2016 Fete du Bordeaux

As we head into the new year, we were stunned to realize that it’s almost time for one of our favorite wine events!  Having made our New Year’s resolution to post more, we’ll start by catching up with an update from last year’s Fete du Bordeaux.

The Fete du Bordeaux always comes around in January just after the holidays.  It is not just a chance to taste the new releases from Bordeaux, but a chance to visit with the people who represent and/or own the Chateaux, many of whom we have gotten to know over the past ten years.  It is always good to catch up with them and hear about what is going on in Bordeaux.

Bob Watt, Christina Watt and Jean-Charles Cazes from Lynch Bages…our annual photo. Will be fun to look back on all of these one day!


There have been so many amazing changes that have taken place in the wineries throughout Bordeaux over the last 5 to 6 years and their wines are the better for it.  While there were many great wines produced in Bordeaux through the 80’s and 90’s, they pale in some respects to the quality that is being produced in Bordeaux today.  Today’s technology, like optical sorters and satellite imagery, were only dreams of the past.  Combine this with more rigorous vineyard management and  stricter quality standards, and the end result for consumers and collectors is consistently better wines – even in less than outstanding vintages.

This year’s Fete du Bordeaux was again held at the restaurant One Market in San Francisco and was a tasting of the new 2013 releases:

2013 Chateau Langoa Barton, St. Julien

2013 Chateau Leoville Barton, St. Julien

2013 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac

2013 Chateau Ormes de Pez, St. Estephe

2013 Chateau Figeac, St. Emilion

2013 Petit Figeac, St. Emilion

2013 Chateau La Conseillante, Pomerol

One Market Restaurant in San Francisco.


Christina and I visited Bordeaux in 2013 during the harvest.  I can tell you that it was not ideal weather for the end of the growing season or harvest, with fairly frequent rain showers throughout the region.  Unfortunately, the wines of 2013 also show the difficulty of the growing season that the winemakers had to work with.  While the growing season of 2013 may have produced poor wines if they had been made in the 70’s or 80’s, today’s improved vineyard technology and winemaking practices produced some very pleasant wines.  The 2013’s are not the big blockbuster wines of 2005, 2009 or 2010, but you won’t have to wait as long for them to mature either.

Getting started!

The wine of the flight for the 2013’s was the newcomer to the group, Chateau La Conseillante.  Michel Rolland is the consulting winemaker for Chateau La Conseillante and the wine is made from 80% Merlot and 20% Cab. Franc.  This is a very nice wine for the vintage, medium bodied, with elegant dark fruit and fairly fine tannins on the medium long finish.  (92 pts.)

As we moved into the main dining room of the restaurant, we had a nice glass of Champagne from Franck Bonville – Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs NV.  I have had this particular Champagne on several occasions and I have always enjoyed it.  It reminds me of Salon in style, but slightly smaller in stature.  It is creamy in texture with good acidity, white fruit, green apple, lemon and a chalky mineral streak running right through the medium-long finish.  This is definitely a great QPR champagne at $35. (90 pts.)

To start the dinner off we tasted the 2014 Blanc de Lynch Bages white Bordeaux, which is produced in small batches.  I have always enjoyed this wine throughout the years, and it is one of my wife’s favorite whites.  It is very crisp with honey dew melon, green apples, lemon and a slight stoniness on the nice clean finish.  It is a perfect wine for summer if you can find it.  (92 pts.)

To go with our grilled calamari salad and roasted duck dinner, we had two flights of four wines:

2005 Chateau Figeac, St. Emilion – Dark red/black fruit with a slight green pepper nose.  Nice dark fruit with good acidity, a hint of spice, medium bodied and a medium long dark fruit finish.  (92 pts.)

2005 Chateau La Conseillante, Pomerol – Very dark bing cherry and blackberry fruit nose.  Very dark fruit in the mouth, lively acidity, and very fine tannins.  Nice long dark cherry fruit finish.  This wine is already very elegant and still on the young side, with upside potential.  This wine has a long life ahead of it.  (95+ pts.)

