Red Wine . NET

By Giuliano Bortolleto

Undoubtedly, Malbec is the emblematic grape of Argentina. Since the end of the nineteen century, when the first Malbec vines came to the south american country, until the 70 decade of the last century, Malbec vineyards has just grown so rapidly along the country in the same way that the internal demand deeply rised as well (by this time the national consumption reached the unbelieveble number of almost 95 liters per person by year). However, the wine production in Argentina was mostly based on table wines.

As I have already explained on the Red Wines Blog, the argentinean producers, together with the national organisms of vitiviniculture control (notedly the INV and the INTA) has drastically changed its way of producing wines, which incredibly improved the vitiviniculture in there (see th post A Summary of the Malbec History in Argentina). So, by the end of the 90s, the argentinean vitiviniculture started to strongly believe in the potential of the french grape from Cahors and many producers were begining to see the amazing results that they were getting with the combination of the Mendoza’s terroir (the dry climate, the irrigation water from the Andes thawing, the thermical wideness), with the Malbec.

Malbec has became the national grape in Argentina and these wines represent their country in the world wine with full-bodied an great personality, plus the latest years elegancy aquired.

It is important to say about the this red grape capacity of producing many styles of wines. There are some wineries doing sparkling wines, with both varietals or blends of Malbec; there are exemples of fortified wines made with this grape, there are Malbec varietals to be drunk young, other to be kept for a couple of years and there are always good results when it is tried to give the wine a touch of oak resting. But for now, let’s talk about the young Malbecs produced in Mendoza.

The most simple Malbec wines produced in Argentina usually are a little rustic and usually are a bit “savage” in the mouth. That’s because qe are talking about a wine with too much tannins. But, as usually even these young and simple wines get som oak time before got the market, with one or two years resting in the bottle, they got just some simple pasta with red sauce or some condimented red meat. This is one of the favorite styles for the argentinean people. They are very used to drink this kind of wine.

But, be carefull. when it comes to the oak presence in the wine you should pay attention to what you are buying. It is not true that all the young wines receive too much oak into their composition, although there are a lot of bad wines being produced just based on the oak stage, which tunrs the wine into a real oak mess! Normally, the chances of making a mistake buying a bad wine decrease radically when you choose a good and respectfull producer. Actually this is not a rule just for buying argentinean wines, but in every country in the world, even in France or Italy.

So, now, I am going to show a few good examples of simple Malbec wines from Mendoza an tell somethings about the producers so you can now them better. For now, I will just talk about wines with cost less than 15 dollars.

Finca Flichman - Malbec Roble 2007 Price: about US$ 7,90

This is a centenary winery, located in the east of Mendoza. Its wines are very well produced. Their simple wines express the good aromas of red fruits, such as raspberry and cherries. It has spent three months inside the oak barrel, which helps to smooth the wine little. Although it is a rustic wine, it conserves very nice fruit flavours, besides those ones that were brought by the oak contact. Despite it is a little dry in the end, it is one of the best choices in terms of price and quality’s relation.

Trapiche - Varietales Malbec 2007 Price: about US$ 8,30

The Trapiche winery is a very big one also, and has a very long history in the argentinean vitiviniculture. As many wineries in Argentina, used to produce only comun wines, with no quality to attend the national big demand. Now they have very nice facilities and high technology to produce very good wines. This varietal wine, is full-bodied and rustic. Lots of oak notes, like chocolate and some tobaco. Dry end. But very nice price and quality too.

Norton - Malbec Lujan de Cuyo DOC 2007

Price: about US$ 10,50

That’s one of the biggest in Argentina and, despite the others which exports a lot, there is a bottle of a Norton wine in almost every restaurant of the country. This a very nice exmple of an oaky Malbec wine. The presence of the oak can be feeled as soon as you put the wine into the glass. But there is a good fruit also and som pepper notes. It can get better if you wait for some two or three years to open the bottle.

