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The Dassault-Rothschild relationship

A month or two ago, during the primeurs, I noticed something very curious regarding one of the ‘bundling’ deals which, in case you are unfamiliar with the term, is where the sale of one popular wine is tied in with the sale of another less popular wine. The first example to spring to mind is the Rieussec-Lafite relationship, whereby the sales of Rieussec (a high-quality Sauternes, but still a difficult sell in today’s sugar-averse market) are tied to sales of Lafite and Carruades. If you’re a merchant looking for some of the latter wines, which should turn a handsome profit, you have to take some of the Sauternes as well. Bordeaux négociants deny the tie-in is that strong, but the British merchants I have spoken to about it are pretty adamant the system exists as described.

During the Bordeaux 2011 primeur campaign Nick Stephens wrote of the Lafite bundles “to receive any sort of allocation of Lafite UK Merchants are being asked to commit to buying Rieussec, L’Evangile and Dassault“, Initially I suggested to Nick on Twitter that he meant Duhart-Milon (another Rothschild property) rather than Dassault, which is owned by the Dassault family, who made their considerable wealth in aviation engineering. But as it turned out nick was correct, and I was wrong; there seemed to be an unexplained relationship between the Dassaults and the Rothschilds, although no-one quite knew why or how.

Suddenly, all has become clear. It’s all down to a business deal of course, in this case relating to something I wrote in my recently published Dassault profile. There I wrote “rumours that circulated in 2010 that he was about to buy La Croix de Gay and La Fleur de Gay from Alain Raynaud seem to have amounted to nothing“, but it is now clear there have been developments. Alain Raynaud, seeking an exit from his part-ownership of the Croix de Gay/Fleur de Gay properties, has sold his 6-hectare share in the estate to the Rothschild family, leaving just 4 hectares in the hands of his sister. The Rothschilds, however, faced some competition from Laurent Dassault, who was keen to acquire a Pomerol property, but the Rothschilds gave him a sweetener to secure the Croix de Gay vineyards (which will be absorbed into L’Evangile, the Rothschild property in Pomerol). Dassault gained a 5% stake in L’Evangile and Rieussec (he already owns a 5% stake of Cheval Blanc, L’Evangile’s neighbour) and……the clincher perhaps……tied distribution of his own wines with those of the Rothschild family.

So that explains the 2011 Dassault-Rothschild bundling, and we will no doubt see more of this in future campaigns and sales. It also looks like we will also see increased production of L’Evangile in the years to come, and perhaps a lot less Croix de Gay/Fleur de Gay, the Raynaud estate having just shrunk in size by 60%! I will update my Dassault profile as soon as possible. My Croix de Gay and L’Evangile profiles are still works in progress, shall we say!

Jean-Pierre Faure Retires

Jean-Pierre Faure, the chef de cave at Château La Tour Blanche, is retiring this year.

After 37 years working at La Tour Blanche, Jean-Pierre has decided that 2011 was his final vintage – not a bad vintage to go out on, I would say. Especially when viewed as one-third of a fine Sauternes triumvirate also including 2009 and 2010.

It is perhaps not well known outside Bordeaux, but La Tour Blanche is home to an agricultural school (alongside the château and wine, and the ‘white tower’ of course, there are buildings that do resemble a ‘school’ – for UK readers think Grange Hill, rather than Harry Potter). Jean-Pierre graduated from this very school with a technical diploma in viticulture and oenology in 1971, prior to taking up work in Blaye, where his family owned some vines.

He then worked at Caillou in Barsac from 1972 to 1974. And on September 15th 1974 he took up a position of chef de cave at La Tour Blanche. He retires this week, on June 30th. After more than three decades of shaping the wines of La Tour Blanche he hands over responsibility to Philippe Pelicano (pictured above, left, with Jean-Pierre Faure on the right), another graduate (from the 1996 vintage!) of the school. The two have been working together at La Tour Blanche for more than ten years, so I don’t expect to see any sudden shift in style or deterioration in quality.

Naturally I will be updating my La Tour Blanche profile with regard to this development; an update was coming soon as part of my current programme of Sauternes and Barsac overhauls.

