Location: France, Bordeaux, Right Bank
Red- Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc
Climate: Maritime influence, ample rainfall, mild temperatures
Soil(s): Clay, gravel, limestone
As we entered the left bank of Bordeaux, the time clock hit 1:30am. We had been to a great dinner with our good friend Emilie Riebel-Dombey, walked along the promenade on the Garonne River, and were thoroughly looking forward to a morning that did not require waking up to an alarm clock. When we arrived at Chateau Montviel, we knew we had crossed into a different world from the one we had spent our first 10 days in. Anyone who has been to Bordeaux and says it is modest and humble is lying to your face. Bordeaux is opulence, a rich history full of grandure, prestige, and a definite air of infallibility. This is not presented to you in the same way a new lottery winner flaunts the Ferrari, but in a constant and ubiquitous pursuit of perfection and excellence. It is evident in every detail of every small household, and every restaurant and Chateau. Here, the culture of wine is steeped in hundreds of years of tradition and no one, at any time gave us the impression that anything was going to change anytime soon. Having said that, man was it ever awesome… Every meal was perfect, every Chateau immaculate, every detail covered. As we stayed in the vineyards at the home (or at least one of the homes) of Mme. Catherine Péré-Vergé who purchased Chateau Montviel in 1985, and Le Gay in 2002, we should start with Pomerol.
Pomerol, by any appellation’s standards is fairly tiny, sitting on a hill just to the west of St. Emilion. The hill is actually a plateau. At the bottom of the hill, just 100 meters from the winery at Chateau Le Gay, the soil becomes more sandy. That marks the beginning of Lalande-de-Pomerol AOP, an appellation of lesser prestige (and price point, for those who are looking for a good bargain!). The soil in Pomerol itself is a complex mixture of clay and gravel, with the proportions of each varying from Chateau to Chateau. At Chateau Le Gay, the soil is covered with medium sized gravel rocks. Just on the other side of its vineyards sits the famous Chateau Petrus, who has to lay down gravel artificially to add the extra layer of complexity this gives off. It makes you wonder what is it really that drives the cost of their wines. Just beyond Petrus, you see Chateau L’Evangile and Vieux Chateau Certan with Chateau Le Pin in the distance to the west. Chateau Le Gay produces just 1,250 cases per year of their Grand Vin, and another 2,000 of its second wine Manoir de Gay. Compared to the production of, let’s say Haut-Brion, this is miniscule. The really big guys, even 1st Growths, produce upwards of 8,000-10,000 cases per year. This is part of the prestige Pomerol brings to its wine. The vineyard space is so limited that no one can produce that much wine and still be able to label it Pomerol. The wines themselves are intense, full of ripe black fruit and the classic smell of cassis and green tobacco. The extended aging in oak gives the wines a complex coffee and mocha aroma without being too overpowering. It is important to note that we tasted young wines, and the oak flavors integrate into the wines over years. The vineyards themselves were a mixture of older and younger wines ranging in age from 5 to 50 years. In 2004, Chateau Le Gay hired legendary consultant Michel Roland to work with the wines. In 2005, they received their highest critic scores ever. Surprisingly, the best vintage of late was not 2005, but 2008. I am reticent to say, but I though the Manoir de Gay actually showed better than its big brother, although we tried the 06 instead of 07.
Needless to say, vintages play a big role in Bordeaux. Thousands of dollars can separate a poor vintage from a great one when it comes to wines of age. Recently, the vintages (like in most places… thank you climate change) have been erratic. 2011 was rain filled and forgettable, but the Chateaux should be ok coming off 2010 and2009 both of which were fantastic. 2008 was a little cooler, and Merlot did better than Cabernet Sauvignon, which ripens slower. 2007 was a bit on the warm side, and production levels of the vines hurt the quality if a few cases, except in Sauternes where the vintage was borderline classic. 2006 and 2004 are sleepers that are now showing fantastic complexity and are comparative good deals coming on either side of one of the greatest vintages in Bordeaux ever, 2005. 2003- run for the hills unless it is Sauternes, these wines suffered from one of the hottest summers on record in Bordeaux, and the wines are thus tired, flabby, and over the hill. As for 2012, so far it has been cool, but the forecast had Bordeaux heating up just after we left. But as with any other region we visited, the importance of the repining period of August is critical to the final quality of the wine.
After our tasting, Emilie (who we have to thank from the bottom of our hearts for being a wonderful host and ambassador of Bordeaux) whisked us on a whirlwind tour of St. Emilion. The ancient 12th century city was, for lack of a better word, magical. The cobblestone streets wound us deeper and deeper into the city until we came to the ramparts at the very top. From here, the view was of the stretching countryside of vines and small houses. This hill has always been a strategic point due to its panoramic view for at least 20 kilometers in all directions. Countless battles were won and lost on the very spot on which we stood. As we made our way back down (and up and down again), we passed what could very well be the most romantic 2 top (a table for two, in restaurant speak) in the world. Nestled into an ancient 5 foot by 5 foot by 5 foot alcove on a street steep enough to make a San Fran resident sight, was a small table built directly into the wall of that looked out onto the town. Only out of reverence for the moment the couple was sharing did we not snap a picture. Dinner at one of Emilie’s favorite restaurants was as perfect as you could expect, and the 2004 Chateau Figeac we enjoyed alongside did not suck. Again we had fois, again there was canard, and again everything was impeccable. The left bank for us was like someone hitting the pause button on our whirlwind voyage. Looking out over the roofs of St. Emilion onto the L’Eglise Monolithe it seemed again time could stand still.