French Wine Tour 2014 - June 21

June 21 Saturday

It was with considerable regret we had to leave Rex & Kath Howe back at the hotel this day as we headed for our first visit in St. Emilion. Rex had unfortunately fallen as he rose to leave the dinner table the previous night (not an alcohol induced action I should add) and was clearly in plenty of pain. It had not improved overnight and he could barely walk so had made an appointment with a local GP organised by the Hotel.

We wished Rex the best then headed to St. Emilion for our first visit of the day to the famous Château de Pressac where the signing of the treaty for the end of the one-hundred years war took place. Perched atop of the hill at the highest point in St. Emilion it would have proved an excellent fortress in those troublesome times. These days it is owned by Jean François Quenin and his wife; Jean François exited a commercial wholesale business in Paris in 1997 and with the sale of his shares purchased the then run down Château and surrounding 40-hectares of land of which 36-hectares are now planted. During our first visit to this up and coming estate in 2012 Jean François was anxiously awaiting the results of the 10-yearly St. Emilion reclassification. All of the committee's exams and reviews had been completed for some time and the results were expected to be announced within a month or so. We followed the reclassification with considerable interest on our return home to NZ post the tour and were mightily pleased for Jean François when he was deservedly reclassified from Grand Cru to Grand Cru Classé.

He has three distinctly different pieces of terroir on his estate. At the lowest point the estates vineyards the soils are clay over limestone with much of the heavier layer of top soils emanating from erosion off the upper slopes. The terraced hillside vineyards at the front of the estate are composed of lighter coverings of free draining clay over limestone as are the sloping terraced vines at the rear of the Château that Jean François formed and planted after clearing the small forest of trees that had been there when he purchased the property in 1997. Directly in front of the Châteauis a plateau with lean soils 20-50cm overlimestone rock below and the vines travel up to 15m deep in search of moisture, extracting minerality from the limestone in doing so. He has virtually re landscaped and replanted the entire estate into what must be one of the most promising properties in the whole of St. Emilion.

Once inside the winery we quickly noted the significant renovations and extensions taken place from our visit two years previous. Jean François had built an entirely new barrel hall with state of the art racking and piped music to relax the wines. The grape reception area, electronic basket press, concrete fermentation/maceration tanks were brand new as was the electronic plunging system employed to break up the cap during maceration on skins. The majority of wine handling in the winery was gravity controlled but the innovation we had not seen anywhere else was the new grape sorting equipment that provides him an edge in terms of eliminating unripe berries from his ferment. Initially the grapes are run across a traditional hand sorting/vibrating table and previously the second sorting process was via an optical machine that takes thousands of rapid fire images and automatically eliminates unripe grapes. The new machinery allows the grapes to float through a water bath infused with 10% sugar; the ripe berries are heavier and sink to the bottom and the unripe berries are eliminated. The sugar levels are then increased to 30% and the berries are sent back through a second time… these berries will be ripe enough for the estates second wine; the remaining berries are discarded. It appears to be a more fool proof system. Jean François also co-owns his barrel supply business, which gives him absolute control over oak quality and style.

With the winery visit complete we adjourned to the Château reception room where lunch was to be served and were poured a glass of Château de Pressac Rosé 2013. They make a Rosé every year and the quantities can vary from 6,000 to 30,000 bottles depending on vintage and the quantity of grapes that do not make the selection for the red wines.

Rosé du Château de Pressac 2013 – with a predominance of Malbec in the blend it has quite a fleshy/tangy mid palate with vibrant blackberry/raspberry fruits dominating. Very fresh and easy drinking style which is very popular locally and sells out annually, however much is produced.