Catena Wines - Alamos Malbec 2007

Price: about US$ 8,30

Now we are talking about one of the best wineries in Mendoza certainly. Mr Nicolás Catena, the company owner, made a great job by selecting the clons of the Malbec grape, in order to obtain the best that the fruit could give and the results were the best you can imagine. Lots of high notes on specialized magazines, like Wine Spectator, were given to the special wines made with Malbec. This one, as I said before, it is not one of this special wines. But it is made by the same winery that is wordly known by the excelence on producing the best Malbec wines from Argentina, so I think you can figure out that this varietal one is not just a comun and simple wine, although is made just for daily consumption. The Alamos Malbec it’s much more complex than the others. A lot of red fruits appear on the bouquet, raspberry, strawberry. Some mint and red pepper can also be noticed. It has a good sweetness, not nauseating, that combined with the tannic potency, creates a great body to the wine. Very easy to drink. And it can be better if you wait one hour with the bottle opened to get the wine a little softer.

Terrazas de los Andes - Linea Verietal Malbec 2007

Price: about US$ 8,30

That’s also a very special winery. It is owned by the french multinational company LVMH. The Moët & Chandon winery came to the country in the 50s and discovered the great climate and soil that Mendoza had. Now their producton is made in order to export the majority. There are really high technology and a really good enologists of staff. This wine is from their varietal line, but when you drink it you might think you are drinking like a “Reserva” wine. Very well structured, complex, very strong fruit aroma and you can barely feel the oak flavours. It is much more soft and mature than the others. It’s really ready to drink.

By Giuliano Bortolleto

On my last post I said that would write a few words about the tasting of some Zinfandel red wines from California. So, lets go. I am going to talk about three Zinfandel wines from three different producers, so we can check the differences out.

Wente Vineyards - Zinfandel 2005 This is a great producer, located next to the city of San Francisco, on the Livemore Valley, north of the California State. At the Valley there is a warm climate, with high temperature during the day and low temperature during the night, thanks to the marine breeze that comes from the Pacifico. This is one of the best places to plant Zinfandel in Califronia. The result is a fresh wine, not very tannic. A lots of mulberry and raspberry notes. The oak also brings some chocolate notes.

Seghesio - Alexander Valley Home Ranch Zinfandel 2007, Red Wines

Seghesio - Alexander Valley Home Ranch Zinfandel 2007: That’s one of the most important producers of the California’s State. This wine was awarded with unbelieveble 93 on the Wine Spectator Magazine, and it was chosen as the 10th best wine of 2008. The Seghesio is a centenarian family that has been making their wines in northern Sonoma County and farms with more than 400 acres of Zinfandel vines in Dry Creek and Alexander valleys. This very special wine bring some strong notes of black fruits such as plum and mulberry. With some time resting at the glass it will widely open the wine bouquet and some very nice dry fruit aroma will emerge. The oak presence is noted, but it is never over the fruit flavours. Very complex wine, with good acidity.

J. Lohr - Painter Bridge Zinfandel 2005 This wine is a litte bit different from the other two. There are only 8 acres of Zinfandel vineyards at the Paso Robles Vineyards, in San Luis Obispo County. That’s also a hot region, which brings a grat amount of sugar to the fruit. The wine transmits this sweetness, as well as great red and black fruit flavours. The Syrah brings some spice and also black tea notes to the aroma. Velvety texture in the mouth.

By Giuliano Bortolleto

Zinfandel grape | Red Wines

The Zinfandel is presently the Californian wines face around the world. When you think about California, you will certainly remember the name of the red grape Zinfandel. This grape was discovered in Californian soil by the mid-nineteen century, and from that time it is beign planted in that. The origin of the name “Zinfandel” is uncertain. What is quite right is that the Zinfandel grape is genetically equivalent to the italian red variety named Primitivo, and also to a Croatian grape, named Crljenak Kaštelanski.