2005 Chateau Langoa Barton, St. Julien – Ripe red cherries and some black fruit on the nose.  In the mouth, red cherries and black currant, decent acidity, but a little monolithic at this point on the medium long cherry fruit finish.  Maybe this just needs more time in the bottle.  (90 pts.)

2005 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac – Dark fruit and a little autumn leaves on the nose.  Nice dark bing cherry, some blackberry and a little walnut in the mouth.  Very nice acidity keeps this lively in the mouth, while the dark fruit continues on to a nice medium-long finish.  While there is still a fair amount of tannin here to work out, the wine is still young and should be good for the long haul.  (94+ pts.)

2000 Chateau Figeac, St. Emilion – Ripe dark red fruit on the nose.  In the mouth, red currants and cherries, with slightly grainy tannins and not quite as concentrated as the 2005.  Finishes with nice red cherry fruit of medium length.  (92 pts.)

2000 Chateau La Conseillante, Pomerol – Black currants and blackberries on the nose.  In the mouth a mixture of black currants and dark bing cherry/blackberry pie.  Good acidity and some spice notes starting to show up.  Again the elegance comes through on the medium-long dark fruit finish.  Still young, but this wine is starting to show a little of what it has in store for the patient collector.  (94 pts.)

1995 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac – Ripe dark red fruit and a little forest floor on the nose.  In the mouth, black cherries and red currants combine with roasted nuts and some spice.  Soft in the mouth with a little tannin still present.  Nice acidity and sweet dark fruit carry through to the medium-long finish.  (93 pts.)

1995 Chateau Leoville Barton, St. Juilen –  Nose of the night, with red and black fruit, forest floor and baking spices.  In the mouth, nice sweet dark cherries, red currants and some blackberry combine with grilled nuts and forest floor.  This has good acidity and is very silky in the mouth.  Very nice sweet dark fruit on the long finish.  (95 pts.)

For dessert, we had a pear brown butter tart and a wine to go with:

2007 Chateau Suduiraut, Sauternes – Nice and light melon, tangerine and a touch of honey on the nose.   Good fruit in the mouth, melon, pears  and some bees wax.  Decent acidity with a hint of spice on the medium-long sweet honey finish.  (92 pts.)

It was another wonderful evening spent with friends from afar.  While I may not be buying a large quantity of wine from the 2013 vintage, there were some good wines made that you could enjoy while you are waiting for the 05’s, 09’s and 10’s to come to maturity.

Next year, the wines of 2014 should be a noticeable step up over the 13’s.  We look forward to the next tasting in just a few short weeks!





Better Late than Never: 2015 Bordeaux Fete in San Francisco

It has been a busy year!  We are so far behind in our blog, but have every intention of making up for lost time.

To start, here’s the recap we have to add from last January’s (gasp!) Annual Bordeaux Fete.  We need to get this down for the record before next year rolls around in a few short months!

Bob Watt, Christina Watt, Jean-Charles Cazes from Lynch Bages and Nancy Rugas from Chateau Suduiraut
Bob Watt, Christina Watt, Jean-Charles Cazes from Lynch Bages and Nancy Rugas from Chateau Suduiraut.

I was very happy to be able to go this year, as I missed last year.  This year, Christina and I attended the one put on by K & L Wine Merchants and the participating Chateaux in San Francisco, since we had just moved to the Bay area. The Bordeaux Fete was at One Market Restaurant and we tasted the new 2012 releases from:

Ch. Langoa Barton, St. Julien

Ch. Leoville Barton, St. Julien

Ch. Ormes de Pez, St. Estephe

Ch. Lynch Bages, Pauillac

Petit Figeac, St. Emilion

Ch. Figeac, St. Emilion

The 2012’s while not in the same league (or price) as the 2009’s or 2010’s, they are good in their own right.  The 2012’s are medium bodied with good fruit/acid/structure and will be good to drink while you are waiting for your 2010’s to mature in your cellar.  These wines will be a pleasure to drink in the near-mid term, particularly with food.

