Thursday, 24 February 2011

It’s all about the Malolactic

Today is the big tasting in Madrid, at the very swanky Casino de Madrid and it’s a shirt-and-tie affair. Top button done up is very uncomfortable, reminds me of school!

The tasting is of 75 wines; served blind and in flights. All the wines have been treated differently for the Malolactic fermentation (MLF). Just to remind everyone MLF, is the secondary fermentation when malic acid is converted to lactic acid. It’s always done on reds and sometimes on whites where desired by the winemaker.

The tasting today features wines treated with a range of isolated MLF bacteria along with different wood treatments in order to help colour, aroma and palate. I am one of seven people on the judging Panel, along with Norrel Robertson MW, Sam Harrop MW, Joshua Greene (editor of US Wine and Spirits magazine), Dr Sibylle Krieger-Weber (directrice of MLF since school), David Molina (ex-el Bulli sommelier, now has own school in Barcelona) and Antonio Palacios (head professor at university of Rioja).

A big thanks to Pepe and Carlos of Lalemend for organising the event.

So with a very tannic tongue and bright red lips I am looking forward to a beer and some tapas this evening!

Tomorrow I'm off to London where I will be presenting the Chai wines at the Laithwaite 'Arch' shop at Vinopolis in Borough Market, hope to see some of you there?

Will be tasting the 2009 La Voute which, by the way, just won best-value 'Vin de France'!


Wesdnesday 23rd and I'm off to sunny Spain

A very foggy trip down to Toulouse this morning to catch a flight to Madrid. For some reason Bordeaux to Madrid by plane or train is almost impossible to do without a week off!

Tomorrow I am invited to the Lallemand conference where I will be also judging wines. Lallemand are the innovative makers of wine products including yeasts and enzymes and I have been experimenting with prototype yeast strains on some barrels with fantastic results.

With so many different wines, the Chai is the perfect place for this type of experimentation. My meticulous tasting notes from fermentation to bottle have played a hand in helping to develop better yeasts for different grape varieties.

Spain lived up to my blog title as I arrived to a very warm and sunny Madrid. Manuel the taxi driver was the probably not only the oldest taxi driver on earth but the oldest man I have ever seen on earth. He was great. He knew the city like the back of his very wrinkly hand but concentration on the road was not his best asset so it was quite a hairy ride into the centre.

Maybe he learnt to drive when cars only had two gears and traffic lights didn't exist because he only changed gear once the whole way – only after he cut up an ambulance – and went through about 11 red lights! He must go through brakes and gear boxes like the Spanish go though ham!

As I said Manuel knew everything about the city but dropped me off at the wrong hotel ... mine was another 15 minute walk.

I'm meeting up for dinner with some fellow friends and winemakers from all over Europe tonight. Or to be precise, we’re meeting for dinner and more than likely an argument about wine yeasts!

Oh and a big Happy Birthday to my dad today!


Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A rainy old day in Bordeaux … but the work can’t stop

Nearly all the vineyards are pruned with the canes neatly placed down the middle of the rows waiting to be bundled into what they call a ‘fagot’ ready for the summer BBQ’s! However the race is on now to tie all the canes down to the fruiting wire before the buds burst. The canes are very springy and all vineyard workers know what a good whip across the face with a difficult cane feels like. For some reason Syrah is the worst for attacking me … must be the wildness of Roussillon! But if the buds have burst the whip from the cane is the least of the worry as all the fragile buds will fly off too. No buds, no grapes, no wine, no money … you soon learn to tie down fast, believe me!


Friday, 18 February 2011

'Fuggy' Friday 18th February

Fantastic meal with the Todeschini family last night, not quite as long as the Chablis lunch but still a good effort to keep us there for the majority of the day, and brilliant food and amazing wines!

The evening went like this:

Cooked Gratin Oysters in shells
Fois Gras and figs
Huge beef joint cooked on the open fire
Farm Cheeses
Homemade Chocolate Tart

Wines were all tasted blind:

2008 Sancerre
2006 Alsace Pinot Blanc Albert Mann
2005 Arcipel Sonoma County USA (red Bordeaux blend)
2003 Chateau Mangot St.Emilion Grand Cru
2005 ‘K’lys Clos Troteligotte Cahors
2005 Chateau Mangot ‘Todeschini’ St.Emilion Grand Cru

A quiet one tonight I think!

