gvwm latest:

Chateau Profiles

 

1. Chateau Lafite-Rothschild

Even before Lafite’s purchase by Baron James de Rothschild in 1868, the estate was being held up as a shining example of a financially-successful enterprise, commented upon in the sales catalogue at the time for its ability to make ‘100,000 francs per year simply in wine sales’. It’s safe to say that the Rothschilds have since assured its continued success.

The furthest north of the three Pauillac First Growths, Lafite Rothschild comprises 112 hectares of vines, a beautiful park, and a sober, elegant chateau which flies the five-arrowed insignia of the Rothschild family from one of its stone turrets. It certainly looks the part of one of the world’s most legendary wine estates, and yet seems to shun the glamour of its neighbour and fellow First Mouton Rothschild.

Perhaps this is because most of the action is taking place underground, where the gravel of its famous terroir in parts reaches up to 20 metres deep. Or perhaps it’s because both owner Baron Eric de Rothschild and Estate Director Charles Chevallier are famously understated, preferring to let the wine do the talking.

Indeed one of the many fascinations of this estate is how little they seem concerned by keeping up with their neighbours. Grapes (planted to 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot, with a small 4.5 hectare plot just over the northern border in Saint Estèphe) are harvested by hand, sorted by hand in the vines without the help of the high-tech laser sorters that have proliferated around Bordeaux in recent years, and little satellite imagery is used in the vines to measure ripeness (‘we prefer tradition to technology’ says Chevallier).

Work in the cellars continues this philosophy – the malolactic fermentation is started naturally, with no added yeasts, and much of the First Wine is fermented in the same wooden vats which have been in place since the 1980s. And every single barrel used to age the wine at Lafite is made by their on-site coopers. There are a few new touches of course - an extension to the cellar has been in place since the 2011 harvest, with a range of stainless steel and cement tanks from 40 to 120 hectolitres, to increase plot selection (most typically for grapes from the young vines, to ensure their progress is being meticulously tracked).

Production is split between Chateau Lafite and the (at times notorious) second wine, Carruades de Lafite. Although selection for Carruades has been drastically increased in recent years, there are no plans for a third wine here, as any grapes that don’t make it to Carruades are used for the branded wine DBR Legende, produced by parent company DBPR (Lafite).

33250 Pauillac, www.lafite.com

 

2. Chateau Latour

At the southern entrance to Pauillac, just after the vines of Saint Julien, the low stone wall surrounding the main 47 hectare plot of Chateau Latour, known as L’Enclos, marks out its most famous vines. Rising 10 metres from the ground is a round tower which was formerly a dovecote, but was reportedly built from the stones of the original tower – dating back to the 14thth century - which gave the estate its name. The river Garonne is clearly visible at the far side of the softly sloping vineyard, as is the 19th century chateau standing at a discreet distance from the modern, sleek buildings which house the offices and tasting rooms.

Latour has the reputation of being the most consistent of the First Growths, producing year-on-year a muscular, concentrated powerhouse of a wine which offers the ageing potential of an average human life span.  Owned by billionaire businessman François Pinault (who counts Gucci, Christie’s and the Palazzo Grassi among his other prizes), Latour is run by his son François-Henri Pinault, with CEO and president Frederic Engerer in charge in Bordeaux.

We are firmly in luxury territory here, with all that that entails. Every detail is honed to perfection, from the all-white tasting rooms with their floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the vines, to the gleaming stainless steel fermentation room, fully renovated in 2001 and containing 66 stainless steel vats ranging from 12 to 170 hectolitres. In the ageing cellar, the wine rests for 18 months in 100% new oak, with each barrel of the highest quality French oak, selected by 12 different cooperage houses. Just behind the cellar, the final touches include an on-site bottling line, where corks are tested and retested, and each bottle is individually wrapped – by hand – in silk paper to protect the label. A certificate of provenance, marking the number of each bottle, and assuring that it has been bottled at the estate, is included in every case. Each bottle has a code on the neck to ensure full traceability.

