French Wine Tour 2014 - June 20

June 20 Friday

This morning we were visiting our third 1st Growth producer, Château Latour and we arrived precisely on time to be met by our vivacious hostess Sonia Geurlou. The winery/cellars were surrounded by workmen/scaffolding/equipment and although we felt privileged to be here we felt even more so when Sonia informed us that extensive renovations were taking place for many months and accordingly visits had been dramatically reduced, with only top priority groups being received.

Records' pertaining to Latour date back to 1331 and their briefly summarised history on their website is well worth a read revealing their well-deserved position as a 1st Growth producer has always been well merited. More recently under British ownership for 30-years from 1963-1993 it was then purchased by François Pinault. In his tenure as owner he has invested heavily in buildings/cellars/winery facilities and the all-important vineyards, which are now progressively being changed over to bio-dynamic management. The latest renovations include the building of a large bottle cellar, which will hold up to 1-million bottles plus when complete (annual production of Château Latour is circa 100,000+ bottles) and is part of the new direction by Latour to withdraw from the en-primeur system, instead preferring to retain their 1st Growth wine for 10-years in cellar before release to wine lovers (a courageous, history making initiative to be applauded).

Latour, like Haut Brion, were early adopters of stainless steel tanks and their gravity controlled state of the art fermentation and maceration facilities are impressive as is their massive 230 cubic metre blending tank. They have 80-vats varying from 12 hectolitres to 164 hectolitres in capacity, which enable them to vinify all 40 separate plots on the 90-hectare estate separately before carrying out intensive tasting post fermentation/maceration to determine the ultimate blend.

Sonia then walked us through the 2nd year barrel cellar, which was very impressive in size, structure and management processes. From there we viewed the bottling hall and were impressed with the extent Latour have gone to in the individual security coding on the label, bottle neck, tissue wrapping, wooden case and pallet to deter the massive level of counterfeiting experienced in the Chinese market. , in the main by fellow 1st Growth estate Château Lafite.

Then it was down to the library cellars where circa 25,000 bottles are stored dating back to Latour's 1863 vintage and it was great to hear that Sonia (she had been at Latour 12-years) had enjoyed the rare opportunity to taste this vintage along with many important vintages in the estates history. Finally we adjourned to the tasting room (very professional set up) to review three Latour wines as follows…

Château Latour Pauillac 2008 – the third wine of the estate, 70,000 bottles are produced and this 2008 is made from 55% Merlot & 45% Cabernet Sauvignon. It's a surprisingly elegant wine with refined tannins and juicy acidity encapsulating a fulsome array of black fruits and savoury elements.
Château Latour Les Forts de Latour 2006 – the second wine of the estate, 150,000 bottles are produced and this 2006 is made from 62% Cabernet Sauvignon & 38% Merlot. It's a more intensely aromatic wine with a ripe and dense palate encased in compact tannin and juicy acids. Still retaining strong primary elements, mellow secondary characters are emerging but this wine is quite some way from maturity and should drink well through 2026.

Château Latour 2004 – the first wine of the estate, 100,000 -120,000 bottles are produced and this 2004 is made from 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. A highly aromatic wine with secondary savoury tastes of espresso and dried herbs emerging from the still prominent black fruits. The tannins and textural feel are refined; this is a red of considerable harmony and drinkable through 30-40 years if well stored.

The tasting complete Rex Howe again stepped up to the plate to deliver a very warm and pertinent thank you to Sonia before we walked to the famous landmark bell tower of Latour where we had a group photo taken with Sonia. She had been a gracious and exceptional host and is off to join Latour's Californian winery ‘Araujo' later this year; the American's will adore her superb persona and totally engaging sense of humour. Back on the coach we headed for our midday appointment and luncheon at the outstanding Margaux 4th Growth property ‘Château du Tertre' (Tertre means Hillock in English and refers to its position as the highest elevated vineyard in Margaux).