Bon weekend

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Bottling, bottling and a bit of bottling!!!

Once again an early start and the first bottling today is Chateau Camail 2009 way out in the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux region near Sauternes. This is another great little find, heaps of cassis and the palate is so smooth with lovely rounded tannins, ready to drink now!

Next stop is Saint-Emilion and Chateau De Lisse. The Todeschini brothers own this place and they are waiting for me to give the green light to start bottling. The mobile bottling plant and bottles, corks, labels and boxes are ready to go and I taste the wine after the filter and make the important ‘cut’ (when the wine tastes perfect) and away we go, minutes later the first bottle is my hand! This is classy stuff and my advice is to reserve some asap.

Back in the Chai car and off to Montravel just near the Chai to do the ‘taste off cut’ for the long waited ‘Part du Boucher’ wine, minutes later the first bottle is again in my hand! The label is fantastic but I find it hilarious that although JMS isn’t here his face is everywhere you look! Jose from barrel company Remond gave me a call for lunch so I took JMS with me! Our local restaurant and general hub of activity ‘Le Voyageur’ loved the label and JMS is now firmly on the shelf with the Chefs prized ‘boules’ trophies!

Back to the Chai and Petit Denis is extremely pleased as the new barrels have arrived and he gets busy squirreling them away into the Dordogne Chai.

Libby and I are invited to a house warming party at the Todeschini’s this evening and we can’t wait as they always make a brilliant night with superb food and if we’re lucky they might pull out some great wines from their secret cellar!

Bon soirée!


Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Monday Mornings!

Not too far to drive this morning as I am transporting the 2010 Tertre Bel Air from the northern plateau of Castillon to the Chai. Great terroir here in this little lost corner ... lots of diverse slopes etc

Then it begins: phone rings, truck is lost (by about 35miles), quite a few Bel Air's around! Virtually every village in Bordeaux has a Bel Air! I finally find the truck and escort it to the chez Bruno.

Bruno is waiting ... a mountain of a man with a beret on. It's quite a narrow drive and these guys are not used to having their wine taken in bulk (normally bottle themselves and sell locally). Then the nightmare: as truck reverses the wheel comes off the drive. Stuck truck!! Papa Dellac to the rescue.

We taste the wine from a coffee cup - it's the wild west out here - then start pumping. These old tanks have to be pumped over the top - but like Bruno's chai, they've been used every year for the last 100 years.

I've worked with these vats before and everyone dreads to open the dreaded bottom hole to get the last out. Have to be quick as the wine gushes out!!!

Funny triangle taps, every vat has a different tap and special spanner along with a unique technique known only to Bruno!!!

Slowly by slowly I blend the components into the tanker as Bruno has no room here at his old Chai.


Friday, 11 February 2011

Blending Grand Chai 2010

During the blending of the 2010 JMS Sauvignon yesterday I tasted every barrel of the Grand Chai Sauvignon and I decided it was ready to rack them to vat NOW and blend with the cool vat fermented Sauvignon to conserve the exact aromas and body of today. This will however be only one part of the final blend as the Semillon and Sauvignon Gris need a bit longer in barrel before they join the others for the final blend.

Big job ahead so we started at the crack of dawn this morning, Denis had his beloved cones straight out front of the Chai to slow down the speed crazy Friday commuters (the majority getting to work early in order to leave early for the ritual weekly long weekend!)

With Denis in charge of barrels and me taking care of the large vat transfer we were did a simultaneous racking. This meant whilst I was going through the bottom tap to conserve dissolve carbon dioxide (for freshness), Denis was busy racking the barrel wine whilst avoiding taking the 'gros lies’ (heavy sediment) over the top via the vat chimney with the end of the hose out of the surface of the wine to avoid air being bubbled into wine between barrel changing. The photo is not a newly discovered extraterrestrial world but how it looks inside the vats from a vat chimneys point of view!

The ‘gros lies’ have been kept in the barrel since ferment to give weight to the wine and are now no longer desirable where on the other hand the relatively clean wine (due to having been already racked a number of times) in vat had some very aromatic fine sediment (fine lees). Once I had reached the bottom of the vat it was time to open the door and inspect and most importantly taste and smell the gloopy sediment!

