Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

How the CIVC is helping keep Champagne growers ahead of the game.

September 26th, 2012

The Plumecoq experimental vineyard was created sixty years ago by the CIVC – the professional and trade body that unites producers and growers in Champagne. Laurent Panigai, the CIVC’s head of viticulture kindly loaned me a pair of wellies and showed me round. Plumecoq is in a key position in Champagne, roughly at the spot where the Montagne de Reims, Marne Valley and Côte des Blancs sub-regions come together. It was established to try and discover a solution to leaf-roll and fan-leaf (court-noué) viruses. The answer was to produce high quality virus-free clones by clonal selection, a big task with the vine varieties of Champagne: Pinot Noir now has more registered clones than any other variety in the world and Chardonnay is in third spot.

A systematic approach that still characterises the CIVC’s research involved trails of three hundred plants from each clone, with vinification and regular tasting from vin clair stage through yearly monitoring of the wine as it aged on the lees.

There are over twenty Pinot Noir clones now in commercial use in Champagne, most of which are grafted, as is overwhelming the norm in the region onto rootstock 41B.  This choice of rootstock was criticised a little in the past because it encouraged late ripening; but with the effects of climate change, this is now clearly a quality much in its favour.

The next stage of experimental planting was to gather together as many varieties and sub-varieties that exist in the region as a reference collection to help preserve bio-diversity.

Clonal trials on disease resistance were then extended to an organically-managed plot.

Laurent has also trialled biodynamic-style tisanes, but argues that although they may have some effect, it is generally so slight to provide empirically reliable results. He is, however, convinced that those organic growers who are best equipped to deal with a year with affected, like this, with mildew and oidium are simply those who best know their land.

More signficantly, perhaps, trials on fungal diseases suggest that many common diseases are endemic but that most plants seem to have either immunity or an ability to co-exist with them. The real issue for viticulture, Laurent argues, is to try to understand what triggers an outbreak of disease such that one plant may succumb, while its neighbour remains healthy. It is, therefore, not so much a question of combating the disease itself, but in learning how a vine may live with the disease and what may ‘rupture the physiological balance of the plant’.

When I asked a question about use of Copper Laurent used the analogy of common salt to argue that no substance per se is a problem, it is only, he said, the level of the dose which is an issue. Monitoring of soil health is done with the assistance of microbiologists and entomologists specialising in the earth worm.

The CIVC is researching the effect of grassing between the rows. Weeds are not ‘mauvaises herbes’, Laurent insists. The results of trials at Plumecoq are fascinating. The effect of competition reduces yields (a mixed blessing in Champagne) – in a dry year by 10 to 15% and in a dry year by significantly more. The ‘grass’ consumes oxygen and nitrogen and the vine is less vigorous – and effect, which even in wet years serves to reduce the incidence of rot and mildew.

No representative of any Champagne house has yet responded more than dismissively when I have asked if climate change might necessitate a change to canopy management in the region, so I was fascinated to see that the CIVC have been granted permission to experiment with wider rows and higher canopies. A small change has a marked effect. As long as the overall size of canopy per hectare is maintained to allow the same capacity for photosynthesis, the sugar levels remain the same, but the acidity increases and the pH drops slightly. Why? It is as yet uncertain, but maybe because with better air circulation and therefore less trapped heat, the level of malic acid, which degrades with heat, is better maintained.

Many other experiments take place at Plumecoq including highly detailed work on the extent of biodiversity and precision viticulture, but one of the more surprising initiatives is a move, in association with the INRA, to develop new disease-resistant hybrid strains, which by back-crossing remain as close to the classic Champagne varieties as possible. The big question is how acceptable these might be to producers and consumers, and whether public attitudes to GM will soften enough to allow GM experiments to come up with alternative solutions to hybridisation that might have an even more significant effect in producing vines able to withstand the effects of climate change.

In addition to what takes place at Plumecoq and the other experimental vineyards owned by CIVC – one in the Aube at Essoyes and another being developed near Epernay on a site surrounded by woodland where there will be less chance of disease contamination from surrounding vineyards, the real work of research Laurent emphasises, is carried out through and by networks of growers working together and sharing results. This is the means by which research most effectively gets into the commercial bloodstream.