We then sat to a 3-course lunch consisting of…

1st course –Codfish in a soy and truffle oil marinade2nd course – Roasted veal, mushrooms sauce and vegetables3rd course – White cheese and raspberry mousse, and cookie

The two superb reds Jean François served were as follows…

Château de Pressac 2007 – classic cool Indian summer Bordeaux red with fine ripe herb & spice characters pervading the sweet dark fruits. Mouth coating grainy tannin and ripe acids give great purpose and poise to the wine allowing its finesse and complexity to shine. The finish is sustained, cool and elegant and should drink nicely for a further 5-7 years.

Château de Pressac 2009 – it was incredibly generous and ripe (as expected from this ripe vintage) but not overripe so one could clearly savour the precise black fruits of Merlot and Cabernet fused with spices/herbs and smoky meat flavours. The very ripe acids and mouth coating tannin platform the superb energy of this red that finishes with power and poise and will comfortably live 20-30 years if properly stored.

As was the case in 2012 the artwork on the wall caught the eye of our group (in particular Cathy MacKinlay) and became a focal point of discussion. Our thank you speech was delivered from the heart and very eloquently so by Cathy MacKinlay and included a brief message delivered in very credible French. We rose and at the invitation of Jean Françoiswent into the main foyer and lounge of the Château to view the originals of the prints that had aroused so much interest during our lunch. As we boarded our coach a number of FWD Co. group extended an opportunity for Jean François to enjoy their hospitality if ever he should come to NZ, which he indicated was firmly on his to do list. As we drove back down the Château entrance road vigorously waving goodbye there was lively banter among the group encapsulating the general excitement of our visit.

Just 20-minutes later we arrived at Clos Cantenac in St. Emilion for our afternoon visit to be greeted by owner Martin Krajewski and his son Matthew. Clos Cantenac is in its infancy and the vineyard holdings are around 5.8 hectares. The principal holding where the cellar and winery are located is around 1-heactare. Martin has partnered with New Zealander Mark Le Grice in this long term project, which they plan to grow, but it will only ever be a small venture with total focus on quality. At this stage they are classified Grand Cru (lowest classification in St. Emilion) however by the time reclassification occurs again in 2022 you can expect them to achieve a much higher status. In the interim their wines are being well patronised and are fetching top prices in their class/region. Martin opened the three wines of the Clos for our group to taste as follows…

Petit Cantenac 2011 – this was a fairly average vintage by Bordeaux standards and it is always good to taste a wine from such a vintage to see how a property deals with troubled times. This was an easy drinking medium bodied style with black fruits, spices, integrated oak and is very fair drinking at cellar price of 12 Euros.

Clos Cantenac 2011 – this is the top wine of the property and as expected reflected that with greater concentration of Merlot fruit (100% Merlot), velvety tannin, spice/cured meats and a luscious feel.

Clos Cantenac 2010 – reflecting the superb quality of the vintage this was a more elegant and complex wine from the endearing aromas through the ripe, rich fruits, spice/cigar box/chocolate complexity, clinging tannins and juicy acidity. Well worth 24 Euros/bottle.

We got back on the coach and followed Martin and Matthew to their other property ‘Chateau du Sours', approximately 15-minutes away. As we arrived Martin reverted to the Château to prepare the hospitality for our group and Matthew led us to the winery and cellars for a visit. This estate is 70 hectares in size, which is a sizable holding in the St. Emilion appellation. They produce three whites, three reds, three Rosé and an impressive Rosé Methode Traditionnelle. They employ quality sorting practices across all grape reception with the whites going to tank for ferment and then in the case of the du Sours and La Source they are matured in barrel in varying degrees to add complexity and mouth feel. The reds are likewise fermented in tank in separate batches prior to blending pre-barrel maturation; Martin prefers to blend pre-barrel as he believes this is when you can more effectively determine the purity and concentration of fruit and thereby get your blends precise. The whites are Sauvignon dominant and the reds and Rosé Merlot dominant. The Rosé Methode is quite spectacular and could easily be mistaken for Rosé Champagne given its high level 3-year lees ageing program. Château du Sours is a slick operation and clearly the aim of the brand is to deliver generously flavoured, complex and well balanced wines that will drink well early but also have genuine age-ability. Matthew led us beneath the winery cellars to underground caves where the limestone had been mined to construct the Château. The temperature is constant around 14 degrees and they have innovatively vented the air directly into the winery barrel cellars above to provide consistent and perfect temperature/humidity control.