The ‘fine lees’ had settled perfectly with a layer of compact sediment sticking to the vat floor and on opening the door the fine runny lees poured off the top. The aroma and taste of the fine lees was incredible and was collected by dragging them out with the ‘lees scraper’ into a tub which I’ll put back into the blend to help the aroma before a further racking when the final finished blend will be made.

Denis however was rolling each empty barrel to collect the now no longer wanted thick lees as we must declare these to customs!

Mini Transport!!

Usually I am chasing huge tankers all over France and loading wines left right and centre but today’s transport is very different indeed. I am off into deepest Blaye country just me and the Chai 'Pope mobile' car with a tiny vat in the back to get 300litres of red Bordeaux left over from a bottling. It's absolutely great stuff and I'll do anything to get this tiny element back to the Chai for more barrel ageing with the vision of blending it in the soon to be bottled Part du Boucher (the butcher's piece)!

It was absolutely freezing this morning here in Bordeaux but by the time I had loaded up the tiny vat it the sun was shining and a very nice 17 degrees. The sky was filled with boomerang formations of geese returning from the south, is winter over? Tomorrow we are very busy in the Grand Chai cellar physically blending the first 2011 whites, the JMS and the VC.

Monday, 7 February 2011

St. Vincent Weekend

I left early Friday morning (4:30 am to be exact!) to catch the Air France flight to Paris, meeting Helen (the Burgundy buyer) at Charles de Gaulle airport. All was on time and we were on our way south towards Auxerre and the Chablis wine region by 9:30am. This was my first visit to Chablis since 1996 when I stopped off on my hitchhiking tour of France aged 17!

Our first visit - where we were to meet Tony and Henry - was at Domaine Mandeliere in the small village of Fleys just east of Chablis. We were warmly greeted by Josette and her son and started by getting our first glimpse of the 2010s tasted directly from the vats. 2010 is a very good vintage - more like the 2008 than the acidity-lacking 2009s - showing lots of floral acacia and mineral qualities on the finish. I am sure that these wines will certainly age well.

Chablis has possibly the worst mobile phone coverage in France, so coupling that with the complete lack of sign posts throughout, it’s a miracle that Tony and Henry finally found us at the winery!

Next stop was at the village Maligny just north of Chablis to visit Domaine Lamblin and Fils. Here we tasted a whole range of wines and vintages starting with Petit Chablis, moving up the ranks with Chablis, 1er cru and finally the great seven Chablis Grand Crus of Bougros, Les Preuses, Vaudésir, Grenouilles, Valmur, Les Clos and Blanchot. At the end we were lucky enough to taste a 1990 and 1983 1er Cru Fourcham which were both still alive and showing just how special and ageworthy Chablis can be!

Our final visit of the day was at Domaine Seguinot-Bordet where we tasted their 2010s with the very funny winemaker/owner Jean-Francois. J-F serves his wines from a rather amusing stainless steel ‘cake’ trolley he pushes around the winery like a waiter!

A rather exhausting day so with the Fete Saint-Vincent looming tomorrow it was a quick dinner and early to bed.

Saturday morning we all drove to see Tony’s long standing suppliers the Dampt brothers - Eric, Emmanuel and Vincent - out in the village of Collan. Collan is where their winery is located and actually situated in sheep farming country just outside of the intense wine growing area.

The Dampt family are real pioneers of Chablis and some of the lesser-known surrounding areas such as Tonnerre. Just try the Domaine Dampt Chevalier d’Eon Bourgogne Tonnerre 2008 and you will see exactly what I mean.

The Dampts have kindly invited us all to attend today's exclusive growers dinner in Chablis to celebrate the Fete de St.Vincent. St.Vincent is celebrated each year and the hosting is shared between the 19 wine growing villages, Chablis last hosting in 1992!

After an aperitif of Champagne served by the winemaker and a Dampt cousin Joel Falmet, we made our way to the hub of activity in downtown Chablis for THE lunch. When we arrived there were cars and people everywhere and then we saw the giant marquee which was to be our residence (along with 1300 others) for the next 7 hours.

