In part one of our buyers debate with the Bordeaux Wines we focused on what different operators felt the opportunities and challenges were for Bordeaux Wines overall in the UK. In part two we look at three case studies from producers operating in different appellations – Médoc, Côtes de Bordeaux and Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur – who are looking to embrace the modern Bordeaux and look at their vines through fresh eyes. The buyers had the chance to taste their wines and assess the styles they felt are the most suitable and relevant for the UK market.
Today London hosts the second in the Bordeaux Day tastings taking place in the UK. To help get you in the mood here is the second in our reports from our recent The Buyer Modern Bordeaux debate. You can read part one here.
(Click here to watch the full debate)
The Buyer would like to thank our panel of leading buyers, wine merchants and importers for taking part in our Modern Bordeaux debate. They include:
- Daniel Lambert, founder of Daniel Lambert Wines.
- Frances Bentley, wine buyer at LWC Drinks.
- Freddie Cobb, head of drinks buying at Vagabond Wines.
- Victoria Sharples, owner of Swains Wine Bar and Store.
- Tim Carlisle, head of independents and on-trade at North South Wines.
- Daniel Grigg, owner, Museum Wines.
The panel also included three Bordeaux producers who were:
- Gabriel Asseilly, of the Asseilly family who bought Château Biac, overlooking the Garonne River in Côtes de Bordeaux in 2006.
- Théophile Cordonnier of the family-owned Château Anthonic in the in the Moulis-en-Médoc appellation that was certified organic in 2019 and does a lot to promote the biodiversity of its estate.
- Basaline Granger who runs Vignobles Despagne with her brother Thibault in the Bordeaux Supérieur who together look after six Bordeaux properties covering 300 hectares. Vignobles Despagne is in the Entre-Deux-Mers.
Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur
Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur represents 53% of all region’s vineyards (57,000 hectares) and covers seven appellations, including red, white, crémant and rosé, and exports 55% of its wines. More than 60% of the Bordeaux wines exported to the UK in 2021 were Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur AOPs.
Basaline Granger, managing director of Vignobles Despagne along her brother Thibault, is situated in the Entre-deux-Mers, dubbed the beating heart of wine production in Bordeaux, which produces good volumes of wine thanks to its proximity to the Atlantic and being between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers.
Vignobles Despagne produces red, white and rosé wines and exports its wines around the world with good market in Japan, South Korea and the US.
Granger says the wines it is producing now are very different to those her father made, with much lower alcohol and a great focus on getting acidity in the wines, and “going back to the viticulture” so that the grape itself is at the centre of its winemaking and decision-making.
“We really think about the style of fruit that we are producing,” she says. To do that has meant really drilling into its soils to better understand the terroirs it has to work with. It means some of its white wines, for example, are very fruit driven, whilst others are more barrel aged styles, like its reds. Where the focus is on “drinkability” rather than the full styles that her father was making. She hopes they have a more restrained “finer” style now.
Château Bel Air Perponcher Réserve, Bordeaux Blanc 2021 (retail around £10-11)
(Click below for Basaline Granger, Vignobles Despagne, on how exports have helped it understand what the market needs)
Granger was able to introduce its Bel Air Perponcher Réserve Bordeaux Blanc which is being sold through The Wine Society. She says its relationship with The Wine Society, and in particular its Bordeaux buyer, Tim Sykes, is vital as he will come four times a year to see the wines at all stages of its development. “We’ve really created a great partnership and they have helped us take some directions and making sure the wine is a success with their customers.”
This wine is a blend of the three main white varieties in Entre-deux-Mers, so 75% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Sémillon and the rest Muscadelle. It is part of the Bordeaux Hot 50 2022 and distributed by Fredericks in the UK.
She says they like to blend most of their wines as it is an opportunity for each variety to show off its personality, so here you have the “straightness” of the Sauvignon balanced by the more rounded personality of Semillon.
The buyers saw this as a classic example of what Bordeaux can really offer. “It’s fresh, it’s zesty, it’s crisp. It’s a real summer wine. Perfect on a hot day. Fabulous. £10. It’s great,” says Sharples.
Bentley likes the fact it is a 2021 wine that is already ready to drink now, which is good news for the producer in that it frees up their stock and gets cash flow moving through their business and is ideal for the on-trade that simply does not have the big cellars any more to lay down and age wine.
Côtes de Bordeaux
The Union des Côtes de Bordeaux includes six appellations: Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon, Francs and Sainte-Foy, plus Côtes de Bordeaux. It is home to many quality and affordable red wines from Bordeaux (96%) and some white wines. It has around 760 winegrowers, covering 10,100 hectares, across five terroirs and in 2021 produced 349, 000 hectolitres.
Gabriel Asseily was able to show his wines from Château Biac that has been owned by the Asseily family, originally from Lebanon, since 2006. They have worked hard to develop and improve the vines, their 10 hectares of vineyards and cellars of an estate that dates back to the 17th century. The estate overlooks the Garonne River and produces wines from clay, silt and sandy and gravel soils.