Recent changes here concentrate mainly on the method of farming in the vines, which is increasingly following biodynamic practices. Ploughing with horses was reintroduced in 2008. Today there are 20 hectares farmed biodynamically, with a further 30 hectares organic, all located within L’Enclos, and we can expect that figure to rise over the next few years. In total, Latour has 85 hectares of vines, both inside and outside L’Enclos. This is the estate with the most Cabernet Sauvignon planted of all the Firsts – over 80% of the vines, with the remainder being 18% Merlot, and a small amount of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The first wine is invariably over 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the other grapes making up more of the blend in the second wine, Les Forts de Latour, and the third wine, Pauillac de Latour.

33250 Pauillac, www.chateau-latour.com

 

3. Chateau Margaux

It’s a rare visit to Chateau Margaux that doesn’t involve sharing the tree-lined driveway with coaches of visitors photographing the honeyed limestone columns of its Palladian-style chateau. It wouldn’t have been so different back in 1810, when the chateau was built by the celebrity-architect of the time, Louis Combes, and was immediately hailed as an era-defining piece of architecture – and attracted admiring visitors.

A classified historic monument since 1946, today it is the private residence of owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos (who splits her time between Margaux and Paris), with the working parts of the vineyard laid out, exactly as they were in the early 19th century, in a number of out-buildings on either side. The offices and caretaker’s buildings lie off to the left of the chateau, white the main vat rooms, cellars and barrel-making facilities occupy a series of low-lying 19th century building built around a large expanse of cobbled courtyard. Behind all this, a large park stretches into the distance.

The next few years will see ambitious renovation works begin to the cellars, with the building of both an underground barrel cellar (large enough to hold barrels for, on average, 150,000 bottles of Chateau Margaux and 200,000 of Pavillon Rouge) and a new white-wine vinification room, which will bring the wine-making of the estate’s renowned Pavillon Blanc, made from 100% Sauvignon blanc grapes, into the main cellars (currently it is made in a separate area opposite the church that stands off to the side of the chateau’s entrance). As of the 2009 vintage, an as-yet unnamed third wine has been added to the stable, to ensure the selection for Pavillon Rouge is a vigorous as possible.

Parts of the renovation are already finished and in action. Since 2010, a series of small stainless steel vats of 25 hectolitres have been installed, able to take grapes from around ¼ of a hectare in each one, most typically young vines that need to be followed and understood. And at harvest time, the entire courtyard is turned into a high-tech reception area, with a variety of machines and men weighing, measuring and sorting the grapes that are brought in by teams of over 250 hand-pickers. Director Paul Pontallier, and technical director Thomas Do-Chi-Nam change the arrangements and parameters of the reception area each year, depending on the requirement of the individual vintage.

As with at all the First Growths, the aim is to ensure that the legendary obsessive attention to detail extends to understanding the differences between each row of vine, and each plant within each row – and to treat them accordingly throughout the growing season, and harvest. Recent changes across the 92 hectares of vines (planted to 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc) including swapping the orientation of rows, increasing the density of plantation, matching the right grape varieties to the right terroirs. This is precision winemaking in action.

33460 Margaux, www.chateau-margaux.com

 

4. Chateau Haut-Brion 

The smallest of the 1855 First Growths, Chateau Haut-Brion has 51.5 hectares of vines and produces around 200,000 bottles per year, split between the first wine, and the second Clarence de Haut-Brion. A tiny amount of the highly sought after Haut Brion Blanc is also produced, made from 2.8 hectares of an almost equal blend of Sauvignon blanc and sémillon. The reason for its relatively small size – under half that of both Lafite and Mouton – is its location, just a few miles from the centre of Bordeaux city, meaning any expansion plans are somewhat curtailed by the surrounding urban spread. It also explains the difference in grape plantings here, as the terroir is more varied than in the gravelly Médoc, resulting in a more even split of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot.

But size clearly isn’t everything, as this was the first of the Firsts to come to international acclaim, with its wines being celebrated on the English market in the 1660s, a good half-century before Margaux, Lafite and Latour came to prominence. And it was in the cellars of Haut-Brion, in the years preceding its appearance in London, where the new style of firmer, age-worthy claret was developed – a style which the other chateaux named as Firsts in the 1855 classification quickly adopted.