This is always a fun event to taste the new wines and talk with the Chateaux proprietors that we have gotten to know over the years.  This year in addition to Jean-Charles Cazes from Ch. Lynch Bages and Lilian Barton-Sartorius from Ch. Leoville Barton, the event included Chateau Figeac, with proprietor Hortense Odoine Manoncourt.  We had spent some time with Hortense at Chateau Figeac on our trip to Bordeaux and it was great to see her again.

The tasting format in San Francisco is a little different than what they do in Seattle.  In San Francisco, they set up three tables with all of the new release wines being poured by the proprietors and you get to taste them over an hour time period.  After tasting the new releases, we were given a glass of non-vintage Thienot Brut Champagne as we made our way to the dinner tables.  Once at the dinner tables, the older wines were poured to enjoy with the food courses.  Here are the other wines that we tasted with the meal:

 2013 Blanc de Lynch Bages – Tangerine, lemon mineral nose.  Very nice bright clean lemony white fruit, with a little stone mixed in.  Lively acidity, smooth mouth feel, medium-light body.  Nice long lemony energetic fruit finish.  This is a very nice white Bordeaux wine that is only produced in smaller quantities, so it may not be easy to find, but is worth the effort.  I will have to track some down for the cellar.  93 pts.

2009 Figeac – Ripe black/red berry fruit nose.  This wine is lush with sweet black/red fruit, some spice and a little forest floor.  There is good acidity to the wine, medium-full bodied with lots of very fine ripe tannins (iron fist in velvet glove).  It is nice to taste a right bank right wine if a field of left banks, just for comparison.  This is a very nice wine from a great vintage.  93 pts.

2005 Langoa Barton – Subtle nose of red / black fruit.  In the mouth crunchy dark red and black berries, hints of forest floor and tobacco, with bright acidity.  Nice medium – long dark fruit finish.  91 pts.

2005 Lynch Bages – This wine has a suave nose of spicy dark cherry fruit.  In the mouth, the rich sweet dark black/red cherry fruit combines with baking spices and just a hint of leather.  The wine has very nice acidity and very fine ripe tannins.  The wine has great balance to it and a very long sweet spicy dark fruit finish.  This wine is still very young, but is just starting to show what it has in store for a very long future.  The 2005 Lynch Bages can be enjoyed now with air time, but will reward further cellaring.  It wine will gain even more complexity as it is still on the uphill climb to maturity.  Drink now or over the next three decades.  95+ pts.

2003 Figeac – Very ripe red and black fruit nose.  In the mouth, very ripe dark red bing cherry and black berries, decent acidity, with a very tannic fine grained structure.  Medium – long very ripe dark fruit finish.  Over the course of the evening, the wine seemed to lose some of it’s acidity that supported the very ripe fruit.  I would drink the 2003 sooner rather than later, over the next 10 years or so.  91 pts.

1995 Lynch Bages – Rich dark cherry fruit nose.  In the mouth, plush sweet dark red / black fruit combine with forest floor and baking spices.  This wine has good acidity, soft mostly resolved tannins and a long beautiful dark spicy fruit finish.  The wine is drinking really well now and will continue to do so over the next 10-15 years.  If you have some of the ’95 in the cellar, open one now and enjoy it.  94+ pts.

1999 Leoville Barton – Black cherry fruit and spice nose.  In the mouth, very concentrated dark black cherries, spices and a little forest floor.  Nice acidity, with some very fine grained ripe tannins still present.  The wine has a very nice sense of balance, with a very long dark sweet black fruit finish.  This wine is drinking really well right now, but I think it will continue to improve. 94+ pts.

