Izak Litwar (La Fleur) was visiting from Denmark so I decided to take him somonewhere other than prestigious classified growths (yawn...).
We started off by going along the Route de Labarde in the southern Haut-Médoc. This road runs parallel to the Garonne on a strip of land that is the cradle of Médoc wine. The riche alluvial soil, called palus, is very fertile and it was only logical that vineyards should first be planted close to the river, from which the wine could be easily shipped. This road is beautiful and mysterious, with a series of palatial 17th century châteaux. The road starts in Parempuyre and goes to Macau.
From Macau we went to visit the Fort Médoc in Cussac:
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After a brief visit we drove around the Moulis appellation (everyone finished harvesting last week) and then went to Lamarque, where we took a ferry across the estuary to Blaye.
We visited the Citiadelle de Blaye, one of the most attractive sights in the Bordeaux region and then had lunch in town with a 50 cl. bottle of 2003 Ch. Monconseil Gazin, Premières Côtes de Blaye, which was drinking very well now, with ripe strawberry flavors and a good mineral aftertaste.
We then drove through Fronsac, crossed the city of Libourne and took part in a Portes Ouvertes ("open doors" days, when the châteaux welcome the general public) in the Graves de Vayres region (Just west of Libourne: http://www.greatwinecapitals.com/bordea ... g_map.html)
As much as I've criss-crossed the Bordeaux vineyards, I've rarely been to the Graves de Vayres appellation.
This appellation was well-known at one time for its dry and semi-sweet white wines, and shipped a good part of production to Germany (the fact that there was some confusion between "Graves" and Graves de Vayres" didn't hurt...).
But after the winter of 1956 when the vines froze, the Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc vines were replaced by red wine varieties, because that was where the demand was.
The Graves de Vayres currently produce 80% red wines and 20% white wines.
Izak and I stopped into the Maison du Vin, located right next to the magnificent Château de Vayres (http://www.chateaux-france.com/vayres/).
This is a tiny place with a good cross-section of wines and a friendly staff of 1.
We tasted 3 whites and 3 reds. I bought a couple of bottles of 2004 Ch. Goudichot white, 2004 Ch. Pichon Bellevue white, 2001 Ch. Pichon Bellevue cuvée prestige red, and a very unusual 2002 Ch. Canteloup "cuvée passée en fût de chêne" with the most incredible bright cherry flavor I have ever encountered in a wine. Izak is taking a bottle back to Copenhagen to confound his friends at a blind tasting ))).
Izak and I went on to visit 5 châteaux :
La Hosanne: they have a very curious white (100% Sémillon) that is fermented and aged in barrel, sees no sulfur whatsoever, and undergoes malo-lactic fermentation! I thought it was OK if offbeat, but Izak did not like it. Their red was rather uninteresting.
Pichon Bellevue: this is one of the best-known wines in the appellation. We had tasted their wines at the Maison du Vin, so sampled just their Cuvée Elisée red (OK, but a little overdone in terms of oak and trying to be what it is not) and their 2004 Cuvée Milady, a semi-sweet white wine that had astonishing aromatics, more to Izak's taste than mine.
Le Tertre is not far away, but they make ho-hum wines that age too quickly.
We then crossed the Libourne Bordeaux road to visit 2 estates in St. Germain du Puch.
Beaumard is run by an enthusiastic young man who makes very good aromatic whites and rustic, but vinous reds. When you consider that these cost 3 and 5 euros per bottle, they represent truly excellent value for money!
du Petit Puch: this estate was recently completely romodeled by the new owner who made his money in information technology. This wine is fascinating and very promising. It has tremendous blackberry flavor and good tannin. I bought a few bottles and want to follow this estate. The wine is more expensive than the others, but worth every penny of it.
At dinner, we had
1999 Château Pichon Bellevue, Cuvée Milady, semi-sweet. This had gained complexity from bottle age and made a delicious apéritif wine. Good stuff. Not heavy, aromatic.
2000 Château Bois Saint Martin, Pessac Léognan: This estate is located just across the road from Malartic Lagravière. 2000 was their first vintage. I caught a slight whiff of greenness on the nose, but otherwise a very good wine with well-focused fruit and good ageing potential. I think we'll be hearing more about this estate in the future.
1999 Château Pibran, Pauillac, cru bourgeois: It has been years since I had this wine, and did not realize that it was an Axa estate. I came away with a tremendously postive opinion of it, thinking it could fully hold its own against a tasting of the twelve Pauillac 5th growths. The color was much younger than its age, and there was lots going on in the bouquet: crushed blackurrant leaves, lead, tobacco leaves... The wine was even better on the palate with a long aftertaste of traditional meaty, honest-to-God claret that I just love. A wonderful discovery.
Axa bought the neighboring estate (La Tour Pibran), built a new winery, and has begun to make both Pibran and La Tour Pibran there. I hope they maintain the same standards.....