Sweet tooth (Bordeaux, France – Day Five)

It seems somehow fitting that the last day I will be visiting wineries is spent tasting some of the most famous dessert wines in the world. Graves is in the southern part of Bordeaux on the left bank but a long way from Medoc. It is a special area in the sense unlike other parts of Bordeaux all three of the famous wines are produced here; namely red, white and dessert wines. Red wine is the largest proportion of production, and in fact this was the origin of claret wine. In the original classification of 1855 one red wine was given first growth classification,which was Chateau Haut-Brion. Graves is also famous for the sweet wines, most importantly wines from Sauternes and Barsac which were also classified back in 1855. As you would remember I visited Chateau d’Yquem which is the most famous Sauternes house that has been given special First Growth Superieur status, but there are a number of other first growth estates. The varieties used for these wines are semillon and sauvignon blanc with a little muscadet. The fruit is harvested so late that the berries are botrytised and the sugar concentrated, and it is not uncommon for several passes to be made through the vineyard during the harvest to ensure only the best botrytised fruit is selected. The fermentation is stopped whilst there is still a high level of residual sugar in the wine, which is where the sweetness comes from. I visited two Sauternes estates in the morning and finished the day with an estate in Saint-Emilion.

The many aromas of sauternes captured by Chateau Suduiraut

The first estate I visited was Chateau Guiraud which changed its name as such in 1766 when Pierre Guiraud purchased it from its original owners. It was his family that was so instrumental in establishing it as one of the best producers of sauternes wine, and led to its classification of first growth in 1855. Although there were many different owners over the preceding decades the original name was retained, even when it was purchased for the most recent time in 2006. The current owners are a coalition of three winemakers (Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier, Stephan Von Neipperg of Château Canon La Gaffelière and Xavier Planty) along with Robert Peugeot of the Peugeot car company who decided to purchase the estate over a dinner together. The estate is managed by Planty who began an immediate conversion to organics and bio-dynamics in the vineyards, introducing insect hotels that encourage natural pest control on site. As a display of sustainable agriculture and clonal selection they have a small parcel of tomatoes growing near the vineyards. Along with two sweet wines a dry wine is produced from 15 hectares of the estate, but it is the dessert wines which are the largest amount of production and the focus for the winery. I was able to taste wines across a number of vintages, and you can read my notes here.

One of the insect hotels at Chateau Guiraud

My second appointment was not far away at Chateau Suduiraut, which is another estate owned by the insurance company AXA, which they purchased in 1992. Previous to this it had an illustrious but tumultuous history. They have had many owners over the last 300 years or so, and they have all had some contribution to the development of this estate which was awarded first growth status in 1855. Part of the difficulties faced were suffered across the entire appelation, such as viticultural difficulties from phylloxera to frosts, and winemaking difficulties like chaptalisation. But when AXA purchased the estate they completely turned things around, which didn’t happen straight away due to three difficult consecutive vintages. I met with Christian Seeley, originally hailing from the Loire Valley, who has run the estate since 2000. Thanks in part to him not being from Bordeaux he was more than happy to show me a number of vintages of Suduiraut going all the way back to 1989. This was the best way for me to see the ageing potential, the evolution and the difference of the wines between vintages. Click here to read my notes from one of the best tastings I have had on my entire trip.

Chateau Suduiraut

My third and final appointment was at Chateau Soutard which I am sorry to say was another disappointing experience. On not the first occasion on my trip the appointment I arranged was actually a general public tour that I wasn’t informed about, and like every other occasion this was not the kind of visit I expected nor wanted. As I have possibly already said, joining public tours means that a lot of time is spent covering information that I already know, and I can’t ask additional technical information as it would confuse people uninitiated in wine and the tour guide is unlikely to be able to answer the questions anyway. The winery that has recently been purchased and completely renovated from 2006 by another insurance company (AG2R La Mondiale) and they have done an amazing job, but a winery and its equipment a great wine does not make. The wines I was able to taste were all pretty disappointing but the signs are good for the future, with a focus on improving the translation of terroir by converting to sustainable practices. Click here to read my notes from the tasting.

A temperature coil inside one of the oak fermenters at Chateau Soutard

Click here to see more photos from my fifth and final day in Bordeaux, and also my final day visiting wineries for about four months.

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