Today in Champagne – Pol Roger

September 25th, 2012

Pol Roger were my generous hosts today. I’ve never before visited the cellars, which gleam impressively with stainless steel. Wine-making is reductive and squeaky clean, only the first pressing is used and a full malo-lactic is done on all the wine. There’s not a barrel in sight. The quality of the wine and thus the blend for any of their special cuvées is only decided once the vins clairs are finished.

Brut Reserve is, of course, the house’s chief standard-bearer, an elegant blend, aged four years on lees, of a third each of Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay. I love its focus and purity of fruit, with a very slightly spicy Meunier twist. ‘Pure’ Extra Brut, the same blend, with an extra year aging on lees is much more austere, but also more expressively – and spicily aromatic. The deliciously fruity 2004 Rosé, rich structured 2000 Vintage and sublime, elegant, but very richly complex Cuvée Winston Churchill 1999 all follow the same path of superb balance and great purity of fruit, but the real star for me – by a mile – is the 2002 Blanc de Blancs, which will be launched in the UK next month. What a wine!  It combines yet more richness, with a superb depth of almost exotic fruit, but overwhelmingly white and yellow peach. Soft and creamy, it has extraordinary length and not a trace of the chalky austerity of lesser Blanc de Blancs.

During a tour of some of the vineyards with Hubert de Billy, I was able to see a new Coquard PAI tilting press at work, which as the blurb says, enables a high grape volume to be press with a high pressing surface area. A cycle lasts around four hours. I think the model we saw was the 4000kg – which, I gather costs a cool €120,000.

I asked Hubert about overall production costs in Champagne. As a rough guide, he estimates €5-6 for a bottom of the range wine that includes second-pressing juice, to €20 for a top quality wine from Grand Cru grapes. The price of grapes is around €5.60/kg for Grand Cru quality – and a bottle requires 1.5kg.  Vineyard land rarely comes on the market but Grand Cru sites in Oger changed hands this summer for €1.6 to €1.8 million.

Beware cheap champagne!

What I learned today at Bollinger (in no particular order)

September 24th, 2012

The 2012 harvest is small but genuinely very good indeed. Sugar levels approach 11% potential, pH is low and acid fairly high. Mathieu Kauffmann, Bollinger’s Cellar Master believes that it will be on a par with 2002, though with slightly higher acidity, and that most houses will declare a vintage.  The flowering was drawn out from the first of June to the first of July. There is a lot of millerandage, but as I was able to taste for myself, the small seedless berries are fully ripe.

Organic growers had a very different experience – regular rains washed off Bordeaux mixture used to treat mildew and sulphur to treat oidium and they were left with little or no crop.

The juice with highest sugar and lowest pH is the cuvée (first pressing). The pH rises by as much as 0.2 with the second pressing as more elements such as Potassium are released into the juice.  This was apparent even on tasting the freshly pressed juice. The secret of freshness in the wine is therefore to use as much first press juice as possible. With this, Bollinger still feel able to do a full malo-lactic fermentation.

The new shaped bottle, released earlier this summer is based on an old bottle found by Mathieu in the cellars. It is modelled on a magnum. It has a wider body and narrower neck – with a 26mm ring. The bottling line had to be adapted to take it, but it offers not only an ‘aesthetic appeal’ but better aging capability with a much reduced cork size.

The secret of Bollinger lies in the magnums of special reserve wine bottled directly from the barrique, with a dosage of 6g/l sugar to give a very modest pressure of CO2 – ‘Quart de mousse’. The wine aged between 5 and 15 years represents 5 to 10% of the Special Cuvée.

A riddler can turn 50,000 bottles a day.

SO2  levels have been gradually reduced to around 50g/l  and Bollinger is probably the only Champagne house not to sulphite the final liqueur d’expedition. A full malo also makes a lower level of sulphur feasible.

