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Ripe and generous in the 2009 vintage, even a touch exotic, this is spicy rich claret which fills the mouth with healthy ripe fruit. A concentrated wine yet not without freshness and in perfect contrast to the more classic 2008.
Product Code: CB3311
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View all products by Vignobles Despagne
Vignobles Despagne is responsible for six Bordeaux properties, spanning 300 hectares, and is known for taking more care of its vines than some classed growths.The family shines like a beacon in Entre-Deux-Mers. In 1990, it acquired Château Bel-Air Perponcher here, and has developed as high a reputation for its whites as its reds at this property. The vines, which are immaculately tended, comprise sauvignon blanc, semillon and muscadelle for the whites and merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc for the reds and the company’s rosé. Vines have been cultivated organically since 2008.The ‘grand vin’ here is 80% merlot, with 10% each of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, and is aged in new oak barrels. Drink it between four to eight years after the vintage. A lighter, unoaked wine (the Réserve) is also made, as well as a semillon-dominant white which is cool fermented to achieve a refreshing, aromatic character. The property’s rosé is made using cabernet sauvignon (plus around 30% merlot and a little cabernet franc), the grapes for which are picked at optimum ripeness to retain their freshness. This property is run by Basaline Despagne, and her brother Thibault runs Château Mont-Perat, a fantastic example of a Premier Cotes de Bordeaux from the right bank of the Garonne. Acquired in 1998, the four splendidly positioned hills of vines here are managed by Jean-Pierre Cousinié. A quarter of the estate is given to the white wine, which is typically a blend of 80% sauvignon and 20% semillon, although in some vintages a small amount of muscadelle is also included. This is fermented in French oak, around half of which is new, before being matured in oak for a further eight months. The red is normally 70% merlot with the remainder made up of 20% cabernet sauvignon and 10% cabernet franc. This is aged in oak, 50% of which is new, for seven to ten months, and will keep well for four to 12 years. Mont-Perat was featured in a Japanese Manga publication called Drops of God, in which drinking it was compared to attending a Queen concert, and the wine has subsequently developed an enormous Asian following.The talented Joël Elissalde is the oenologist here, and has been since 1987, and his hard work over the years means that Mont-Perat could often pass for a much more expensive wine. He also works with Thibault on Girolate, a superb 100% merlot wine that is a consistent hit with the critics.There are 10 hectares of Girolate vines, planted on south-facing limestone slopes, much like those in Saint-Emilion. Each parcel of vines is fermented separately in oak barrels which are rotated twice a day to soften the wine’s tannins. The Despagne family also owns and runs Château Tour de Mirambeau, Château Rauzan Despagne and Château Lion Beaulieu. Both the Despagne family and its team are constantly striving for improvement, and Vignobles Despagnes has earned much well-deserved respect over the years, as well as a popular place in the tastes of Society members.
If the word Bordeaux is mentioned most people take it to refer to red wine. Though a good deal of white wine is made in Bordeaux, and some of the finest white Bordeaux are only entitled to that generic appellation contrôlée nomenclature, it is reds that are most associated with the region.The Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur regional appellation contrôlées are spread throughout the Bordeaux region. A bright colour, a clean, deep, appealing red-fruit nose (with hints of vanilla and spice if the wines have been aged in oak) and the classic balance of alcohol, tannin and acidity are the hallmarks. These modest designations verify that the wine comes from a particular region and conforms to certain criteria, such as alcohol content, but cannot be relied upon as a guarantee of quality. Many good wines are made in little-known appellations, just as mediocre bottles can have grand origins, so the key is to follow a property or grower you like and trust.The climate of Bordeaux is deeply influenced by its proximity to water, whether it is the sea, the estuary or the rivers, all have a major impact on the grapes grown and the wine made with them. The maritime climate is mild and gently warmed by the Gulf Stream which has a ready conduit deep inland via the Gironde estuary. The estuary acts as a moderator of the extremes of winter and summer. Summers are generally hot and autumns fairly long and mild. Winter and spring too are relatively mild but also often wet, and overall, give or take the odd and very rare major weather event, the climate is generally stable and consistent. Dampness is indeed on of the major difficulties of wine production and it is no coincidence that the anti-fungal spray ‘Bordeaux Mixture’ was developed here in the 19th century. In terms of weather events the two