While the mere whisper of the word “Bordeaux” conjures up images of sipping the rarefied nectar of regal chateaux at exorbitant prices, the vast majority of Bordeaux wines are well-made bottles intended for everyday consumption. Le Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux is a relatively young organization, whose member estates are dedicated to achieving excellence at reasonable prices. They travel the world, showcasing almost 200 high quality Left and Right Bank Bordeaux wines. In 2015, producers flew to Los Angeles, determined to win over the media and trade with their estate wines. From Bordeaux Superieur to the Grand Cru Classé wines of Saint-Émilion, this tour, billed “From Barrel to Bottle”, presented over 30 producers, who poured several recent vintages alongside barrel samples of the 2014 harvest, illustrating how the wines develop in barrel, and continue to evolve in the bottle. Here are a couple of highlights from this event.
Chateau d’Arsac, with Left Bank vineyards in Margaux and Haut-Médoc, is steeped in history. One of the oldest estates in Médoc, with more than 900 years shaping its legacy, Arsac was renovated 30 years ago after laying abandoned for years. Today Bordeaux wine merchant Philippe Raoux, with the expertise of winemaker Eric Boissenot, produce an impressive collection of wines. Margaux and Haut-Médoc AOC cuvées, Haut-Médoc Cru Bourgeois, Bordeaux Blanc and Rosé wines make up the majority of the 650,000 bottles produced each year. The most ambitious project of all, the Winemakers’ Collection, represents only a fraction of the total, 30,000 bottles, but is an exciting experiment. Starting in 2005, each year’s vintage is crafted by a guest winemaker, who strives to create an ideal wine. Given freedom to direct every aspect of the wine, starting with the vineyard (grape varieties, yields, time and method of harvest) and on to the cellar (winemaking techniques, maceration, barrel and aging choices), winemakers work with the same plot of grapes, a constant, yet have to deal with what Mother Nature throws their way, always a variable. Framed like a movie, the guest star winemaker stamps their own style on that year’s “episode”, affixing their signature to a special cuvée that is all their own, a culmination of a year’s worth of big and small decisions that end up with a very distinct identity. Beginning with renowned French enologist consultant Michel Rolland, whose 2005 wine received 93/100 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, to a recent 2012 cuvée from Argentinean winemaker Susana Balbo, these star winemakers flaunt their sense of style and offer a unique experience to wine lovers everywhere.
The De Schepper family from Belgium, active in Bordeaux winemaking for the past 69 years, has expanded their wine portfolio to 5 properties and the De Mour negociant house. Fresh-faced and enthusiastic Olivier De Schepper proudly poured wines from two of his families’ Saint-Émilion Grand Cru vineyards, the traditional Château La Tour Baladoz and the adjacent modern Château La Croizille. Acquired 20 years ago, La Croizille has been extensively renovated, with a high tech wine cellar and tasting room. With 5 hectares of hilltop vines terraced to provide a variety of diverse terroirs in a small space, La Croizille is predominantly planted to Merlot (85%) with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. Although each year’s bottle blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon is the same, the vintages are distinct. Olivier poured two award-winning La Croizille wines, both aged for 18 months in new French oak. The 2009 La Croizille Saint-Émilion Grand Cru was ripe, full and sweet, with lots of acidity. The 2011 La Croizille Saint-Émilion Grand Cru was superb, rich and lush with aromas of dark fruit, coffee, tobacco, and cedar. Beautifully balanced, this elegant wine was simply stunning. It was fascinating to taste these two wines side by side, and then try the 2014 barrel sample, a promise of great wine to come. The other De Schepper property, Château Tour Baladoz, is in excellent company, as its vineyards neighbor the legendary Grand Cru estates of Château Troplong Mondot and Tertre Roteboeuf, among others, in this special corner of Saint-Émilion . The vines spring from a clay-limestone soil cap on top of solid rock, providing excellent drainage and mineral inspiration for the Merlot grape. The De Schepper family has made significant investments in the vineyard and cellar, and the wines show the commitment to quality. Baladoz is a more traditional Right Bank Bordeaux blend, 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aromatic and balanced, this award-winning wine is a generous nectar, aged for 12 months in 60% new French oak. The 2009 Château Tour Baladoz Saint-Émilion Grand Cru was ripe and round, supple with good structure. The 2011 Château Tour Baladoz Saint-Émilion Grand Cru was rich, with plum and blackcurrant fruit, dark chocolate, mocha, earth, and sweet spice. The 2014 barrel sample was very approachable for a young wine. Getting the word out about these spectacular wines, Olivier travels the world, attending many different events, encouraging importers and distributors to embrace the magic that is Bordeaux.
Le Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux is a great event to attend, as the wines are poured by the owner or winemaker of these family-owned wine estates. It’s the personal touch, the dedication, and the passion for Bordeaux wine that is poured into the glass. The wines are classically good, and the prices are down to earth, something you can enjoy often, and savor the joie de vivre!