The wine is better than ever. In particular, I was privileged to be able to taste the 2004 Grande Année ( a bottle disgorged in July) – which is yet to be released. Fleetingly reductive, the familiar brioche –like oxidative richness soon asserted itself. The fruit is markedly citrus (much more than the fabulous 2002) with lemon and grapefruit to the fore. Grapefruit is particularly marked in the mouth, with just a hint of pithy bitterness. It has lots of fruit, maybe even more in the mid palate than 2002, but is rather shorter. It will be all too easy to enjoy as soon as it is released.


Chateau Thénac – can investment make a great wine in Bergerac?

September 14th, 2012

Chateau Thenac  I reported on my visit to Chateau Thénac in The Journal a fortnight ago, but I wasn’t able to add my tasting notes on the wine here because my Internet connection was hors de combat. So with apologies for the delay, here are my thoughts:

Fleur du Périgord 2011, Bergerac Blanc (80% Sauvignon Blanc, 10 Sémillon, 10% Muscadelle, unoaked)

Very green savoury dry white with both both freshness and elegance. It achieves what Stéphane Guillot aims for – ‘crispy’ fruit in a ‘vin de plaisir’)

Chateau Thénac 2010, Bergerac Blanc (75% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Sémillon, 10% Muscadelle, barrel fermented and aged for 9 months, with lees stirring, the nine months in tank)

Much richer – a fine, complex, dry white with a confit lemon character and much more mouthfeel than the unoaked white. The oak/fruit balance is exemplary.

Fleur du Périgord 2009, Bergerac (75% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon , half the wine aged in oak for 6 months)

A lovely bright colour, then a fresh, elegant spicy aroma – including ginger, unusually. Savoury, fresh and spicy with brambly fruit and a mineral/savoury finish. Real elegance in an entry-level wine.

Chateau Thénac 2008 Côtes de Bergerac,  (58% Merlot, 20% Malbec, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 15 months in mostly new oak)

A refined,  scented bouquet, then fresh acidity in the mouth balanced by a long, savoury, black cherry, bramble and damson flavours.

Chateau Thénac 2009, Côtes de Bergerac (58% Merlot, 20% Malbec, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 15 months in mostly new oak)

Much richer, with liquorice aromas and much more concentration of black fruit flavours, but also, curiously, more obvious oaking. Less finesse at the moment than 08, but shows good, fresh acidity. Very promising.

Thénac, Côtes de Bergerac, Blanc Moelleux, 2006 (90% Sémillon, 10% Muscadelle, 10 months in new oak, around 45 to 50 g/l residual sugar)

Perfumed, some evidence of botrytis, but also fresh grapefuit. Lively acidity and a slightly phenolic twist. It’s a bit betwixt and between in style, but is a good drink.


Chateau Croque Michotte 2011 and 2010

August 4th, 2012

Croque Michotte is a Saint Émilion Grand Cru. Pierre Carle is trying hard to restore it to Grand Cru Classé status, lost in 1996. He has converted the estate to organic viticulture, re-installed concrete fermentation vats, introduced an optical grape sorter and splashes out on up to 60% new oak each year. The terroir is sandy gravel – adjacent to Cheval Blanc, la Dominique and Gazin on the border with Pomerol. My experience with older vintages is that it is typically an elegantly perfumed wine, with the accent firmly on finesse rather than power. The blend, in the vineyard is 74% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. The average age of the vines is 52 years and the oldest are 92 years old. Three years ago Pierre increased the height of the canopy by 30cms, and claims that the wine now has more concentration – but alcohol levels remain reasonable.

The 2011 was picked a week or so after La Conseillante and Petrus. “I was a bit worried. I’m looking for freshness in the wine. Was I wrong to leave the grapes?” Pierre told me, but continued. “You should never look at others, but just taste your own grapes. Ripening here is a bit later.”

I tasted three barrel samples:

The first, pure Cabernet Franc, was richly perfumed, intense and spicy. The tannins were soft and the acids too seemed surprisingly soft.