Today, Haut-Brion is owned by European Royalty in the form of president and CEO Prince Robert of Luxembourg and Nassau. First cousin of the sovereign Grand Duke of Luxembourg, Prince Robert is grandson to the American financier Clarence Dillon, who bought the estate in 1935 and rebuilt its renown over the following decades. 

He is joined in running Haut-Brion by director Jean-Philippe Delmas, who has been in the role since 2004, taking over from his father and grandfather before him. The three generations of Delmas’ have ensured Haut-Brion has retained its innovative status; this was the first chateau to introduce stainless steel tanks for winemaking in the early 1960s, and one of the first to have an onsite oenology laboratory, heading up by Jean-Philippe Masclef, together with a nursery for private clonal selection. This dates back to 1970, when Jean-Bernard Delmas pioneered the idea. Today the estate uses one dozen clones per plot to be sure of complexity for all its red grapes, and enlists six trainees for the two months before harvest to test the ripeness of the grapes in each plot at least four or five times across the whole vineyard.

Progress continues – the chateau has just seen the completion of a new building for offices, and a circular library which will house an important collection of rare wine and gastronomy books. And as with Margaux and Lafite, there is also an onsite cooperage, this time in partnership with Seguin-Moreau barrel makers, producing around 500 barrels per year. Here, cooper Luc Nicolas perfects the Haut-Brion signature toast, which ensures the hint of roasted coffee beans and soft leather notes that infuse its wine.

33600 Pessac, www.haut-brion.com


5. Chateau Mouton Rothschild

The vines of Mouton’s touch those of its neighbour Lafite in several spots – fittingly perhaps, as both estates are owned by different branches of the Rothschild family, and their histories have been linked since the 1860s, when first Baron Nathaniel Rothschild bought Mouton in 1853, followed by his uncle Baron James’ purchase of Lafite five years later.

This makes Mouton the only one of the five First Growths to have remained in the ownership of the same family since the 1855 classification – something which is clearly a source of pride for the family, and even more so since it took until 1973 for Mouton to be given the official title of First Growth.

The vineyards of Mouton extend over three small hills, with the slopes, and the deep gravel terroir, providing excellent drainage, And so carefully are they looked after that certain vines at the estate date back to 1900, and are still producing tiny quantities of complex wine. As with Haut-Brion, the estate’s onsite nursery grows its own clones to ensure the quality, and the variability, of the vine stock across its 84 hectares, planted to 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc. Satellite imagery is used in the vines to isolate different zones, and each grape is looked after according to its age, its variety, its soil, its microclimate, and the needs according to the soil in which it grows. ‘There are no formal rules at Mouton, besides being ready to adapt’ says technical director Philippe Dhalluin. ‘We respect the essential character of each plot, and treat them all as if they will end up in our first wine.’ The amount which finally does make it to Mouton Rothschild varies each year, most usually around 16,000 cases, with the second wine Petit Mouton making up around 8,000 cases. A small amount of fine white wine, called Aile d’Argent, is also produced.

The chateau itself stands in the centre of the vines, built during the 20th century (one reason perhaps for its being ‘First of the Seconds’ in 1855 is that it lacked a fine residence). Surrounded by perfectly manicured formal gardens, Mouton seems the most glamorous of the Firsts, a fact reflected in the generous, joyful nature of its wine, and the celebration of creativity evidenced by its ever-changing wine labels, created each year by some of the world’s most renowned artists. This welcoming, open spirit is encouraged by the present generation of the family, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, who celebrates and continues the artistic spirit of the estate’s most famous 20th century owner, her father Baron Philippe de Rothschild.

Mouton joins the other Firsts in unveiling extensive renovations, due to be completed in 2012. There will be new cellars (building on the drama of the 100-metre long original barrel cellars, constructed in 1924 by Parisian stage designer Charles Siclis). But the centrepiece of the renovations will be the new art museum, updating the original Museum of Wine in Art, founded in 1962 by Baron Philippe, and containing a priceless collection of artworks relating to wine and the vine.