On arriving we were greeted by winery Director Alexander Van Beek along with Theodore Mostermans, owner of our principal Bordeaux Negociant, Les Vin de Crus. The outstanding Du Tertre estate (one to watch closely and buy early) was in poor condition prior to its purchase by Dutch owner Eric Albada Jelgersma who also owns the hugely regarded Margaux 3rd Growth estate Château Giscours. We had been here in 2012 and noted the huge investment in the winery production and storage facilities inclusive of grape reception, processing, fermentation and barrel hall facilities. However the most important requirement of the estate was to replant the previously poorly planted vineyards, the program was well underway during our previous 2012 visit and notable progress had been made since then.

Alexander led us through the wine reception, fermentation (all takes place in wooden vats) and barrel halls. The handpicked fruit is delivered to the grape reception in small bins where meticulous hand sorting takes place followed by secondary state of the art optical sorting to determine superior grape ripeness prior to finalising selection. All plots are delivered, processed and vinified separately before maceration and ageing in selected French oak barriques for 18-months.Before our luncheon Alexander treated us to a tasting of 2013 barrel samples of both Du Tertre and Giscours followed by the exceptional 2009 vintages of both wines. The wines as follows…

Château Du Tertre 2013 – it is a highly aromatic and elegant wine produced from 80% Cabernet Sauvignon – 10% Merlot – 5% Cabernet Franc – 5% Petit Verdot. Stylishly integrated with fruit/oak/tannin/acid all in harmony it belies the aggressively negative press surrounding the 2013 Bordeaux vintage.

Château Giscours 2013 – I did not procure the final blend of this wine although suffice to say it is clearly Cabernet Sauvignon dominant and a more masculine and bolder wine than du Tertre. The aromatics are dense and closed but on the palate it opens somewhat to reveal classic cassis, berry, herb, graphite and savoury notes and like du Tertre is a very promising wine.

Château Du Tertre 2009 – a strong wine with superb energy and excellent concentration; ripe flavours encased in a finely creamed texture and grainy tannins it's in perfect sync. Classic graphite/herb/spice and savoury elements pervade its powerful but elegant finish- this is a wine with major longevity and encapsulates the huge advances in du Tertre vineyard/winemaking developments.

Château Giscours 2009 – like its 2013 predecessor it gives considerably more on the palate than the aromatics. It has a powerful palate filled with classic Cabernet tastes and complexities a la cigar box, dried herbs, cassis and autumn leaf. It's completely integrated with an elegant and fresh lift on the finish, a wine of true class and longevity.

We were now ready for lunch and Alexander has anticipated our thirst perfectly (post tasting a quartet of robust Cabernets) and we were greeted at the pool summerhouse (venue for our luncheon) with a glass of Champagne and a selection of tasty canapés. After a relaxing chat we took our seats at the table for what proved to be a magnificent lunch.

First course – pan seared scallops on rocket with mango and balsamic
Second course – beef olives filled with black olive/tomato paste/pine nuts
Third course – tatine of apples and vanilla ice-cream


Cairrossa 2007 – an Italian red from a bio-dynamic estate just north of the famous winegrowing region of Bolgheri under the same ownership. It's made from a basket of eight grape varieties – Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache.Great energy and considerable charm with diverse black fruits infused with subtle spice and tastes of the Mediterranean amalgamated within a seductive tannin/acid mix.

Château Du Tertre 2006 – a delicious Cabernet dominant red with crunchy acids, dark fruits, savoury elements, finely creamed texture, classic tannin and cool freshness. This was a very composed wine of genuine class, which should be viewed as a window to the impressive future of this emerging estate.

Just when we were contemplating the end to this beautiful lunch the serving staff emerged with a gorgeous strawberry sponge cake with candle intact and placed it in front of Alexander (very much to his surprise) announcing his birthday. Our group broke out into a rousing KIWI expression of ‘Happy Birthday' to him. This was more indulgence we did not require but the moment overruled our common sense and we consumed the cake regardless. I was taken by surprise when Virginia announced that I was to deliver the thank you speech on behalf of the group. It had been decided several weeks before but had not been discussed since. However I relished the opportunity to express the appreciation of our group to both Alexander and Theodore for this most wonderful occasion that will live in our minds for quite some time. With considerable reticence we rose and boarded our coach to head to our accommodation in the wine spa resort of La Source de Caudalie, home for our next two nights.