Friday, November 26, 2010

Bordeaux Day 1 Part 2 

Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou 

Saint-Julien & Pauillac 

Latour, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Pontet Canet 
The grand Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou

     Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou is situated in the Saint-Julien appellation on the left bank south of Latour in the Medoc. Depending on the vintage, Ducru makes some of the best wine in all of Bordeaux. This famed Chateau, a gorgeous work of architecture that is as pretty as it is intimidating when in its presence, received its name because of the beautiful and large stones that are common in the soil of this property or “terroir”. Sitting in the heart of the appellation, Ducru sits on some of the best ‘terroir’ in Saint-Julien having those large stones in the vineyard property, as well as sitting right on one of the better gravel mounds, the heart of the best terroirs in Bordeaux. In fact, the best Chateau in Bordeaux such as Lafite or Latour, have vineyards sitting on the best gravel mounds on the left bank. The gravel mounds are large, archeological formations and deposits that make up more than just one property and can extend to multiple properties, but more or less are the reason for the best properties that have the best vineyards that produce the best fruit and therefore make the best wines, though in good vintages, plenty of great wine is available in all of the Bordeaux appellations at all prices.
The vineyards of Ducru-Beaucaillou, checkout that terroir!
     Our tour at Ducru was to be in French only and thankfully our Rosetta Stone lessons came in handy. We sat in the waiting area of the offices nervous of what we expected to be an uncomfortable tour. It turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences while on France on vacation for those two weeks. Many wine making terms are synonymous, no matter the language, mostly because they are French in origin so cepage, elevage, barrique, etc. were all familiar and having gone on many wine tours, even in French they are kind of the same and we were able to interpret on our own fairly well. But this one was great as our tour guide was the cellar master Rene Lusseau, and we found the challenge of interpreting the language barrier a fun challenge. We started in the vineyard and the layout of the vines on the property, explaining which vines were Cabernet Sauvignon and which were Merlot, which were older and which were younger vines that would go into the second wine, Croix de Beaucaillou, and then those from the oldest and best terroir destined for the grand vin Ducru-Beaucaillou.
The barrel room at Ducru
     Next we moved to the cellar to where the fruit came in from the vineyards during harvest to view the fermentation tanks and then the aging barrels the newly fermented wines aged in. We sort of discussed a different process of how wines are racked in Bordeaux, it is different than what I have seen in most Napa cellars I have been to.  Recently I asked Napa Valley vigneron Aaron Pott about this process called "Esquive" racking.  Aaron currently makes Napa Valley wine under his own label called "Pott", but years back cut his teeth in Bordeaux making wine and later at quite a few solid wineries in Napa.  According to Aaron it goes a little something like this:

"The little hole called an esquive on the head of the barrel is taken off and the wine pours into a small pan before a tube is inserted into it. The other side of the tube goes to another barrel next to it. Then inserted into the bung hole is a device called "une tete de chien" or dog's head, it is either attached to a small electric pump or can be manually pumped. The pressure pushes the wine through the esquive and through the tube into the other barrel. When there is no wine then you pull the tube out and tip the barrel using a hand cranking device that sets on another barrel or on the wall and tips the barrel forward to let out the wine. Now the wine is just falling into the pan. You can look through the stream with a candle and determine when the ideal time to stop lifting the barrel, that is when the wine runs clear."  Thanks Aaron!

The rear property of Ducru, the Gironde estuary is further back.

     Next we made our way across the property to the rear of the Chateau towards the tasting salon. See here the view of the palatial Chateau view, a stunningly beautiful work of architecture. Upon entering the salon, a beautiful purple and gold room has the 2009 vintage notes on the wall, along with the composition and tasting notes of the 2009 wines. Ducru has 3 wines, the last not from grapes from the actual estate vineyards but still hailing from Saint-Julien: 

Grand Vin: Ducru-Beaucaillou
2nd wine: Croix de Beaucaillou
3rd wine: Chateau Lalande-Borie 

