In June, we took some clients on our annual Cru Wine Investment weekend in Bordeaux.
The weather was immaculate, warm and sunny, which was lucky considering a hail storm had swept through only days before, ruining vineyards from Pessac to the Cote de Blaye, and heavy rain storms loomed on our departure. Bordeaux is a magnificent city, built in part on the wealth of the wine trade. Honey coloured limestone glows in the evening light as crowds of locals, students and a few tourists like ourselves fill the streets each day, promenading or sitting outside the plethora of bars and restaurants, giving the city a warm lively atmosphere. As our guests arrived on the Thursday evening we partook of alfresco dining on the Place du Tourny, opposite the magnificent Opera, and enjoyed great food and wine – a theme that would continue throughout the weekend. Friday morning saw us congregate outside our boutique hotel on Rue Montesquieu, where our chauffeur awaited to whisk us off to the Medoc.
If you have never driven from central Bordeaux to the vineyards before, it is quite an experience, down a jumble of small cobbled streets and eventually onto small country lanes. After a short while of driving through lush farming country, enormous white chateaux pop up incongruously by the side of the road denoting centuries of wealth generated from the surrounding vineyards.
Our first stop was the magnificent Chateau Margaux, one of two First Growth chateaux on the days agenda. One of the grandest, most imposing buildings amongst the Médoc châteaux, where viticulture has been practised for several centuries. On arrival we made our way through pristine limestone buildings to a magnificent reception hall – once the ‘barn’ in which vineyard workers took their lunch, but everything at Margaux is on a grand scale. Margaux was revitalised in 1978 after being bought by the Greek family of Mentzenopoulos. Apparently the French weren’t best pleased that it was sold to an outsider, but even they must admit that it is a shining light in Bordeaux.
The daughter Corinne now runs it, and the estate consistently produces some of the finest wines in the Médoc. We were given a fascinating tour of the premises, from the fermentation rooms with their large oak vats, some dating back many years, to the traditional cooperage and the huge underground chai where the wines quietly rest in barrels until they are ready to bottle. Some among our group tried to calculate how many 1000’s each barrel was worth, and how many 1000’s of barrels there were, but we soon got lost in the enormity of the numbers involved.
Finally we were taken to the inner sanctum, a tasting room screened at one end by a plate glass window looking into the Margaux oenological library – a tantalising array of bottles, magnums and bigger, of vintages going back through the ages. We had the opportunity to taste the Pavillon Rouge 2009, and the Grand Vin, Margaux 2004, and everyone in our group were suitably impressed. It certainly led to much discussion in the car afterwards!
After such serious work, we retired to the veranda of a fine restaurant overlooking a golf course, to refresh ourselves with Champagne and a delicious lunch. We could happily have sat out in the sun all afternoon, but Chateau Latour was calling.
Latour is another of the great First Growths, and having driven through picturesque St-Julien and just into Pauillac, we turned off through highly secure gates to be greeted by the classic view of the small round Tower in the vineyards which gives the chateau its name. Latour changed hands only few years ago, and dramatic changes have taken place since then. New winemaking facilities and a chai have been built under the central courtyards, which appear from above to be tranquil gardens, but more importantly, Latour no longer sell their latest vintage to the market. They now hold back all their stock until they deem the market to be ready. We were met in highly modern rooms, and first shown a very slick video and interactive map of the vineyards – unexpected, but all were impressed.
We then had an in depth tour of the thoroughly modern facilities, culminating in a descent into the new storage cellars, where we could count at least ten vintages, stacked in bottles held by large crates from floor to ceiling. The library next door held large format bottles going back to the eighteen hundreds, and I think we all found examples from our birthyears which we felt ought to come home with us.
To finish up, a glorious tasting of Latour 2006, Forts de Latour 2012 and Pauillac 2013 – for fun we blind tasted these to see who could guess which was which, with varying degrees of success! Dinner that evening was in the circular dining room of a restaurant where meat is so important that the meat fridge makes up part of the décor, and excellent steaks followed plates of succulent oysters from Arcachon, all washed down with plenty of Graves.
Saturday we drove to the right bank, to start our adventures at Chateau de Candale in St-Emillion. While the Medoc on the left is grand but rather flat, the right bank is full of undulating hills and pretty views. Candale is a very pretty little chateau surrounded by beautiful gardens and rolling vineyards full of poppies. The tour here, led by a very enthusiastic young Italian winemaker, was very insightful, and many members of our group learned very much.
We tasted a range of wines from Candale and other properties within the portfolio, and then proceeded to drink more of them while taking lunch in their glorious gardens, surrounded by sumptuous views. After lunch we visited the medieval town of St-Emilion itself, where some of the group rested in the shade drinking coffee while the more adventurous explored the hilly town, and even tasted more wines in the multitude of backstreet ‘caves’. That afternoon, we visited Chateau de Pressac, where we were able to enjoy fabulous views from the St-Emillion plateaux. Another fabulous dinner in the buys streets of Bordeaux, followed by a visit to a Champagne bar to finish the weekend off.
Much fun was had by all, along with learning a lot, and getting to taste some fabulous wines in exclusive settings. We highly recommend you join us next year!