The second, Merlot from a new medium toast Demptos barrel was much less perfumed, but was sweetly ripe with aromas of bramble, coffee and cocoa. It seemed richer and more powerful and the alcohol seemed higher. The finish was quite toasty. “The alcohol always seems higher when the wine has less extract”, said Pierre.

A third from a new Quintessence barrel, again Merlot, was more elegantly perfumed, but had more structure, even a hint of liquorice and a delightful freshness. The alcohol was less apparent – Pierre’s point seems well made.

In short, this unfancied vintage promises well – attractively fruity wine that seems likely to be enjoyable quite soon after bottling.

The 2010, recently bottled, is as one might expect, very good.

The colour isn’t, however, as deep as I expected – a bright, young ruby.The aromas are very fine, perfumed, spicy and savoury, with brambles, but also an underlying layer of darker fruit.The palate combines lovely freshness with elegant complexity. It is very well balanced and long, with just a hint, again, of liquorice. It is 14% abv – rather more than the 2011.

2010 Croque Michotte is not a blockbuster, but typifies the elegance of the estate.

Notes from Burgundy

July 21st, 2012

Press trips are almost always a curate’s egg, but it’s surprisingly hard to predict where the good bits will come. On my latest jaunt to Burgundy, thanks to the ‘Discover the Origin’ initiative, some of the visits I imagined would be less interesting came up trumps.

We visited the following domaines Heresztyn (Gevrey-Chambertin), Jospeh Drouhin, Philippe Chapelle et Fils (Santenay), Alain Hasard (Aluze), l’Evêché (Saint Denis-de-Vaux), Joseph Voillot (Volnay), Patrick Javillier (Meursault) and Fougeray de Beauclair (Marsanny). In addition, Denis Fetzmann, technical director of Louis Latour met us at Château Corton Grancey to describe the ‘Paysage de Corton’ programme that he chairs.

Here’s a summary of some of the things I learned:

In the Vineyard

2012 is a difficult season – most growers have already had to carry out more treatments than in normal years. Regular spraying is costly and running up and down with a tractor compacts the soil. Hail damaged the northern part of the Côte de Beaune in the night of June 30/July 1. Up to 80% of the crop was damaged – the worst hit communes included Pommard and Volnay. “Lots of people say they’ve never seen a summer like it,” said Florence Heresztyn.

Vineyard practices may have to change to adapt to global warming. No-one is seriously thinking of giving up on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but it may be necessary to increase the area and height of the canopy to keep sugar levels down, argues Jean-Pierre Charlot (Domaine Voillot). Denis Fetzmann disagrees, but feels that it is mistake to extend the hang time. Phenolic ripeness is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Fetzmann argues that winter pruning should be delayed to reduce the risk of disease, especially Esca. When the sap is rising it helps to protect the cut.

I asked Fetzmann if and when GM yeasts might find their way into the winery. He believes they are already being used …

Those who treat with copper are worried about its long-term impact and are anxious to keep well below the permitted limits.

Marion Javillier suggest that a lightening strike in 2010 hastened the maturation of a plot of Chardonnay – and probably affected its pH.

In the Winery

Pigeage (punching down) continues to give way to remontage (pumping over). Many growers begin with pigeage and then move onto the gentler remontage.

Several growers are keen to introduce a proportion of whole bunches into the fermentation tanks (for red wine). Philippe Chapelle said that it emphasises more red fruit flavours, gives more volume to the wine and makes it more supple.

Sulphur levels are falling. The maximum ppm score anyone admitted to was 80 – the EU maximum is 150ppm for red wine.

Acidification is now commonplace.


While growers like Joseph Voillot can sell all they make, those who farm less prestigious slopes face a very different prospect. Wines sold in bulk to merchants barely cover the cost of production.

Exports to the BRIC countries are increasing, but wise growers selling to Russia, Ukraine and their neighbours demand payment before delivery.

A small vintage like 2011 can be a headache for those who habitually buy in a lot of new barrels. Many had placed their orders on the expectation of a normal yield and were left with expensive barrels that they couldn’t use.

