In September, we toured the wineries and distilleries of Bordeaux. In last month’s edition I talked about the luscious sweet wines of Sauternes in the Sauternais region of Bordeaux located south of Bordeaux near the town of Langon on the Garonne river. Our excursion took us about an hour east of Bordeaux on the Right Bank near the town of St Emilion in the region of Libournais near the Dordogne river passing through the flat roads and rolling hills and vineyards of St Emilion and Pomerol. Chateau de Pessac vines were first planted in 1737 and the Chateau has been a strategic location atop a limestone hill since the twelfth century. The Chateau was founded in Mediaeval times and in 1453 was the site of the French victory at the Battle of Castillon La Bataille, putting an end to the Hundred Years War. In fact ‘Pressac’ is the old French word for Malbec! Today, since 1997, Jean-Francois Quenin and family have owned and operated the Chateau making vast improvements resulting in many awards and the granting of Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe status since 2012.
Their grape varieties include Merlot which is perfectly adapted to the clayey limestone soil giving roundness, volume, boldness, plumpness and plenty of fruit to the wine, with aromas of undergrowth and a hint of meatiness, and truffle tones. This grape variety tends to be early ripening and is often picked before its fellow grapes. Cabernet Franc is also an early ripening variety, giving finesse and freshness, while at the same time enhancing the aromatic bouquet of this Bordeaux wine blend. It has long ageing potential and when well made, as it is here at the Chateau, it offers elegant tannins that are never aggressive. The third classic varietal in Bordeaux blend is Cabernet Sauvignon which gives structure, body, power and tannins to the wine, as well as providing spicy aromas. Other varietals are allowed in Bordeaux and the Chateau also produces Carménère, a thick skinned grape variety which is the ancestor of Merlot and today is mainly found in Chile. Carménère is sensitive and prone to some growing problems explaining why it has almost disappeared from French vineyards. Nevertheless, its spicy aromatic expression adds a dimension of complexity of Bordeaux wines. Malbec offers deep colour to the wine and provides lovely fruit on the bouquet and palate. In Saint Emilion, Malbec over time reveals fragrances of tobacco too.
The Chateau harvests by hand and with modern vinification where each field has its own huge gravity-fed cement fermentation vat, you can see why the price of Bordeaux can be expensive when you are making the best and being rewarded not only with high quality wine but with awards like Chateau de Pressac has garnered! The price differential between two class of wines we tried was not much and I think that at 28 and 30 Euros you are getting very good value.
We entered the grand hall and were seated looking out the many tall windows overlooking the vineyards below as we tasted the 2013 Chateau Tour de Pressac, Saint Emilion Cru Classe, their 2nd growth wine consisting of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Malbec. It was a medium ruby colour with aromas of light red berry fruit. On the palate, medium bodied, well structured and balanced tannins with an easy-to-drink, cherry-filled character best consumed at a relatively young age. It was drinking nicely with a touch of tannin and spice which matched the light sideboard charcuterie and cheeses served. Then we had their 2007 Chateau de Pressac, Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe, their 1st growth wine consisting of the same varietals in this percentage blend: Merlot 72%; Cabernet Franc 14%; Cabernet Sauvignon 12%; Carmenere 1% and Malbec 1%. This one was impressive with a bit deeper colour extraction and simply more aromas and tastes than their lovely 2nd growth wine. It was the ramped up, top quality version.
For those of us who like Bordeaux wines here in Ontario, you can splurge on a top producer Bordeaux or you can opt for more reasonably priced good Bordeaux. Recently, LCBO Vintages have featured some nice ones which I buy from year to year and they range in the $16 to $20 range. From Saint Emilion, try Château Lanbersac Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2015, a blend of Merlot/Cabernet Franc, Vintages#12019 at $19.95 described as: Powerful ripe fruits and rich tannins come together in this jammy Merlot with a dark texture. Packed with spice, berry flavors and toasty wood aging accents, the wine is still young. It needs time for the impressive fruit to come through, so drink from 2022. Cellar Selection. Score – 92. (Roger Voss, Wine Enthusiast, Dec. 31, 2018). Or try Château Hyot 2015 Vintages#63537 at $16.95 available in Carleton Place. A round and juicy red with berry and chocolate character, chewy tannins and a flavorful finish. Medium to full body. Needs a year or two to soften. Try in 2020. Score – 90. (James Suckling, jamessuckling.com, Feb. 2, 2018). Also available in Carleton Place is Château Le Peyrat 2017, Vintages#171090 at $16.95. Castillon is fundamentally an extension of the geography of Saint-Émilion. This affords the wines some characteristics of their more renowned neighbour. This one from 2017 is rich and complex with great depth and presence. Smoky black fruit, cassis, herbs, earth and chalky tannins make for a thoroughly satisfying wine. A great value, and a sure-fire hit when served with lamb or beef casserole. (Vintages panel, April 2019). And the best value now is Chateau Saint-Germain Bordeaux Superieur AOC, Vintages#152587 at $2 off until 1 December for $14.95, available in Westport and Kingston. Clear medium ruby colour; black cherry and currant with light oak spice aromas; medium body, dry wine, cherry fruit and oak spice flavours to finish.
If you have any topics you want me to cover in future columns, be it wine, spirits or beer, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cheers and Merry Christmas from The Travelling Sommelier!