aromas inside the store were quite intense and distracting, but here’s a quick run down on the three bottles that were tasted, with limited notes of mine and a few additional quoted notes from the Baronne Guichard web site…

Plaisir de Siaurac2007 Baronne Guichard “Plaisir de Siaurac”
Blend: 90% merlot, 10% cabernet franc
Appellation: Lalande de Pomerol, Bordeaux
Tasting Notes: Beefy, sour and unripe fruity notes on the nose.  A linear and simple, yet easy drinking acidic wine, with light tannins and flavors of plum and fresh red fruit.
Rating: 12/20
Price: 7€

2006 Baronne Guichard “Chateau Siaurac”
Chateau SiauracBlend: 80% merlot, 20% cabernet franc
Appellation: Lalande de Pomerol, Bordeaux
Tasting Notes: Much more bouquet and complexity on the nose and tighter tannins in the mouth.  There were flavors of leather, dark chocolate and black fruit.  Baronne Guichard’s notes: “fruity, well balanced, sensual, supple tannins. Black cherry finish.”
Rating: 14/20 (WS84)
Price: 17€

2006 Baronne Guichard “Chateau Le Prieure”
Blend: 80% merlot, 20% cabernet franc
Chateau Le PrieureAppellation: Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé, Bordeaux
Tasting Notes: A nice bouquet and plums on the nose.  A silky smooth texture in the mouth with great balance, tannic structure and acidity.  There are flavors of plums, dark chocolate and leather.  Baronne Guichard’s notes: “Fine, with pedigree, elegant, floral and mineral notes, violets, wild blackberries, peppermint”
Rating: 14/20 (WS88)
Price: 27€

Paul also makes a top shelf Pomerol, Château Vray Croix de Gay, that goes for about 65 euros and has been landing between 88 and 91 points on the Wine Spectator scale.  We did not have the opportunity to taste it.

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