A Little Spot of Wine Tasting

We (that’s me, P&S and T) went to France the other week to visit my brother and mother. They live in Aquitaine (according to my brother, France is the other side of the Gironde) near some of the great wine appellations of the world. We decided to do a bit of wine-tasting while we were there.

Our first visit was to Château Lynch-Bages. The chateau was classified in 1885 as Cinquième Cru. The area around the chateau, part of the village of Bages, has been nicely renovated. There are several shops and a well-reviewed restaurant (which we could not get into when we tried as there was some group of 2CV fans who had taken over the place).

There are several options for visits. We chose the most expensive, Esprit de Lynch-Bages, which costs €35 per head. For this you get a personal guide in your choice of French, English or German for a 90 minutes tour and a tasting of five wines. We were looked after by the very nice Emélie.

As you might expect everything is beautifully presented. There are pieces of modern art on the walls, which are in stark contrast to the old vat house that has been preserved as a museum.

We tasted four red wines from the Cazes (owners of the chateau and several other wine properties) stable including Château Lynch-Bages itself. The vintage for three of the four wines was 2007 and 2006 for the other. Frankly, they were all too young to drink—still much too fierce tannins. The Lynch-Bages itself was the most pleasant, but still too young. I checked tasting notes on Jancis Robinson; their most recent tasting in March this year suggests the 2007 wine should be best from 2016–2030. The superiority of Lynch-Bages was reflected in the price of €94/bottle with the next most expensive coming in at €24. The white was a Château Bel Air that was very pleasant and fruity.

Unlike most visits I’ve been on, Lynch-Bages doesn’t try to sell you any wine at the end of the tour. We were directed to the one of the shops in the square, which saves any embarrassment, if you don’t want to buy.

Our next trip was to Château Pontet Canet . This is interesting because they practice biodynamic wine-making. This is based on the ideas of Rudolf Steiner (perhaps, most well-known for Steiner Schools). Some of the ideas behind biodynamic wine seem, quite frankly, flaky. A quick scan of a few Internet links suggests that there might not be much difference in the results of biodynamic wine-making compared to organic. It appears that being BD is harder work, which leads me to think the claimed improvements are due in large part to the dedication and commitment of wine-makers who are prepared to put oak bark in an animal’s skull, bury it in watery ground over winter, dig it up and mix it into compost. This is just one of nine “preparations” that must be used—see the Wikipedia entry for more.

We were part of a group of about 10 people who’d all booked the free tour independently. The visit to Pontet Canet begins with a short trip around the grounds and vineyards in a golf buggy. It was here that I lost an argument with a support stake and ended up on my ass with a few scrapes and bruises. It would have been much better to do that after the tasting as I would have bounced.

Another 2007 was offered in the wine-tasting. I’ve just discovered why this might be: Jancis Robinson described the 2007 Bordeaux’s as “puny and over-priced”; the Pontet Canet has “verve and life, but not refinement”. Bottles were available for purchase at the end of the tour; there were some purchasers, but not us.

Our final visit was to Château Le Crock, a cru bourgeois in St Estèphe. It is in good company as next-door neighbours are Château Haut-Marbuzet and Château Cos d’Estournel. We were most charmingly entertained by Anne Cuvelier. Le Crock—the name apparently derives from croquet—is a much smaller operation, so the tour doesn’t take very long. This has the advantage that you get to the best bit quicker: the tasting. The Cuvelier family also own Château Léoville-Poyferré, a deuxième cru wine. Thus, the same oenologist looks after the wines from both chateaux.

Le Crock does offer visits that provide an introduction to wine-tasting with cheese and charcuterie. Unfortunately, this was not available for the afternoon of our visit. When we arrived, we discovered why: the previous group was a bunch of Belgian sommeliers. Judging by the bonhomie with which we were greeted by several members of the groups, they had sampled widely. When we got our turn, we understood why. The wines were good and reasonably priced.

Forewarned, we had brought our own supplies and enjoyed a very pleasant pique-nique in the gardens of the chateau, complemented, of course, with a couple of bottles straight from the cellar and few more to take away. There’s a lovely view across the valley to Cos d’Estournel.

All photos were taken with an iPhone 6 and processed on my iPad using Snapseed.

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