Wine of the Week 21 – blast from my past

Saint-Émilion with vineyards in the background.

Saint-Émilion with vineyards in the background.

Long ago when I was just a boy I was a trainee wine shop manager. Not knowing as much about wine as my miss-spent youth had led me to expect – I well remember asking what claret was! – I set out trying all the wines in the shop that I could afford.

It was 1984 and Bordeaux was big. The 1982 vintage was being talked about with reverence and it had a huge positive effect on the Bordeaux trade. My shop was awash with impressive looking clarets in wooden boxes. Not all of them were silly money either, we had the 1982 Sarget de Gruaud-Larose and 1982 Connétable Talbot for sale at £4.99.

Eager to try this famous vintage I splashed out on a swanky looking bottle of Saint-Émilion Grand Cru called Château du Cauze. It was £3.99 and I was very proud of it. It seemed such a lot of money for a bottle of wine,  my father and brother thought I was mad, although I seem to remember they both helped me drink it! Sadly I did not write tasting notes in those days, merely kept labels, so I do not know what it tasted like, but I do remember that I loved it. It was a life changing moment as I felt that I had tasted good claret. The cases it came in were even those posh wooden ones and I still have a wooden 1982 Château du Cauze box that I use for tools all these years later.

Saint=Émilion really is a beautiful town and well worth visiting.

Saint=Émilion really is a beautiful town and well worth visiting.

As the song says, I have often stopped and thought about Château du Cauze, but have never actually seen it for sale since. Until the other day, when I thought I should really get down to Lidl and check out their much vaunted new range of wines French wines. The range focuses on Bordeaux in some detail, but also includes wines from the Loire, Champagne, Alsace, Burgundy, the Rhône, Provence, Languedoc-Roussillon and the South-West. The idea, it seems, is to wean the wine buying middle classes away from Waitrose and get them coming to Lidl and certainly the range looks interesting and we are promised more to come this month too.

Well, blow me if one of the wines wasn’t Château du Cauze, 2011 this time though, not 1982. ’82 was, of course a great vintage of legendary high quality, whereas 2011 is much more mixed, but I just couldn’t resist buying a bottle just for old times’ sake. What’s more, I liked it so much I made it my Wine of the Week.

Saint-Émilion vineyards.

Saint-Émilion vineyards.

Ch du Cauze2011 Château du Cauze
Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
Bordeaux, France
A proper Château graces the label and it actually looks like that in real life too. It is built on the sight of a medieval bastide that was destroyed during the Hundred Years War – Saint Émilion was right on the border between English Aquitaine and France. Just down the road is Castillon, which makes its Côtes de Castillon wines in a similar style to St-Émilion. The capital is fittingly called Castillon-la-Bataille as it was the site of the last battle of the Hundred Years War. That was in 1453, the English were defeated and their commander, John Talbot Earl of Shrewsbury was killed.
Château du Cauze belongs to the Laporte family who also own another château in Montagne-Saint Émilion. The wine is a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and around half of it gets aged in barrel for 12 months.
The colour is pretty deep, opaque, ruby with touches of purple and garnet.
There’s lots of fruit on the nose, plums, blackberry and blackcurrant together with a whiff of pencil lead and cedar. There is rich elderflower too, caramel and a touch of dried fruit.
The palate is soft, with supple tannins just adding touch of structure, while a little acidity cleans it up and makes it fresher than the colour suggests. Nice weight of fruit and concentration, fresh acidity and layers of flavour make it seem quite complex for the price.

While I wasn’t as bowled over by it as I seem to remember I was by the 1982, I still think it is a good wine – I am a great deal more experienced and knowledgeable than I was then, so am probably assessing it more accurately. Perfectly nice to drink now, I think this could age nicely for 4 years or so too. I am sure it is plusher and more fruity than the 1982 and at 14.5% it’s certainly more alcoholic, but it carries this very well thanks to the freshness and balance – 88/100 points.

Available in the UK from Lidl @ £11.99 per bottle.

I was very pleased to discover that this is still a good wine, what’s more it is sensibly and honestly priced. It seems to me that this wine has a lot more to it than all those £12 bottles which are artificially discounted down to £8 or £6. If you fancy a bottle of claret at a good price then this fits the bill perfectly and is lovely with a slow cooked shoulder of lamb.

Bordeaux Wine Guide – a user friendly reference book

Like many people who enjoy wine I’m a real hedonist. I like the good and sensual stuff of all types. Wine of course figures very high on the list – it’s how I make my living after all. Food is pretty important too though – in fact I hardly ever eat anything else. Like wine the love of food incorporates so much about culture, travel and history that enjoying different food helps make sense of the world and makes other people interesting rather than alarming – I often wonder what people who don’t like food actually do when they travel – answers on a postcard please.

If I can’t actually have some wine and food or travel somewhere interesting, then the next best thing is to read about it, so I love books. As a consequence I own a lot of books about exotic places, books about food and books about wine. I need a lot of wine books too as I constantly have to look things up and check facts and I don’t like to just rely on Wikipedia!

