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.
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…
After the missing key debacle, we raced out of the hotel and through the vineyard to make our appointment at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte – thank goodness we didn’t have far to go for this meeting! The Chateau and its surrounding area is beautiful and so relaxed – it just invited you to stay for a while – which we did, as it turns out.
The vineyard is located in the Graves region, named so for the gravelly soil in the area. They pick by hand to ensure quality, and use an optical sorting machine to further guarantee that only the best grapes make it into their blends. Smith Haut Lafitte is also one of a very few wineries to have it’s own cooperage, making barrels onsite.
Our guide was really engaging and informative – we began by hearing the history of the chateau, of course, interspersed with facts about the current family that owns the estate. In 1990, Daniel and Florence Cathiard purchased the estate and put together their winemaking team. It is a very enterprising family, as we soon learned. Daniel Cathiard is perhaps best known as a former ski champion – a member of a famous French Olympics team.
According to company history, he had taken over his father’s chain of supermarkets in 1970, transforming it into the tenth largest mass distribution group in France, with 15 hypermarkets and 300 supermarkets. At the same time, he launched and developed a chain of sporting goods shops – Go Sport – in France, Belgium, Spain, and California.
Daniel met his wife Florence while on the French Olympic ski team in 1965. She then worked with him managing Genty and Go Sport for ten years before launching her own advertising firm, later becoming Vice President of McCann Europe in 1985.
In 1990, Daniel and Florence sold all their business interests to buy Château Smith Haut Lafitte. Over a two year period, they invested massively in renovating both the winery buildings and the 18th century manor house built by George Smith, where they decided to live and to devote their energy to their newfound passion: making outstanding white and red wines.
His daughters clearly caught the entrepreneurial bug as well. Together with their husbands, one of his daughters runs the Caudalie spa and beauty and healthcare products organization, and the other runs the resort at Les Sources de Caudelie www.sources-caudalie.com, and Les Etangs de Corot, www.lesetangsdecorot.com.
We had just learned all of this, and about Daniel and Florence’s interest in collecting modern art and sculptures (there are some great pieces on the property), when Daniel Cathiard joined us in the vat room. A charming gentleman, he walked with us to the cellar and the cooperage, and finally to the tasting room – which was more like a living room, replete with leather couches.
As we tasted, we learned even more about the estate’s approach to winemaking. Mr. Cathiard calls it BioPrecision, which is essentially a way of describing their marriage of bio diversity, traditional winemaking practices such as horse ploughing, along with new innovations and technology such as a satellite imagery system, to produce wines in the most natural, respectful and precise ways possible.
It was fun to learn more, and try some wines with Mr. Cathiard – especially since we already have these wines in our cellar!
2010 Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc – Very bright floral white peaches and a little melon on the nose. In the mouth, white peaches and melon again, but with noticeable stone minerality and wonderful acidity. This wine just sings in the mouth. The wine is medium bodied and has nice ripe tannins on the long stony white fruit finish. This is an absolutely lovely white Bordeaux to drink now or to put in the cellar. Smith Haut Lafitte is more known for their red wines, but their white Bordeaux is one to look for.
2010 Smith Haut Lafitte – Beautiful blackberry and dark red bing cherry fruit on the nose. In the mouth, very dark ripe fruits of blackberry, black currants, bing cherries are combined with a good dose of minerality. This full-bodied wine has very good acidity, great structure and the ripe tannins are very fine. The wine has a nice long, sweet black-fruit stony finish. This is a stunning wine that will age gracefully for decades. Absolutely beautiful!
I have been buying the wines from Smith Haut Lafitte since the 2000 vintage. The wines consistently have beautiful fruit, wonderful minerality and a very fine tannin structure that will let them age effortlessly for decades. I believe Smith Haut Lafitte is making wines that compete directly with the First Growths and Super Seconds, for a fraction of the price. These wines are an absolute steal in price for the quality you get in the bottle. If you have not tried the wines of Smith Haut Lafitte, by all means, do it. I am very happy that I have quite a bit of their wine in my cellar. Both the red and white wines are on the must buy list.
We thought our visit was winding down, but it turns out Mr. Cathiard was just warming up. As if having had a sudden inspiration, he walked to a panel on the wall, pushed a few buttons, and we watched as the floor opened up to his private underground cellar – it was very fun and very James Bond of him. On display was an impressive array of vintages from the estate. He pointed out the 1961 vintage, which he said was the most expensive vintage of all – the vintage that convinced him to purchase the estate.