However, it does not mean that they are just the same grape with different names depending on the country. There are some clonal differences between Zinfandel from California and Primitivo from Italy, and, according to studies, the Zinfandel has not originated on italian soil. It is more likely that the grape came from europe and has its origins linked to croatian varieties.

Zinfandel is now responsable for 10 percent of the planted areas in California, and is the third leading winegrape variety in California, with nearly 52,000 acres planted, according to the 2007 California Grape Acreage Report.

But talking about the taste and flavours of a Zinfandel wine, it will depends on the ripeness of the grapes from which it is planted. The wines from cooler areas bring some aromas of strawberry, raspberry and cherry. The ones from waremer regions tastes blackberry, anise and pepper notes.

On my next post I will talk about a the tasting notes of some very special Zinfandel wines from California.

By Giuliano Bortolleto, january 26th of 2009

You have already noticed that I have talked about the Malbec from Argentina a couple of times this month. I am writing an academic work about this matter and I thought that woulb be interesting to share this knowledge with you. Here I am going to show some very nice Malbecs that I have already tasted.

The argentinean Malbec use to be a very good option in terms of price and quality. That’s because the Argentina have recieved a lot of european investments. Many wine producers from the old world had their attention called to new opportunities of cultivating the vines in other parts of the globe. Many researches were made in order to detect the best terroirs in very different contries. Undoubtedly, Argentina is one of the contries that have received a really great number of external investments in its viniculture, at the 70s, and mostly at the 80s and 90s.

The foreign wine producers helped a lot the argentinean vitiviniculre. They have brought aknowledge, new technics, enologists internationally known who came to work there, and more important, by the begining of the 90s, as the aregntinean economy was passing throught a very good moment, they have also brought high technology in temrs of vitiviniculture, which have put Argentina in a very high degree among the wine producers countries.

Today, Argentina has several foreign producers, disseminating their old culture of producing wines in this new territory, with a fantastic capacity of produce great wines. Mendoza, specially, the principal wine producer region of the country, has the perfect terroir to take care of the Malbec grapes in the best possible way. A great themical amplitude during the day, which garanties a great amount of sugar to the fruit and helps the sap changes, a very dry climate, what is simply amazing to the healthiness of the grape, besides the great high where the fruit is cultivated.

The most wonderfull thing is that the european producers firs wanted just to elaborate wines with some cliché blends, like the Bordeaux’s ones, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot. Other tried to do some experiences with the spanish Tempranillo. In fact, the first internationally rewarded argentinean wines were made from this well-known grapes. However, after the Malbec clonal selection conduced by the INTA (National Institute of Agronomic Technology), many producers stared to believe in the quality of the grape from Cahors. In the latest years, the Malbec potential has sturdily increased, adn the highest level of excelence that this grape can reach is still unknown.

Malbec Grape
By Giuliano Bortolleto, january 22nd of 2009

The viticulture was brought to the argentinean soil, as weel as many other countries colonized by the Spain, by the oficials of the Catholic Church in order to use the wine on the Christian celebrations. The priest Juan Cidrón came from Santiago Del Estero, Chile, was the one who has planted the first grapevine by the year 1554. Since then, the viticulture in Argentina growed rapdly, due to the great number of european imigrants who arrived in the country, bringing whit them the culture of to produce and drink wines.

Achaval Ferrer Malbec 2005

However, only in the nineteen century that the Malbec grape “officialy” came to Argentina, when the french agronomist Miguel Aimé Pouget came from Chile to work in the Mendoza province, bringing whith him some seeds of Malbec grape. “Officialy” because it is now known that, by the number of malbec vines that were found along the country in the twenty century, ti is not possible to admit that the first Malbec vine was bought by Pouget. Certainly there was a lot of Mabec vines in other areas of the country.

