Not that she is that interested. Milk or cream, preferably lightly whipped, that’s what she wants. We on the other hand, we take every opportunity to open a bottle of champagne. This summery Saturday afternoon the choice is pink bubbles from Vilmart & Cie. We raise our glasses and toast for all beautiful cats around the globe and especially for little Princess, of course. It is the 8th of August; it is the international cat day, World Cat Day.
Champagne Vilmart Cuvée Rubis Brut is beautifully deep orange-red, yes you can come to think of rubies. Fine ample effervescence. Dark berries and bready touch in the nose, concentrated rich fruit on the palate. Delicious texture and exquisite flavour palette where strawberries and cranberries dominate and taste long, so long. This is rosé champagne with fresh weight. Must be one of the most delicious ones we have tasted.
A Premier Cru with base wine of 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay from vintages 2009-2010, matured ten months on large oak barrels. Of course oak, this is Vilmart. A house were all wines are raised in barrel. Size and time depending on final product.
The bottle has rested in our cellar in almost two years after our visit at Vilmart in Rilly-la-Montagne the autumn 2013. I take a look in the product sheet and read that Vilmart’s owner, as well as winemaker, Laurant Champs considers it to be at its optimum after one to two years. Well, it will be hard to become any better than this. We make a memory note, at the next visit we must put more Rubis in the boxes.
Little Princess was however totally uninterested of pink champagne. Did not want to be on the picture, but went quickly in through the cat door to the waiting milk bowl. A bit surprising therefore, how fast she joins us when the bottle with dinner wine is to be photographed. A white bordeaux is put on the table and suddenly she comes and jumps up to inspect it.
This time the label says Coucheroy. A very nice Sauvignon Blanc with fine oak character from vintage 2009, from André Lurton’s château with the same name in Pessac-Léognan. The name Coucheroy (something like “the king slept here”) is said to have been born a stormy night many hundred years ago, when the French king Henri IV spent a night on the castle. Royal glory, then it is good enough for little Princess.
I just can’t leave the small appellation Cérons without paying a visit to Lillet’s birthplace. Just a few kilometers north of Château de Cérons, within the borders of the appellation, I find Podensac. A village with less than 3000 inhabitants. This is the place where Bordeaux’ native apéritif is made; Lillet.
Sweet little Lillet is known from the movies, including an appearance in “Casino Royale” where James Bond ordered a Kina Lillet Martini. Lillet’s first name Kina has been dropped, but refers to its content of quinine.
White wine from Bordeaux is the main ingredient, probably Sauvignon blanc and some Sémillon, but information varies. 85% wine is mixed with 15% fruit liqueurs made of different kind of oranges, from Spain, Maroc, Tunisia and Haiti. And then there is the quinine, extracted from bark from Cinchona, a tree found in Peru.
The beverage is then matured in barrells for 6-12 months. To keep the flavour constant, several vintages are blended. Well, that is about as much as we know. The details in the recipe are not surprisingly a secret. If you don’t want to add Lillet to your Dry Martini, or mix it in any other drink, you enjoy it as it is. Really cold, 6-8 degrees, preferably with a lot of ice and a slice of lemon.
Fresh, a little aromatic nose with citrus and elderflowers. Alluringly sweet with balanced acidity, nice body and a touch of oak. Fruitiness from oranges and lemon. Good length with lemon and some bitterness. My mind goes to barrique matured Sauvignon blanc, Cointreau and wormwood. A luscious apéritif, which makes me long for warm summer evenings. Lillet has become an old lady, but still as fresh as in her youth. The apéritif was created back in 1872 by the brothers Paul and Raymond Lillet. Very popular in the 1930ies, but sales dropped when other beverages came into fashion. In 1985 the company was bought by the owner to Château Ducru Beaucaillou, Bruno Borie, who with marketing and a slightly changed recipe once again boosted sales. Since 2008 Lillet is a part of the Pernod-Ricard portfolio.
James Bond, he called his Lillet Martini a Vesper and gave us the recipe: “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.”
Deep golden hue, rich and sweet. The characteristic scent, revealing work done by the little botrytis fungus. And when the years pass by and the wine ages, then it comes; the lovely flavour of saffron. Just marvellous!
I follow the road south from Pessac-Léognan, aiming for Sauternes-country, but stop when I realise I have arrived to the appellation Cérons. Cérons??? How often do we hear about Cérons?
“Cérons, the least important sweet white wine appellation in the Bordeaux region” says the Oxford Companion to Wine (1). Forgotten with soft sweet wines, so says the wine atlas. Thus, my interest is caught.
