Day Eleven: Tasting at Chateau Soutard

It was a bittersweet end to our tour – when we woke up on our last day, it was rainy and gray, after a most glorious week of sun and unseasonable heat.  The drizzle of rain was very reminiscent of home in Seattle, and we admit, we weren’t too excited to head back to that weather!  But today we had something fun to look forward to – a tasting at the beautiful Chateau Soutard in St. Emilion, with a cooking class to follow which was booked at the recommendation of our tour operator.

Chateau Soutard.
Chateau Soutard. The hipsamatic photo app does a good job of disguising the rainy, gray beginning of the day.

Chateau Soutard is an impressive estate, quite large and imposing.  It was one of the places that they said there were talks underway about opening the Chateau up as a hotel in the future, which seems it could be a good way to accommodate more tourism in these areas, while also better utilizing the estate properties that must be so expensive to keep up.  Ch. Soutard was undergoing many renovations on the main estate while we were there, so we were not able to go inside the Chateau itself, which was a bit of a surprise and had us wondering – where exactly were we going to be cooking that day?

The gift shop.
The gift shop and tasting room area.  We were wishing it was a nice day so we could be outside to enjoy the grounds for a while.
Enjoying coffee.
Bob enjoying his coffee.

Bordeaux 2013 492Bordeaux 2013 493Bordeaux 2013 494Our guide, Daniel, was very charming and enthusiastic, very much a student of wine making himself.  Chateau Soutard began getting recognition for its St. Emilion wines in the middle of the 18th century.  It was owned by the de Bogeron family from 1890 until 2006, which it was purchased by La Mondiale, the French insurance company, who also already owned Chateau Larmande and Chateau Grand Faurie.   The new owners began renovations immediately to modernize the wine making facilities, constructing new gravity fed tanks and new cellers.  Like many in the area, Chateau Soutard also employs Michel Rolland as a consulting winemaker.

The new state-of-the-art vat room.
The new state-of-the-art vat room.

Chateau Soutard’s vineyards are planted on limestone, clay and sand. Much of the limestone for building the estate was also taken from the surrounding areas.  The vineyard has a typical blend for St. Emilion of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc.

The very elegant tasting salon.
The elegant tasting salon.
Another view - with the peacock.
Another view – with the peacock.

Here’s what we tasted:

2000 Laremande – Beautiful floral red fruit nose.  Red fruit in the mouth, with some acidity and slightly dry tannins on a shorter finish.  This wine was a little simple.

2010 Chateau Soutard – Darker, sweeter black fruit, good acidity and some fine tannins.  Medium-full bodied, but with a surprisingly light fruity finish of medium length.

2006 La Grand Faurie La Rose – Dark, earthy, red-black fruit, rustic character, medium-bodied and medium length.

Following our tasting, we were ready to begin our cooking class at Chateau Soutard, which seemed a fitting way to wrap up our tour, since we started with a cooking class on our first day at Chateau Phelan Segur.   Next up, Chef Philippe and his unconventional cooking methods…!

Fete du Bordeaux 2014 – Year Six

Authored by Christina

As previously noted, this was the first year I attended the annual Bordeaux dinner in Seattle alone, as my husband had to be out of town. Alas, I wasn’t entirely left to fend for myself, as good friend Bill Schallert from Young’s Market Company made a great stand-in date (thanks Bill!).

Bill Schallert from Young's Market Co., Nancy Rugus, representing Chateau Suidaraut, Jean-Charles Cazes from Chateau Lynch Bages, Christina Watt, and Damien Barton Sartorius with Chateau Leoville Barton.
Bill Schallert from Young’s Market Co., Nancy Rugus, representing Chateau Suduiraut, Jean-Charles Cazes from Chateau Lynch-Bages, Christina Watt, and Damien Barton Sartorius with Chateau Leoville-Barton.

One of the highlights of the evening is always hearing from the representatives from the various estates whose wines we’re tasting – we appreciate their efforts to be here. We were pleased to welcome Jean-Charles Cazes again from Chateau Lynch-Bages and Chateau Ormes de Pez, as well as Damien Barton Satorius, from Chateau Leoville-Baron and Chateau Langoa-Barton. The dinner was held on the day of the Seahawks Victory Parade that brought out over 700,000 fans into the streets of Seattle. Ever mischievous, Jean-Charles had a little fun with the theme, bringing Seahawks “Lynch: Beast Mode” jerseys to describe the Lynch-Bages wines.