33250 Pauillac, www.bpdr.com

 

6. Chateau Cos d’Estournel

For years, this estate has been described as a paean to one former owner’s love affair with India – namely Louis Gaspard d’Estournel, who in the 18th century became known as the ‘Maharajah of Saint Estèphe’, and had pagodas built over his wine cellars, alongside intricately exotic carvings at various points of the chateau.

Over the last few years, however, another owner – this time French hotelier and multimillionaire businessman Michel Reybier – has made his own stamp on Chateau Cos d’Estournel, redrawing its architecture in the model of cutting-edge 21st century design. The centerpiece of a visit today is the new vat room. Covering 2,000m2 of floor space, with 1000m2 of passageways, the entire thing is gravity-fed, with no pumps used anywhere during the creation of the wine. There are 72 stainless steel tanks, each with two chambers to ensure true plot-by-plot vinification. They claim that no vat room in Bordeaux has this capacity. The whole cellar reaches up 30 metres at its highest point, and heads 10 metres underground at its lowest – and director Jean Guillaume Prats (son of former owner Bruno Prats) attests that it has the highest capacity of any cellar in the Medoc.

A second growth in the 1855 classification, the beautiful contrasts of the ancient and modern parts of Cos can be viewed from the terraces of Lafite, and its approach to viticulture shares many of the same obsessional details as its neighbour. Its 91 hectares of vines are planted to 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot, spaced at between 8,000 and 10,000 vines per hectare – producing between 200,000 to 380,000 bottles, depending on vintage. Production is split between first wine Cos d’Estournel, and second wine Les Pagodes de Cos (interestingly, since the new cellar, the quantity of first wine has raised to around 70-80% of the whole, because of the precision allowed by the new apparatus). An excellent quality white wine, Cos d’Estournel Blanc, is produced from vines that are located to the north of the estate, in Jau-Dignac and loirac.

33180, Saint Estephe www.estournel.com



7. Chateau Montrose

An air of quiet confidence has exuded Chateau Montrose in recent years, ever since Martin and Olivier Bouygues bought the 1855 Second Growth estate back in 2006, and began investing heavily in environmentally-sound practices that have made it a leading force in high-quality, sustainable viticulture. Their convincing of former Haut-Brion director Jean-Bernard Delmas to join them in their quest hasn’t exactly hurt them either.

Located on the eastern side of Saint Estèphe, set on a ridge with a large part of the vines sloping down towards the river Garonne, this estate has seen a rapid expansion in recent years. Today it stands at 96 hectares (one of its most recent acquisitions was 20 hectares of vines from the nearby Chateau Phelan-Segur, from a plot adjacent to the estate’s own vines, and which was part of Montrose until the 19th century). Overall, the vineyard is planted to 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 6% Cabernet farnc and 2% Petit Verdot, at a density of 9000 vines per hectare.

The Bouygues background in manufacturing and construction has certainly come into play. Since building works were completed in 2010, Montrose is now self-sufficient in energy, with over 3000m2 of solar panels, and a full water recycling system. ‘At Montrose, we are lucky to have a water source below the chateau that remains constant all year at around 14 degrees – meaning that it can be used in the cellar to cool things down in the summer, and warm things up in winter,’ says Delmas. ‘It avoids the over-use of thermo-regulation, and can also convert to energy, to store it up for use when needed.’

Against all this innovation, the wines of Montrose have maintained the hallmarks of a true Saint Estèphe – with the structure and power of the appellation, but a freshness and elegance that speaks of the high emphasis accorded to tradition.  The second wine is Dame de Montrose.
 
33180 Saint Estephe www.chateau-montrose.com



8. Chateau Calon Ségur

When Madame Denise Capbern-Gascqueton passed away in 2011, the Médoc lost one of its true characters. But her resolutely low-key, meticulous approach to the wine is being continued by her daughter, Helene, who worked alongside her mother for 40 years.