Terroirs Originels

This week’s wine of the week was the 2010 Morgon Grands Cras Vieilles Vignes, made by Laurent Gauthier, a sample sent to me by Terroirs Originels, of which Laurent is a member.

This was the first I had heard of Terroirs Originels, even though I see they were formed in 1997. I suspect, perhaps, if I had more of a Burgundy or Beaujolais focus I would have heard of them before now? They are a group of artisan-vignerons (their choice of words, not mine) from the Beaujolais and Mâcon appellations; the mutual draw was not just the need to market themselves and their wines, although that has to be part of it, but a shared respect for their terroirs, and the expression of that terroir through sensitive winemaking. Or, as they put it, the “savoir faire” of the artisan-vigneron.

I wasn’t convinced by these words; they, and the incredibly slick website linked above, felt more like the work of a PR agency than a group of artisans. But that’s just me, Mr Cynical. Putting my doubts to one side I tasted the wine, and found all three to be beyond my expectations. These are wines with dark, fresh and convincing fruit, with none of the confected, yeast-derived aromas that marks cheaper, more comercial Beaujolais. Alongside the wine from Laurent Gauthier, these two were also pretty good:

Gérard Charvet Moulin-à-Vent La Réserve d’Amelie 2010: Gérard Charvet has 14 hectares of vines acros five lieux-dits. Planting density is high, at 12000 vines per hectare. Fermentation is in temperature-controlled stainless steel, with a nine-month élevage in old barrels and vats. The cuvée is named for his daughter. Bottled under natural cork. A vibrant colour with moderate intensity. Soft plum fruit here, ill-defined at first but firming up and delineating nicely with a little time in the glass, revealing little complexities of tobacco leaf and smoky charcoal. A moderate weight at the start, holding up nicely through the middle, reserved, fresh, a gentle texture within a good frame of acidity. There is a really attractive and supple texture to it, but there is vigour and cut underneath as well. Lively, lightly mineral, certainly showing more upright structure than the soft fruit on the nose suggested, and this shows well in the finish. Defined, firm and grippy. Alcohol 13%. 15.5/20 (July 2012)

Robert Perroud Brouilly L’Enfer des Balloquets 2010: A domaine that has been in the Perroud family since 1789. The vines are situated around the Perroud residence at the foot of Mont Brouilly, on south-facing slopes with an incline of up to 40%. The fruit is harvested into 50kg trays, and then fermented using carbonic maceration, with an élevage in wood. Bottled under agglomerate cork. A vibrant hue here, slightly less intense colour, but brighter style. The nose is certainly vibrant, with fresh and stony fruit definition, framing notes of cherry and loganberry, the fruit very confident in character. The structure in the mouth has a remarkable appeal, very bright and lively, with fresh and supple and slightly juicy fruit character wrapped around a sensitive central frame. The finish is appropriately stone-bound, fresh and grippy, but with a really impressive broad fruit texture. A very attractive wine. Alcohol 12.5% 16/20 (July 2012)

Three good wines. Yet more evidence that underdog appellations such as Muscadet and Beaujolais can be valuable sources of great drinking pleasure.

Bordeaux Pocket Guide: Now an iBook

At last – I can finally confirm that my little 2012 Pocket Guide to Bordeaux is available as an iBook!

This means that my early promises that the book would be available in both Kindle and iBook versions have come true, and I don’t have to backtrack and apologise for misleading people. Phew! The Kindle version is available from Amazon (obviously!), and is more than a quid cheaper than asking price for the old-fashioned printed-on-paper version. Both can be bought from the UK Amazon site. I would also like to thank Liberace0425 (errr….a pianist, perhaps?) who wrote a very nice review on Amazon, part of which I reproduce here:

The guide contains cut-down info on most major Chateaux as well as Chris’ picks for value etc. I think the vintage guides are very good too and refreshingly honest where most critics get carried away with the hype. It also contains info on the recently released (but disappointing) 2011 en primeur campaign too, so it’s bang up to date, at the time of reviewing anyway. There’s also some info at the back on cellar basics such as storing, buying, serving etc. Again, Chris’s unpretentious style makes these worth reading even if you think you know it all already.