2004 Suduiraut – Orangey-yellow in color, nose of very ripe fruit and butterscotch.  In the mouth, again very ripe tropical fruit, over ripe melon, honey and butterscotch.  This wine is too ripe for my taste, it doesn’t have the acid to back up the sweetness, so it comes across as heavy.  Medium length very sweet finish.  82 pts.

It just so happened that the same day as the dinner, the Seattle Seahawks made the finals for the SuperBowl.  Since Seattle was the next stop on the tour for our winemaker friends, we zipped into the city early to buy them a little something so they could show their support at their next dinner.

Jean-Charles Cazes of Cht. Lynch Bages, Christina Watt, and Lilian Barton-
Jean-Charles Cazes of Ch. Lynch Bages, Christina Watt, and Lilian Barton-Sartorius from Ch. Leoville Barton. They were very good sports about showing their Seahawks support!

Too bad the Seahawks didn’t pull through this year – but perhaps those hats will come in handy again next year! It will certainly be here before we know it…

Double-Blind Tasting – Bordeaux from 1990 and Prior

Just when you thought we were done posting about Bordeaux for a while, I thought I’d throw in a review from a couple months back when my wine group did a double-blind tasting of Bordeaux wines from 1990 and prior.  My wine group of eight guys has been meeting monthly for about nine years now.  The host picks the wine theme and most of our tastings are double-blind.  This time, our wonderful host, Bill Schallert, invited the wives to join the group, so my wife, Christina, was happy to come and taste some swill.  Since we had just returned a month prior from our two week trip to Bordeaux, we absolutely loved the idea of being able to taste some more mature Bordeaux wines, as most of the wines you get to taste at the Chateaux are on the younger side.

I have always really liked tasting blind, or better yet, double-blind.  For those that don’t know the difference between blind and double-blind:  a blind tasting is when you know the wines that are being served, but you do not know the order.  A double-blind tasting is when you don’t know what wines are being served, but they may meet a category (Bordeaux 1990 and prior), and you also don’t know the order.  I like blind tastings because I consider myself a perpetual student of wine, and I don’t want my opinion to be potentially swayed by any labels.

See? You can tell we tasted them blind by the brown wrapping still hanging on to the bottle of Palmer.
See? You can tell we tasted them blind by the brown wrapping still hanging on to the bottle of Palmer.    A good night!

Here are the wines and the order that we tasted them in:


2003 Chateau Raveneau – Monts Mains, Chablis – Nice melon fruit a little sea breeze and oyster shell minerality on the nose.  In the mouth, ripe melon, white peach and a little spice, with  limestone and oyster shells.  Good acidity for a 2003 Chablis, that keeps everything lively on the medium-long spicy white fruit and ocean air finish.  Raveneau makes some absolutely wonderful Chablis, even in a hot year like 2003.  This was a great way to start. (93 pts.)

This is always an excellent white producer.
This is such an excellent producer of Chablis.

Flight #1

1989 Chateau Pichon Lalande, St. Julien – Classic stinky feet Bordeaux nose with a little bit of Band-Aid jumps from the glass, sweet dark berry fruit, dry leaves, forest floor and baking spices.  Medium-full bodied, with good acidity, resolved tannins and a nice long dark fruit finish.  This is a classic mature Bordeaux, that is drinking very well right now.  The ’89 Pichon Lalande is on a faster track and drinking more mature than most of the other 89’s that I have had.  I would venture to say that it will not last nearly as long either.  While a lot of the 89’s will continue to improve through 2020, I will probably finish off my ’89 Pichon Lalande before 2020.  I don’t see it getting any better than where it is at present. (94 pts.)

1990 Chateau Prieure Lichine, Margaux – Darker berry nose with a little Band-Aid again.  In the mouth, darker small berry fruit, black currants, slight bit of spice, decent acidity and surprisingly assertive tannins.  Medium-full bodied and a long dark tannic fruit finish, that doesn’t have the sweetness of fruit the first wine had.  This is a big and dark wine, but it doesn’t give you the pleasure in the finish. (89 pts.)