One reason why some growers oppose any move to make Les Rugiens (Pommard) a Grand Cru, according to Jean-Pierre Charlot, is it will then be impossible for anyone but the big merchant firms to buy land. But the price of land on the Grand Cru sites has risen so much that even Frédéric Drouhin admits, “It’s now impossible to afford them even if you have very deep pockets.” But foreign investors, however, are interested. The price for Corton is around €3 million/hectare (not that hectare is likely to come onto the market). Village and premier Cru sites in the Côte d’Or fetch between around €400,000 and €500,000 per hectare.

Frédéric Drouhin estimates that biodynamics costs 20% more than conventional viticulture for 10 to 15% les yield.


Yet again, the quality of the 2010 vintage impressed me. The 2009’s can be impressive – more the reds than the whites – but they don’t show the differences between sites nearly as clearly as 2008, 2010 and the very promising 2011s.

Marion Javillier points out that Chardonnay from clay sites shows oak flavour much more than that grown on soil with a higher percentage of limestone. Her (excellent) wines seemed to bear this out.

The real price of champagne

May 29th, 2012

Talking on Sunday to Damien Chauvet of Champagne Henri Chauvet, a good producer at Rilly-la-Montagne, I was reminded why champagne can never be cheap.

A hectare of champagne vines, he said, typically costs around £1.3 million, but even in these straightened times, a hectare sold last week for £1.8 million. He estimates that it would take him fifty years to earn enough to afford such an outlay, and for that reason he prefers to rent land rather than buy.

A fixed interest ‘metayage’ agreement, say for 25 years assures the land owner something like a 20% share of the value of the grapes produced on it. With grapes at £5.20/kilo, a hectare can bring in, he says, an income of €1,000 per month. If you have ten hectares to rent, you’re in clover.

Follow me on twitter! @HelenSavage55

Champagne Trinity Scloraship

April 22nd, 2012

I’m thrilled to announce this news from the Insitute of Masters of Wine website (20 April) :

A UK-based student in the Institute of Masters of Wine study programme is the recipient of the prestigious Champagne Trinity Scholarship for 2012. Helen Savage has been awarded the scholarship for her essay discussing the virtues of vintage in relation to the sales and marketing of Champagne. The Institute, with the support of the family-owned Champagne houses of Bollinger, Louis Roederer and Pol Roger, offers the scholarship annually to a first-year student participating in its international study programme. The scholarship consists of two consecutive trips to the Champagne region, one during vintage and another during the blending of the vins clairs in the spring. It provides a unique opportunity for a student to gain an insight into Champagne through visits to the three renowned, family-owned houses.

Bordeaux 2011 – the Crus Bourgeois

April 22nd, 2012

The weather during the 2011 growing season was again marked by extremes: an exceptionally mild spring, an early harvest, grapes that were raisined in a June heat-spike, a spell of cool wet weather in July and the threat of rot as harvest approached and some hail damage just before harvest. And yet it seems that many of the wines have come up smiling, but careful selection was essential.

My time during primeurs week this month was limited so I concentrated on one or two tasting where I might get a broad overview of the harvest. In particular, I homed in on the Cru Bourgeois of the Médoc, which cover not only the Médoc and Haut Médoc appellations but also Listrac, Moulis, Margaux, Pauillac and Saint Estèphe. As these are the kind of wines most of are likely to be able to afford to drink it seems sensible to focus on them – there is more than adequate coverage of the big names elsewhere.  I also attempted to focus on the wines often seen on the UK market. I’ve already written a note about Lalande de Pomerol (13 April).  I can’t resist some big names, so I tasted Michel Rolland’s portfolio before finishing with a brief indulgence in the esoteric range of biodynamic wines under the Biodyvin banner. Altogether it was hardly a representative sample, but has the merits of covering a lot of different terroirs and winemaking styles.

At this early stage, the common factor that unites all these wines is an attractive fruitiness, good balance between acidity and ripe tannins, no great concentration, but no lack of depth. It seems likely that they will be ready for drinking quite early in their development, but like other fruity, balanced vintages, they may well show a tenacious capacity for development in the bottle. It is certainly no fault that they display more elegance than raw power, though 2011 hardly seems like a return to claret of old – winemaking has moved on and other growing season was quite like this.

