Le Week-end des Grands Amateurs

The Weekend des Grands Amateurs was a fantastic weekend of wine events. Not so sure about the elitism implicit in the name but it was a great opportunity to try some amazing wines. On the Saturday tasting of many of the best wines in the region was held in a renovated warehouse on the Quai des Chatrons, overlooking the Garonne, under the auspices of the L’Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux. More than 100 Grand Cru classe chateaux offered a taste of their 2006 vintage plus an older vintage. The major headache was choosing which ones to try!

Armed with Oz Clarkes eminently readable wine tome “Bordeaux” I did some research the night before and decided to only try the “best of the best” according to the classification system (why bother with Grand Cru St Emilion when one could try Premier Grand Cru for example) as it would be impossible to try everything. A few lesser classified wines with big reputations were added to the list (for example Chateau Chasse-Spleen, cru bourgeois on the classification but the critics and the market tell us it is a “better” wine than that. So having pulled apart the list and read about the wines on offer I felt ready to try as many as I could before my palate gave out.

Having developed a fondness for the savoury, rich, tropical fruit flavours (and what I would describe at times as an almost oily texture) of the wooded Semillon Sauvignon Blancs of Pessac-Leognan, I started there. I ran into Lina Zhang from the local wine shop, having a quick taste on her way to work but I guess that’s OK if you work in a wine shop! She was also keen to try the whites of Pessac-Leognan, and it was great practice for me to have someone with whom to try and discuss the wines (in french). We tasted several excellent 2006s. What struck me was the consistency of the style: rich tropical fruit (pineapple) flavours, wood characteristics, fresh acidity, good balance and length. Theses are surely amongst some of the greatest white wines in the world. The bordelaise being bordelaise hardly even seem to think dry white wine worthy of drinking and will usually order red wine with just about everything. These wines certainly don’t seem to garner the same interest as the whites of other regions (Sancerre, Bourgogne, Pouilly-fumé etc) but seem every bit as classy. I certainly will be looking out for them in the future.

We did get to taste 2 older white wines. Chateau Haut-Bergey 2002 (from Pessac-Leognan) very minerally, pineapple fruit again but with some developed toffee flavours, and Chateau Smith Haut-Lafitte 1998 (from Graves), excellent: balanced long and still fresh but again with some developing aged characteristics. What a start to the day!

It was getting crowded and I was thinking the rest of the day would be a bunfight. I left Tina who found it impossible to walk past the sauternes stand (fair enough and I’m sure that her boss Patrick would do the same) and I whizzed off to the station to pick up some good friends Caroline, Paul and Alice, who were coming for the weekend.

When we got back the crowds had dispersed. Thank God for the French 2 hour lunch break!

Paul and Caroline had a couple of whites to taste and then we got straight into some reds. Again I was amazed by the consistency of the styles-the broad round, soft tannins and fruit but the power of the St Emilions and Pomerols (who would have thought merlot could taste this good?) and the complexity, length, structure and dryness of the reds of the Medoc (predominantly cabernet). As a whole the 2006 were difficult to really appreciate, as they were too young, so we soon decided to concentrate on the older vintage on offer. The angels sang at Chateau Angélus and Chateau Beauregard. One of the highlights was Chateau Figeac 2001. Red fruit, tobacco, meat, spice, vanilla, minerals, soft long tannins, balance, length. Extraordinary! What a privilege to taste these wines! The temptation to swallow and not spit was getting difficult to ignore!!

On to the Medoc, concentrating on the older wines on offer. The 2006 wines although expressing beautiful fruit were just too young to really appreciate at times. I mean I am not complaining.

I wrote for the Chateau Batailley (Paulliac 5th growth) 2006: red fruit, spice, vanilla, good fruit, balance, long, velvet tannins. Super. But some of the older wines were exceptional: Chateau Gruaud Larose (St Julien, 2nd growth) 1999: blackcurrant, tobacco, vanilla, soft tannins but big in style, yummy. Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Paulliac, 2nd growth) 2003. Still young++, big and powerful (2003 famous as the “hot” year), intense blackcurrant flavours, juicy, tannic but so well balanced.

The crowds had well and truly returned after lunch. A short break and last but not least the Sauternes and Barsacs. The first wine tasted was a Chateau Suduiraut 2002. Oh my lord.

Length, balance complex fruit, developing toffee and marmalade, sweetness with the characteristic dry finish of the appellation. That was it! No more spitting! Surely it was a travesty to spit a wine like this! This part of the tasting was superb and apart from the absence of Chateau d’Yquem it was a who’s who of famous chateaux. Climens, Coutet, Guiraud, La Tour Blanche, Sigalas Rabaud, Rayne Vigneau. The highlight was La Tour Blanche 2006 complex, apricots, nuts, citrus, vanilla, apples, caramel, rich, balance, length. Again a great privilege to taste wines of this quality.

And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better we went home, got dressed up and caught a bus for dinner at Chateau Coutet in Barsac…..

We had a great night. Amazing food and amazing old wines:

1998 Chateau Coutet (Barsac 1er Cru) as an aperitif.

2005 Chateau Larrivet-Haut-Brion (Pessac Léognan) with Roulé croustillant de tourteaux txangurro

1976 Chateau Coutet (Barsac 1er Cru) with Homard au mousseux d’asperges

1998 Chateau Dassault (St Emilion Grand Cru) and 1996 Chateau Langoa

Barton (St Julien 3eme Cru) with Poularde fermière des Landes aux deux cuissons. Printanière de legumes

1990 Chateau Lynch-Barges (Pauillac, 5eme Cru) and 1988 Chateau Léoville Barton (Saint Julien 2eme Cru) avec Trois fromages du Pays Basque

2003 Chateau Ormes de Pez (Saint Estèphe, Cru bourgeois exceptionel) avec Dacquoise fraise-pistache et crème glacée








There was about 6 tables of 10 and on each table sat a winemaker. After each course the winemaker explained the wines – in French and then fluent English. There was a table of people from Brazil and so someone also translated the speech from French to Portuguese. We had the fortune to be sitting at the table of the charming Laurence Brun and her husband. Laurence took over form her father as the chief winemaker at Ch Dassault at St Emilion in 1995. She spoke passionately about the 1998, which she thought was “her” first vintage, a few years after taking over at the winery and instituting some changes in vineyard management and new technology in the winery.

She insisted that we visit her winery before we left Bordeaux, so since she insisted, we did!

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