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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