Helene is joined by her own daughter Isabelle, and they will no doubt continue to do what Madame Gascqueton – as she was invariably known – had managed since her own husband’s death in 1995; producing an exquisitely crafted traditionally-styled Saint Estèphe wine. This translates into a fairly high degree of Cabernet Sauvignon (up to 86% for the first wine in some years, with the balance made up by Merlot and a dash of Petit Verdot), and a higher proportion of Merlot into the second wine, Le Marquis de Calon.

Chateau Calon Ségur has been in the Gascqueton family since 1894, and was awarded Third Growth status in the 1855 classification. Its famous label, with the words Calon Ségur contained with in a simple line-drawn heart, recalls one of its most famous past owners, Nicolas-Alexandre de Ségur, who owned both Lafite and Latour for much of the 18th century, but reputedly held them lower in his affections that this less prestigious estate, saying ‘My heart belongs to Calon’.  There is another link to a First Growth today – technical director Vincent Millet used to work at Chateau Margaux and attests to how the terroir here is perfectly adapted to Cabernet.

Its 55 hectares of vines lie to the north of the appellation – and it has the title of most northerly 1855 classified estate in the Médoc. Its normal production is 160,000 bottles annually, but it seems to have suffered from a number of hail storms in recent years, and on several occasions that number has been halved.

33180 Saint Estephe
 

9. Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron

If the physical outline of one chateau embodies the romance and renown of the best Medoc estates, it has to be 1855 Second Growth Pichon-Longueville, whose 19th century spires, reflected in the ornamental pond in front of the estate, form one of the emblematic images of Bordeaux. And as with Chateau Margaux, you often find there are photographers standing outside wanting to capture this particular piece of Medoc history.

Inside, in contrast, this is a resolutely modern estate, constantly innovating and refining its techniques. Director Christian Seely has been in charge here since French insurance giant AXA Millesimes bought the estate in 1987. The 73-hectare vineyard is planted to 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and the remainder split between Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, but it is the Cabernet which dominates the masculine style of its first wine, up to 80% in most years.


The most significant project in recent years has been the new barrel cellars, which were designed by architect Alain Triaud, and new vinification rooms, designed by Jean de Gasting and Patrick Dillon, all set underneath the reflective pond.  Low-impact techniques are used throughout, such as gravity-feeding of the grapes, peristaltic pumps and manual punching down of the cap during fermentation. There are innovations in customer relations also – since 2011, all bottles come with a QR code , allowing clients to simply scan the code on their mobile to access videos, tasting notes and vintage information on the wines.

The second wine at the estate is Les Tourelles de Longueville.
 
33 250 Pauillac, www.pichonlongueville.com

 

10. Chateau Pichon Lalande, Comtesse 

Set directly opposite Pichon Longueville, and once part of the same estate, until a 19th century family dispute saw one side given to Countess Virginie Pichon Longueville, and the other to her brother Baron Raoul. Ever since, woman have continued to play an important part in its direction, with its most famous 20th century owner being May Eliane de Lencquesaing (known in Bordeaux as La Generale for her determination and attention to detail), daughter of Edouard Miailhe, whose family had owned the estate since 1925.

Today, there is still a woman at the helm – Dame de Lencquesaing may have sold the estate to the Rouzaud family of Champagne Roederer in 2007, but they have recently installed Sylvie Cazes as managing director. Cazes, still part-owner and board member at Chateau Lynch Bages, has been in place since February 2011, following the retirement of long-time director Gildas d’Ollone. Philippe Moreau is the tehnical director, and works across the Roederer other estates in the Medoc; Chateau de Pez and Chateau Haut-Beausejour.

The estate (also an 1855 Second Growth) is just slightly larger than Pichon Baron, at 87 hectares, and is planted to 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and a fairly high 8% Petit Verdot, accounting for some of its rich spicy fruit, and subtle smoky undertones. And no one can doubt the terroir – its closest neighbour, with vines touching across numerous plots, is Chateau Latour.

33250 Pauillac, www.pichon-lalande.com

 

11. Chateau Pontet-Canet 

There has been an increasingly deafening buzz around Chateau Pontet-Canet for a number of years now – and for once you get the feeling that it is not down to clever marketing, or headline-grabbing pricing strategies, but because of simple delivery of increasingly precise, powerful and rather fabulous wine.