He had some other very cool art in the space, though Christina had to take a step back after looking into one particularly fun installation that appeared to go on forever.
Perhaps inspired by our enthusiasm for his secret cellar in the floor, as we prepared to depart, Mr. Cathiard asked us if we might like to go see his stealth cellar in the forest. We weren’t sure what that would be all about, but we weren’t about to say no.
Before we knew it, we were on bikes, riding through the vineyards, heading into the forest…
We had been moving so fast, we hadn’t had time to really enjoy our hotel, except for a few minutes before dinner here and there. After our visit to Chateau Haut Bailly, we were pleased to spend the rest of the day today exploring at our hotel, the beautiful Les Sources de Caudalie, which had been highly recommended by many people. Located among the vineyards at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, it was a perfect respite from all the running around we had been doing.
We enjoyed a light lunch on the terrace, watching the ducks in the pond, and then took a walk around the property, before enjoying a glorious massage at the namesake spa.
Post-rubdown, we luxuriated in the sun by the pool. Bob ran back to the room to grab some wine – and came back with a split of Krug! Of course. For once he didn’t manage to smuggle it over in his luggage – he actually managed to purchase it back when we were in Bages, and chill it in our room, all without me noticing. This is one of his favorite tricks.
All said and done, I have to say, I much prefer the Krug trick to the one he played next. We realized our afternoon in the sun had to come to a close, because we had a late afternoon appointment on the property to tour the Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte winery. Upon arriving back at the room, however, we were missing Bob’s room key. Where could it be? A frantic search ensued, as we were already running a wee bit late.
Can you guess where we found it? In his spa robe pocket, retrieved by the maids after it had traveled down the laundry chute! Mystery solved, we cleaned up as best we could and ran, breathless to our next appointment…which turned out to be another fun adventure!
As we drove along in the “mystery beast” throughout Bordeaux (more on that in a minute), Bob couldn’t help but notice a couple of spectacular cars that we had to stop and admire. His dad used to race cars like these when he was growing up, so he can never resist taking a good look. I suspect you’ll admire them too.
In the village of Bages:
In the town of St. Emillion:
At Les Sources de Caudalie:
Even these guys made us smile in Sauternes:
But what didn’t make us smile? Our rental car. We had reserved a Mercedes, since we figured we’d be spending a lot of time in the car (and an automatic, so I could also drive it if need be), but missed the fine, fine print (Mercedes “or like model”). When we arrived, of course, there was no Mercedes to be found at Europecar, and more disturbingly, no automatics either. (Yup, I’m mentioning them by name.) Instead, we got the closest possible thing they could find for us. A manual BMW, which in theory, would have been just fine. IF it hadn’t been missing the emblems on both the front AND the back of the car, and had been an automatic.
Yup, you have to be pretty cool to drive the mystery beast – they don’t let just anyone behind the wheel of this baby…!
Next week, my wife and I head to Bordeaux, sans children – for a highly-anticipated trip of wine tasting (a big thank you to my in-laws for staying with our kids!).
Although those in the industry would call our tour a “death march,” we’re quite excited by the itinerary we have lined up. The extraordinary team at Bordeaux Saveurs has helped us put together this remarkable tour, complete with a few cooking classes on estates, as well as numerous great meals.
Over roughly two weeks, we will visit:
Chateau Phelan Segur
Chateau Cos d’Estournel
Chateau Pontet Canet
Chateau Leoville Barton
Chateau Mouton Rothschild
Chateau Lynch Bages
Chateau Haut Brion
Chateau Pape Clement
Domaine de Chevalier
Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron
Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande
Chateau Haut Bailly
Chateau Smith Haut Lafite
Chateau Troplong Mondot
We will stay at the Cordeillan Bages hotel for the first part of the trip, then in a private apartment in Bordeaux proper over the weekend, and finish out our stay at les Sources de Caudalie, which friends tell us is heavenly. A big thanks to dear friend and awesome travel agent Kelly Bonewitz at Woodside Travel for her assistance pulling things together – we can’t wait to give a full report on our adventure!
Speaking of which, we have never blogged remotely before, so we’ll have to see how it goes. Given how much we’ve packed in, the updates will probably happen once we return, jet-lagged and happy…and dreaming of our return!