Thursday, March 14, 2013

Merlot's Homeland 

Bordeaux's "Right Bank" 
Day 1 

Touring Pomerol and Saint Emilion

Photo op at the minimalist Chateau Petrus

     A few years ago Lisa and I took a vacation to France for a few weeks. One of the best vacations we had on multiple levels, we based our stays outside of Paris near the wine regions of Provence and Bordeaux. Having heard horror stories about visiting Chateau in Bordeaux, I started my reservation requests 6 months in advance of our arrival. It was not easy for the Left Bank, but almost every Chateau welcomed us that I looked into.  Those Chateau that could not accommodate us were quite gracious in letting us know they were full or under construction.  We added a few more Chateau visits from the Weekend de Amateurs (now known as "Week-End Des Grands Crus") that took place during our stay in Bordeaux.  

     The Right Bank Chateau were a little easier to make appointments with and more than hospitable than some of their Left Bank counterparts, mostly because they have put in place consumer hospitality services.   Many Left Bank Chateau have put a lot of their resources and energy into hosting wine industry guests, and less so for consumers.  A few of my appointments came out of connections I made with the Chateau from attending tastings events where I try to have meaningful conversations, take business cards and follow up on the conversation with a friendly email.  A few Chateau went above and beyond and I still catch up with a few of the proprietors when they come to Manhattan for the annual UGC tastings.  Many of these Chateau visits have directed my wine purchases over the following years, especially from the outstanding 2009 vintage that was in barrel when we were in Bordeaux and the 2010 vintage that was still on the vine while we were there.   At most Chateau we were able to taste the glorious youthful barrel samples from 2009, those were once in a lifetime tastings we will not soon forget.  

     After that brief refresher, I wanted to get to the point of this posting, and write about the wonderful time we had while touring the Bordeaux Right Bank villages of Pomerol and Saint-Emilion. In case you are not a wine geek, wines from the Right Bank are primarily made from the Merlot grape, with Cabernet Franc being the grape most often paired with the Merlot from these two villages. Cabernet Sauvignon is in the mix, but appears much less frequently and usually in minute percentages.  If Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of red grapes, Merlot is the prince, and Pinot Noir the Queen.

     Day 1 on the Right Bank took us through the villages of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol on an cloudy and overcast day, visiting 3 Chateau with a larger group as a part of the Weekend des Grand Amateurs. Never a fan of tours of this size, the tours were well executed, if a little less than personal. We were surrounded by picture happy tourists that I think had no idea they were at hallowed ground for wine production, but we paid them no mind and the proprietors welcomed us and our geeky wine questions with a warm welcome.

Up one of the limestone hills lies the Troplong Mondot wine-making facilities

     Our first stop was at Chateau Troplong Mondot in Saint-Emilion which is ranked a Premier Grand Cru Classe "B" in the Saint-Emilion wine classification. Margaux, the daughter of the proprietor who purchased the property a few years ago, graciously welcomed us and took us through a tour of the limestone vineyards, the vilification equipment, the barrel room and then the tasting salon and back vintage library to sample the 2007 vintage being poured that day. At one point we made our way to the actual Chateau which is down the hill from the wine making facilities and overlooks more vineyards with a direct view of the church tower that landmarks the landscape as the village center.  Recently it was opened up to guests to stay overnight in a few of the charming bedrooms serving as guestrooms.  Not long after our trip to France in early 2010 I tasted the 2008 in Manhattan at the annual UGC tasting and was very impressed.  Since these experiences I have purchased Troplong Mondot from that 2008 vintage, even acquiring some older vintages like the 1998.

     The second stop was at Grand Cru Classe Chateau Larmande for lunch. We had a less than memorable box lunch with magnums of the Chateau Cadet Piola, which was the perfect lunch wine as it was easy drinking and nothing too complex to think about. Our guide and the friendly hosts at Larmande were very nice and hospitable. They showed us around the property, passing by many fermentation tanks, the barrel aging room and later into the tasting room to sample the 2004 wines from Chateau Larmande and Chateau Soutard.  Drinking well now, both wines are affordable as far as Bordeaux is concerned, especially from a less than stellar vintage like 2004. We were saddened to hear they lost a substantial portion of their crop due to a hail storm in 2009 as that is currently being touted as the greatest modern Bordeaux vintage to date.  That has to be a huge loss to a Chateau to not make close to their usual production in a banner vintage like 2009.

More minimalist design at Chateau Clinet

     Our last stop took us to one of my favorite producers in all of Bordeaux, not just from the right bank or from the tiny village of Pomerol.  In Pomerol there is no classification system, the wines sell based on their reputation and scores from wine critics.  We were greeted by the friendly and very personable Ronan Laborde of Chateau Clinet and were shown the vineyards that produce the wines of Chateau Clinet.  Next we made our way to the crush pad and then on to the tiny barrel room where barrels were stacked 3 high. Clinet has been on a huge roll of late, making highly sought after wines in almost every vintage since 2008. The Chateau is tiny when compared to the grand monastery-like chateau in the left bank. However, what it lacks in size it makes up for in spades with adept consumer appreciation, and of course with outstanding wines.  Clinet makes a genuine effort to connect with the consumer so the memory of their interactions with Clinet resonates in the future when making purchasing decisions. The most gracious of hosts, Ronan was pouring the 2001, 2004, 2005 and the 2006 Chateau Clinet on this visit. This was by far my favorite visit, with the 2005 Clinet as the absolute best wine that afternoon. The 2001 was not too far behind the 2005, and worth a look to find if you can as it is a beautiful wine from a good vintage. 2006 was pretty tight and young still, and the 2007 showed the elegant characteristic of that vintage in Bordeaux. I personally sought out the 2005 and am constantly on the lookout for more.  Every year Ronan is at the UGC tastings held here in the States so if you attend the next one stop by and say hello as you'll make a great friend from Bordeaux and taste one of the best wines not only from the tiny village of Pomerol, but all of Bordeaux.  Below is a link to a few videos from our trip to Clinet.

     We made our way back to the bus for our return trip to Bordeaux to rest up and get ready for our dinner that evening at Chateau Pichon Baron Longueville later that evening in the famed village of Pauillac.


Mondot vineyards and further on towards the village is Chateau

The church tower at the center of the St. Emilion village

Look at that beautiful limestone in the soils, great terroir!

The Mondot barrel room

One of the corner towers at Chateau Troplong Mondot

The barrel room at Larmande

Chateau Clinet vineyards

Chateau Clinet vineyards

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The outstanding 2005

Clinet's second wine
St. Peter at Petrus (notice the similarity in the name?), the clay cap that the vineyard lies on was originally named by the Romans

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