Travels in Wine / Bordeaux

Travels in Bordeaux: Blaye, Bourg & Blending

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David Marsh David Marsh / 21 March 2019

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

On Tuesday morning Tim and I were up nice and early for our visit to blend The Society's Bordeaux Sauvignon 2018. Our contacts (via an arrangement that goes back many years) had sourced nine different wines with volumes ranging from 180hl to 583hl (1 hectolitre equates to about 133 standard 75cl bottles of wine, to give you some idea of how much wine we are talking).

Early-morning wake-up call - the mouth-puckering line up of young sauvignons!
Early-morning wake-up call - the mouth-puckering line up of young sauvignons!

We first tasted all nine wines and Tim chose his favourite three and his least favourite three. The suppliers had constructed three trial blends which were also tasted. Interestingly, it turned out that all the trial blends included wine six which was Tim's least favourite!

Then the blending began…

The first blend included 50% of wine 9, 40% of wine 4 and 10% of wine 1. Although wine 1 was not one of the favourites by itself it was included in the blend as it had very high acidity and was used to balance some of the 'roundness' in wines 9 and 4.

We then went through a sequence of small tweaks and it was amazing how much difference these small changes made. Finally, after much deliberation and discussion the proposed blend of 10% of wine 1 and 45% each of wines 9 and 4 was agreed.

An exclusive blend tailor made for our members

The Society is in a very privileged position. Everyone else would just buy one of the wines, we are able to taste and blend something to suit our members' tastes.

After this fascinating introduction to the art of blending we headed off to Blaye (one of the northernmost of the satellite regions on the right hand bank of the Gironde estuary) and Château Monconseil Gazin owned by the Baudet family.

Tim catches up with Jean-Michel Baudet on the 2018 vintage with agent Alice Macleod-Dumas
Tim catches up with Jean-Michel Baudet on the 2018 vintage with agent Alice Macleod-Dumas

2018 vintage news at Monconseil Gazin

15% of the crop was lost to mildew but overall a very successful vintage which promises well. We tasted a number of wines from the last couple of vintages including barrel samples. We were then invited to lunch which was described as 'not a proper lunch'. Since it consisted of soup, foie gras, smoked duck, risotto with fried duck breast, cheese and then a selection of desserts, I am not sure I would have been able to manage a proper lunch!

During lunch we were served their 2015 and 2016 wines together with Quintet a wine that is primarily aimed at the American market. The 2015 and 2016 were both drinking nicely, though for me the 2016 had the edge.

From the Blaye to the Bourg

We then made the short drive to Clos du Notaire a property run by two young and enthusiastic people Amélie Osmond and Victor Mischler, who bought the estate in 2015 and are relatively new to wine.

The 2015 is a wine that is not quite to Tim's taste (a little over extracted) but the 2016 was fresher with a crunchy finish – an iron fist in a velvet glove. The 2016 is 75% merlot, 16% cabernet sauvignon and 9% cabernet franc.

Next was Château de Blissa run, seemingly single-handedly, by Stéphane Destrade. The 2016, 40% merlot with equal parts of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and malbec was closed but fruity. The 2017 was very perfumed with violets. As we were leaving Stéphane was returning to the vineyards to prune. He estimated that he would take three months to prune his 60,000 vines. I can imagine pruning one or two or maybe even a row… but 60,000? That's dedication!

Member favourite Château de la Grave – you can even stay here if you wish!
Member favourite Château de la Grave – you can even stay here if you wish!

Our third and final visit of the afternoon was to a long time Society favourite Château de la Grave in Bourg. We believe that the first vintage we sold was the 1973 and members have lapped it up ever since!

We started our tasting here with the whites. The 2018 was described as 'a very nice wine' but unfortunately ¾ of the crop was lost to hail in May. 60% semillon, 40% colombard with fermentation in barrels of American oak, the 2017 was minerally with hints of liquorice and ideally needs some more time in bottle.

We then went on to taste the reds from 2015, 2016 and 2017. The 2017 was a barrel sample and we are likely to sell it before the 2016 as it is expected to be ready to drink sooner. These wines are 80% merlot and are aged in three-year-old oak barrels that are sourced via a friend when no longer needed at one of the extremely upmarket properties in Pauillac. No names though! We also tasted the top wine, Nectar, which The Society's sells en primeur most years.

Bordeaux by night – Christmas market mayhem?!

After Château de la Grave, we retuned to Bordeaux. There is a Christmas market in the centre of Bordeaux and Tim (based on his experience the previous year) said that traffic in the centre would be grid-locked and that we would have to park away from the centre and walk. We were pleasantly surprised to be able to drive easily to the underground parking in the Place de Tourny. It seems the activities of the previous weekend with the gilets jaunes out in force had put people off. Sad news for the stall holders but it certainly was a bit of a relief for us!

The recommended restaurant that evening was Belle Campagne a restaurant that prides itself on serving locally-sourced fresh ingredients. It was very good so I can, in turn, recommend it to members who find themselves in central Bordeaux.

The cockle risotto at Belle Campagne, which turned out to be made from pearl barley rather than rice, but which provided an interesting and different starter
The cockle risotto at Belle Campagne, which turned out to be made from pearl barley rather than rice, but which provided an interesting and different starter

Where to go next?

Travels in Bordeaux: looking for little nuggets of joy!

Back to Travels in Bordeaux: Total Immersion!

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