1981 Chateau Gruaud Larose, St. Julien – Dark earthy red/black berry fruit nose, with just a hint of green bell pepper, but not in a bad way.  In the mouth, deep dark red bing cherry and earthy blackberry fruit, baking spices, slight bit of forest floor and still fairly tannic.  Full bodied and a long sweet dark tannic fruit finish.  This is a big wine that is surprisingly youthful and still drinking young.  I could not believe that it was from the ’81 vintage when it was revealed, it tasted more like a ’96.  (93 pts.)

Flight #2

1982 Chateau Palmer, Margaux -Very nice spicy dark fruit and dark chocolate nose.  Very smooth in the mouth, small ripe dark bing cherries and blackberries, lots of baking spices, slight bit of forest floor and resolved sweet tannins.  Full bodied, sweet/spicy dark red/black fruit just singing on the very long fruit filled finish.  This wine is drinking very well today and even beat the ’83 Palmer that I had about a year ago.  I don’t see this wine getting any better than it is today, so no reason to wait, but no hurry either if well stored.  (96 pts.)

1989 Chateau Angelus, St. Emilion – Very dark cherry fruit and chocolate nose.  In the mouth, ripe black bing cherries and very dark bittersweet chocolate, good acidity and with just the slightest hint of baking spices.  Full bodied and a nice long very dark chocolate fruit filled very tannic finish.  This wine was very tannic and seemed a little closed in on its self, it just was not singing.  You could see the huge potential, but it was begging for another decade in the cellar to really show its stuff.  I know the person who brought the wine bought it on release and it has been well-stored since, so maybe it just needed a lot more air and/or more years in the cellar.  (95 pts.) now with upside.

After tasting the 1989 Angelus, I mentioned to my wife “This wine tastes like a wine we just had in Bordeaux,” it just seemed so distinct.  The others at the table heard me mention this to Christina, so they asked me what I thought the wine was.  I said I didn’t know the vintage, but the characteristics of the wine reminded me of the ’05 and ’06 Chateau Angelus we had a month ago.  I was shocked to see it was an ’89 Angelus, but glad to see that my flavor memory recall was working.  I guess I learned something on that trip (and practice makes perfect, right??).  The ’05 and ’06 Angelus wines were some of the highlights of our wonderful trip.

1989 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac – Dark cherry and bitter chocolate nose.  Smooth in the mouth, with dark black cherries, bitter sweet chocolate and some spice.  Good acidity and still very tannic on the long dark fruit finish.  This wine must have been resting in a very cold, dark cellar and is in need of another 5+ years to show what it has to offer.  A very nice wine, but will not give up what it has right now.  (93 pts.) with upside.

1983 Chateau Magdelaine, St. Emilion – Dark cherry fruit and spice with some dark chocolate on the nose.  Very smooth in the mouth, beautiful ripe dark bing cherries, lots of baking spices and a little forest floor adds to the wonderful complexity.  Fully resolved tannins, medium-full bodied and an absolutely beautiful long sweet dark spicy fruit finish.  This is my first time having wine from this producer and they knocked it out of the park with the ’83.  This is a gorgeous wine today, so if you own it, open a bottle.  You won’t be disappointed.  (96 pts.)

2005 Chateau Rieussec, Sauternes – Sweet pineapple, some melon and honey on the nose.  Very sweet pineapple in the mouth, with some spiced honey and decent acidity.  The very sweet finish is long but the honey aspect is just a little too cloyingly sweet for my taste.  It is a nice, well-made wine, but I would prefer a little more acidity to counter the sweetness.  (92 pts.)

All in all, it was a very nice evening with a great group of guys (and girls).  Wouldn’t mind repeating it again soon…!

