Masters of Wine Bordeaux Trip: Day 1

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Gorgeous sunny weather is this beautiful city is always a treat. I am here today, March 15 2010, on a four day study trip with fellow students in the Master of Wine program. Happily, I’ve met most of the group during our Napa educational week and then during what is called a ‘Course Day’ in the UK and dinner at the wine bar Terroir.

Our first day started at 4pm and went until Midnight.

Chateau Rauzan Segla

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Nearly an hour’s drive from the modern city of Bordeaux is the castle-like structure of this 2nd growth winery that was built by Pierre des Mesures in 1661. Much of the origninal structure remains and on this gloriously sunny day it is awe inspiring to walk the same manicured graveled walks as Pierre and his descendants.

I’ve read that during the 18th century the estate has vineyards encompassing Gassies, Segla, Desmirail, and Marquis de Terme – it was inherited in 1903 by Frederic Cruse – and feel into a state of disrepair and neglect due to lack of investment. Many fault the old, infected wooden vats for the loss of the wine’s quality, which may be why so many wineries are using stainless steel today.

The chateau was bought by a negociant who replaced the tanks with stainless steel and grubbed up the vineyard to plant a majority of cabernet sauvignon, with a smaller percentage of Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. The percentages vary yet as is the case in most of the Medoc, Cabernet Sauvignon is the major varietal.

During the harvest, 100 extra workers come to pick and select grapes, which is done on two selection tables by block and varietal. The average age of the vines is 35 years. The estate has 52 hectares.

Once sorted, the perfect grapes are de-stemmed and led down by gravity to the crusher, where they are gently crushed (not more than twice) by block and varietal and then put in fermentation tanks where they are quickly fermented at a warm temperature (29 c) with native yeast for a week, and then enjoy three more weeks (depending on the vintage) of masceration with the skins in tank, with twice daily pump overs using a special mechanical device that takes the juice from the bottom of the tank and pumps it over the top. Then the wines are aged in oak in a series of two rooms. The first year room sees each barrel "topped up" through the bunghole twice a week for three months. Then after six months the wine is put in the second year room, which has them age in a combination of new and second year French oak from a variety of forrests to improve the aroma and complexity of flavors. The wine is racked six times in room, a traditional time honored process which uses egg whites to to fine the wine (they do not filter), with the yolks reserced for a famous cake traditional in the area. Six eggs to each barrel. Just enough wine is run out with each racking until it runs clear, and then it is put in another barrel so in the end the winery is left with a naturally clear product which contains the complexity of flavor without the cloudiness.

We tasted the 2007 first wine – the vintage was said to have been challenging. I liked the wine yet thought it was very feminine in style, with lots of bright red fruits, very sweet and intense. My technical notes are below

Violet ruby color, purple rim, medium intense nose of sweet intense violet, tart raspberry, pomegranate, black licorice, and cherry.

On the palate, Dry, medium acidity, medium tannin (very balanced), tannin that can be described as somewhat grainy in texture, medium body, 13.5 alcohol, and flavors of tart cherry and tart red fruit.

Overall the wine had finesse, good length, intensity of flavor, complexity of flavor, concentration of fruit, yet curious about its potential to age for many years and until I taste through several vintages, am unsure if this wine is a one-off vintage and expresses typicity for this winery and their terroirs. I would love to find out.

Chateau Cos d’Estournel

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Another visit to a gorgeous estate, this one curiously Indian influenced in style (on the outside at least) with a lovely palm tree lined entrance way. We were met by General Manager Mr. Jean-Guillaume Prats, one of the most elegant and well spoken winery GMs I have met, which is saying quite a bit because all of them are exceptionally gallant.

After our warm welcome we were ushed upstairs to the Indian-influenced tasting room, where we found it arranged for a formal tasting of their En Primeur 2009 vintage. The wines were all a purple-violet color with a purple rim. I really liked the 2009 Goulee, which is made from old vine Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the north near the river. I liked the second wine, Pagodes, as well. These vines are all under twenty years. The percentage here is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot.

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The first wine Cos d’Estournel was delicious … a very complex nose of vanilla spiced plum and palate with medium acid, med+ tannin, a medium body, med+ alcohol, and incredible spice and minerality. With its finesse, length, complexity of flavors, concentration of fruit, it shows the potential of aging quite well.

After this elegant tasting with its formal placemats, napkins, and bevy of uniformed servants (security?) we were ushered into a futuristic fantasy land of the inner workings of this fabulous state of the art winery. Pictures (well, these pictures at least) can not do the stunning scene justice. I must persuade the winery to send me images that reflect how gorgeous this winery is. Think a Vogue fashion show, with models slinking down an illuminated high tech Lucite runway and you will have an idea of what this winery looks like. It is all Lucite and sophisticated high tech lighting and shiny surfaces. Pumping over is a work of art here, a silent musical symphony of shiny moving parts. One wonders why one needs to go to this extent to accomplish the basic purpose of pouring wine over itself, yet — why not? Quite a step away from the ancient TV episode when Lucy Ricardo stomped grapes with her bare feet.

Dinner in a private room was another embarrassment of riches. 1998 Tattinger Blanc de Blanc, Antinori Solaia 06, Cos d’Estournel 2003 — all incredibly fabulous. To end the dinner that included truffled scallops, lamb, and cheeses, was 20001 Hetszolo Tokay (5).

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