During the middle of the last century the wine internal consumption reached the impressive number of more than 90 liters of wine wine in a year per person. The Malbec was already known by the majority of the wine consumers in Argentina, in spite of the low quality of wines that were produced by the 60 and 70 decades. Only in the 80s, with the extinction of one third of the vineyards in Argentina, conduced by the INV (National Institute of Vitiviniculture) in order to finish with the poor quality vineyards the quality started to be aimed by a great amount of producers.

Than, in the 90s, the INTA (National Institute of Agrarian Technology) started a clonal selection of the Malbec grapes so that the best species of that grape would be cultivated in the argentinean soil. And the results of these initiatives were tremendously good. Many high-quality wine producers started to believe in the great potencial of Malbec to produce fine wines.

Nowadays the Malbec is so respected in Argentina that it have became the National grape of the country, being the grapes most planted in all the national soil, and its wines take the name of the south american country all over the globe. It’s is very rare now to find some wine reviewer that do not recognize the great quality of the Malbec wines made in Argentina.

Although Malbec is not an autochthon grape, it is rare to find in the New World of wine, in which you can find a so strong identification between the grape and the national culture. The Malbec has paired so perfectly with the argentinean typical food (red meat and barbecue), and is so nationaly appreciated that is dificult even to imagine that this grape came from another country apart from Argentina.

This is a video that shows the production of a regular Beaujolais wine. The who speaks shows somethings, which are very important in order to understand how can you call a real Beaujolais wine. He talks about the legislation, about the quantity of Gamay planted in Beaujolais. But, one thing really important that he says is that the real Beaujolais wine is very different from the so caled Beaujolais Nouveau, made to be drunk very young, and which is very fruity. Check it out.

By Giuliano Bortolleto, january 22th of 2009.

Gamay Grape

In the south of Burgundy we will find the last district of this fantastic frenh region: the Beaujolais. This region has a different soil from the rest of burgundy. Actualy, Beaujolais is almost a different region from Burgundy. This region, which is located about 35 miles north to the city of Mâcon, has granite-laden hills, that’s why no other location in France has been able to elaborate Gamay-based wines as Beaujolais. Yes. Apart from the soil, the big difference between Beaujolais and the rest of Burgundy is the grape that is cultivated. The Gamay is the principal grape of the location, with more than 98% of all vines planted.

The Gamay produces light to medium-bodied wine, that is made to be tasted slightly fresh and young. This wine has a light purple color, pleasantly fruity flavors, such cherry, bananas, berries, and peaches and high acidity and low tannins. It can be paired with a lot of french cheeses, such as Reblochon, Pont L’Eveque and Camembert, with duck and goose meat, and other typical food from its region.

Beaujolais Village AC

The Appellation of Beaujolais is divised in three categories: There are the Beaujolais AC wines, which are produced in the southern part of the location. There, the wines red wines must contain 9% of alcohol level. These are the most simple Beaujolais Wines. Than we have the Beaujolais Supérieur AC, that are produced in the same region, but whith 10% of alcohol. The vineyards at this location must have lower yields per acre, what point to a higher quality of the this kind of Beaujolais wine. There are the Beaujolais-Villages Appellation Controlé wines, which correspond to a group of thirty-nine villages with superior vineyards. Finally, we have the highest-quality level of a Beaujolais Appellation. There are only ten villages that can take the name CRU in their wines, plus the name of the Village. They are e Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Réginé, and Saint-Amour.

There are a few other french regions that also produce some gamay wines. In Côte Chalonnaise, there is a famous a blend of Pinot Noir and not more than two-thirds of Gamay, which is known as the “Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grain”. There are some other gamay wines in Loire and Touraine. Outside the french lines there are not so much gamay wines. Nevertheless, there are a few good examples of this grape wines in New Zealand and California.