     As we made our way from the foyer to the tasting salon, we passed through the 2009 wines in barrel resting in the depths of the Chateau’s ornate lower reaches. The entrance to the tasting salon had a grand setup displaying many sizes of bottles: magnums, Balthazar, all of the different wines produced by Ducru. The tasting room had the most unique sink I have ever seen. Made of beautiful stark white marble, the sink with a thin layer of water, would allow the taster to see their disposed wine form a rose blossom in the bottom of the sink. Original art work from artists such as Keith Haring lined the walls of the salon. This was spitting at its highest art form! Monsieur Lusseau was kind enough to gift us a few souvenirs for our visit, as well as pour us the 3 Chateau wines from barrel for the 2009 vintage. It was such a treat to try these wines in their youth as these wines were drinking so well. The grand vin 2009 was one of our favorite wines from barrel on that trip, up there with Vieux Chateau Certan and Haut-Bailly grand vins. As we tasted through each wine, we spit them into the sink and watched as the rose blossoms bloomed, gaining more color and concentration with each wine up the ladder. Truth be told, we did not spit much, if any of the grand vin as it was already so developed and delicious, Monsieur Lusseau actually told us to drink it and not spit it as it was so good, why waste it we all thought? He pointed right down to his gullet and that was sign language we could easily identify with.
Various sizes of Ducru-Beaucaillou

The smartest tasting room I have ever been in, this is the marble sink.

The overhead light helps to gauge the gradation of the wine's colors, you also see limestone brick from the original structure of the Chateau.

     As we left and made our way back above ground to catch our ride to our next destination, monsieur Lusseau officially anointed us ambassador’s of Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou. So here we bring you our experience and tasting notes for Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou. If you find yourself in Bordeaux, make sure you set up a tour here to see the land and try the wines, you will not be disappointed.
Lisa holding the 2009 barrel sample of the Grand Vin Ducru Beaucaillou

Yours truly

The rose bloom formed by the spitting of the wine

Rose bloom second view

Tasting Notes 

2009 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou

Deep red in color. Complex notes of creme de cassis, currants, licorice, and black cherry; big but precise on the attack. The palate is enrobed in luscious fruit and big, sweet, silky tannins. The texture and finish is off the charts impressive. Big and ripe tannins frame the bountiful fruit with a very solid structure. An incredibly long 1+ minute finish, enticingly silky texture, expansive palate = incredible wine. Very developed for such a young wine, very persistent and pure. This was the best barrel sample we had on our whole trip. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot; 90% aged in new French Oak, 10% in used (12 months) French Oak

2009 Croix de Beaucaillou, 2nd wine of Ducru

Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon here, silky long and smooth, fruit aromas and flavors like cassis, currants, and notes of pencil shavings...great concentration for a second wine, smooth finish, good tannic structure, a solid 2nd wine. This will be a great second wine, the feeling we came away from these two wines were they were definite buys, this one especially in the $40 range.

2009 Chateau Lalande-Borie, 3rd wine of Ducru

Cabernet Sauvignon (50%) is the majority of this blend, with plenty of Merlot (40%) and a large proportion for the left bank of Cabernet Franc (10%). The color is deep purple. Bright red fruit aromas, and you can taste the cabernet franc distinctly in the mix. Raspberry & currants, whiffs of orange peel. Unique for a 3rd wine. Though I am not so sure how much this is an actual 3rd wine, from what I have read this is a completely different property/vineyard west of the estate.

NEXT up is Pontet-Canet back in Pauillac!



Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pauillac & Saint-Julien 

Latour, Ducru Beacaillou, Pontet Canet 

Part 1 Chateau Latour 

The famed tower at Chateau Latour

Bordeaux Day 1, Evening
La Brasserie de Bordelaise
      The anticipation started well before bedtime the night before our first day in the famed Bordeaux wine region. We arrived in down town Bordeaux by train from the east near Provence in time for dinner, passing vineyards and coastal Mediterranean Sea vistas in the Southwest region of France. We hurried through our check in at The Regent Grand Hotel in the heart of downtown Bordeaux. We washed up, changed, and made our way back downstairs and hurried the 4 blocks to La Brasserie Bordelaise. When we arrived I felt like a kid in a candy store, everywhere you looked you were surrounded by various bottles of various vintages of great Bordeaux wines on the walls. Bordeaux is the second largest metropolis in France, so dinner was loud, vibrant even, people spoke quickly and oh so French! This was a locals place and I would have eaten here more if we could. I would have rather passed on the other night at a tourist trap that was highly recommended. This was not sleepy Provence, but a lively, energetic city full of energy. A bottle of 2005 Baron de Brane, the 2nd wine of the famed Chateau Brane-Cantenac was just the right wine, displaying the wonderfully, silky terroir of Margaux, at a younger age and at a good price. We later moved on to another Margaux, a mature 1995 Chateau Giscours. We knew what we wanted to eat this night before we left the ground in New Jersey for this meal: fois gras and steak, staples in Bordeaux. We devoured a hunk of fois gras terrine the size of my fist, which was perfect spread over charred crusty country bread. The steaks were solid, but we should have gotten the cote-du-beuf for two, but we were quite content with our sirloin. Never be afraid to say, “I’ll have what they are having”. The diners next to us were eating Peter Luger’s sized chunks of beef, we being a little afraid to just say give us that, ordered instead entrecote, which was a sirloin cut. It was great, cooked perfectly medium-rare, but not the same steak. In case you may be wondering, the menu was amazing filled with things like French fries cooked in duck fat, duck or beef carpaccio, Salmon tartare, Cote de Boeuf (what we should have ordered), steak tartare, pork braised in Sauternes, multiple variations of duck, Cassoulet, Beef Bourguignon, grilled veal chops and braised lamb shoulder. Like I said I could go back more, over 7 nights and eat 7 different meals!

Bordeaux Day 2, The Medoc or the ”Left Bank” 

     When we rose from our sleep the first morning on Bordeaux, this incredible feeling of anticipation overcame us, this was it, the big day in the Medoc, the grand Chateau were on our agenda for the day. We were picked up by our driver on this day, driving in style in a Range Rover we made our way the hour north to our first stop, Chateau Latour. The urban feel of Bordeaux gave way to a mix of suburbs and industrial parks on the outskirts of town, and then those gave way to the vineyards which spread out and rolled on in what seemed like forever in different directions. The sky was clear and blue, the sun high and bright, one could not have better weather to tour the Medoc.

Chateau Latour

     As we pulled up to the gate we were greeted and shown the way in to the eastern part of the property to our tour and tasting of this legendary property. Chateau Latour is my favorite first growth Bordeaux, tops on many lists as one of the greatest wines of the world. Sonia Guerlou was our guide as we met first at the Chais, where we watched a short film on the four seasons at Chateau Latour, showing the life of the vine over a year. This was some pretty slick stuff, very impressive and much better than I was expecting. The short film lasted about 1o minutes and was not narrated, which left you up to your eyes to interpret the visuals for you. 

The front gate at Chateau Latour
The actual Chateau Latour
     We then made our way with Sonia across the Chais which is the main building that all the work is done after the grapes are brought in from the vineyards. As we made our way into the first part of the tour at the tank room you can sense that the Chais was recently renovated and updated to the latest technology that fits the Latour style of winemaking. The tanks are all precisely monitored by a large dashboard to exact temperatures at all times, with alarms that will notify key people when a temperature is too high or too low. 

Fermentation tanks Chateau Latour

Chateau Latour barrel room
     The next stop was the barrel room which was by far the largest we’d see on our trip, holding several hundred barrels for wine maturing. Currently the 2008 and 2009 vintages were in barrel. Below us underground was a single, large tank that all of the wines were emptied into when the final blend is decided on. This is such a great idea to create consistency in the final version of a blend, be it the Grand Vin or the Les Forts de Latour. Next we saw the entrance to the Chais

Microchip Authenticity

The private cellar chock full of back vintage Latour
     Next we descended into the Chateau’s private cellar where they had in storage wines going back to the 1800’s! I do not think those would be for drinking and are more of a museum piece. But I could easily get comfortable next to a few 1961 and 1982 vintage bottles! Next we made our way to the tasting salon where we sampled 3 wines from 3 different vintages. The tasting notes further below go into greater detail of those grand wines. The tasting room was as modern and chic as anything I have ever seen in Napa, Italy, and even the rest of our trip in France. Black, grey, white, steel, leather and granite all worked together to help show the grandeur of the Latour wines in a modern art designed room. A funny personal note is that there were these Egg shaped art pieces in the room and it reminded me of the Wilco album “A Ghost is Born”, so I called it the Wilco in my head and a few times to Lisa. 