Damien is the grandson of Anthony Barton, who has visited for dinners in the past. Damien’s mother Lillian has also joined us on a few occasions. Damien is currently finishing up his Masters Degree in International Business, and this was his first trip to the United States and second wine dinner in which he was asked to provide remarks on behalf of the estate, which he did very well. You can certainly see the resemblance to his very gracious grandfather, and we look forward to hearing more from Damien in the future.

Chateau Montrose was notably absent in representation again this year, citing ongoing construction work that kept them from attending. Here’s hoping they get that construction done soon – it’s always nice to hear from the Chateaux themselves at these events. Nancy Rugus did a nice job explaining their wines, however, and also those of the venerable Chateau Suduiraut, whom she represents and who makes exceptional Sauternes.

Just a few things to taste through...
Just a few glasses to taste through…

This was the year we tasted the 2011’s, coming off of the major hype of the ’09’s and 10’s, and even the very good year of the ’08’s.

Here was the line-up:

  • 2012 Blanc de Lynch Bages
  • 2011 Chateau Tronquoy Lalande
  • 2011 Chateau Ormes de Pez
  • 2011 Chateau Langoa-Barton
  • 2011 Chateau Lynch-Bages
  • 2011 Chateau Leoville-Barton
  • 2011 Chateau Montrose
  • 2000 Chateau Langoa-Barton
  • 2005 Chateau Lynch-Bages
  • 2005 Chateau Montrose
  • 1990 Chateau Lynch-Bages
  • 1990 Chateau Leoville-Barton
  • 1998 Chateau Montrose
  • 2003 Chateau Suduiraut

Now let me preface my remarks by saying that in general, my wine of the night has typically always been one of the older vintages, which makes perfect sense, right? Well, in 2010, I actually prefered the 2010 Chateau Montrose as my wine of the night – there was so much potential there, but you could still get an immediate sense of the power and complexity. (I tend to prefer the 10’s to the ’09’s, though I wouldn’t turn any of them down!)

Which is my long-winded way of saying that while the 2011’s are admittedly young, honestly, I struggled to differentiate between them in any meaningful way, and to my taste, they seem to be wines to drink sooner, rather than aging for later. This was the general opinion of my tablemates as well, though we all admitted to not having a crystal ball! At the end of the day, we decided it’s not a bad idea to have a few bottles of good Bordeaux to drink now rather than later anyway. I will say that the 2011 Chateau Lynch Bages had a nice earthy nose and seemed to have some good potential, and the 2011 Chateau Montrose, though very tight, had some of the characteristic earthiness and complexity I’ve come to associate with these wines – it would be interesting to come back and taste this wine again once it gets a little age on it, as it appears to have some good structure behind it.

Chateau Leoville Barton.
1990 Chateau Leoville Barton. Was a crowd favorite.

To that end, I struggled a little with the older wines to pick a definitive wine of the night – there were some nice wines there. The 2000 Langoa-Barton particularly stood out, but perhaps especially because of the shift to a significantly older wine after the 11’s! It was a good, round, earthy wine with a great nose, and a nice pairing for the roasted loin of Ostrich we had for that course.

Chateau Lynch-Bages.
Chateau Lynch-Bages.

The final three wines of the night, the 1998 Montrose, 1990 Chateau Leoville-Barton and 1990 Chateau Lynch-Bages were all drinking well. The 1990 Lynch-Bages was probably my favorite of the evening – it was still a little tight, but the nose was dreamy – green bell pepper and barnyard – one of those that I could just sit and smell and not even drink and be happy! The 1990 Ch. Leoville-Barton was also very good – I heard several of my tablemates claim it as their favorite. Really, I wouldn’t turn any of those wines away.

The chef also did a masterful job of pairing the 2012 Blanc de Lynch Bages with a seared sea scallop dish – the wine and the briny flavors of the scallops worked really well together. Of course, I’m a huge fan of this white, and I know from this summer that it also pairs well with charcuterie and just about anything else you can think to nibble on. They’ve done a nice job with the consistency of the profile year over year, peachy, earthy, grassy – just green enough, but still a round, full wine with a crisp finish and good minerality – it’s one of my favorite whites these days. (That’s typically code for, okay, honey, you can buy more if you can find it!)