Giuliano Bortolleto, 21th january of 2009

Cheval des Andes | Red Wines

The Cheval Blanc Chatêau is one of the oldest and most internationally recognized wines of Bordeaux. The wine is one of the two “Premier Grand Cru” Class A in the region of Saint Emilion. This famous Chatêau, as many other european producers decided to invest in the New World, in order to find a good terroir to produce a fine blend wine, with a superior quality, as they have France. So, Pierre Lurton, the Cheval Blanc enologist, went to Argentina and found a 76 years vineyard in Mendoza, very able to produce great wines, in terms of quality.

As soon as he found this terrain he thought abou what could be done. So, the Cheval Blanc Chatêau made a partnership with the winery Terrazas de los Andes, which belongs to the french group LVMH (Louis Viton Moet Hennessy), in order to produce a wine that would had the characteristics of the local region (the “terroir”), and a french blend from Bordeaux. The result of that is the Cheval des Andes wine, which appeared in the market in 2003.

The Cheval des Andes firsly had in its composition a litte more than 50% of Cabernet Sauvignon, about 40% of Malbec, an the rest of Petit Verdot. Now, the wine has a larger percentage of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, and a litte amount of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. The wine stay for 18 months in french oak barrels of first use.

The wine has a very strong and bright red to purple color. Its bouquet is formidable. A mixture of black and red fruits (strawberry, cherry, mulberry, plum), some mint and also black chilli, and a very refined smell of chocolate and tobaco, due to the contact to the oak. It has a great body, a good consistence and a huge persistence in the mouth. The wine is very unctuous. We can say that this is about a superb wine. And its price is very inviting.

Graves | Red Wines

January 20th, 2009

It is perhaps somewhat ironic that we should begin with Graves and in particular its northern enclave of Pessac-Léognan, as this was one of the last of the great vineyard regions of Bordeaux that I was to discover. And certainly, when looking solely at the appellations and communes of the left bank, I was intimately familiar with Pauillac, St Julien and Margaux long before I was even aware of these vineyards on the far side of the city of Bordeaux. And yet this should not be the case; here we have a region steeped in history, a landscape of vines dotted with chateaux sometimes of feudal origins, some bearing crenellated battlements as testament to their former roles. Through history their proprietors have including noble seigneurs, admirals and popes, although today during a visit to one of these grand chateaux you are far more likely to find yourself shaking hands with a supermarket magnate or an employee of a huge insurance company than a papal candidate. Nevertheless this is a region with historical precedence over the Médoc to the north, and I see nowhere more fitting to begin my guide than here, on the doorsteps of some of the most illustrious chateaux in all Bordeaux.

As I have already expounded in this guide, this is one of the longest established regions of Bordeaux; there was viticulture here as far back as the Middle Ages, centuries before the marshes of the Médoc were drained and vines were planted in the gravelly soils there. The region’s leading light, Chateau Haut Brion, dates back to the mid-16th Century, but others are even older; there has been a dwelling at the site of Chateau Olivier for at least eight centuries, and although the property has been extensively modified over the years some parts of it are very old indeed. Pape-Clément is another old timer, this having been the seat of Bertrand de Goth, Archbishop of Bordeaux, during the very first few years of the 14th Century, before he took the papal office and the name Clément V.

Despite the survival of many of the castellations, the inhabitants no longer fear foreign invaders as they once did, for now it is an enemy of a different sort that is advancing on the vineyards. Today this is the frontline of the battle between the vine and the bungalow; these vineyards encircle the city of Bordeaux, its suburbs creeping ever outwards, almost as if they are feeling their way between the vineyards, testing to see where the weaknesses lie. It seems that real estate developers dream of dilapidated vineyards that can be planted with residential properties rather than vines, and indeed many of the noble names of the region are today entirely encircled by suburban streets. The two most notable examples are Chateau Haut-Brion (not forgetting the associated Laville and La Mission) and also Pape-Clément, as shown in this map of a small portion of the Bordeaux suburbs (above), although even those estates further south, away from the sprawling urban mass, are feeling the pressure. At the time of writing my most recent visit to the region had taken in Chateau Brown, at the very southwest extreme of the city of Bordeaux, and we seemed to drive down a dozen suburban streets before reaching the entrance to the estate. It is a curse with a silver lining for the pragmatic though; one proprietor in the region once confessed to me that should it ever be necessary, he could ameliorate any financial difficulties by selling off the small section of woodland that lay at the bottom of one of his vineyards, the value of which he had been watching gradually increase year after year as the houses encroached upon it. Although I wonder whether this act would have made him a very popular man with his contemporaries, it was without doubt a comfort to him that he had this security on which he could fall back should the bank manager ever call in his loans.