That’s not to say they are above a few attention-grabbing moves at this Pauillac Fifth Growth. Recent years have seen owner Alfred Tesseron withdraw Pontet Canet from the generic en primeur tastings organised by the Union des Grands Crus, and from the marketing group Les 5, which he used to be part of alongside Smith-Haut-Lafitte, Gazin,, Branaire Ducru and Canon-La-Gaffeliere. And his technical director Jean-Michel Comme has confirmed that cutting down the large hedge that lay between them and Mouton Rothschild, obscuring the view of the First Growth, did no harm in reminding visitors just exactly how good their terroir is.

But none of this explains the recent acclaim. With a history dating back to 1750, the estate was bought by cognac merchant Guy Tesseron in 1975, and most agree that it has been the move into biodynamic farming that kickstarted the quality revolution. Officially certified as organic and biodynamic since the 2010 vintage, their organic practises date back much further, with all pesticides halted since 2003, and gradual conversion to biodynamic farming since 2004. ‘To do it properly requires an investment of not just money but time, human effort and philosophical beliefs,’ says Comme. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates here, a full 67% of the vines, with the balance beingMerlot (33%), ploughed in a large part by three Breton horses, Opale, Reine and Kako. The eventual aim is to have 10 horses working the entire vineyard.

In the cellars, Tesseron replaced all stainless steel with truncated reinforced-concrete vats (gravity-filled, of course), working with architect Christophe Massi, Jean-Michel Comme, and wine consultant Michel Rolland.

Second wine, Les Hauts de Pontet Canet.

33250 Pauillac www.pontet-canet.com



12. Chateau Haut-Batailley 

One of those increasingly rare classified Médoc chateaux that has been still offers impressive value for money. Fruit has been plumped up in recent years, while still retaining its classic taste profile of elegance and firm black fruits – a little lighter in style than some of its Pauillac neighbours.

Chateau Haut-Batailley is located next door to Chateau Batailley, and the two properties were once part of the same estate (in fact a fairly recent split, dating back only to 1942, ten years after two Borie brothers, Marcel and Francois, bought Batailley), As just 22 hectares, it is fairly modest for a Pauillac 1855 Fifth Growth estate – when the two brothers decided to split the Batailley estate to safeguard future succession issues, Francois received the smaller part, augmented by a purchase of more vines in the 1950s but still not rivalling the 58 hectares at Batailley itself.. Today it is owned by François-Xavier Borie, grandson of the original.

Borie has been at the estate since 1978 with his wife Marie Helene, splitting his time between Haut Batailley and his other Pauillac property, Grand Puy Lacoste. Planted to 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc, the vines are split between two areas, one on the Bages plateau, and the other close to the property itself. Sustainable agriculture is practised, with no herbicide use in the vines since the mid 1990s, and no pesticides for over approaching six years. In the cellars, precise plot-by-plot fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks, with help from consultant Eric Boissenot. Production in most years is between 100,000 and 110,000 bottles, depending on the vintage, aged for 18 months in French oak barrels (40-55% new).

33250 Pauillac, www.chateau-grand-puy-lacoste.com (www.domainefxborie.com under construction)

 

13. Chateau Leoville Poyferre 

Just a few years ago, this Saint Julien Second Growth was one of those well-regarded estates that no-one lost much sleep over. Today, the chase for allocations begins long before en primeur, and the critic’s scores are increasingly eye-watering.

It’s hard to exactly pinpoint what changed. It can’t be the installation of new owners – the Cuvelier family has been here since the 1920s. Even the current director, Didier Cuvelier, has been leading the team since 1979 – although many of the improvements date from his tenure.

Maybe it’s partly because the Léoville plateau has been rightly recognised as one of the best terroirs in Bordeaux – helped by the acclaim long given to neighbours Léoville Las Cases and Léoville Barton. The 80 hectares of Léoville Poyferré were inevitably going to become equally prized.