Cérons is really not a big spot. Only sweet wine from 38 hectare is allowed to carry the name Cérons. However, it is not only sweet white wine, but also dry white and red that are produced here. The latter two although not allowed to use the appellation of Cérons, instead obliged to put Graves on the label. If also these parts are counted for, you end up with about 120 to 200 hectares. Really small. I’m not surprised that this region hardly ever is mentioned.
Nonetheless, also Cérons can boast with a good heritage. The town is really old and is found on 100-century Roman maps, then by the name of Cirius or Cirione. But there is another story that raises my interest more.
We have learnt that it is thanks to the river Ciron that noble rot is thriving in Sauternes. Ciron has ice cold water. It flows into the Garonne, with its considerable warmer water, especially during the latter half of the summer. Cold + warm = mist. The mist drifts into the Ciron valley and the surrounding vineyards in the mornings. The sun beams warm the land during the days and the mist disappears. Voilà! The very best conditions for botrytis cinerea have been created.
The Ciron river stretches between Barsac and Preignac and flows into the Garonne in the village of Barsac. But it has not always been like that. 1750 was the inauguration year of the canal that gave Ciron its current route. Before that, the river turned north and reached Garonne in Cérons. Why was this canal built? The simple explanation is that the river too often was flooded over, which implied difficulties for travellers who wanted to pass the bridge in Barsac. And as that was the main road between Toulouse and Bordeaux, the complaints were frequent. Additionally, the many mills beside the river were also most often flooded, thus hampered to grind the flour so well needed in the city of Bordeaux.
This story makes me wonder if Cérons would have had even better conditions for noble rot if the river had been allowed to retain its original course.
Grapes in Cérons? Well, it is the traditional ones of the region. Sémillon dominates strongly with about 80%, complemented by Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Yields around 40 hl/ha. Does not sound much, but should be compared with only 25 hl/ha in Sauternes.
Chateau de Cérons is probably the most well-known estate making AOC/AOP Cérons. Of the 26 ha belonging to the estate, five is grown with grapes destined for the sweet wine. As usual when it comes to noble rot grapes, many turns are needed in the vineyard. Each time only to pick the perfectly infested grapes.
Saffron, saffron! The 1998 vintage is absolutely lovely and perfect to drink right now: Beautiful golden colour. Intensive and spicy bouquet with lots of saffron complemented with honey and ripe oranges. The taste is pleasantly sweet with balanced acidity. Once again saffron, honey and citrus. A short moment of thinness uncovers a simpler birthplace compared to the wines from the neighbouring more exclusive parts of Graves. But that is quickly forgotten when the wonderfully spicy taste takes over the scene and holds it there for a long time. The enjoyment is complete.
The Château de Cérons 1998 is in fact available in Sweden right now; to a very affordable price. A bargain I would say, for a bottle already matured for 15 years.
Cérons, well worth a little more attention.
(1) Robinson (2006) “The Oxford Companion to Wine”.
I am not going to travel far from the Intendant in the Bordeaux city centre. I thought I should go looking for the home of my January favourite, Château La Garde, in Pessac-Léognan.
Pessac-Léognan is the commune appellation we should remember for three things: heritage, class and red. The heritage is of the very best rank. The classification comprises the best estates, but is often forgotten when talking classifications of Bordeaux. And red? Yes, Pessac-Léognan is in fact dominated by red wines, although I often think of the region south of Bordeaux as white wine country.
It is just a quarter of an hour from the city centre and there, squeezed in among the southern suburbs, the first vineyards are found. An airborne arrival to Bordeaux, that is to the Mérignac airport, implies a landing right in Pessac-Léognan, the most northern part of Graves. The spot where grapes were grown already 2000 years ago. A spot proud of its rich heritage.
Claret, the light red Bordeaux wine, which won the heart of the Englishmen already in the Middle Ages, came from this neighbourhood. The vineyards in Graves were already well established when the Dutch came to Médoc to fulfil their ditching assignment in the 1700s. During the 300 years when Aquitaine was under English rule, from 1152 to 1453, the claret literally flowed into London from Graves.
Château Haut-Brion, the only estate in Graves classified for red wine in 1855, excelled early. 2013 marks an anniversary! It is 350 years since “Ho Bryan” was established as a luxury brand in London. The owner Arnaud de Pontac had persued a successful strategy and differentiated his wine from the competitors’. Darker, more power – simply one class better. And three times the price. The good Arnaud was a real businessman.
Pessac-Léognan also holds the oldest estate in Bordeaux. Château Pape-Clémant counts 1299 as its birth year. That was the year when the coming Pope Clemant V got the estate as a gift from his older brothers. Today it is considered as one of the best estates of the appellation.