Graves - Red Wines

The Graves region, although it is perhaps rather stating the obvious, is named for the gravelly terroir which lies underfoot; the depth of gravel varies, and is as deep as three metres in places, forming well defined outcrops. This well drained and impoverished soil is credited with much of the character and quality of the wines of Graves, although why this particular area of Bordeaux should be so blessed with this name, rather than any of the communes of the Médoc further north which are also characterised by gravel croupes on which so many of the famous Grand Cru Classé properties are sited, is something of a mystery to me. The vineyards are also dotted with clay, chalk, sea shells and sand, the latter elements testament to the nearby waterways, the courses of which have varied over the millennia. Here we are on the left bank of the Garonne, as it flows to its rendezvous with the Dordogne, at which point it becomes the Gironde.

In recent years the most significant change in the Graves landscape occurred in 1987 when, after many years of pressure from the leading producers, the expanse of vineyards that make up Graves were further classified, with the vineyards just to the south of Bordeaux receiving a new appellation, Pessac-Léognan. Here, in this Graves enclave which is largely represented in the map above, can be found all the chateaux of major interest. To the north of the land described in the map lies the city of Bordeaux, including those vineyards that lead the battle against the suburbs, as depicted in the smaller map at the top of the page. The Pessac-Léognan appellation describes wines from ten communes; Cadaujac, Canéjan, Gradignan, Léognan, Martillac, Mérignac, Pessac, Saint-Médard-d’Eyrans, Talence, Villenave-d’Ornon, and it is a rarity (in Bordeaux at least) in that INAO regulations allow for white wines as well as red. Permitted varieties include Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc (which must comprise at least 25% of the blend) as well as Muscadelle, although it is the former two - and perhaps Sauvignon more than Semillon - that will constitute the major part of any blend. Interestingly the red varieties included in the appellation regulations include the full gamut of traditional local varieties, although at least a couple of these are now very unusual. The triumvirate of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon obviously dominate, but there is also provision for Petit Verdot, also Malbec (or Cot as it is sometimes known) and even the vanishingly rare Carménère, which is far more likely to be encountered in Chile than here on the banks of the Gironde. The rendement de base - the maximum level for permitted yields - is set at 48 hl/ha for white grapes and 45 hl/ha for red grapes, admirable figures but ones that should always be taken with a pinch of salt. Add the rendement annuel, the actual permitted yield which is set on a yearly basis, followed by the plafond limité de classement (an increase of the maximum yield granted by the INAO on top of the annual figure), and it should be clear that true maximum yields can be much higher than 48 hl/ha. This is not specific to Graves or even to Bordeaux, and is something I have also covered in my Loire wine guide.

To the south of Pessac-Léognan are the vineyards that have remained designated as Graves following their parting of ways in 1987, spread over 43 communes entitled to the appellation. Here regulations are similar, the grape varieties are obviously broadly the same, although some of the INAO numbers are different, such as the rendement de base which is higher at 50 hl/ha, but otherwise the style is essentially the same as that of Pessac-Léognan. With that in mind there can be good value here, away from the more exalted names to the north, and it is one of many regions in Bordeaux that are crying out to be better exploited. As a final point in this rundown of the relevant appellations, I should make note of one oddity that comes along with Graves. This is the appellation of Graves Supérieures, a little-seen halfway-house between the dry whites of Graves and the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac, appellations which are of course completely surrounded by the Graves vineyards. It allows only for white wines, and the INAO regulations, which stipulate a rendement de base of 40 hl/ha, a must weight of 195 g/l, and minimum values of 12% alcohol and 18 g/l residual sugar in the final wine clearly favour the production of sweeter styles. It is not a wine, however, I am very familiar with.