Latour Tasting Salon
"Wilco" Egg
     We tasted the first growth Grand Vin Latour from the 2004 vintage, Les Forts de Latour from 2005 and The Pauillac from 2006. All 3 represented a nice spectrum of 3 different vintages from the estate vineyards. Les Forts is the second wine but the grapes are sourced from its own vineyards, it is not the portions of the regular estate grapes not used in the Grand Vin. That is what the 3rd label is for, The Pauillac, as that is primarily the portions not used in both the Grand Vin and the Les Forts wines to achieve a more affordable Latour experience. 2004 is not my favorite Bordeaux vintage, but the Grand Vin showed very well. The Les Forts was exceptional as expected from the heralded 2005 vintage, and the 2006 Pauillac was fine, but in that price range one can do better. 
The vineyards looking east to the estuary and the Gironde River

Latour "terroir"
      After the tasting we walked the grounds some to see for ourselves the soils and the terroir up close. The vines were smaller than those in Napa and Italy, where warmer temperatures seem to stretch the vines higher to the sky, with bunches hanging several feet off the ground. In Bordeaux the grapes are about a foot or 2 off the ground, resting closer to the warmer ground. The gravel was distinctly original from any other vineyard site I have ever seen. Similar gravel was seen in the other Bordeaux vineyards in Saint-Julian and Pauillac that we visited. Bordeaux may not at first seem that terroir driven, but once you get in the vineyards you can see the terroir for yourself. 
3rd, 2nd and the 1st Wines of Chateau Latour
2004 Chateau Latour 

Wonderfully classic as 2004 is just that kind of vintage, pure cassis and currants, earth, and minerality in layers of depth that unfold gracefully on the palate. Balanced and pure, this is a more affordable vintage for those looking to get a better priced Latour that will drink well soon but also age for 20+ years. The best grapes on the property come from the vineyard sections called “l'Enclos”; this is the heart of the Latour property and the wine. The Grand Vin is aged in 100% new French oak.

2005 Les Forts de Latour, 2nd wine of Chateau Latour 

Excellent depth, medium oak influence. Overall the LFdL is more approachable than the Grand Vin overall. This wine is the 2005 LFdL and is more approachable with seemingly less tannin, even than the 2004 grand vin which is subtler vintage. 2005 was a high tannin vintage for Latour (and most Medoc wines), but I think the aim for Les Forts de Latour is not the same as the grand vin for decades long longevity, maybe just 1 to 3 decades instead of 3-7 decades or more in great years of the grand vin. This wine shows nicely with dark red currants, cherry, cassis, classic toasty French oak, with a touch of mocha and toasty oak. Sturdy, yet fine tannins. Les Forts de Latour is aged in 50% new French oak and 50% in oak barrels already used so they are more neutral and impart less of an oak presence (and to an extent less tannin).

2006 The Pauillac, 3rd wine of Latour 

The focus here on this wine is the fruit, lots of bright red fruits. With barely any new oak, this sharpens the focus on the fruit. The blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot. The palate reveals tart cherry, currants, and minerality. As expected this is the leanest of the 3 with more acidity and definitely for near term consumption. The fruit for “The Pauillac” is sourced from the juvenile vines of the Latour properties. The Pauillac is aged in only 5% new oak, the remaining in neutral oak barrels.
Latour in the glass

Lunch: Le Lion d’Or, Arcins 

The Le Lion d’Or lives up to its reputation: lunch was delicious and the service was a tab cranky. Most of the crankiness was due to my trying to speak too much broken French and then too much English. The chef was actually the nicest one, checking on how our meal was progressing a few times. We ate on the back patio under a large canopy umbrella to shield us from the steady sun. Some white Bordeaux and some fresh claret were the call for drinks, while we both ordered the steak tartare that was served with chips (think perfectly cooked thick sliced potato chips). This was probably the best steak tartare I had ever had. As we finished out lunch, we walked around the village of Arcins, not much was there to look at so we walked back to meet our driver and head to our next appointment.

Le Lion d’Or, Arcins

To be continued (Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou)

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