I was also delighted that Jim Budd reviewed the book a few weeks ago. Jim finishes his review with:

Dr Kissack’s Bordeaux guide is attractively produced and well written with his customary trenchant views.

Doctor Kissack? So formal!! :-) Formal or not, both reviews are much appreciated.

Anyway, back to the iBooks version, which is readable on an iPad (not iPhones as far as I am aware – but I’m willing to be put straight if I have this wrong). This can be located in iTunes – I found it simply by searching for “kissack bordeaux”.

Just a quick recap on the book; it’s a pocket guide, covering many different aspects of Bordeaux, and isn’t meant to deal with anything in encyclopedic depth, but is meant to be accessible and easy to dip in and out when the reader has a few spare minutes. I hope it’s a suitable primer to the region for those just getting into Bordeaux, as well as including lots of ‘latest news’ for those already familiar with it. More details on the contents can be found in this previous post.

Gimmick Alert – Underwater Élevage

We all love a story of ancient treasures, long-lost, found again. Whether it’s the Antikythera mechanism, or ancient coins (curious coincidence – this report includes comments from curator of archaeology at Manx National Heritage Allison Fox, who was in my A-level Physics class for a year back in the 1980s – it’s a small world) or rare Roman armour, it doesn’t really matter. You don’t have to be an academic specialising in ancient knowledge of astronomy or a military historian to understand the special significance of such finds.

So too with ancient bottles. Occasionally a shipwreck with a few intact bottles turns up. One has been in the news in the UK recently, with the forthcoming auction of bottles found at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Opinion on the quality of such bottles can vary. In the last few weeks they have been described by Tom Stevenson as being for “historical interest, not pleasure”, but speaking last year of bottles from the same find, Essi Avellan MW tasted them and declared them to be “very much alive and remarkably fresh”. Whether or not the quality is good, however, we can be reasonably certain that the prices these bottles will fetch are likely to be very high. Old, rare, shipwrecked bottles clearly generate some interest. We are fascinated by the story, and I for one am prepared to ‘buy into’ the story. In other words, part of me understands why people want these bottles, in the same way I can understand why others find ancient coins and other treasure troves to be of interest.

But what about bottles submerged not centuries ago, and not because of some fateful storm and shipwreck, but on the whim of the winemaker? Do these incite the same interest?

Franck Labeyrie, proprietor of Château du Coureau in Bordeaux, already has a track record of selling wine that has been submerged, the cuvée in question a white wine which sees out six months on the sea bed in the famous lagoon at Arcachon. He has been experimenting with more extreme submersions recently though, with an attempt to sink bottles into an Atlantic trench at a depth of 1000 metres. Reading this report (in French) it seems as though he failed at his first attempt, having experienced difficulties, first with the increased pressure at 200 metres dislodging the cork, secondly a technical difficulty with the robot submersible. Not to be dissuaded, he will try again. The ‘experiment’ is bankrolled by Michel Rolland, a family friend, who I assume is content to pay for the second try. In the meantime though, my ‘gimmick’ alarm bells are ringing very loudly indeed. Especially when I learn that the wine he sinks in Arcachon sells for 2-3 times the usual price.

More recently, the team from Château Larrivet-Haut-Brion have been trying, but this time not with bottles, but with a tiny wooden cask, as reported here (in French again). Remarkably, Bruno Lemoine, director of the château, claims he was inspired by stories of wines aging well at sea (Bandol, Madeira, the wines of Cos d’Estournel, etc.). Somebody should tell him the wines were on a ship at the time though, not thrown overboard! The 56-litre barrel seems to have been lined with stainless steel, nevertheless – surprise, surprise – the Cuvée Neptune as it has been named is better than the wine aged on land in a similarly small cask. Naturally it seems to have enjoyed some ‘osmosis’ with the sea, no doubt picking up some delicious salty flavours along the way. Needless to say, my gimmick alarm is going like the clappers at this one.

If you were a winemaker, would any of this convince you to begin aging your wine underwater? And as a consumer, would you be prepared to shell out more for Cuvée Neptune against Cuvée Tellus, the wine from the barrel stored on land?