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Bordeaux for beginners!

Posted on 22nd April 2017 by JN Wine


Bordeaux for beginners!

Earlier this month I had the incredible opportunity to visit Bordeaux for the first time. This region has become the powerhouse of the wine-producing world, and I was hugely excited to experience it for myself. The entire wine-world descends on Bordeaux at this time every year to taste the barrel samples of the previous autumn’s harvest. The area is buzzing with excitement as critics, merchants and enthusiasts visit the beautiful chateaux, take in the vineyards, and, most importantly, taste the wines, all while getting a feel for the vintage. As these powerful, long-lived wines are so young, I was bracing myself, and my teeth and gums, for a bumpy ride. But was pleasantly surprised. The wines from the 2016 vintage are incredibly approachable even in their infancy. A warm, pleasant summer, unhampered by rain or the dreaded hail, resulted in perfectly ripe grapes; the resulting wines showed juicy fruit, bright acidity, and all the other hallmarks of an extremely pleasant vintage indeed.

Bordeaux and its vineyards is a real must see for any wine enthusiast. The city itself is well worth a visit, not least for the incredible Cité du Vin museum, showcasing all thing vinous. Straight off the plane we had a tasting here of the 2016 Haut-Bailly wines, followed by a glass of wine on the top floor bar with wonderful views of the city.

The next day, with a misty, atmospheric dawn, we hit the road early to head out to the Left Bank. The vineyard area of Bordeaux is split in to 3 main areas. The Left Bank is closest to the coast, and where the city of Bordeaux centres, the Right Bank is on the opposite side of the Gironde Estuary that divides the region in two, and further south is Entre-Deux-Mers, “between two rivers” (or ‘seas’), famous for its white wines. The soils in the Left Bank are more suited to Cabernet Sauvignon, and here it rules the roost. When you’re driving through the (surprisingly flat) vineyards here, famous names are left, right and centre – Chateau Montrose, Lynch Bages, Palmer, Talbot. The rather uninteresting landscape is made up for by the fabulous chateaux – fairytale castles with towering turrets and sweeping driveways. They don’t do things by half here, including the wines; it is shaping up to be a fabulous vintage for the Left Bank. Here we visited Chateau Lafite with its fabulous artwork and grand tasting room, Mouton Rothschild, the beautiful Chateau Margaux, Pichon Lalande, Chateau Batailley, Leoville Poyferre, to name a few.

I discovered that all these world-famous, highly-regarded appellations are based around tiny sleepy villages – Paulliac, Margaux, Sainte-Estephe – where it looks like not very much is happening at all, apart from producing some of the finest wines in the world, of course. One of the highlights here was visiting Pontet Canet, the 2016 was succulent and elegant, and we were treated to an excellent lunch afterwards, cheese heaven. During lunch they served a blind vintage of Pontet Canet and we had to guess the vintage, there was some bribing and betting going on, and it was eventually revealed it was the 2007 – not the most celebrated of the past decade or two, but certainly drinking beautifully now.

The next day we headed over to the Right Bank, which includes the famous areas of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, where Merlot dominates, and the feel here was quite a contrast. For a start the scenery and topography is quite different – rolling hills and drumlins (I felt a bit more at home!), Romanesque stone-wall terraces, and the chateaux are more quaint French farmhouses than fairytale castles. The town of Saint-Emilion is so picturesque, and handily enough, only a stone’s throw from our next few visits – Chateau Pavie, Petrus, and Le Pin – whose 2016 wines really shone.

One of the highlights for me personally in the Right Bank was visiting Francois Mitjavile at Tertre-Roteboeuf. You couldn’t help but like this eccentric, excitable Frenchman in his cravat and elbow-patched tweed jacket. We were welcomed in to his dank, dark cellar, tightly packed with barrels, offered his fabulous 2016s from old crystal decanters – Domaine de Cambes, Roc de Cambes, and Tertre Roteboeuf – and invited to spit them in the trough. Rustic indeed, but a refreshing approach after the lavishness of the Left Bank.  We also tasted some of Francois’s 2015s, which are coming along nicely, and I like to think I contributed to that vintage in some small way, as he poured my glass back into the barrel!

It was a whirlwind of a few days, with hundreds of wines tasted and many miles covered, but extremely enjoyable. I felt very privileged to be there and experience it, and especially to be there when the 2016 vintage is looking so promising and so approachable. I have been studying and reading about Bordeaux for so many years, but to visit it and taste it really puts it in to perspective. Seeing the land the grapes are grown on, how the wines are made, and meeting the people who make them, gives a whole other level of understanding and appreciation to the wine, and that’s really what we’re all about at JN.

Maria-Elena

 


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