What I Learned at Vinexpo in Bordeaux

It has been hard to keep my head on straight lately. I’ve been a blocked blogger, avoiding my WordPress account. It remains unclear whether I live in Portland or Valladolid and seems more and more that time will have to be carefully split between both. It also remains unclear if I am a wine importer or a student of wine. My studies for WSET Level 4 are starting in August and my first Davis Winemaking Certificate class will begin in September. I have also initiated a series of video tastings that we’ll broadcast across our small companies’ platforms both in Europe and the U.S. Yikes.

So, I took a step away from the commitment pressure cooker and accepted a quick trip up to Bordeaux for Vinexpo. If you are even a semi-serious student of wine, your first trip to Bordeaux is like traveling to Mecca. Suddenly all the villages that appeared on one side or another of flashcards are jumping off denizens tongues like eating a puffed gourgères, consuming consonants and caressing vowels as they go. You think you know the grape makeup of a bottle of Sauternes until you hear it described by a Sauternais winemaker and then you go did he say sauvignon blanc or its time for lunch? Oh, moos-koo-de, and here I always thought it was mus-ka-tel.

Our guide at Château Filhot told us that none of the wineries in Sauternes were built with subterranean cellars because of the sandy soils. In addition, to protect the fermenting and aging wines from overheating in the late-afternoon sun, the walls on the west side of Sauternes’ wineries are built thicker than the east-facing walls. The harvest consists of up to six passes through the vineyard when trained workers skillfully comb through bunches looking for the perfectly botrytised grapes. An average harvest will only yield 10-20 hectoliters making Sauternes a very costly beverage before it even starts fermenting. I picked up two 375 ml 2009s; one for drinking with my Dad the next time I see him and one to cellar.

We stayed in a village 40 miles south of Bordeaux called Villandraut, near Bazas. It was typically French picturesque, enough to make Amelie swoon. I went running early the first morning past the castle in anticipation of the butter croissants and canelets I’d be ingesting uncontrollably. I stepped out and realized through the heavy humid air why grapes can grow botrytis here, in the heart of Sauternes wine country. It also smelled quite different than Spain; less bleach and sandalwood cologne, more rosewater and dairy -all that butter for my croissants.

There are striking resemblances between a people and their wines. I noticed this immediately after crossing over the border into France. These are generalizations of course, and putting diplomacy aside, Spanish wines tend to be heavy handed with bold strokes of fruit and oak, a reflection of their strong will and animated character. I found the French wines I tasted to be more perfumed with finesse and elegance and most of the wine happening in the nose rather than on the palate. Maybe this is why Vega Sicilia has had so much success in incorporating a bit of cabernet sauvignon into its tempranillo blends and why now Alvaro Palacios’ perfumed wines are dominating lists across the U.S.

Their temples to wine, the châteaux, are legendary and aristocratic. Miguel suggested we try to sneak into the Château Margaux/Wine Spectator opening of a new wing of the winery. Thankfully I had left my waiter’s black and whites at home. So we drove on as the black-tie crowd arrived. It was too late to make any winery visits, so we admired the famed houses as we wound around Cantenac and Pauillac.

A few short notes…

Domaine Jean-Claude Courtault from the parishes in and around Chablis: Lignorelles, Beines, Fyé and Villy. Possess 18 hectares in total and pick 6,000-7,000 plants per hectare. Older vines avg. age 35-years-old. Petit Chablis 2014 barrel sample. Sampled with hand-shucked oysters. Pale lemon color. Fresh, high minerality.

Chablis Les Venerables 2010. Medium lemon color. Straw, meadow, alfalfa on the nose.

Manoir du Capucin Lovely proprietor Chloé Bayon allowed to taste through her selections. She is a member of the Femmes et Vins de Bourgonge orgnazition that seems to seek to promote female winemakers in the region. She was equal parts charm and ambition and eager to talk about her climats Clos de la Maison and Aux Morlays. Mâcon Solutré Pouilly “Délices” 2014 was fresh, lots of juicy white stone fruit, easy drinking, €5-€10. Pouilly Fuissé “Sensations” 2014 shows nice richness, viscosity and green apple and unripe melon on the palate. Medium acidity. Pouilly Fuissé Aux Morlays 2012 showed roundness, rich complexity and structure, open, straw, caramel, rose, and apricot on the nose and palate.

Brune el Blonde de Vidal-Fleury (Côte-Rôtie) 2010 showed black cherry, dried oregano and a smattering of savory notes like smoked meats.

Cave de Tain L’Hermitage La Grace (Croze-Hermitage) 2013 from winemaker Murielle Chardin-Frouin showed big and strong on the nose of crushed red flower petals, more savory and a bit of stinkiness (SO2 blow off?)

Rocca Maura Terra Encestra (Lirac) 2012 by winemaker Emmanuelle Daverat Perkins showed some oak with vanilla notes on the nose, a deep purple color, warm, but soft, round tannin. Reminded me of a Priorat.

Rocca Maura Terra Encestra (Lirac) 2013 showed more heat than warmth, wonderful smokiness and smoked charcuterie.




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