Winemaker in four steps

Published in Condé Nast Traveller China October 2014 Issue 19:

Qin Xie Condé Nast Traveller China Oct 2014 Bordeaux winemaker

(The copy has been translated into Chinese so the below is my original)

There’s nothing quite like hands on experience to learn about wine. It gives you an appreciation of the amount of work that’s gone into your daily tipple and affords you an understanding of what makes one wine better than the other.

Where better to learn than in the heart of the fine wine world, Bordeaux. Here are three courses to give you a taste of the life of a novice winemaker:

1. l’École du Vin de Bordeaux – Learn the basics

Given the old adage “walk before you run”, it’s wise to start at the l’École du Vin de Bordeaux.

The centrally located school is run by the Bordeaux Wine Council where, in the space of two hours, you’ll build a foundation of knowledge. The sessions always start with a little history of the region before moving on to the different appellations and their respective wine styles.

An essential skill for the budding winemaker is being able to discern between the different aromas and flavours in a wine; luckily, this is a key part of the interactive workshop.

There’s also a wine bar at the school, if you need to further your study.

Prices start from 39€, private sessions are available

2. Château Paloumey and Château du Taillan – Try your hand at harvest

Martine Cazeneuve (Château Paloumey) and Armelle Falcy Cruse (Château du Taillan) are the two formidable female owners who have joined forces to create Les Médocaines. Based in the Médoc, Les Médocaines offer a full day’s harvest and vinification workshop split across the two châteaux.

The day begins with the harvest.

Starting at the first property, you will get to taste the berries, pick and sort the grapes and generally muck-in. After a grape-picker’s lunch, you will visit the second estate and learn about the vinification process, from fermentation to ageing, and even taste the grape must (the pressed juice) from different vats.

A hard day’s work is rewarded with a tasting of the finished wines from previous vintages.

Priced at 62€ per person

3. Château Haut-Sarpe – Blend your own Grand Cru Classé

At Château Haut-Sarpe, a Grand Cru Classé estate in Saint-Émilion, winemaker Pierre Dufourq has set up B-winemaker to offer hands-on blending experiences. Blending comes only after the fermentation has completed so you’ll be working with the previous season’s wines.

For Château Haut-Sarpe, the main grapes are Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Tasting the single varietal wines first will give you an idea of the range of styles available. The next step is to create different blends, by adjusting the percentage of each varietal in the blend, until you find the wine for you. It gets pretty competitive.

Once you’re happy, you get a 75cl bottle to fill which you then have to cork and capsule before slapping on your own label. Of course, you also get to take it home.

B-winemaker runs courses at a number of other châteaux as well so you can experience the different terroirs of Pessac Léognan, Margaux and Haut Médoc too.

Prices start from 65€

Château Lynch-Bages – Go the whole way

For serious connoisseurs, Viniv are the people to go to.

Based out of Château Lynch-Bages in Pauillac, their experts will take you by-the-hand to create your own style of wine from start to finish; including selecting the grape variety and the vineyards where they are sourced from. And as they work with several other châteaux in Bordeaux, there’s a range of options available.

Come harvest, you can help with the grape picking and vinification; and later, there’s decisions to be made about blending, ageing and label design. Of course, you could sit back and let the experts get to work.

The downside is, you will have to commit to a minimum of a barrel, or around 288 bottles of wine. It’s a snip of the price of a château though.

The question is, just how serious are you?

Prices start from 7,350€ per barrel

Bordeaux Blanc, the white wine you need to try more of

Published on Yahoo Lifestyle UK & Ireland on 9th July 2014:

When it comes to wine, Bordeaux is synonymous with some of the biggest names in the world. Its most revered vintages from the most renowned Châteaux are the ones you read about, worthy of thousands of pounds at auctions worldwide.

But when people speak of Bordeaux, they often mean the red Bordeaux wines and, to a lesser extent, the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac. Hiding in their shadows, perhaps, are the Bordeaux Blancs.

Read more at Yahoo!

A wine and truffle tour of Bergerac

Published on Yahoo Lifestyle UK & Ireland on 13th February 2014:

Château Thénac, Bergerac

If there were ever a group of people who talked more about the weather than the British, it would be the Bergeracois. And yet, as a region, Bergerac is as French as they come.

Located to the east of Bordeaux, Bergerac is often considered the lesser known cousin of the infamous wine region. For those in the know, Bergerac was the place to buy Bordeaux-style wines but at a significantly better price.

Read more at Yahoo!

The inappropriate use of wines

Published on The Prodigal Guide on 4th January 2012:

A couple of months ago I was sent three bottles of Bordeaux by a friend for tasting. The Avery’s Pioneer Range Bordeaux 2009, Chateau Grand Jean Bordeaux Millésime 2009 and Dourthe Reserve Montagne Saint-Emilion 2009, to be precise. Nothing mind-blowing as they say but a fine selection of tipple for every day drinking. Shortly afterwards, another friend sent me a further three bottles of wine as a thank you gift. This time it was a choice selection from the 90 point club – that’s excellent for savouring.

Suddenly I had a small portfolio of enjoyable wines. Some would say that’s pretty good going and yet months later, the wines remained untouched. Until this week, that is.

After much struggle with a new and unfamiliar bottle opener from the Harrod’s Wine Shop, I managed to uncork the Avery. A deep inhalation down its neck was met with pleasure – robust plummy goodness. And then the purple liquor went straight into a measuring jug at 290ml and onto some cubed lamb-soon-to-be-daube waiting expectantly in the Le Creuset for its fruity marinade. The rest, uncorked, went into the fridge. Not a drop touched my lips.

Something similar happened a few months ago.

Shallots diced, parsley chopped, garlic minced and mussels scrubbed, I realised I had no white wine. How was I going to pull together a moules marinière? The Pommery which sat in the corner caught my eye. Swiftly the metal cage was disengaged, the cork wrestled out and the bubbles poured into the pan with the lid replaced firmly. A short while later, I had an indulgent lunch watched disapprovingly by the empty bottle.

Moules Mariniere

For the passionate oenophile, this must seem appalling. But for the avid gastronome? Probably quite appeasing.

My reasoning was this: since I spend much of the week at events, mostly involving some form of drinking, I really ought to curb my enthusiasm when at home. After all, drinking alone was never fashionable. Eating alone, however, was run of the mill business. Weighing up the probability of a guest who would genuinely appreciate the wine against the probability of me seriously enjoying the food, my ravenous hunger won out. I suppose that makes me a better gastronome than an oenophile, when alone at least.

Of course not every meal is as indulgent as the champagne moules marinière. On this lamb occasion, the Avery was chosen for its full fruited body and generous tannins though perhaps more so because I judged it as the lesser drinking wine out of my collection.

As it happens, I was cooking the lamb daube for a friend who had come to photograph me spatchcock a poussin. The perfect opportunity to sample some of that wine you say?

Well a small splash of the leftover Avery was supped with the lamb before it was filed back into the fridge – unfortunately I didn’t have the good sense to serve it at room temperature. Still, the dulled flavours of the chilled wine remained richly plummy and heavily tannic. It was not at its best for drinking but served rather well as a side to the already basked lamb, which my friend appreciated so much more.

See what I mean about probabilities?

And the rest of that bottle of Bordeaux? Well, it’s going into next week’s coq au vin. Naturally.