that are often encountered, sometimes with devastating effects, are hail and frost. Bear in mind that Bordeaux lies on a latitude of 45 degrees and should you travel across the Atlantic on that latitude you would make landfall in Nova Scotia. Without the Gulf Stream and proximity to bodies of water Bordeaux would be a much more marginal climate for making wine.Red wines are the biggest part of the wine production of Bordeaux. Some 55,000 hectares of vines are employed in the making of Bordeaux AC and Bordeaux Supérieur AC. The most planted red grape is merlot, followed by cabernet sauvignon. Most of these generic Bordeaux are made outside of more specific communes, and indeed may be made from grapes grown anywhere in the Bordeaux region, and it would be strange indeed, in commercial terms, if a grower could label his wine as something more prestigious but chose the Bordeaux AC for his bottles. The Entre-Deux-Mers region, between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers, is home to much of the production of generic Bordeaux on its clay, or sand and clay soils with occasional outcrops of limestone and gravels.However, there are regulations and strictures that must be adhered to. To qualify for Bordeaux AC status the wine must naturally achieve 10% abv, and for Supérieur status the requirement is 10.5%. In actual fact the majority of wines are between 11% and 12.5 % abv, and as the climate warms up and vine canopy management and vineyard techniques continue to improve this may rise. Most reds from these appellations are designed to be drunk young.At this level some of the fruit is machine harvested, though much is still picked by hand because of the narrow row width of most Bordeaux vineyards, and the winemaking is fairly standard, with temperature control now the norm and chaptalisation less common than it used to be. Barrels are not often used for these wines due to their expense, though large wooden vats or hand me down barrels previously used by a wealthier producer might be utilised. Such second-hand barrels require great care to be taken to maintain them.Co-operatives still make most of these generic bottlings, but there are many smaller estates, many of them conscientious and making excellent wines that represent terrific value, that are finding the going tough in the prevailing economic climate and in the face of stiff competition at their price point from wines made in places where conditions and costs are more propitious for making fruity affordable wines. Négociants operate within Bordeaux and a good deal of the wine or grapes that make generic Bordeaux pass through the hands of companies like Maison Sichel and Dourthe.
It was immediately clear on tasting the first samples of the wines that 2009 was a thrilling vintage. At the time of our opening offer for 2009 claret we headed our assessment of the vintage with the simple statement: ‘A must-buy vintage’. The statement holds good and will for some time to come.Growers were delighted and there was excitement all round as it became clear that the vintage had been a huge success. Comparisons with previous great years were happily made and the quality of the wines stood those comparisons very well indeed. The link with the successful vintages of 1989, 1990 and even 1947 is great charm, depth of flavour and structure, excellent balance and natural sweetness, and the bloom of healthy, ripe fruit. 2009 has all the virtues of such great vintages in abundance.Comparisons with earlier vintages can mislead of course. The best growers these days take greater care in their vineyards to produce less volume but finer quality. They select more rigorously at harvest, and in the cellar, and they understand much better than they did 20 years ago how to vinify such wonderful material. It is clear, even now, that the ‘personality’ of 2009 differs from the firm, classic 2000 or bright, fresh attack of the 2005s, fabulous though those vintages are proving to be. The charm, balance and seductiveness of the 2009s is expected to make them taste good at all stages of their development.In vintages such as 2009 it is extremely rewarding to find outstanding quality in less well-known districts and properties. There is terrific value to be had here and much that will provide generous and sweet-fruited earlier drinking. The best wines, of course, will have great longevity.In many ways 2009 was a perfect summer for growing grapes in Bordeaux. The even heat was different to the long, torrid, high temperatures of 2003 or the days of excessive heat in 2005, 1989 or 1990. A drop of rain was welcomed in August and apart from a short downpour on 19th and 20th September the harvest took place in ideal weather. The light throughout the year was excellent and helps to explain the high levels of sugar and ripeness in the grapes. The only blot on the climatic copybook was a series of hailstorms in May which scythed through parts of Saint-Emilion, Entre-Deux-Mers and Margaux, in some cases drastically reducing the potential crop.The onset of pourriture noble, which is key to greatness in Barsac and Sauternes, was rapid and abundant, and some great sweet wines were made.
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