Day Eleven Dinner, The Last Supper: Restaurant Hostellerie de Plaisance

After our hours-long cooking class, we were wishing we could’ve stayed in St. Emilion for the night, but it would’ve put us even farther from the airport bright and early the next morning.  So instead, we spent the rest of the afternoon shopping in town until a driving rain forced us into the hotel lounge two hours before dinner, where we happily played backgammon, drank cocktails and soaked up the beautiful atmosphere of the hotel (we have a running score tally on backgammon that goes back years!).

Bob making a serious move.
Making a serious move.
Christina in the beautiful lounge.
Christina in the beautiful lounge.
I took several pictures of this room...
I took several pictures of this room…Christina said her designer friends would appreciate it.
View looking back towards the bar.
View looking back towards the bar.
The view looking out onto the terrace.
The view looking out onto the terrace.

At one point, we thought we might have dinner on the spectacular terrace of the hotel in the evening, but the on-again, off-again rain that day pretty much nixed that option.  The main dining room of the hotel was quite a sumptuous and posh affair.  From our vantage point, we admit, we also had a great people-watching view.

We booked the reservation thinking we'd be eating out here on the terrace.
We booked the reservation thinking we’d be eating out here on the terrace.
It would've been great to look out over this view.
It would’ve been great to look out over this view.

But the best views were probably of the waitstaff.  Clearly, this establishment takes its service seriously – you could tell by the level of attentiveness and attention to detail.  We went easy on the wine that night – all the activities of the day and the long drive back to our hotel made that an easy decision, though somewhat bittersweet, as it was our last night of the trip.

The formal dining room.
The formal dining room.

The food was meticulously prepared and delicious, though we do have to say, it was as expected, but nothing we had that evening seemed to elevate our dining experience in any transcendent way. Bordeaux 2013 3577 Bordeaux 2013 3579 Bordeaux 2013 3582 Bordeaux 2013 3583 We had three different wines from their pairing menu with dinner:

2012 Chateau Turcaud Bordeaux Blanc – Very bright lemony white fruit that is very clean and fresh.  This is a nice dry wine with a long stony white fruit finish and brisk acidity keeping everything lively in the mouth.

2007 Chateau Milens, St. Emilion – Dark blackberries, dark chocolate and subtle minerality.  Good acidity but slightly drying tannins in the mouth.  Medium bodied and a medium length black fruit finish.  This is a good inexpensive red Bordeaux wine with a lively finish, but it just lacks the polish of the better classified Chateaux.

2009 Chateau Lyonnat, St. Emilion – Black in color with a red rim.  Deep rich dark blackberries and black currants, with a little minerality coming through.  Medium bodied and good acidity, with noticeable but very fine tannins.  Silky smooth in the mouth, with a medium-long black fruit finish and a snap of acid and tannins at the end.  This is a very nice wine that is lively in the mouth and still just a baby.  I would imagine that you could find it for a bargain of a price, especially compared to the other 2009 classified Bordeaux wines.

Turns out there were two table-side experiences offered here in a way we hadn’t seen presented before.  In addition to the ubiquitous cheese trolley, this restaurant also had the most fanciful dessert trolley with enormous lollipops and glass cylinders full of candies in every color of the rainbow – our kids would have swooned over it.  My wife wound up falling in  love with the tea trolley, however.  I can honestly say that I have never seen a tea trolley to this extent before – you could have used the trolley as a duck blind.  They offered a variety of fresh herbs, which they picked from pots on the trolley and brewed at the table.  Her lemongrass tea was pretty fantastic, I admit.

The kids would've loved this candy cart.
The kids would’ve loved this candy cart.
Christina loved this tea trolley.
Christina loved this tea trolley.

All good things must come to an end, I suppose.  So, for now, this is the end of our Bordeaux travel tales.  But of course, we have another adventure close at hand – we look forward to telling you more about it very soon!  In the meantime, there’s plenty of wine to drink and fun experiences to share here at home…

A beautiful place to spend our last evening in Bordeaux.
A beautiful place to spend our last evening in Bordeaux.

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.

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!