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Wednesday 26 November 2014
Ben Kennedy
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La belle et la bête

22nd November, 2013 by Ben Kennedy

Contrasts – the good, the not-so-good and the downright ugly – all in a day’s work.

Yesterday was a pretty standard day for an eager claret-hunting négociant: it involved an early start, hundreds of kilometres and a variety of wines to taste, assess, and maybe even add to the range.

First up was St Emilion, miserable beneath a Tupperware sky and wincing from a chill wind.  Not what you see in the brochures.  I was slightly bemused by a vertical of a lesser-known cru classé property which appeared to have made its best wine in a pretty lack lustre vintage.  I tasted through from 2002 to 2009 and had high hopes as I expected to find something of real interest in 2005, while I am also an avid fan of 2004 and 2007 for drinking – but the 2002 was the best wine of the lot!  In fact it is really rather good, and at 13.50€ a bottle with good stocks it is a good tip for anyone looking for volumes of a traditional, mature claret with class.  The other vintages were all curiosities, either flat and featureless or tropical with jellied fruit.  Only the 2009 showed signs of a more typical modern St Emilion style, so under new management since 2011 and with plenty of expertise and finance behind it, the property is on course for much greater things.  Which château is it?  After my comments above perhaps I shouldn’t say here.  You’ll have to get in touch!

After a quick dip into the Entre Deux Mers and in between the showers to collect samples of basic red for a Chinese importer, I crossed over to the Médoc (no time for the obligatory lunch break) and went up to check out a Cru Bourgeois which I’d been meaning to investigate for some time.  The Bernard family bought Peyrabon 25 years ago, along with Pauillac neighbour La Fleur Peyrabon.  As I drove up the drive the sun burst out and the clouds scarpered, leaving the rich green of the well-watered magnolia trees set against a heart-warming blue sky.  photoThe wines are masculine and clean, and I reckon they would fit many buyers’ requirements, but they don’t really sparkle for me.  The other thing is the price, but as they are connected to the online giant Millésima I’m sure they’ll find a market.

Finally, a stop-off with Denis Fabre, my current fave Médoc man who produces a ridiculously good value-for-money Cru Bourgeois at Château La Gorce up north by Bégadan.  He is such a charming, quiet chap and his wine sells itself based on good old rapport qualité-prix.  A good end to a long day, topped off by getting a couple of rather nice orders on the email on the long drive home.

So why the title of this blog?  Well, apart from the reference to the quality of the wines and the weather, I happened upon a sight I’d long been hoping to witness.  So much is communicated about the beauty of the Bordeaux region, the elegance of its châteaux and the dreamy lifestyle, but there is at least one job in the cycle that is not so glamorous – the distillery which processes the marc after harvest.  So here is an un-airbrushed snapshot of where the grape skins etc. end up, complete with Miltonian mists and malodorous geysers of foul sticky goo.  Bonne dégustation!photo (3)

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