It now produces two main ranges, the Felix, an accessible fruit forward more modern Bordeaux style and its estate wine that is a classic opulent blend made for ageing.
“We are not trying to re-invent the wheel,” he says, “but I am trying to maximise the revenue from the property. We have the ability to push as much as possible because we have a small property.”
(Click below for Gabriel Asseily at Chateau Biac on how Bordeaux is trying to overcome its issues and challenges)
Its Château Biac, Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux 2014 (£36.95) is a blend of Merlot (68%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), Cabernet Franc (7%) and Petit Verdot (5%) which he believes shows of the acidity that comes from the mineral notes in its soils, so you get the balance between long silk tannins and its freshness. It is aged for 16 months in barrels and distributed by Brompton Wine.
This is a wine that “ticks a lot of boxes” for Victoria Sharples in that it has the “dark fruits, has a warmness to it, good freshness” and the level of acidity that is key to any good Bordeaux red.
Grigg totally agrees and says it is just the kind of Bordeaux he likes – and was looking forward to when he could finish off the rest of the bottle. It’s also not a traditional Bordeaux and has some nods to the New World, and for a 2014 is drinking really well and is a fair price at around £35.
Representing the Médoc was Théophile Cordonnier who works with his parents at Château Anthonic, a third generation family-owned estate in the Moulis-en-Médoc appellation, the smallest in the Médoc. It has introduced a number of agro-ecological processes, particularly agroforestry across its 30 hectares, of which 20 hectares is forest, to help the biodiversity in its 38,000 vines and to help its clay soils.
The family is always looking to experiment with new ideas and practices, such as using nettle manure to invigorate the vines, or using braiding instead of trimming as a way to limit the humidity that causes diseases. It has also planted hedges alongside its vines to help “make the link” between the forest and the vines and has a blend of cover crops in the vineyards. The estate also uses bats instead of chemical insecticides and the wine produced has been certified organic since 2019.
The wine tasted with the panel was Château Anthonic, Moulis-en-Médoc 2012 (£25.99), which looks to put the emphasis on the purity of its fruit and soft tannins, thanks to the short maceration of 17-25 days and a maximum fermentation temperature of 26C in concrete, amphora and stainless-steel vats.
(Click below for Théophile Cordonnier of Château Anthonic on the unique terroir of Moulis en Médoc)
Cordonnier says the key change for him in terms of how it makes its wines is to look at each vat separately in the fermentation process and follow different regimes depending on how they are tasting. The introduction of amphora in 2019 has also helped put the emphasis more on the fruit and is now used to age 20% of it wines, he says.
The 2012 vintage is a blend of Merlot (82%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (18%) and has been aged for 18 months in 33% new French oak. It is ruby in colour with purple tints, notes of forest floor, black fruit and toasty oak on the nose and a smooth and generous mouthfeel with a long finish.
It’s distributed in the UK by Berry Bros & Rudd, High Breck Vintners, Vine Trail and Corney & Barrow.
Tim Carlisle says he likes the lighter style that comes from the cooler Moulis appellation and this Merlot dominated wine is a good example of what the region can offer in terms of producer easier drinking style wines.
Freddie Cobb says he really likes the wine and “its tasting beautifully” with a nice balance between “fresh flavours and tertiary savoury notes” and is particularly “smart” at its £25 price point. “It’s very much up mine and our consumers’ alley.”
Sharples was interested in what impact the amphora has made on the wine and whether it reflects the change in winemaking styles in Bordeaux. Cordonnier says using amphora means the wines can be drunk younger, but as they help with the balance in the wines they can also help them age too. “It means the wine tastes good at each stage in its life,” he says.
Sharples, though, says it is a delicate balance as, yes, you want to drink wines younger, but part of the appeal of Bordeaux is its ageability and some of that might be lost in the bid to make wines that can be drunk younger.
Asseily says Bordeaux as a whole can be guilty of following winemaking trends and investing huge sums in new techniques like automated punch overs in the cellar, or using different ageing vessels like amphora. Yes, the amphora helps you emphasise the fruit, but it shouldn’t be the sole vessel in the fermenting process, so as not to lose Bordeaux’s DNA. “You can lose the romance of making wine.”
Getting that balance right between adapting and trying new techniques, and keeping true to your terroir is what modern Bordeaux is about, he adds. “Acidity is key and going to your vats every morning and tasting the wine and responding to them.”
Daniel Lambert is not keen on the amphora trend in Bordeaux as he thinks it is taking away the terroir aspect in the wines. “It is dramatically changing the style of wine that you would expect to be a classic example of Bordeaux. It does not work for me. It strips something away from the wine.”