Here are my notes on the Cru Bourgeois (blends were given for most, but not all châteaux):


Château La Branne 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 48% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot

Vivid aroma of ripe cassis and brambles. Forward, juicy fruit, with soft tannins.

Château La Cardonne 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc

Very deep and very perfumed – pure, rich and balanced. Good acid and length and great perfume in the mouth (I was so taken with this, that I came back to it right at the end of my tasting, and confirmed my notes. It was every bit as exciting as the first taste.)

Château David 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot

Quite deep. Very ripe fruit – perfumed cassis. Chunky and rich with quite firm tannins.

Château Greysac 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot,

Not so deep. Deep, fresh cassis aromas. Quite chewy and chunky with market acidity.

Château Grivière 58% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc

Quite deep. Big, fresh, plummy Merlot fruit to fore. Big, grippy tannins, but ripe fruit.

Château Livran 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon

Medium deep. Rather closed. Chunky and lean with rather sour acid (as if the malo was not complete).

Château Loudenne 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc

Deepish. Creamy, ripe black cherry fruit. Firm and rich – a big mouthful with plenty of power, length and fine, ripe tannins.

Château Les Ormes Sorbet 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc

Hugely deep and dense. Big, riper concentrated, herby fruit, a little leaner in the mouth, cassis-flavoured and fine.

Château Patache d’Aux 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot

Deepish. Big, rich, black cherry and cassis fruit. Chunky, chewy texture with ripe tannins, length and a fine finish.

Château Plagnac 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot

Quite deep. A rich concentration of ripe cassis – Cabernet fruit, matched by a big chunky Cabernet flavour a lot of power, and seemingly alcohol too, but surprisingly soft acidity.

Château La Roque de By 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot

Good depth. Sweet, creamy, concentrated fruit – quite delicious, with liquorice: rich, long and balanced with quite high alcohol?

Château Tour Saint-Bonnet 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot

Very deep indeed. Intense, but freshly perfumed. Powerful, with real depth of flavour – lovely crunchy cassis, with juicy acidity and a long liquorice finish.

Haut Médoc

Château d’Agassac 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot

Deep and dense. Herby and fresh, with a slightly green, herbaceous character. A little short.

Château d’Arcins

Deep coloured. Quite a spicy alcoholic aroma, then chunky, rich and spicy, with quite soft acidity.

Château Balac 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc

Deep coloured. Nose a little closed, but shows quite a good concentration of ripe fruit, which is chewy, chunky and balanced by crunchy acidity.

Château  Barreyres

Very deep. A lovely perfume of red and black fruits, then a big savoury palate, a creamy texture, and ripe, but quite marked tannins.

Château Bel Air 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot

Very bright colour. A big, stalky, green pepper-scented nose. Deep and quite chewy, though also a bit green and austere.

Château  Cambon la Pelouse 52% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot

Big and bright. A richly ripe aroma of perfumed black fruit. A chewy texture, ripe tannins and quite a savoury finish.

Château Cissac 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot

Deep coloured. A big, ripe, creamy, black cherry aroma, but then a little raw on the palate, with chunky tannins, but also good length – it shows the early promise of Cabernet.

Château Duthill 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot

Deep and purply. A lovely, herby perfume of red and black fruits – complex, but fresh. Big, black and chewy in the mouth with no lack of power.

Château Larose Trintaudon 55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon

A little lighter than most, with a light, slightly stalky nose. Fresh in the mouth, but also again, a bit stalky.

Château  Liversan 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot

Quite deep. A green, herby, stalky nose, then a stalky lean palate with rather hard tannins, but also quite perfumed in the mouth.

Château Puy Castéra 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot

Fairly deep. Perfumed, lightish red fruits with some herbaceousness. More rounded on the palate. Quite long and fresh and a good balance, but no great depth or complexity.