Pomerol | Red Wines

January 20th, 2009

Of all the more famous regions of Bordeaux I think it is Pomerol that perhaps I know least well. This is perhaps a somewhat strange state of affairs, as after all Pomerol is the smallest of all the well known appellations of Bordeaux, especially when we compare it to neighbouring St Emilion, the vineyards of which cover more than 5000 hectares, dwarfing Pomerol, which boasts less than 800 hectares. My point is that it should not, perhaps, take too long to become accustomed with its wines, especially as I have spent no less time in Pomerol than I have in any other appellation around the Garonne, Dordogne and Gironde. I have tasted many of the top wines of the commune, including Petrus, Trotanoy and other wines from the Jean-Pierre Moueix stable; I have visited top estates, such as Jacques Theinpont’s Le Pin in 2008, and perhaps less celebrated names such as Taillefer, home to Catherine Moueix, in late 2006. Vertical tastings that I have attended, such as a mini-vertical of Vieux Chateau Certan a few years ago, show that there are some fabulous wines being produced here, even in lesser vintages. I have no prejudice against the region, that is for sure; the exotic spice and opulent yet fresh fruit that can be found in the wines excites my palate in a way that no other Bordeaux does. I think it is merely that my own vinous education has concentrated so wholeheartedly on the left bank, and perhaps it is also the case that the left bank has, in the past, offered more value wines which offer a true insight into what the vineyards there are capable of, whereas with Pomerol perhaps this simply hasn’t been the case?

Although Pomerol has a long history of viticulture and winemaking it is not one that has much in common with the development of the left bank appellations, or indeed with neighbouring St Emilion. The vine has been cultivated on the right bank, including Pomerol, since the time of Roman occupation, and the names of some estates - notably Figeac and Ausone (both in St Emilion, not Pomerol) date from this era. On the left bank viticulture in Graves and Sauternes has flourished since Medieval times, but in Pomerol it has waxed and waned, and during the Hundred Years’ War the vineyards were abandoned altogether. It was not until the 15th Century that there was any replanting, preceding the draining of the Médoc by more than a hundred years. Despite this the region remained an obscure one in viticultural circles, thought of by many as little more than a satellite of St Emilion. There was no influx of rich landlords as there was around St Estèphe, Pauillac, St Julien and Margaux; Pomerol had no Marquis Nicolas-Alexandre de Ségur to name as the Prince des Vignes, and no Baron Hector de Brane to similarly christen as Napoléon des Vines. There were no wealthy bankers or landed gentry interested in this rural backwater, and thus the landscape remained one dotted with farmhouses, criss-crossed by country lanes, with no grand châteaux, no mansard roofs, and barely a tiled turret to be seen.

The wines of this supposedly ‘minor’ region were not widely appreciated, and the vignerons and merchants that had settled here worked had to develop export markets for their wines. They found buyers in France, Holland and particularly Belgium, and the market they built up in the latter country perhaps goes some way to explaining the Belgian presence in Pomerol that exists today. The wines of the left bank, however, were largely exported to England, and thus British consumers developed no awareness of Pomerol or the quality of its wines. It was not until the 1950s that British merchants woke up to the wines and began to import them into the UK, and even then the prices of many of the wines were extremely favourable, especially compared to the astronomical prices some of them fetch today. And there is one further difference that marks out Pomerol; whereas the Médoc and Sauternes, and subsequently Graves and St Emilion, were all classified - arguably useless classifications today, but also without doubt useful in publicising the best properties at the time - Pomerol never underwent this process, and today it remains the only major appellation of the region to have no classification.