Which, at the end of the day, is always the fun of these dinners – tasting things you may have in your cellar to see how they are drinking now, and deciding what to add and age for later. Me? I’m happy that I usually have help making these decisions, but no matter, the discussion and company is always fun while you’re forming an opinion!

Looking forward to next year…

Moment of Truth – Bordeaux Dinner

Authored by Christina

Tonight is the annual Fete du Bordeaux dinner and tasting in Seattle.  This is the sixth time we’ve attended the dinner – but the first time I’ve had to go alone!  I remember the first one we went to, actually, Bob had to talk me into going for some reason…but never again.  It’s a great dinner and a great opportunity to try some very nice wines.

Alas, they moved the standing date this year, and Bob is out of town in Tucson for his annual gem show which is a bummer for both of us (diamonds or wine, diamonds or wine – such a dilemma!). I suspect he’d rather be at the dinner though.  Frankly, I’d rather have him here!

While I certainly have my opinions about what wine I like, the reason we can write up such detailed reviews on this blog is all Bob – the most you’ll likely get from me is a vote about my wine of the night (and perhaps an amusing story or two).  I guess we’ll see!

The amount of glassware is crazy - see?  It's not just me - how do I socialize ANDtake notes on all of this!
The amount of glassware is crazy – see? It’s not just me – how do I take notes on all of this?

In the meantime – here are links to the line-ups from years past:

Fete du Bordeaux 2009

Fete du Bordeaux 2010

Fete du Bordeaux 2011

Fete du Bordeaux 2012

Fete du Bordeaux 2013

Tonight we’ll taste the 2011’s.  It’ll be interesting to see how they compare to the 09 and 10’s that have gotten so much acclaim.  Must’ve been a hard act to follow for the winemakers – though my guess is, the wine will be more than just fine.

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Blast from the past: Christina Watt and Nicolas Glumineau at the dinner in 2012. Nicolas was the former technical director of Chateau Montrose, and is now the head of Roederer’s Bordeaux properties, including Chateau Pichon Lalande. I believe that tonight we’ll taste the 2011’s made from just before he left.

More soon!  Well, some pictures maybe – we’ll see what I can come up with…!

Day Ten, Final Stop: Chateau Figeac

After rushing so much through the day, when we arrived at Chateau Figeac, everything seemed to slow down just perfectly.  Their picking was done for the day, things were very calm and the Chateau was almost glowing in the late afternoon sun.

The enchanting Chateau Figeac.
The enchanting Chateau Figeac.

According to Chateau Figeac history, the estate dates back to the 2nd century AD and the Figeacus family, who gave the estate its name. In the 15th century, Ch. Figeac was one of five noble houses in Saint-Emilion and passed from the Lescours family, who at that time also owned Ausone, into the hands of the Cazes (or Decazes) family, who transmitted it through marriage to the Carles in the 17th century.  There were many improvements made on the property during these owners.

When an economic crisis struck as a result of the Continental Blockade, the Countess de Carles-Trajet sold some of Ch. Figeauc’s land. Parts of this land included Cheval Blanc, which was ceded in 1832. Chateau Figeac and its 130 hectares (321 acres) were then sold in 1838. Ch. Figeac went through a period of 50 years having 7 different owners.

In 1892 that the Manaoncourt family acquired the core of the property, and they have worked hard to shape the unique character of Chateau Figeac ever since.  In 1955, Ch. Figeac became a classified first growth.  Before we officially began our tour one of the members of the Manoncourt family came over to say hello – she was very warm and gracious, and you could tell – very involved.

The driveway at Ch. Figeac.
The driveway at Ch. Figeac.

Gwen, our fun and informative guide, told us about the land and the grapes on the property.  The property of Chateau Figeac sits upon three very large gravel mounds.  The grapes used in the wine blend are 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc and 30% Merlot.  It is this unusual grape blend and the gravel that defines the “Chateau Figeac style.”  Ch. Figeac uses both traditional large wood vats and stainless steel vats.  The wine of Chateau Figeac is aged in 100% new French oak barrels, sourced from 8 different coopers.  In 2012, the Manoncourt family hired Michel Rolland as a consulting oenologist.

The barrel room.
The wooden vats.
The stainless vats.
The stainless vats.
Some wineries keep some of the older, still working technology around - just in case.
An old press. Some wineries keep some of the older, still working technology around – just in case.

