I have 3 hour journey to Cahors ahead of me this morning to bring back our new Chai Au Quai AOC Cahors. The drive is a fantastic one, winding through all the small South West Bordeaux appellations Montravel, Bergerac, Monbazillac and Cotes de Duras before finally arriving in the rolling hills of Cahors and the river Lot.
During the middle ages Cahors was named "the black wine of Lot" due to the inky black dominant grape variety Malbec known locally as ‘Cot’. The wines from Cahors were introduced to the court of England and became a formidable competitor to Bordeaux claret, even reaching the table at the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitane and Henry II!!
The property was lost high in the hills of Cahors where sadly most of the vineyards have been pulled out in recent years to plant on the easier lower flatter slopes. Luckily for us there are a few hardy growers left and here I was greeted by one – a very odd old man in a Jimmy Saville type shell suit (he even had a cigar). After a lengthy conversation and breathing in clouds of cigar smoke I was finally introduced to the young winemaker Germain who then told me the strange guy in the shell suit was in fact his dad, the owner and former winemaker of the Chateau!
As we tasted the wines and started the loading of my tanker lorry, he told all about his father (originally from Corsica) and his vineyards. He said that they had a special concentration as his vines were grown on the sea formed limestone (salty) rather than the lower fresh water lake limestone.
The wines are such a dark, deep red that they are almost black, with a long, velvety palate. Do look out for this new Chai wine.
Thursday 18th June
As the 2009 vintage approaches ever closer, the bottling of the 2007 prestigious grand cru wines begin to be ready to bottle – and today it is the turn of our St. Emilion Grand Cru.
The small chateau can be found in the tiny Pourret commune of St. Emilion, on the plateau between Chateau Clos Fourtet and Chateau La Gomerie. The wine was tasting beautiful and the eccentric owner was busy writing every movement down and then transferring the information to the incredible ‘doomsday book’ his family have filled in for generations. Not a computer in sight here!
Saturday 20th June
VINEXPO, the gigantic Bordeaux wine exhibition starts on Sunday so there are many people from all around the wine world arriving into the Bordeaux area. During the week of the show, producers try to sell they wines and the local chateaux encourage this by holding many parties, dinners and tastings to welcome existing buyers and merchants and of course to entice new ones.
This evening we (Libby, Chris, Henry and Kaye Laithwaite) have all been invited to our Cotes du Castillon neighbours, Chateau d’Aguhille for a Toga party! The day starts by getting Henry Laithwaite to persuade his mum to lend us some of her best white linen! Followed by a day of making the wreaths from laurier, trying out Toga wrapping methods and preparing the food for the ‘BYO’ barbeque.
By 7 o’clock we were finally in costume and nervously headed to the party. The main Chateau itself, owned by Compte Von Niepperg, is amazing set in lighted ruins and lawns. We had a great evening and a big thanks to Patrick the chateau winemaker for organising the evening.
Monday 22nd June
With VINEXPO in full swing, my house has become a winemakers B&B – with the exception of the nightly fee being the placing of a good bottle in my cellar! Stephan is the first to arrive from Priorato in Spain, then Malena from Barcelona, Norrel a winemaker Scot living in Calatayud, Brett from Australia, Nathan from New Zealand and of course, not one to miss a party, Jean-Marc!
Tuesday 22nd June
Everybody is off early to Bordeaux for the wine show but I am off to the Chai to rack (taking wine out of barrel) 100 barrels of the new Syrah de Folie. This is a 100% Syrah from the l’Agly valley in the foothills of the Pyrenees in French Catalonia. There is not much Syrah to be found in this area but after a bit of searching and talking to the locals, I managed to find some hidden vineyards planted on the inhospitable slate soils.
After 12 months in French oak in the Chai cellar the wine is now showing all its rich dark fruit and the palate has evolved beautifully to become silky and full of spice. The Syrah de Folie 2008 will be available to customers from mid September so keep an eye out.
Tuesday 30th June
I finally received the call I have been eagerly waiting for this morning. It was from Thierry Cazach, the director and winemaker at the Cave de Maury to tell me that the malo-lactic fermentation (MLF) has at last finished on the XV du President! Hooray!!!
The malo-lactic fermentation happens in all red wines – and some whites depending on the style desired by the winemaker – when the yeasts convert the malic acid (think of granny smith apples) to lactic acid (think of milk). Hence the white wines that have undergone this process become round and buttery like many Chardonnays and the reds become nice and silky. A good tip: even if you don’t like buttery Chardonnays then try one that hasn’t undergone MLF like the Chai’s own CY and you will find the wine will be much sharper and leaner like a Sauvignon Blanc.
The MLF usually happens straight after the alcoholic fermentation in October but the malo-lactic yeast need warm temperatures to start off the process. The reason it has just finished now (end of June) is that the harvest was very late this year, therefore when the alcoholic ferment was completed in November the cellar was already extremely cold.
In modern wineries you can warm the wine to 21 degrees (ideal for MLF) but in the old rustic places like Maury this is not possible so they just sit back and wait! Then, as spring arrives bringing natural warmth to the cellar the wines, MLF yeast comes back to life and completes the job, just like a Frenchman, late!