I will admit to being very trepidatious about waking up early for the Master 2 Wine Tour, organized and led by the Director of my Master 1 program. The day was cold and promising to be wet, I had no idea what the day’s schedule included and I am the director’s biggest fan. But despite some valid concerns, a few bad moments and the poor weather, the tour turned out to be much better than expected.
Organized in conjunction with the Conseil des Grands Crus Classés en 1855 the day’s theme was…yup you guessed it…classified growths.
The day’s agenda included two estate visits and tastings, lunch with classified wines and a visit to a cooperage. Sadly, like for most of the year, our rather large class of over 100 people was divided into two cohorts. And rather than inverting our schedules the two groups visited four different estates. This created some general consternation as the estates were not necessarily equally ranked within the hierarchy of the Bordeaux classification.
For my group our first visit was Fifth Growth Chateau Cantermerle in Haut-Medoc. Dating to the 16th Century, today this Chateau is owned by the Mutual Insurance Division of the SMABTP Group. Our reception was a little lacking, our guide looked annoyed to see us and made no effort to ensure the group was able to hear what she was saying. And ultimately the tour was very abbreviated, a small introductory lecture in the vat room, a very brief look at the barrel cellar and then a tasting in the Orangerie. But I did nonetheless learn a few interesting tidbits.
Our tasting comprised both the estate’s Grand Vin and their Second Wine, Les Allées de Cantermerle, from the 2007 vintage. Unfiltered but fined with gelatin, with limited aging in oak, these wines are of a crisp and hearty style. We began with Les Allées. Served almost refrigerator cold, I will confess I enjoyed the wine less and less as it warmed. Soft and smooth on the palate the wine was at a drinkable phase, if a little repressed on the nose. But as it warmed there was a touch of bitter heat that lingered on the tongue. At approximately 30 euros a bottle, this wine is a good value for the price, but it’s not likely something I would ever search out in an export market. Deep purple, it had a relatively surprising lack of acidity. Also a bit repressed on the nose, there were notes of cherry and spice underlined with a hint of saltiness.
We then progressed to my favorite part of the day, the tour at at Tonnellerie Nadalie, a cooperage, in case you’re wondering. I’ve always understood the theory behind making a barrel and I’ve always understood that they were expensive for a reason. After touring the facilities and seeing all the work and the time that goes into making each barrel, I now understand why.
And now all I really want to know, is how did they manage to do this hundreds of years ago without modern technology. Precisely shaping the boards, pressing everything together, carefully using fire and steam to shape. It’s an amazing procedure. And we were lucky to have the chance to not only take the tour and take pictures. So rather than toss the link in at the end, I’ll drop it in now, click here to see all the photos from the day.
After our tour, we had lunch at Restaurant 1902 on the cooperage property. Like with last year’s tour, we enjoyed some confit de canard and some classified wine. All though this year instead of wine from one estate, there were different bottles from several classified estates. And I got to enjoy a traditional and Biodynamic Bordeaux wine made with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc…and an ancient addition, Malbec. I also got to enjoy both the 2007 and 2008 Chateau Malescot St. Exupery. It was an interesting look at continuity between vintages.
However, there was one aspect of lunch that was incredibly disappointing. At most there were two or three bottles from each Chateau. And given that some of the wines included were highly sought after bottles of Lynch Bages and Palmer there was a … black market of sorts that was created. People were unwilling to share. And a bottle of Chateau Palmer was even refilled with another wine and ‘bartered’ for additional bottles. To be honest, I was incredibly disappointed, particularly as school staff were aware of the hoax. Among a group of fellow wine lovers, it was unnecessary and in poor form.
After lunch was over we made our way back to our buses and our to our second destination. For my group, we made our way to Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac. By far the better of the two estate visits, we got a detailed history lesson, toured the new winemaking facilities, visited the ancient chateau and tasted the 2006 Grand Vin and Second Wine, La Reserve de la Comtesse.
This estate has a rich history of strong female leadership. Originally one half of a larger estate, divided by Napoleonic inheritance laws, it was the Comtesse de Lalande who managed to reunite 3/5ths of the original property to form the estate as it exists today. With a strong history of female leadership, the estate today is owned by the Rouzaud family, owners of Louis Roederer Champagne. Since acquiring the property in 2007, the family has invested heavily in restoring both the vineyards and the winemaking facility, while also maintaining the spirit and traditions of the estate. Perched on the border of Pauillac and Saint Julien, both of the estate’s wines are elegant, refined and characteristically fresh. With hints of black fruit, spice and soft hints of florals, the wine is lingering and balanced between power and subtlety.
Overall it was a day well spent and I was glad to have gone. I’m looking forward to my next wine adventure. So for now…ta!