Château Ramage la Batisse 50.39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43.37% Merlot, 3.43% Cabernet Franc, 2.81% Petit Verdot

Rather pale rim. .Ripe scented  fruit. Fresh, with quite lifted acidity, but a rather green finish.

Château Sénéjac 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot

Medium deep. Attractive, rather light, red fruits bouquet. Richer in the mouth with liquorice and quite firm tannins.


Château Fonréaud

Medium deep, scented red fruits, quite elegant and creamy, then juicy and attractive with chunky tannins

Château Lestage

Good colour – bright and deep. A big, bright, elderberry bouquet, then a chunky falvour, with lifted acidity and slightly raw tannins. A bit short.

Château Reverdi

Deeper than many. Ripe, though a bit closed. Chewy, chunky fruit. A bit raw, but with depth and promise.


Château Caroline

Fairly deep and bright. Red fruits nose, though a bit closed. Perfumed in the mouth, with red fruit and plum flavours, juicy acid, rather dry tannins.

Château Duplessis

Fairly deep. Elderberry-like nose – slightly green and stalky, which follows in the mouth. Although the tannins are raw, a perfumed red fruits finish bodes well.

Château Dutruch Grand Pougeaux 54% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot

Light colour. A fresh raspberry nose, attractively perfumed, but light and a similarly light, juicy flavour.

Château Gressier Grand Pougeaux 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot

Medium deep. Ripe bramble and cassis aromas then juicy, slightly stalky fruit. By no means a heavy-weight, but quite attractive.

Château Moulin à Vent 65% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc

Deep. A big elderberry nose leading to ripe, chewy, fruit with quite high acidity.


Château d’Arsac 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot

A fine deep colour. Elegance and concentration combine in a finely perfumed aroma. Fleshy ripe fruit with liquorice, quite soft tannins ; good length.

Château Mongravey 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc

Deep and concentrated. Powerful and concentrated though a little closed. Very Cabernet – lots of structure. Ripe but a wee bit short.

Château Paveil de Luze

Fairly deep, perfumed and fresh, brambly fruit. Sweet and rich and quite powerful with soft tannins.

Château La Tour de Bessan

Fairly deep. Again, perfumed black fruit. Quite juicy, but ripe with tannins.

Château La Tour de Mons 55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot

Impressive colour, then ripe, creamy, bramble-scented fruit with depth and complexity. A very good structure, with ripe, fresh fruit and lingering chunky tannins.


Château Fonbadet 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot

Impressively deep. Concentrated, sweetly ripe blackcurrant fruit. Typically Cabernet – big, weighty, rich and long.

Château Haut Bages-Monpelou

Fairly deep. Fine, perfume of bright fruit. Balanced, but chunky, with a rather dry finish.

Château Plantey 55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon

Deep. Big, ripe, fine cassis and bramble fruit. Juicy acidity – fresh and a little chunky.


Château Beau-Site

Deepish. Big, powerful elderberry nose. Strong, rich and slightly earthy with firm tannins.

Château Le Boscq 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot

Deepish. Ripe and rich – very brambly but on the nose in the mouth.

Château Clauzet 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc

Good deep colour. Perfumed cassis, with green hints. Clean, earthy and ripe with chewy tannins.

Château Le Crock 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc

Deep. Quite a powerful cassis aroma – concetrated and ripe. Ripe and fine, with ripe fruit. Plenty of power, St. Estèphe earthiness  and length.

Château Petit Bocq 50% Merlot, 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc

Quite deep and bright. Rich cassis and bramble aromas. Freshg, clean fruit with quite marked acidity, chewy tannins and plenty of fruit.

Château Saint Pierre de Corbian 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot

Very deep. Big, creamy black cherry fruit, with cardamom – a little earthy. Big chunky wine with lots of ripe tannins and underlying richness of fruit.

Château Tour de Pez 60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot

Big and deep. Very fine nose with real concentration and perfumed black fruit. Good and rich with a long, fine, perfumed aftertaste.