The tasting room was warm and rustic – a departure from many of the more formal chateaux we visited.

The Ch. Figeac tasting room.
The Ch. Figeac tasting room.  Love all the wooden beams in the ceiling.
The tapestry in the tasting room.
A closer look at the tapestry in the tasting room.
Great stone fireplace.
Great stone fireplace.

We hadn’t had much wine from Ch. Figeac, so it was fun to try their wines:

2003 La Fleur Pourret – Very nice red and black fruit and a smooth mouth feel, good acidity with ripe tannins and medium bodied.  Nice medium length sweet fruit finish.  This is a little simple, but a nice drinking wine.

2007 Chateau Figeac – Red and black fruit with a hint of green bell pepper and spice in the nose.  In the mouth, spicy red and black fruit with some good acidity, nice smooth mouth feel and medium-full bodied.  Fine tannins on the long spicy fruit filled finish.  This is a noticeable step up from previous wine.  The wine is bigger and more lush than I expected for a 2007 vintage wine.

In hindsight, knowing that the 2007 vintage wasn’t all that wonderful, I have to say, Chateau Figeac did a very nice job with their 2007.  It was definitely a wine that made us pause and reflect on its complexity.  The wines from the 2007 vintage are going to drink sooner than the surrounding vintages.  The 2007 Figeac is drinking really well for being so young, I will definitely have to try some of the other vintages from this Chateau.

We very much enjoyed our visit to this estate – it was great to discover some new wines and meet some wonderful people.

Seattle Seahawks Superbowl Sunday!

Authored by Christina

It’s off-topic for a wine blog, but the Superbowl is very top of mind here in Seattle as the Seahawks prepare to play the big game.

We decided it couldn’t hurt to ask for a little extra help this morning – thanks to Father Glen at St. Joseph’s church for being on our team!

Father Glen Butterworth with Bobby, Christina and Sophia Watt.  Praying for a Hawks win!
Father Glen with Bobby, Christina and Sophia Watt. Praying for a Hawks win!

The city is pumped – there are 12th man signs everywhere, fans are decked out in blue and green and the city is deserted – everyone is hunkering down to watch the game.

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Jan. 2014 and Seahawks 018

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Jan. 2014 and Seahawks 020

Unfortunately, Bob is in Tucson for his annual gem show this week, but he’s still sporting his team spirit – and apparently trying to recruit more 12th men…

Bob Watt with Rex Putnam in Arizona.
Bob Watt with Rex Putnam in Arizona.  Recruiting new fans…can’t start too young!

Cheers to a great game!  GO HAWKS!

Day Ten, Second Stop: Chateau Angelus

We had to hurry over to our next appointment at Chateau Angelus – luckily there was pretty good signage on the way, or who knows how long it would’ve taken us to find the estate on the winding roads.  But when we did find it, wow – it was a hive of activity!

Chateau Angelus.
Chateau Angelus.

The Chateau itself  is undergoing renovations – there were workers, trucks and heavy machinery in front of the main entrance.  Right across the street in the vineyards, there were more trucks and workers – they had also started harvest that day.  We were met by a member of the Angelus PR team, who very kindly informed us that they were also shooting a video on the premises that day, so we were somewhat restricted by where we could go and when, within the Chateau.

A busy day, between harvest and renovations.
A busy day, between harvest and renovations.

By way of background, I was quite excited to visit Angelus, because of the stellar reputation of the wines.  It is one of only four premier grand cru classe A estates in the St. Emilion region – an honor recently bestowed on them in 2012 and a testament to the hard work of the family to bring the estate’s wines back to its original quality.  In fact, the brand has been getting more and more play lately – it has even been featured in one James Bond film – Casino Royale.  It almost made it into another, but unfortunately, all of the footage of Angelus in the second film ended up on the cutting room floor.

According to Ch. Angelus history, the estate began with Georges Bouard, who was born in 1544.  At the end of the 18th Century, Catherine (also known as Sophie) de Bouard de Laforest, who was born in 1773, married Souffrain de Lavergne and came to live at Chateau Mazerat in St. Emilion.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Maurice de Bouard, acquired the enclosure adjacent to Mazerat. The estate then took on the name from a very ancient patch of vines in the center where the vineyard workers could hear the Angeleus (or the church bells), ring  from the three churches of the countryside: the Mazerat Chapel, The Church of Saint-Martin de Mazerat and that of St. Emilion.

