Château Lafite Rothschild
These prestigious names are not readily open to the public, but they do set the standard for their neighbours particularly the four appellations in which they sit:
So, I decided to drive up to the north of the region and work my way down the estuary coast through each of these areas and see what I could taste. I was very aware that these are well-regarded and expensive wines, so I wasn't wholly expecting to find it easy to taste them, but it was worth a go. And, it has to be said, part of the purpose of this trip was also to 'put a face to the name' so to speak, i.e. actually see where these names that appear in wine menus actually come from.
Not the best of days, as while there were moments of sun, they were short-lived and all too often replaced by a torrential downpour, but I made the drive up as far as Saint Seurin de Cadourne. This village is a little further north than Saint-Estèphe, but was as good a place as any to start... And even better, because it had a Maison du Vin with tastings from two of the local châteaux:
- AOC Haut-Médoc - Château Moulin de Blanchon Cru Bourgeois 2007 (red) - A 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignan/Merlot blend aged in oak. On the nose, cherries and plum jam with a little sweet spice and to taste, red and black cherries, plums, a little spice. A round wine with long length and quite mellow tannins.
- AOC Haut-Médoc - Le Grand Paroissien 2007 "L'Expression d'un Terroir" (red) - A 60/40 Cabernet/Merlot blend aged in oak. The nose was a little richer - dark plums, damson jam and to taste ripe black fruits: damson, blackberry, blackcurrant and excellent tannins making it very smooth.
I was absolutely flabbergasted to see a 'Maison du Vin' sign, but pulled in quickly and lo and behold was offered 4 wines to taste, 3 reds and a rosé - reds first:
- AOC Saint-Estèphe - Château Pomys 2003 Cru Bourgeois - A 60/30/10 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend giving a nose of damsons, a little sweet and peppery spice as well as chocolate! Flavours of black cherry, plum and again spice with beautifully integrated tannins.
- AOC Saint-Estèphe - Château Tour de Pez 2006 Cru Bourgeois - A 36/53/8/3 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot blend. Much darker fruit flavours - plums, blackberries and sweet spice with good tannins, but this wine could be kept for longer and I think the tannins would mellow a little more and become better integrated.
- AOC Saint-Estèphe - Château Cossieu-Coutelin 2007 Grand Vin de Bordeaux - A 48/52 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend. Again, the black cherry, blackcurrant nose with herbaceous notes. On the palate, this was a much lighter wine, with blackberry flavours and again the herbaceousness (is that a word??). I think this herbaceous quality may have been my interpretation of the tannins not quite being mellow, being still a little astringent. Unsurprising given the age.
- AOC Bordeaux Rosé Lafon-Roset 2009 - 100% Cabernet Sauvignon - A nose of raspberries and lemon and to taste the same fresh citrus underlying the raspberry and strawberry fruit flavours.
It has actually got to the point that I find it weird when the landscape is not dominated by vines... I don't know what I'll do when I get home!
Anyway, I continued on to Pauillac, where there is a very big 'Maison du Vin' and a very stroppy lady in charge of it who didn't much like me saying that I didn't want to taste the ordinary wine, just a Pauillac, so I only tasted the one before moving on. Oops!
AOC Pauillac - Château Batailley Grand Cru Classé 2002 - A 70/30 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend with a blackberry, blackcurrant and slightly leathery smell with the same blackberry/blackcurrant flavours on the palate with a hint of pepperiness, but a beautifully round wine with mellow, integrated tannins.
At this point the heavens opened and I made my way south to Saint-Julien... I had really hoped to stop here to pay homage to Max and his very kind leaving present, but it was not to be... The châteaux were very strict about appointments, now it was September (which isn't marked in the guide books!), so I drove out to the port of Beychevelle (still within the AOC Saint-Julien), not to throw myself into the water in despair...
No, because the name is derived from the french "baisse-voile" - "lower the sails" as ships passing would do so as a salute to the nearby château.
My final stop of the day was in Margaux and I signed up for a tour of the Château Rauzan-Gassies. Another very informative tour in a beautiful setting and fortunately included a tasting of a wine from each of the 3 vineyards in this stable:
- AOC Haut-Médoc - Château Bel-Orme - Tronquoy de Lalande 2004 Cru Bourgeois - A 35/60/5 Cabernet Sauvignan/Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend with a nose of damsons, cherries and chocolate and flavours of cherries, plums and sweet spice.
- AOC Pauillac - Château Croizet-Bages 2004 - A 60/32/8 Cabernet Sauvignan/Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend with aromas of blackcurrant, leather and tobacco.The flavours were blackberry and spice with tannins well integrated.
- AOC Margaux - Château Rauzan-Gassies 2004 - A 65/25/5/5 Cabernet Sauvignan/Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot blend. The nose of this wine was complex, but overwhelmingly blackberries, with hints of violets. On the palate, blackberries and blackcurrants spiced with cinnamon made this a complex, but very elegant wine. The tannins while mellow would be perfect in another few years.
And on that note, I called it a day and headed back to my own château (well, I can pretend, just for a day!!)