Lalande de Pomerol 2011

April 13th, 2012

As part of the en primeur showing of wines from the 2011 vintage in Bordeaux last week I went to the tasting of Lalande de Pomerol. As Aline Goldschmidt, vice-president of the growers’ syndicat and owner of Château Siaurac told me, “You had to be a good winemaker to make good wine in 2011. Careful selection was essential and each plot in the vineyard reacted differently,” [to the special circumstances of what turned out to be a tricky growing season].

The appellation has some superb properties, especially those on gravel and clay terraces around and just to the north of Néac, but, to the west, across the main Libourne to Périgueux road, the soil becomes gradually more sandy and has more limited potential for  fine wine.

That said, the wines I tasted were generally good and some were very good.

Château Tournefeuille impressed, with rich fruit, freshness and a good, firm tannic structure. Château Belles-Graves seemed initially lighter, with red fruit, then developed plenty of power, but with rather soft acidity. Château Haut-Surget was big and rich, with juicy acidity, but also seemed a bit too extracted. Château Ame de Musset was a wee bit cooked – powerful but again, rather too extracted. Château de Viaud was rich and soft, with quite fine tannins. Château Jean de Gué was roasted and almost balsamic – perhaps a bit worrying in so young a wine – but rich and savoury. Château Haut-Chaigneau was fresh and had a nice purity of red fruit flavours and fine tannins, quite an approachable wine. I also enjoyed La Sergue, a special cuvee from the same estate, which was well balanced, soft, rich and brambly, but again, with freshness and not too extracted. Château de Chambrun showed rather less well: though well enough balanced, with good length and a fine tannic structure, the nose was slightly too oxidative.

Best of all was Château Siaurac, a fine rich wine despite a yield of 52.9hl/ha. It contains 5% Malbec for the first time, which Aline and Paul Goldschmidt argue adds a little more spice to the wine. Spiciness is one of the characteristics for me of Siaurac. The 2011 is rich and soft with brambly, black cherry fruit, balanced tannins and quite fresh acidity. In recent years the typical plend for Siaurac has been 85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc. This is around 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 5% Malbec.

A week later (April 11) I had the pleasure of visiting Château Siaurac and was able to taste wines from the 2010 vintage alongside those from Châteaux Vray Croix de Gay (Pomerol) and Prieuré (Grand Cru Classé Saint Emilion) the other family properties. Siaurac was by no means dwarfed and the differences in terroir showed well:

Château Siaurac 2010 showed spicy, perfumed oak, spicy, brambly black cherry fruit, with a real degree of elegance to balance the fine tannins and considerable length.

Château Vray Croix de Gay 2010 was superb: immensely deep, perfumed black fruits with liquorice, a fabulously silky texture and soft, ripe, lingering tannins

Château Prieuré 2010 was, in comparison, more fragrant even slightly floral, but with plenty of tight black fruit, fresher acidity and distinct minerality (hardly surprising perhaps, given its position on the limestone plateau of saint-Emilion).

To introduce these we tasted the unoaked, pure Merlot, young vines, Plaisir de Siaurac 2010 an aptly named wine if ever there was one. It is deliciously open and brambly, rich, soft and slightly savoury, with melting tannins and a real depth of fruit. On sale at less than €10 it is an outstanding bargain.

Château Siaurac 2006, the first vintage made by Aline and Paul Goldschmidt showed pretty well, It is also quite perfumed and spicy, with fine, soft, rich black cherry and bramble fruit and is quite long; but in comparison with 2010 (and 2008) it is relatively short and the oak is less well integrated.

Château Siaurac 2008, tasted yesterday, is another impressive effort: still a lovely bright, pinky purple-tinged ruby, it is wonderfully scented, with again the distinctive hint of black cherry that Paul Goldschmidt says is characteristic of Siaurac, along with brambles and well-integrated oak. Lighter and with more juicy acidity than 2006 or 2010 it is nevertheless, fruity, elegant and beautifully balanced.

I’ve prepared a feature on Château Siaurac and its setting in Lalande de Pomerol for publication in The Journal. I hope it will see light of day on 27 April.