Chateau Angelus was then extended little by little by his sons Jaques and Christian, who bought several adjacent plots until in the 1960’s it formed the property that Hubert de Bouard de Laforest, along with his cousin, Jean-Bernard Grenie, run today. They have shaped a legendary estate, steeped in tradition from the vines and innovation in their winemaking processes.  Hubert de Bouard is also in high demand in the region as a consulting winemaker.  We met him briefly, and one definitely gets the impression that he is a busy man.

Our lovely guide, Bong Tram, took us on a brief tour of the estate, where we saw more sorting going on as part of the harvest.  The newly remodeled parts of the estate were quite beautiful – we hope to visit again when it’s finished.  The large project was designed by the noted architect Jean-Pierre Errath, and included the creation of new cellars, new guest reception areas, work on the Chateau, business offices and a restoration of their famous bell tower.  The newly restored bell tower has 20 beautiful shiny bells, which can be controlled electronically.

According to Wikipedia, “The Angelus is a Christian devotion in memory of the Incarnation.  The Angelus devotion is usually accompanied by the ringing of the Angelus bell, which is a call to prayer and to spread good-will to everyone on Earth.”  In that spirit, Bong handed us what looked like a garage door opener and told us to push a button – suddenly, from the bell tower at Ch. Angelus, the American national anthem began playing in all it’s glory.  It was a pretty spectacular display, we admit, and one that you can imagine impresses their many visitors from the far reaches of the globe when their own anthems play.

Another shot with the bells.
Another shot of the Chateau with the bells.

From there, we drove with Bong to a smaller Chateau on the property where we could taste in relative calm from all the activity at the main estate.  Frankly, you could have put me in a closet and I would have still had a great tasting experience with these wines.  I was so delighted at what Bong decided to open – I’m still grateful for this tasting experience.  In fact, thanks to our time at Angelus, a few weeks later, back at home, I was able to pick a 1989 Angelus out of a double-blind line-up of aged Bordeaux – the flavor profile was just so recognizable to me.

Chateau Bellevue.
A smaller Chateau on the property.

While St. Emilion and the right bank are known for their Merlot-based wines, Angelus actually uses a fairly high percentage of Cabernet Franc in their blends.  In fact, 47% of the estate is planted with Cabernet Franc, which they care for very judiciously.  The vineyards of Angelus are planted on the South-facing slope, and the Cabernet Franc, in particular, are planted at the foot of that slope, which provides excellent drainage for the vines.  We happen to be big fans of the Cab Franc grape varietal, so it’s probably no surprise that we’re also big fans of Angelus.

Concrete vats.
Concrete vats.
Preparing for grapes.
Preparing for the grapes.

2009 Chateau Bellevue, Bordeaux – Very fresh ripe dark red/black fruit nose.  In the mouth, sweet red/black fruit, decent acidity and tannic.  Medium-full bodied, with a medium dark fruit tannic finish.  Still very young and slightly monolithic at this point, but will improve with more time in the bottle.

2006 Chateau Angelus, St. Emilion – Very fresh, very dark fruit and dark chocolate on the nose.  In the mouth, again very dark blackberries, black currants and dark bing cherries combine with dark bittersweet chocolate and spices.  This is a very elegant wine that is full-bodied and very complex, but it is also structured for the long haul.  The wine is smooth in the mouth and the ripe tannins are very fine.  This is such a beautifully elegant wine, that when you are just about to think this is as about as good as a St. Emilion wine can get, the 2005 comes along.

2005 Chateau Angelus, St. Emilion – This is very similar to the 2006 Ch. Angelus, but just increase everything by another notch.  Very fresh sweet dark fruit of black berries, dark chocolate and spices.  In the mouth, very deep dark blackberries, black currants, ripe dark bing cherries, baking spices and limestone minerality.  Full bodied and very concentrated, yet at the same time it feels light in the mouth.  The wine has very good acidity and a freshness to it, that I think comes from the minerality and just gives it a lift.  This wine is structured to last 50 years, but the tannins are ripe and so extremely fine.  Even though this wine is very tannic and can be enjoyed today, but I would highly recommend that you wait until at least 2020 to open a bottle.  The very long sweet black fruit and mineral finish, just does not quit in the mouth.  This is an absolutely wonderful and elegant Bordeaux of the highest level and will be a gem in any cellar.