With Christmas coming I thought it might be nice to tell you about some books that I am enjoying and that all you other hedonists out there might find useful, either for your own pleasure or as gifts for others.

By the way if you were planning on giving me anything, please remember that I already have these!

Three books have caught my fancy of late and I will tell you all about them, but am starting with the one that is purely about wine:

Chris Kissack, aka the Wine Doctor, relaxing with something other than Bordeaux

Pocket Guide to the Wines of Bordeaux
by Chris Kissack
Published by MagBooks at £6.99
Also available from Amazon and on Kindle

I know Chris and like him too, he writes an amazingly fine and encyclopaedic wine website called The Wine Doctor, which I find a very useful resource. Well this is the more portable spin-off – no battery life, wifi or 3G signal required either, just a pocket. Actually my only quibble is with the size of this book, exactly how big are your pockets Chris? At 21 cm X 14.8 cm it doesn’t fit any of mine, but hey I’ll stick it in a bag – or perhaps a Christmas stocking.

Chris does write about other wine regions, but his great speciality is Bordeaux and as it is the largest fine wine region earth and the home of fine wine I can understand why. Just like his website, this book is a labour of love and it shows. Chris is steeped in the wines of Bordeaux (quite literally sometimes) he loves them with a passion so strong you cannot help but be swept along, what’s more he has an incredible eye for detail, so this book is full to bursting with useful information and the odd unexpected nugget. For instance I was unaware that the great Château Haut-Brion have 2 hectares of non-permitted grapes including Pinot Noir and Sangiovese.

In the main I would regard this as a book to refer to rather than sit down and read and I can imagine that it could become an indispensable work of reference for anyone who wants to get serious about the region. The contents are attractive and well laid out with clearly marked sections that have in depth, yet easily digested, chunks on all the topics you need for a working knowledge of the region or for buying Bordeaux wines – whether for drinking pleasure or investment.

Amongst the many good things in here is a detailed look at the vintages from 2003 to 2011 and brief notes on the rest back to 1990. There are profiles and histories of the Premier Cru Classé Châteaux, Chris’s personal selection of the top Bordeaux Châteaux for reds and the great sweet wines of Sauternes as well as his top tips for good value.

As if all that isn’t enough there are sections on how they grow the grapes and make the wines as well as chapters that give you sneaky little insights into all the appellations of the region and the various classifications, from the 1855 (official) to the 2011 (unofficial) along with Graves, St Émilion, Sauternes and Cru Bourgeois.

I had better stop heaping praise on Chris before his head totally explodes, but this is an excellent reference book and I intend to keep my copy handy. It contains pretty much anything you need to make your Bordeaux buying and drinking a less haphazard experience and is a perfect gift for those just starting to get into wine – especially Bordeaux.

I will tell you all about another couple of books very soon, so keep coming back.

Mountains, Saints and Satellites – stunning quality in Montagne-St Émilion

It is so easy to fall into a rut with wine. There is so much wine available from so many different places nowadays that you have to make a cut off somewhere and for many years for me that cut off was the classic wines of France. Only the cheaper versions though, I have always retained my love of France’s great wines.

My focus is always to find really lovely wine that over performs for its price and for many years the famous bits of France usually failed to do that at the cheaper end. Many of the classic regions of France have enormous fame, but the quality of the affordable examples seldom showed what the top end ones were like – and most of us have to drink the cheaper versions. The result of this was that consumers were often buying the lesser examples of Sancerre, Chablis, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, St Émilion and the like and yet they were never truly cheap, so still seen as bit of a treat. Sadly many of these wines were a pale shadow of the wines that have made the name on their label so prestigious and sought after and so for long gave the impression that France offered bad value for money. For quite a long time the affordable versions of classic French wines were dilute, unattractive and uninspiring as well as being more expensive than many good wines from elsewhere.

By the way it isn’t snobbery that made me avoid them, those who know me will know that price tags do not impress me at all. No, it was the lack of character and concentration that made me avoid these wines. Who wants a Chablis that could pass for a Muscadet in a blind tasting, or a Châteauneuf that offers less character than a Fitou or Minervois?

This lack of quality at the lower end was, in my opinion at least partly responsible for the sizeable minority of UK consumers who nowadays claim to avoid and dislike all French wine. Continue reading

Affordable Claret: Chateau du Gazin

I really am in a claret phase and it is very interesting tasting some affordable wines from Bordeaux. I have always liked the idea of claret, but have become concerned that most consumers would never get a chance to taste the sort of wine that comes into my mind when I think claret.

This is my third claret in this series and I think the consumer is pretty well served by them so far, but of course they are far more expensive than the average spend – even these relatively moderate prices make them more likely to be wines enjoyed at a special occasion than every day.

So far I have stuck to the left-bank Médoc wines, so I felt that a change was in order and I turned my attentions to the Libournais area. This of course includes the famous St Emilion, and its satellite villages, as well as Pomerol, Lalande-de-Pomerol and the rather more spread out Côtes de Castillon, Côtes des Francs as well as Bourg and Blaye. Today my eye fell on a wine from Canon-Fronsac. Continue reading