Alfio’s Bowtie Diaries – Day Three
Probably the most familiar quality classification of Bordeaux wines (and one that most people reference) is the Classification of 1855. The Classification of 1855 was requested by Napoleon III at the 1855 World’s Fair in Paris. The classification system ranked the wines according to a château’s reputation and trading price at the time. In total, 60 châteaus from the Left Bank were classified into five categories called growths or Crus, starting with the most prestigious, Premier Cru or First Growth, which was printed on their wine labels. Today, many people critique the Classification of 1855 for numerous reasons, such as not including châteaus from the Right Bank or not acknowledging that the vineyards’ ownership and conditions have changed since the classification. Nonetheless, the 60 chateaus that made this list of “Grand Cru Classé en 1855” are among some of the most highly regarded wine producers in the region. Today, we visited chateaus that were all a part of the 1855 classification, including Château Haut-Bages Libéral where we spent last night.
Since it was our last day in Bordeaux, we were up early and ready to finish exploring the Left Bank. Claire Villars-Lurton made an amazing breakfast which included a typical French spread
of homemade croissant, assorted breads, cheese and fruit preserves. One (or two) croissant later we were off to Château Pontet-Canet in Pauillac, owned by Alfred Tesseron. Monsieur Tesseron comes from a family of esteemed Cognac blenders. Château Pontet-Canet prides itself on being 100% organic and biodynamic. They use all natural farming methods to ensure that they are producing Cabernet grapes exactly as the terrior (soil) requires. After touring their impeccable facilities and getting to feed the vineyard plow horses, we had an opportunity to taste the 2010 vintage that had received 100 points from the Wine Advocate.
Wrapping up our tour of Pauillac, we headed south to Margaux, one of the largest communes in the Left Bank. The soil in Margaux is the thinnest of all the Left Bank communes, producing highly aromatic wines that are refined and well-balanced. We met Alexander van Beek, the General Director of Château Giscours and Château du Tertre, who told us that the wines of Margaux have the most beautiful fragrance, finesse and elegance, and he is right. Recently, both Giscours and du Tertre have started using biodynamic farming techniques like at Château Pontet-Canet. One of these techniques includes using an egg-shaped vat, which generates a natural movement of wine that in turn opens it up to provide more character. The egg vat was modeled after what was used in Mesopotamia, where the earliest origins of wine-making began.
After a gorgeous poolside lunch at Château du Tertre, we headed back north to the smallest of communes on the Left Bank, Saint-Julien. Though Saint-Julien has no First Growth wines, there are numerous top growths from the 1855 Classification. One of these includes Château Gruaud Larose, where we got to see first-hand the process of soutirage, or racking of wine. Racking is a method of moving wine from one barrel to another to reduce sediment and clarify the wine. This process softens tannins and enhances the wine’s aromatic qualities. Today, there is equipment that filters out this sediment, but there are some producers in Bordeaux that use the original soutirage technique which, though very labor intensive, is believed to produce a higher quality of wine. This technique starts with opening the barrel and pouring the wine out into another barrel. As this occurs, the winemaker will take samples of wine in a wine glass and hold it up to a candle to check for sediment. When the wine glass becomes full of sediment, the winemaker knows to stop pouring the wine into the new barrel and cap it, and to discard the current sediment from the wine.
Finally, our time in Bordeaux and in the Left Bank wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t pay a visit to see Domaines Fabre and Château Lamothe-Cissac, home of former Total Wine & More intern, Jean-Hubert Fabre. Since Jean-Hubert left Total Wine & More as our intern, he has finished school and is starting his career in the wine industry. Château Lamothe-Cissac, where we met up with the Fabres, is in Haut-Médoc and surrounds the communes of Pauillac and Saint-Julien to the left, further in-land from the Gironde estuary. Jean-Hubert’s father, Vincent Fabre, who often travels to Total Wine & More stores along with California Zinfandel producer Paul Sobon to host exclusive tastings, produces wines from Château Lamothe-Cissac, Château Landat and Château La Tonnelle. However, Château Lamothe-Cissac is the flagship property of the Fabre family. Before stopping off at the Fabre’s, Alfio and I made a quick stop to a local florist to pick up some flowers for Madame Fabre, who prepared us dinner. It is here where we left Alfio toasting the end of his trip and another successful Bowtie Diaries with one of his favorite wines, Château Landat 2009.
Thanks for following Alfio’s adventures! Next time you’re in your local Total Wine & More, check out the section named “Alfio Moriconi Selections” for many of the wines mentioned in these posts along with many others Alfio has hand-picked during his travels. You can also find some Alfio favorites on our website here.
Until next time, Ciao!