The view from Chateau Bellevue.
A view of the vineyards.

Ch. Angelus also considers the 2005 to be one of its legendary vintages – we were privileged to taste it that day.  In fact, we longed to stay and finish the bottle (!), but we had one more pressing appointment.  Our thanks to Bong and her team – we certainly hope our paths cross again someday!

Day Ten: Tasting at Chateau Troplong Mondot with Lunch at Les Belles Perdrix

After spending the morning exploring St. Emilion, we headed out to Chateau Troplong Mondot for our first tasting of the day (a tasting after 10:00 am – what was the world coming to?? Ha.).  We had scheduled lunch in their restaurant at the Chateau, the lovely Les Belles Perdrix.  This was a truly amazing meal in a fantastic setting – we highly recommend it.  It had a bit of a Tuscan feel to the place – sort of laid-back and elegant all at once.

Restaurant Les Belles Perdix at Troplong Mondot overlooking the vines and the Dordogne Valley.
Restaurant Les Belles Perdrix at Troplong Mondot overlooking the vines and the Dordogne Valley.
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Part of the view from our table.

The food was anything but laid-back though.  The chef at Les Belles Perdrix was turning out some serious food – seriously good food, that is.  We had a little fun with our wine selection as well – the rose was one produced at the Chateau primarily for the restaurant’s use – it had a charming label and was a great compliment to our meal.

Some sort of foam with caviar starter.
Some sort of foam with caviar starter.  I started it before I remembered to take a picture of it!
Pressed tomatoes from the garden with cottage cheese and basil, "Snacked" tails of Dublin Bay prawns from Britany, souffle bread and black olives.
Pressed tomatoes from the garden with cottage cheese and basil, “snacked” tails of Dublin Bay prawns from Britany, souffle bread and black olives.  So good.
Creamy Guanaja chocolate with crunchy hazelnut "praline," slow-cooked Williams pears and lime sorbet.
Creamy Guanaja chocolate with crunchy hazelnut “praline,” slow-cooked Williams pears and lime sorbet.
The rose.
The  Les Belles Perdrix rose.

NV Le Rose – Les Belles Perdrix – A deep copper color, nice red berry fruit, very dry with just a hint of sweetness.  Very good acid and a nice smooth mouth feel.  A medium length clean finish of red berry fruit.  Very enjoyable and refreshing on a summer day.

After lunch, we walked around to the side of the Chateau and met up with our guide.  Troplong Mondot was one of the first red wine estates we had visited that was harvesting during our tour.  It turns out the right bank was harvesting a little earlier than the left.  Even as novices, we could easily see that the vines were just bursting with ripe grapes.

Ready for harvest.
Ready for harvest.

On our way to the winery, we stopped by the gardens of the owners of the estate and took in the views.

The estate, with it’s 33 hectacres, sits on the top of a hill; the gentle southwest slope overlooking the village of Saint Emilion and the sharp south-facing hill which extends to Chateau Pavie.

The vineyard is planted on this plateau where it has optimal sunlight and excellent natural drainage. The average age of the vines are thirty years old, planted in a limestone clay soil enhanced with sedimentary fragments of flint and chalk, which they believe adds to the quality of this terrior.

Their vineyards are planted with the Merlot that is the primary varietal of this region and the most widely planted.  This is what gives the power and structure to the wines of the right bank.  Most of these wines are blended with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon to bring depth and complexity to the wines.

Bob and Christina Watt at Troplong Mondot.
Bob and Christina Watt at Troplong Mondot.
The vineyards.
The vineyards.
The beautiful gardens.
The beautiful gardens.

Here’s a bit of the history of Troplong Mondot, as told by the estate. In the beginning, the Mondot estate belonged to one of the most prestigious aristocratic families in Gironde: the de Sèze family.  In 1850, Raymond-Théodore Troplong acquired Mondot. It was Edouard Troplong who, at the death of Raymond, inherited the vineyard. Following a trend at that period, he added Mondot to his own name. Thus Troplong Mondot was born.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Alexander Valette, a wine merchant in Paris bought the property shaped by its previous owners. His son Bernard, inherited the estate, then his grandson, Claude, took over the property.  In 1981, Claude Valette entrusted the destiny of the vineyard to his daughter Christine.

Soon joined by her husband, Xavier Pariente, they have worked tirelessly to continue to improve the quality and the reputation of their wines worldwide. In 2006 Troplong Mondot became a Premier Grand Cru Classé.