(Click here for LWC Drinks Frances Bentley on why the on-trade needs Bordeaux wines people can drink now)
Bentley thinks this kind of Bordeaux wine is “really important to the on-trade in that it is drinking well now”. “We need to have things that hit the market and we can open. That is one of the important things with modern Bordeaux is its approachability and its accessibility. I really like this wine, it’s a lovely example, and I would be very excited to taste the 2019.”
“The approachability of young Bordeaux is an exciting proposition,” says Daniel Grigg, particularly as consumers are looking to drink wines younger and younger as they have grown up with so many New World wines that allow you to do that, particularly from South Africa and Australia.
“It’s rare to find an old vintage from the New World.”
“Making wines that can be drunk young and don’t need a decade in bottle before you can pop a cork can only be a good thing,” he adds.
The panel was asked to share its views on what it would like to see Bordeaux doing more or less of.
Tim Carlisle says it is matter of getting a better balance between the green and dusty wines of its past and the fruit-forward wines being made now and produce ready to drink wines “in a wide window” that can hit the on-trade and consumer now, but also have the ability to age and be put down in the cellar. It is now far more about coping with climate change, when they pick and handle their viticulture and get away from the “formulaic” approach of the past and keep away from the using all the latest “gadgets” in the winery.
“And not be afraid to learn from the rest of the world, that is less usual than it could be,” says Carlisle.
The new generation of winemakers in Bordeaux is certainly present, and their study and experience from spending time in various other winemaking regions across the world is undeniably apparent in their cellar and vineyard processes and the wines that they produce wines back in Bordeaux.
(Click here for Daniel Lambert on why Bordeaux would do well to look at other regions to make itself better)
Summarising his thoughts, Daniel Lambert adds: “The problem with Bordeaux is that it could be so much better…It’s one of the few regions in France that actually does everything and the communication on that could be even better.”
He thinks the winemakers themselves “are doing the best they can” particularly in light of climate change, it’s just the politics that often gets in the way.
Basaline Granger at Vignobles Despagne agrees climate change is now a major factor for all Bordeaux producers are they are having to change the way they work and also introduce varieties that simply would not have matured in the region 20 years ago – like Petit Verdot and Malbec. How winemakers respond to climate change will in itself have a major impact on the styles of wine being made not just in the near future, but for decades to come.
She welcomes the fact that more plantings are now taking place with varieties that winemakers and producers know are exactly right for those soils and terroir, but also with steps to improve the overall biodiversity as well. This was not always the case in the past.
Gabriel Asseily says that as an outsider coming into the region there is no doubt that “Bordeaux is trying to change” but it is going to take a long time and it is not an area for “knee jerk” reactions. But importantly people across the area are looking at new ways to express themselves, their land and their wines. “There are changes, but it has to be communicated.”
Frances Bentley says there is still probably room for the old and new styles of winemaking in Bordeaux, it just needs to be communicated better, both by producers, importers and operators. “That’s where the generics can really come into it and make a difference by really understanding the channels they are talking to,” she adds.
She says it is clear talking as a group that there needs to be better clarity about what Bordeaux wines in the main are doing for each channel and what they can offer different operators in order to help them list the wines and get them on shelf. Importers also do more to make sure their sales teams really understand the Bordeaux wines they have to sell and what point of difference they have for their customers.
“There needs to be some clarity of thought about what Bordeaux thinks modern Bordeaux is and does that match up to what the consumer and the trade thinks,” she adds.
(Click here for Freddie Cobb on how Bordeaux goes down with Vagabond customers)
Freddie Cobb says the wines the panel were able to taste during the session show the different styles and characteristics that come from Bordeaux and also how far it has come from what was the Parkerisation of Bordeaux 10 to 15 years ago. It is now great to see the real differences that producers are able to show from their own distinct terroirs. “What is great to see is people are now expressing themselves, whether it be in the vineyard, or the winery, in trying to get the best out of what is best showing their terroir. It is wrong for us as buyers to tell them what best brings out their terroir. That is down to them as it is their name on the label and sometimes we forget that when speaking to producers.”
He adds: “It is refreshing. It feels like the shackles have been broken a little bit.”
Victoria Sharples’ final advice to Bordeaux producers is not to have their heads turned by the latest trend or way of making wines. “Look at what the soil is. There’s a story to tell there and work with that. There is a tendency to get wrapped up in techniques that might just distract you…and keep that freshness.”
- Read part one of our report from the Modern Bordeaux Buyer Debate here.
- To find out more about Bordeaux, visit the Vins de Bordeaux website here.
Discover the unexpected at Bordeaux Day
You can discover modern Bordeaux for yourself this week as producers take part in two tastings in the UK where they hope to show the innovative styles and approaches now being taken across the region. The Manchester event has already taken place but you can click below and register and discover what today’s Bordeaux is all about at its London tasting:
Bordeaux Day London – Wednesday 13th July at Arlettie, 13-14 Margaret Street W1W 8RN