Matthew then walked us over to the Château and first to the stunning tasting reception room where Martin had prepared a tasting of all ten wines of the estate for our group – it was relatively informal so not too taxing for the group. This was quite a large tasting so I will not go into too much detail; there are three tiers in each category as follows…

La Fleur de Amalie – entry level, very fruit driven styles, pure flavours, easy drinking, good balanceChâteau du Sours – whites, Rose and reds all have a fair degree of barrel ageing largely in older seasoned barrels so display greater mouth feel and interest while allowing the fruit to flourish.
La Source – the top wines of the estate and all are made from the first grape selection, display excellent concentration, are aged in barrels (including significant amounts of new oak barrels in the mix) and spend quite some time in lees contact so are much more mouth filling, interesting and deeply flavoursome wines.

You could not fault any of the wines. The reds although very stylish play second fiddle to the whites and the simply outstanding Rosé selection! It was no surprise to hear that long revered UK wine critic Stephen Spurrier refers to Chateau de Sours as the “decathletes of the Rose world”.

Château du Sours Rosé Methode Traditionnelle (made like Champagne)was a huge and instant hit with the group – the grape selection is precise and the secondary ageing on lees for 3-years is double the time of Moet & Chandon Champagne so when one understands those factors the finesse and complexity on the palate comes as no surprise.

We then adjourned to the Château for afternoon tea as Martin referred to it – it was anything but! Martin spent 4-years renovating the Château proper and it is absolutely stunning. He has finished the property to a historically sympathetic standard and made it a wonderful place to live in, which he does. Having seen so many Châteaux that are impressive in stature but often not lived in this was a refreshing change.A balcony stretches almost the length of the front of the building offering a superb vista over the fields and forest below (full of wild deer/pigs). The addition of a large, thoughtfully designed pool was absolutely inviting and proved irresistible to Royce & Jenni Everett and Craig King and I must confess to being a touch envious watch them cooling off in the pool with a glass of Château du Sours Rosé Methode Traditionnelle in hand.

Martin had situated a couple of tables either end of the balcony laden with a smorgasbord of cheeses, charcuterie, breads and fruits, there was ample for a group twice our size. All wines of the estate were on offer but given the warm, sunny day it was no surprise the group largely gravitated to the Rosé table wines and Methode Traditionnelle Rosé. Martin then rolled out a selection of pastries, tarts and ice-cream which in a plus 30-degree day with crystal clear skies were hard to resist. This was KIWI style hospitality in the heart of Right Bank Bordeaux and I wondered how we were ever going to tear ourselves away from the sheer magic of this time and place. Martin suggested we remain for a BBQ beef fillet et al and instantly Virginia and I were contemplating ways to make that happen. However our coach driver was bound by regulations in respect of his allowable time limits and it simply did not equate. Which, was probably a good thing as we departed Château du Sours on a an absolute high, the group were absolutely fizzing and what more priceless moment could there be to bade Martin & Matthew farewell knowing many of us had formed a strong attachment with both the wines and the family and almost certainly would return some day. You too can experience the magic of a summer visit/stay to Château du Sours as they have guest accommodation (Google… Château du Sours) and I'm sure if you say Jeff & Virginia of FWD Co. recommended you, Martin will ensure you are well looked after.

That night we had a group dinner at La Sources de Caudalie, which though enjoyed by all was not a late affair given the wonderful visits and indulgence of the day. I will surreptitiously mention (to the tens of thousands of visitors to who will hopefully read my blog) that as the end of the tour was looming the Everett's and Poole's got waylaid in the bar – the girls enjoying a Champagne nightcap and the boys a 1960 Armagnac… thanks Royce & Jenni.