Red, red, red. Delicious wines are made from both blue and green grapes raised on the light gravelly and sandy soils. I often think white when thinking Graves, but the fact is that about 80% of the production in Pessac-Léognan is red wine! The traditional Bordeaux grapes are grown on the appr. 1700 hectares. Cabernet sauvignon is the signature grape for the red wines, with Merlot as runner up. Sauvignon blanc and Sémillon dominate the white.
Pessac-Léognan is an appellation of recent date, born on September 9, 1987. And we should note the for Bordeaux unusual scope; this commune appellation includes both red and white wines.
You could think that the appellation comprises only the two communes that have given the area its name. But that is not the case. Ten communes, or rather villages, are included; Mérignac, Pessac, Talence, Gradignan, Villenave d’Ornon, Canéjan, Léognan, Cadaujac, Martillac, Saint-Médard-d’Eyrans. Remember them if you can! But no, that is not necessary, Pessac-Léognan will do fine.
Then it is time for the classification. Graves has one of its own, a fact easily forgotten in our eagerness to learn the most distinguished estates in the classification of 1855. All the 16 estates awarded “cru classé” in Graves are located in Pessac-Léognan. The classification, without any internal ranking, was established as late as 1953, with an extension 1959 to the one of today. Six estates are classified for red and white wine, seven for red only and three for white. Château Haut-Brion is of course among the classified estates in Pessac-Léognan too and is thus, as the only estate in Bordeaux,”double classified”.
What about Château La Garde then, do I find my way there? Yes, but it is a trip that will end as far south as I can come in Pessac-Léognan, in the commune Martillac. On the way south I pass several famous names and the palate starts longing for the delicious liquid. Why not a few drops from one the classified estates such as Domaine de Chevalier, Château Olivier, Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Château Haut-Bailly…
I can also conclude that Pessac-Léognan is André Lurton-land. The renowned winemaker’s properties are not located far from each other. There are the names so well known from the labels of the white wines we often find in Sweden: Château de Cruzeau, Château la Louvière, Château Couhins Lurton, Château de Rochemorin och Château Coucheroy. The latter two reliable, affordable, pure Sauvignon blanc wines, often poured on our tastings as typical examples of a Bordeaux white. But again – red wines are made on all the estates.
So, why not choose a red Pessac-Léognan the next time?
Note. All the 16 classified estates in Pessac-Léognan (Crus Classés de Graves):
White wines: Château Couhins, Château Couhins-Lurton, Château Laville Haut-Brion.
Red wines: Château Haut-Brion, Château de Fieuzal, Château Haut-Bailly, Château La Mission Haut-Brion, Château La Tour Haut-Brion, Château Pape-Clément, Château Smith Haut Lafitte.
Both red and white: Château Bouscaut, Château Carbonnieux, Domaine de Chevalier, Château Latour-Martillac , Château Malartic-Lagravière, Château Olivier.
I started my trip in Médoc in the beginning of the year, but got stuck in Bordeaux on my way south. Probably at l’Intendant, the unusually designed wine store, where the wine bottles are stacked on shelves around the walls surroundinga spiral staircase leading from one floor to the next and the next. All filled with those highly wanted Bordeaux wines.
That is the differentiating bit. While the indendant’s storage comprises of Bordeaux, my lips have met wines from all corners of the world during the last few weeks. Austere Riesling and Grüner Veltliner from Austria’s Weinviertel. Beautiful young Burgundies squabbling with each other, each of them wanting a place of their own in the lime light. Sherry, port and madeira – so enjoyable, ought to increase consumption. Impressing Carmenère from Chile, typical delicious Pinot from New Zealand, etc. etc. And my eyes have rushed through so many rows of information and many, many maps. An express trip around our world of wine in too short time.
The sommeliers’ day in Gothenburg was the highlight of the past month. The express train slowed down significantly during a few pleasant hours. Unfortunately there are relatively few opportunities for comprehensive tasting on the west coast compared to what is offered in the capital city of Sweden. The sommeliers’ day is therefore a welcome event. This year the tables stood really close to each other and we had many interesting conversations around wines with good sense of origin from a variety of regions.
One of the best wines tasted this month is in fact a Bordeaux. I liked the Château La Garde 1998 from Pessac-Léognan. This vintage is available in Sweden along with the 2009 and 2010. 57% Cabernet sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 3% Cabernet franc. Pronounced nose, delicious mature bouquet with root vegetables, leather, dark berries and plum. Quite full bodied, nice tannins with balanced acidity and good length with leather, blackcurrant and roots. Wonderful now, but could be stored for another few years in the cellar. A comparing tasting of the three available vintages would be interesting.
However, time to move on. Compass course set. A few bottles from the Intendant’s shelves packed in boxes. I leave the store, a bit reluctant. It is time to travel south, but just a tiny bit.