Behind the Chateau – Part Deux

Recently our Senior Wine Advisor Sarah Jane-Tweed visited Bordeaux, a haven for good-quality prestigious wine. Over the next three weeks she will be taking us all along with her on her journey, from chateau to chateau, vineyard to vineyard. In this week’s addition, we continue the tour taking in some Grand Cru Classés

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ii)                     Lynch Bages, Pauillac and Chateau Lagrange, Saint-Julién

Staying on this side of the Garonne, the next day we have the chance to visit some of the Grand Cru Classés all the way up in the Medoc. Alexander Hall, a wonderful guide in Bordeaux, gives us a great insight into what happens both inside and outside the Chateau gates (there is not much that Alex does not know about Bordeaux). The drive from Cerons to the Haut Medoc is probably about 2 hours, giving us some idea of the expanse of Bordeaux and the carpet of vines that surround us. The importance of terroir is paramount, and will ultimately be the difference between a very good and exceptional Bordeaux. One plot of vines has a particular gradient, or is more open to a forceful wind, rainfall, hail, in fact we are looking at one side of the road and the vines that belong to a Grand Cru Classé. The opposite side does not hold that classification, which opens up the possibility of sourcing some fantastic wines that are very similar to their expensive counterparts without paying the very top end price tags.

During our drive, the fairytale turrets of Chateau Pichon Longueville in Pauillac peek out and we are a few feet away from some of the most prestigious vines and wineries in the world. We cannot talk about the left bank and, in particular, Pauillac, without mentioning Cabernet Sauvignon, which happens to be my favoured red grape. It reigns as king here, and the very last to be picked for vintage as it needs longer ripening. However, Cabernet Franc and Merlot are very important in this region, as well as Petit Verdot and Malbec and percentages of these varietals may vary in blending each year depending on many factors for each vintage.

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We arrive at Chateau Lynch-Bages. This is an 1855 Grand Cru Classé. Their Cabernet-based reds are robust with great structure and elegance. Their Blanc de Lynch-Bages is something I was not expecting to see. This is a blend of Sauvignon, Semillon and Muscadelle with floral and tropical fruit notes. Only a small percentage of whites are produced up here.

Next is St-Julien, on to Chateau Lagrange,another impressive Grand Cru Classé. Throughout this region we see course and fine gravel chippings, which are key for retaining heat and excellent drainage. We are looking at 120 hectares, and their cutting edge wine sorting machine is ready for the harvest. The ingenious inbuilt scanning device can detect every grape passing through, rooting out those that are unripe, or too small.  When we enter the cellars, the barrels go on ad infinitum, which highlights the large production here and the enormity of the task ahead of them this month.

For our final stop, Nicola takes us on a trip over to see a good friend and winemaker in St-Emilion. On the way we discuss the problems in Bordeaux this year. The maritime climate in Bordeaux already makes viticulture a challenge, with the higher rainfall and milder conditions, opening itself up to a threat of rot. Back in August, hail was prevalent in parts of Bordeaux and to devastating effect in the Entre deux Mers. This year, some vineyards have suffered poor fruit set due to the weather conditions, some of which has been due to factors such as flower necrosis, which means the flower aborted before bloom. We stop to look at some vines, and in between the healthy grapes, are some small green ‘shot berries’ that never ripen in the run up to harvest. As Nicola explained, this widespread issue has of course resulted in lower yields for this vintage. Nicola’s aim this vintage is to achieve at least 40hl per ha, maximum 55hl/ ha.

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