Harvested berries.
Harvested berries.
The waiting vats.
The waiting vats.
Christina's friends at home would've loved the chandeliers in this tasting room.
Christina’s friends at home would’ve loved the chandeliers in this tasting room.
I thought the sphinx was pretty cool too.
I thought the sphinx was pretty cool too.

Here’s the wine we tried on our visit:

2006 Troplong Mondot, St. Emilion – Absolutely beautiful nose of small dark berries, chocolate and subtle spices.  In the mouth, deep dark rich blackberry fruit, chocolate, some spice and minerality.  Very good acidity and a strong ripe very fine tannin structure.  This wine has a very long dark fruit and tannic finish.  This wine is still a very young, but it is excellent and will get better as it ages gracefully over the next decade and will drink well for two more decades past that.   A wine to look for as a gem in the cellar.

Buoyed by the fact that we were finally getting to experience harvest, we headed off to our next appointment at the famed Chateau Angelus…

Day Ten: Exploring St. Emilion and Dinner at l’Envers du Decor

It was a bit of a drive from our hotel to St. Emilion, and we had no idea what to expect.  Our tour operator had recommended that we do a guided tour of the medieval village and underground monuments.  We’re not really big “guided tour” people, but we decided it might be interesting to learn more about the area, and we were glad to learn more, since we spent a fair bit of the next two days here.

Christina in St. Emilion.
Christina in St. Emilion.
Overlooking the town.
The view overlooking the town.
Beautiful town.
A famous church steeple.

When we pulled into town, we were immediately charmed by how cute it was – it was definitely a destination worth exploring. In fact, we found ourselves wishing we had decided to just stay in St. Emilion for the last two days of our trip, as it would have made the driving a little more agreeable and it was a really enchanting spot.

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Cute cafes.
Cute cafes.
Another cafe.
Another cafe.

We started out with a trip into the catacombs and ended with a tour of a massive underground church – truly an impressive site to see.  They didn’t allow you to take photographs inside the monuments, but this gives you a feel for the style.  All of the monuments were carved into the living rock.

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We spent an afternoon the following day poking into shops and exploring through the winding streets.  My wife spotted this storefront, and insisted we take this photo:

My favorite.
My favorite champagne.

We met this guy while wandering around:

More friendly than he looks.
More friendly than he looks.
This guy is more friendly than he looks too.
This guy is more friendly than he looks too.

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And we hung out here for a while one day while waiting for dinner.  The town had something we had never experienced before – they played music throughout the streets in the early evening.  While we were wandering through town, Cat Stevens was singing “Hey baby, it’s a wild world,”  and Boston was asking to, “Let me take you home tonight…” Made the whole place feel like a laid-back party, and it was a little surreal with old American pop songs as the backdrop.

We lingered here for a while in the afternoon.
We lingered here for a while in the afternoon.

Which was a good thing, because this was the trick – our hotel was too far away to go to, and our dinner reservations were traditionally later in the evening, so we wound up with two days of long afternoons in St. Emilion, killing time.  I managed to pass a lot of time quite well browsing in the many, many wine shops in town.  It was interesting to see how many of them there were.  They were certainly hungry for business, though given my collecting habits at home and the prices of the wines now vs. on release, it didn’t make a whole lot sense, in my opinion, to buy and ship from there. But to buy and drink that night – that was a whole different story!

One of the many wine shops in St. Emilion.
One of the many wine shops in St. Emilion.

We’ll skip ahead and mention that after our afternoon tastings and after hanging out in the courtyard cafes, we enjoyed dinner at L’Envers du Decor on the first day in St. Emilion. We had seen the restaurant written up in many places, so wanted to give it a try.  It was actually a pretty casual affair, and to be quite honest, we were so tired and knew we had an hour drive back to the hotel in front of us, so we gave the rest of our bottle of wine to the nice couple at the table next to us, who had just arrived that day from Chicago to start their trip.

l'Envers du Decor.
The restaurant l’Envers du Decor.

Dinner was good though, and so was the wine.  Here’s what we had:

2005 Chateau Fontenil, Fronsac – Deep black/purple color with a dark ruby rim.  Dark blackberry and slight red currant flavors, with very bright acidity and good ripe fine grained tannic structure.  Smooth in the mouth, medium bodied, with a medium-long black fruit tannic finish.  This wine is still young, but it is already drinking well today.  Chateau Fontenil did a very nice job with their 2005 and it is a good value wine in Bordeaux.  Drink over the next ten years.