Using just one breath, read the following description of 'lunch' out loud. If you can manage that, you'll begin to understand what the next seven surreal hours felt like.

Invitations given out ... present ticket ... yellow/green bracelet now glued to arm hair ... 1300 people ... Tony in a tie ... ‘gougeres’ the cheesy bread ... cold glass of Chablis ... more cheesy bread ... ushered to the ‘Washington’ table ...

... another cold glass of Chablis ... cheek kissing ... shaking hands ... can’t remember anyone’s name ... sit down ... get up ... move round table two places? ... sit down ... more cheesy bread ... cold glass of Chablis ... free cork key ring ... wine waiters and loud music ... toast to St.Vincent ... funny la la la Chablis hand dance ...

... Mr Renard and his fox tie ... chefs with fruit and vegetables on stretchers ... glass of Chablis ... cheesy bread ... more hand dancing ... a starter of veal terrine and truffles ... glass of 1er Cru Chablis ... la la la hand dance ... conversation about vineyards with Chris Watson (father of actress Emma) ... glass of 1er Cru Chablis ... la la la hand dance ...

... Scottish kilts and bagpipes ... scallop pie ... la la la hand dance but no glass of Chablis ... THE BAND ... veal that’s pink in the middle for main ... glass of Grand Cru Chablis ... la la la hand dance ... great singers! ... a French Del Trotter lookalike in white suit on trumpet ... handkerchiefs in the air for another round of funny Chablis la la la hand dance, this time with added wrist cramp ...

... French X-factor contestant called Fredo on stage, very cheesy! ... red wine from Irancy served ... and then the real cheese: delicious aged Compte, Roquefort, and soft goat's cheese ... more Irancy ... les Filles de Moulin dancing girls ... wives dragging old winemakers back to their seats ... dancers lightly dressed as female English soldiers ... more red Irancy wine ... Cotton Eye Joe dancing cowgirls ... waiter falls over ... paramedics ... desert ... Marc de Champagne brandy ... paramedics leave ... la la la hand dance ...

... check my watch and only 6pm! ... speeches, Champagne, Fredo back on stage ... announcement to “look for red spot sticker under your chair to win prize” and from what I understood if you find one you just pick it up in the air wielding it towards the stage ... another announcement “not a red sticker (that was 19 years ago) it's purple this year, we forgot to peel them off last time!” ... lots of confusion ... president of Chablis wine region then says 'hour break, party starts later' ... more Champagne ... la la la hand dance ... taxi, hotel, check watch 8pm, bed!

Merci Chablis!!


Friday, 4 February 2011

It’s an early start as usual...

... and a straight drive directly south of Le Chai through the Entre Deux Mers to the fabulous Chateau Camail to check the 2009 that I have been working on to prepare for next week’s bottling.

It was a very misty and cold scene when I arrived with only the rising smoke from the last of the 2010 pruned vine canes being burnt breaking the now rather barren landscape. I was met by Florence and headed straight to the cellar to check the progress. The wine has rounded out and put some weight on, which is a good thing in wine terms! A quick brief on bottling preparation (I will be back for the bottling) and I leave in the direction of the Medoc and to Margaux where I will be meeting the tanker to take the Grand Chai Margaux back home to the Chai!

The grand Chai Margaux vineyards are slap bang in the middle of the best of Margaux. I am not going to say where exactly - that's my secret - but it’s very close to the amazing Chateau du Tertre.........

I tasted and checked all was good (it’s hard to keep focus on the job ahead after being blown away by the sheer quality and complexity of what I just tasted!!) and began setting up the pumps and pipes.

Once the tanker was safely filled I notified 'Petit' Denis back at the Chai who was ready and waiting to unload this very special cargo straight to barrels.

Meanwhile it’s yet another early start for me tomorrow, beginning with the first flight out from Bordeaux. I’m meeting Helen (our Burgundy buyer) who is arriving from London to Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris, where we are then making our way down to Chablis for the Fete de Saint Vincent where we will hopefully find Tony and Henry.

The Saint Vincent is shared by twenty villages in the north of Burgundy with every year a different village hosting the party and this year it’s the turn of Chablis! I will let you know what happens.

Bon weekend tout le monde!