Pomerol - Red Wines

Although small, with just 784 hectares - or thereabouts - of vines, the terroir of Pomerol is certainly not homogenous, and is due some consideration. The vineyards are located to the west of those of St Emilion, and are closely related to the suburbs of Libourne. They are delimited north and south by two rivers, the Barbanne and the Taillas, to the east by the vineyards of St Emilion and the town of Pomerol itself, and to the west by the D910 as it runs down towards and into Libourne, with suburban streets including the boulevard de Beauséjour, avenue Georges-Clemenceau, rue du Docteur-Nard and the avenue de l’Europe - all easily pinpointed on any decent map - forming the boundary. Further out in the appellation there is a subtle plateau which is dominated by gravel with clay, and it is these soil types that play host to the better vineyards. Inspection of the soils themselves reveals a considerable variation in gravel density and size of stone, even when comparing one vineyard to the next, although this isn’t a feature unique to Pomerol by any means. A more significant change comes as you travel west through the appellation, when the soils become more sandy, and the quality of the wines may not be as high with this terroir. In addition, the clay subsoil here - known as crasse de fer - is particularly iron rich, and portions of it extend across the appellation. The Petrus vineyards are marked by it, as are those of Taillefer, the name of which translates literally as to cut iron.

Like St Emilion, the clay soils here favour the Merlot grape which dominates the appellation, accounting for 80% of all the vines planted. Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc trail in at the rear, although a few estates are notable for have significant plantings of these two varieties, sometimes accounting for more than half of the individual vineyard. Vieux Chateau Certan is a case in point, although Merlot still dominates slightly here, accounting for 60% of all the vines, with 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The absolute predominance of Merlot in the appellation as a whole, however, may mean in some vintages the majority of the harvest can be lost. Merlot flowers earlier than the two Cabernets and thus it is more vulnerable to spring frosts and reduced or irregular flowering and fruit set.

Although I have been content to criticise those that put too much stock in Bordeaux classifications, which are either outdated or rendered meaningless by internal political wrangling, one function that they do serve is to provide a loose framework for the discussion of the wines. Without one, though, I will resist the vaguely ridiculous notion that I should invent a classification of my own, and simply deal with the properties according to my experience of them. Perhaps one that I know best is Vieux Chateau Certan, as I have tasted a number of maturing vintages and have even been taken to adding a few vintages to the cellar, especially the highly successful 2004. Even weaker vintages, such as the 1993, were impressive. There are many other estates producing wines of similar quality, or indeed higher quality, where I have tasted a few vintages, most notably Petrus, Trotanoy, Le Pin, Gazin, La Conseillante, Clinet and more. The first two of these are wines of the Moueix stable. Petrus moved from the ownership of Mme Lacoste-Loubat to being jointly run with the help of Jean-Pierre Moueix, and today it is under the sole control of Jean-Pierre’s son, Christian; the once relatively inexpensive wines are today some of the most expensive in Bordeaux. And they are also some of the best. This latter characteristic is also true of Trotanoy, which has turned in a stupendous performance in some vintages, and my experience of both mature vintages, namely the fabulous 1961, and a much more recent year such as 2007 shows that the quality of this vineyard can shine through in both excellent and poor vintages. As for Le Pin, this is a much more recent story; the proprietor here is the aforementioned Jacques Thienpont of Belgium, and when entertaining visiting journalists during the primeurs he serves the wines with assistance from his son, the youthful but trilingual Freddy. The story here perhaps encapsulates so much of Pomerol; an unremarkable vineyard which has been moulded into one of worldwide repute, and the prices have risen dramatically as a result; one bottle will cost you more than a case (or indeed several cases) of many comparable wines. And the estate is graced not by any grand chateau, but by a tumbledown farmhouse with cracked and patchy rendering, and a patch of mud for a garden. The wines, however, can be fabulous. Yes, to me it seems that Le Pin is Pomerol - albeit a Pomerol on steroids - in a nutshell.


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