Travels in Wine / Bordeaux

Travels in Bordeaux: Heading Out of the City


Gil Riggans Gil Riggans / 02 May 2019

With the blending of our own-label claret under our belt for another year, it was time to drive out of the city and visit some châteaux.

Château Carteau Côtes Daugay, Saint-Emilion

Owned and run by Jacques Bertrand, this 17ha estate in Saint-Emilion is now largely managed on a day to day basis by Jacques' two daughters, Anne-Marie and Catherine and his son, Bruno.

Tim Sykes at Château Carteau Côtes Daugay, Saint-Emilion with Jacques Bertrand's daughters, Anne-Marie and Catherine.
Tim Sykes at Château Carteau Côtes Daugay, Saint-Emilion with Jacques Bertrand's daughters, Anne-Marie and Catherine.

Having bought from this château previously, Tim was keen to see how the recent vintages had fared. Attention to detail was evident from the outset. Harvesting is done by hand with the grapes then going through two sorting tables before each parcel is vinified separately in either stainless steel or concrete vats. Maturation is approximately 15 months in a combination of new and one to two-year-old oak barrels.

In 2017 they lost 80% of the crop to frost. Thankfully, in 2018, although encountering some mildew damage, yields were healthy. So was the barrel sample (100% merlot) we tasted. On the nose it was opulent and expressive with ripe, sweet fruit and this continued onto the palate accompanied by firm, ripe tannins.

Château de Pitray, Castillon

Our last visit of this day saw us drive through the beautiful town of Saint-Emilion to Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux, eight kilometres away.

The impressive entrance to Château Pitray in Bordeaux
The impressive entrance to Château Pitray in Bordeaux

Once we had arrived at Pitray the driveway up to the château was every bit as striking as the journey from Saint-Emilion and we were eventually greeted by the tremendous building itself. We were a little early and so I took the opportunity to soak it all up and breathe it all in. Very shortly the impressively bearded Jean de Boigne approached and welcomed us in to his family home.

Jean talked about the 600-year family ownership of the estate, which covers one single vineyard of 36 hectares as well as a further 64 of meadows and forest.

The soils in Castillon are a mix of clay, limestone and sandstone that help to produce wines that are sturdy and structured and based around the merlot variety. Pitray is no exception with around 75% of the vineyard planted to this grape.

We tasted individual parcels from 2018, a year where mildew affected a portion of their crop but, mercifully, not too severely. Some of their neighbours were not so fortunate, losing the entire crop!

These wines, always popular with members, were impressive. Pure, aromatic and complex. Definitely an estate I would recommend getting to know if you are not yet familiar with it. A good starting point would be to order a bottle of our Society's Côtes de Bordeaux and then move on to the property's châteaux-label wines. If you wish to become even more familiar with this château, they do offer bed and breakfast too!

Following the well-trodden path & that of the prospector!

One of our prospecting visits led us to Véronique Barthe's Château Freynelle in the Entre-Deux-Mers. Véronique is producing fresh, fruit-forward styles of white, rosé, red and even clairet (deep-coloured rosés reported to be Bordeaux's first wines and the origin of our word 'claret').

Tim Sykes and Véronique Barthe of Château Freynelle in the Entre-Deux-Mers
Tim Sykes and Véronique Barthe of Château Freynelle in the Entre-Deux-Mers

Her estate covers 80 hectares of which 12 operate along biodynamic principles. When asked if this is something she will eventually have across the whole estate she said that due to the climate of the region it would be extremely difficult to produce quality fruit this way.

Véronique took over from her parents and whilst she hasn't increased the vineyard holdings, she has overseen replanting, which has resulted in an increase in quality, especially in her cabernet sauvignon.

Château Bouscaut in Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Château Bouscaut in Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux

Château Bouscaut in Pessac-Léognan has been run by Sophie Lurton and her husband Laurent Cogombles since 1992 but the vineyard has existed since the 17th century. It is a property that we do follow at The Wine Society, its wines usually appearing in our en primeur offers.

Now comprising 10ha planted to white grape varieties sauvignon blanc and semillon and a further 40ha to red varities merlot, cabernet sauvignon and a little malbec.

Some of the semillon here is very old and we were very privileged to be able to taste a barrel sample from 125-year-old vines!

Maturation room in Bouscaut
Maturation room in Bouscaut

The inclusion of oak in the fermentation and maturation along with lees stirring create an ageworthy white wine. The high percentage of sauvignon blanc gives the wines an attractive fresh character from youth.

The red wines are deep, rich and powerfully structured. They also have an abundance of fruit concentration with good acidity to achieve a lovely balance and create a wine that can cellar for a few years.

Entrance to Haut-Bailly
Entrance to Haut-Bailly

Still in the Graves/Pessac-Léognan region we next went to Château Haut-Bailly. All the estates on the trip had been fantastic and a real eye-opener as far as attention to detail goes in both vineyard and cellar. But for me Haut-Bailly was a jewel in Bordeaux's crown.

The vineyard area is 30ha which peaks at the highest point of the appellation and contours down by 20m at certain points, they also have a four-hectare site which was planted over 100 years ago.

The vines – mainly cabernet sauvignon with merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc – are all planted together rather than in separate plots. This is more labour intensive but they believe it creates a wine of better quality and plays to the unique topography of their site.

100-year-old vines at Haut-Bailly
100-year-old vines at Haut-Bailly

Véronique Sanders, Managing Director, took us on a tour of the maturation rooms of the immaculately constructed and organised winery.

Even the best-placed and most immaculate châteaux cannot escape the caprice of Mother Nature and here too the 2018 vintage saw difficulties with rain during flowering, mildew and drought. All these conspired to cause a loss of about 50% of yields. The high-density planting also encourages lower yields and whilst quantity will be low, the evidence of the tasting of the 2018 would suggest the quality will be anything but.

Each parcel showed remarkable definition and I am looking forward to (hopefully) enjoying a glass or two of the finished wine in the coming years.

Tim Sykes returns to the region in April to taste the 2018s and narrow down our selection of wines to offer to members en primeur in due course.

While quantities look like they'll be down, what early glimpses of the 2018 vintage we saw were full of promise. Look out for our en primeur offers over the coming weeks and months.

Tim Sykes returns to the region in April to taste the 2018s and narrow down our selection of wines to offer to members en primeur in due course.

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