Thursday, 2 July 2015

Wine Travel: Wine Tasting Tour in Bordeaux with 20h33

Chateau Le Pin - makes some of the most expensive wine in the world
You want to visit Bordeaux, don't you? Of course you do. Bordeaux is home to some of the greatest wines produced in the world. Not to mention having incredibly picturesque landscape and being littered with draw-dropping Chateaus that would make even the wealthiest oligarch green with envy.

Arriving in style...
So, you head to Bordeaux. You want to travel around in style, don't you? Of course you do. You could do this by chartering a helicopter and using it to ferry you around in between vineyards... (we did actually see this happen - see right for evidence!)

But this is all a little brash, not to mention being rather expensive; surely it would be nicer to be taken around this glorious area in a converted 1971 VW camper van, guided by your very own private tour guide and translator who can get you access to sites that you would never normally be able to visit...? 

Well, this is exactly what 20h33a small independent wine wholesale firm based in St. Emilion, offer.

The Combi

20h33 has two tremendous assets; firstly, its ebullient and quintessentially-French Managing Director Jean-Benoit (JB) Auzely. 

JB is a larger-than-life and incredibly amiable tour guide with a real passion for wine and for people. Everyone in the Bordeaux wine trade knows him and he has lots of contacts with Chateaux and wine makers, allowing you to see the real Bordeaux - not just what the tourists see.

Its second asset is "the Combi", AKA the van du vins (get it?!). Cruising around Bordeaux in this beauty makes it all the more special; the van even has a moustache painted on the front of it from when JB did Movember last year! Everywhere we went we found tourists taking pictures of us and the Combi - it made me feel like a minor celebrity...

Our trip

We spent two days' exploring St. Emilion and Pomerol on Bordeaux's 'Right Bank' earlier this month and were treated to some incredible experiences. The Right Bank of Bordeaux is known for being Merlot-dominant in its blends, giving all those Merlot-haters (sorry Miles) a problem, as this area contains some of the most legendary vineyards in the whole world.

We visited four Chateaux with JB over the two days and got to meet the proprietors and wine-makers, allowing us to ask questions (usually through JB, as our French is merde at best) and find out all about the wine making process and the wines produced in these great vineyards. The highlights for me were:

Chateau de Candale (Grand Cru, St. Emilion)
This tasting was memorable as we were allowed to taste the individual wines (Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon) out of the barrels from the different parcels of land in the estate before they have been blended up. Here is where you can see the real artistry of the winemaker in Bordeaux; the selection of the make up of the blends is a vital part of the wine-making process. 

What proportion of the grapes should be used in the blend? Which sites would work best together? The other very interesting aspect of Chateau de Candale is that it is owned by a family whose primary income is as Coopers, ie: they produce barrels. 

Within the cellar at Candale the different sites are not only kept separate but they are also stored in specific oak barrels, which have been prepared to different specifications, to produce different levels of oaky, toasty, loveliness. Seeing all of the considerations that have to be thought of in this process brings it home to you just what wizards these men/women are.

Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé, St. Emilion)
At Chateau de Ferrand (which is owned by the family Bic, of pen and lighter fame) we were treated to a vertical tasting by the winery's on-site sommelier. The fascination here was to see how vintages differed from each other. 

We started with the 2007 which was full of Merlot-influenced strawberry notes with some accompanying sweet spice and smokey aromas. It felt a little one-dimensional and probably needs a little more time to develop its secondary characteristics. This was followed up by the 2006 which was a lot more ready to drink, it was a rather more delicate wine with less fruit, more sweet spice and just a touch of some floral notes. 

Interestingly, we then tried the 2005 (2005 as a vintage has been receiving a lot of attention recently), and on the nose it was nice and open with soft, juicy red cherry fragrances, however when tasting it was still quite closed with an astringency from tannins. We felt that this wine needs even more time to really reach its peak - probably another five years.

Chateau de Ferrand was reclassified as a Grand Cru Classé in the recent 2012 St. Emilion classification so I would expect to see the prices for their wines from 2012 onwards rise sharply. 20h33 were recently selling their 2008 for £21.90 on their website.

Chateau Bellegrave (Pomerol)

As well as exploring St. Emilion, JB made a point of also taking us around its neighbour, Pomerol. 

We were taken to a lovely winery still held privately by the Bouldy family. The head of the family, Jean-Marie, gave us a really detailed tour of the facilities and spoke with a great passion about the importance of listening to and respecting the terroir, the vines and the environment in general. 

We tried a couple of his wines, starting with the 2012 which had buckets of juicy red fruits with a slight touch of mint on it from the Cabernet Franc in the blend. On the mouth it has a really silky smooth feel, with flavours of juicy red cherry and strawberries. There weren't many secondary characteristics given how young the wine was, but this was a very pleasing wine. 

Next up was the 2010 which had a slightly smoky bacon flavour on the nose, the red fruits were much less pronounced. On tasting there were more noticeable tannins, which were still waiting to integrate, giving the feeling that this wine will be one to save for the long-run. These were some of the best wine that we drunk on the trip, so much so that I bought a magnum (everything tastes better from a magnum) of the 2005. Really looking forward to tucking into that!

Oh my...

Whilst driving around JB made a point of driving us past some of the most famous Chateaus on the Right Bank, including: Petrus, Chateau Angelus, Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval Blanc. These were beautiful sites and it was nice to say that I've seen them; but it also demonstrated how bizarre the world of wine can be. 

The best example I saw was Chateau Cheval Blanc whose wines sell for many hundreds of pounds a bottle, which is divided by a small road from another producer, Chateau Dominique, whose wines sell for c. £50 a bottle. 

In Bordeaux, it is the wine-maker and Chateau who are famous (as opposed to Burgundy, where it is the vineyard itself); however, with terroir being so important to wine it does seem incredible that a small road in between two vineyards can equate to a price differential of 1000%.

If you are thinking about making a visit to Bordeaux and plan on trying some wine tasting out then I would wholeheartedly recommend contacting JB. He can put together bespoke Bordeaux tour packages for you based on your requirements for duration/budget.

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