Up next – our day in reverse – going back to lunch at Les Belles Perdrix and our tour of Troplong Mondot!

Day Nine Dinner: La Grande Vigne at Les Sources de Caudalie

Okay, we admit it.  We approached yet another white tablecloth dinner with a little trepidation – more heavy food.  We were delighted to find that La Grande Vigne just did it all so perfectly – it was all so good.

THIS was the place that Christina finally had foie gras prepared the way she had been seeking it – mission accomplished.  Admittedly, at this point so many months later, we don’t remember a whole lot more about the meal, except that it was all excellent, and we left knowing it was a restaurant we’d definitely like to visit again sometime.  Even if you’re not staying on the property, the food is worth the visit to the hotel.

The fish.
The excellent turbot.
Delicious lamb.
Delicious lamb.

What we do have notes on is the wine we enjoyed at dinner.  We highly recommend it:

2009 Chateau Cantemerle, Haut-Medoc – Very subtle nose of deep red/black fruit with a hint of oak.  In the mouth, deep blackberry and a little red currant, with spices complicating it all.  Very savory in the mouth, smooth on the palate and very good acidity keeping everything lively.  Full bodied, good ripe tannin structure and a long black fruit finish.  This wine is drinking well now, but with a little more time in the cellar, this wine will be a very elegant and rich wine to savor.  This is an absolutely beautiful wine, especially for the price point.  If you are looking for an economical complex red Bordeaux wine that will age two decades, this is a must buy wine.  As good as the 2009 Cantemerle is, the 2010 is supposed to be even better, but I have not tasted it yet.  At this price point though, you can’t go wrong, buy both.

Whew. It was another long, but fascinating day of activity.  At this point, there were only two days left in the tour – a bittersweet thought.  Coming up next – we explore the right bank in St. Emilion…

Day Nine: Visit to Le Chai Furtif (The Stealth Cellar) at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

We went back to the hotel, grabbed bikes, and met Mr. Cathiard on the road leading to the Chateau.  We were doing our best to look casual and at home on the bikes – on the very gravelly road with his two enthusiastic dogs bounding along beside us – while we listened to Mr. Cathiard talk about his latest project.

Bob on his bike.
Bob on his bike.

We admit, we were sort of expecting a cellar underground in the forest, so we were listening with great intent as he described the project.  We began to realize what it really was after a few minutes though.  Not really a second label, but a second wine altogether, Chai Furtif was a winery nestled in the woods, built with the highest standards of sustainability in mind.

The Chai Furtif.
The Chai Furtif.
The dogs names were Barrel...
Their names were Barrel…
And Corkscrew.  Perfect.
And Corkscrew. Perfect.

Mr. Cathiard explained that the goal of the project was to be in balance with the forest.  The winery is built in an abandoned quarry, and built of materials that blend with its surroundings.  It’s almost spa-like, with its canopy of trees overhead, making it a very peaceful, serene place.

More art installations.  This one moved.
More art installations.
Forgive us, we can't remember the symbolism of this piece, but it's still really fun.
Forgive us, we can’t remember the symbolism of this piece, but it’s still really fun.

Technically speaking, they spared no expense to make it eco-friendly, with low energy consumption, renewable energy sources and minimal environmental impact in mind.  To that end, they use a unique system to capture the CO2 released during the fermentation, turning it into sodium bicarbonate and rendering this normally harmful bi-product, harmless.  (They have thoughts on what they will also use the sodium bicarbonate for as well – possibly in beauty products.) Everything from the extra insulation in the walls to the low consumption lighting, the solar generated energy, and the regeneration of rainwater to use in their viticulture practices, all feed into the master plan for this very thoughtful cellar venture.

A beautiful vat room.
A beautiful vat room.

Mr. Cathiard sees it as the next generation in winemaking, and we admit, it was a fascinating departure from everything we had seen so far!  At some point, we’ll have to get our hands on the wine produced here so that we can taste the fruit of all of this very diligent – and beautifully designed – labor.

Bob Watt with Daniel Cathiard of Chateau Smith Haut Lafite.
Bob Watt with Daniel Cathiard of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte.

Thank you, Mr. Cathiard, for a wonderful adventure!