Most likely, it is simply that a vast number of gradual refinements brought in over the past decade have all come together. Technical improvements abound, from stainless steel double-skin vats to optical sorting, and latest-generation de-stemming machines. In the vines, there is plenty of definition work going on, from soil analysis to adjustments of canopy cover, and vineyard work is carried out according to organic principles, with natural fertilisers and humus of vegetal origin. A permanent monitoring system has checked underground water movements for over ten years, ensuring water stress to the vines is fully understood, and so ensuring vineyard work can be planned accordingly.

Credit must also be given to consultant Michel Rolland, along with Isabelle Davin, the chateau’s own oenologist, who are producing velvety, succulent wines that do all the right things (usual blend 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc). It’s fair to say that Leoville-Poyferre has no intention of relinquishing its crown.


33250, Saint Julien, www.leoville-poyferre.fr/


14. Chateau Léoville Barton

Although it is no longer quite true to say that Anthony Barton has resisted all pressure to raise prices in line with his neighbours, his reputation gained over the years is such that most drinkers seem to be able to forgive him for his rises in 2009s and 2010s – just (‘and I should jolly well think so,’ he said to Decanter magazine recently, ‘They went up a quarter as much as everyone else’s!).

Born in County Kildare, Ireland, Barton has lived in Bordeaux for 60 years, and headed up his family’s Second Growth Saint Julien chateau for approaching 30 years. The Bartons links to the region go back even further, with Anthony’s ancestor Thomas Barton first landing on the docks of Bordeaux in 1722, and quickly becoming a successful negociant. The family bought their two Saint Julien estates a century later; Langoa in 1821 and Léoville in 1826. 150 years later, in 1983, Anthony Barton took over from his uncle Ronald, and set about cementing the reputation of one of the appellation’s best loved estates. Because there is no chateau building at Léoville, the two estates vinify their wine in the same cellars in Langoa, although in totally separate areas, while the offices are over the road in Léoville.

This is classic Saint Julien territory, with its 50 hectares planted to a full 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc, still vinified in traditional (of course temperature-controlled) large-sized oak vats, and shying away from too much intervention in terms of green-harvesting and other forms of crop control. Even the use of oak is measured, at 50% new each year. And the final wine is a reflection of that approach – elegant, generous, full of distinction, true to its appellation.

Around 20,000 cases are produced each year, including the second wine La Reserve de Leoville Barton.

33250 Saint Julien, www.leoville-barton.com


15. Chateau Gruaud Larose 

Another stellar wine from the Saint Julien appellation, this Second Growth estate has been owned by Jean Merlaut (of Groupe Taillan) since 1997, and is set a little back from the main D2 road through the commune of Beychevelle, next to the vines of Chateau Lagrange.

The vineyard extends over 80 hectares in one single block, something that is surprisingly rare in the Médoc, where many estates have built up their vineyards piecemeal over centuries – and something of an achievement here, as the estate had been split into two over the centuries, becoming Chateau Gruaud-Larose Sarget and Chateau Gruaud Larose Faure. It was reunited by the Cordier family, who bought the Sarget section in 1917, and Faure in 1935, gradually merging production into one estate, with a first and second wine (introduced in 1979).

Located on the highest point of the Saint Julien plateau (18 metres above sea level), the gravel heads down over 5 metres in some places, and drainage is particularly effective. Pesticides and insecticides have not been used since the 1990s, and today the green philosophy under technical director Georges Pauli and vineyard manager Patrick Frederic extends to all areas. This means organic compost, water recycling, homeopathic treatments for any vineyard diseases, and vineyard workers who follow their own specific plots throughout the year, meaning they get to understand what the vines need, and treat them accordingly.

Grape plantings are 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot, producing in recent years a rich, concentrated wine. In the cellars, a mixture of stainless steel and concrete vats are used. The second wine gives a nod to the history of the estate, with its name Sarget de Gruaud Larose (producing 190,000 bottles, compared to around 300,000 for the first wine). The oak regime across both is fairly restrained, with between 30-50% new oak for most vintages.

33250 Saint Julien www.gruaud-larose.com


16. Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou 

The charismatic Bruno Borie heads things up at this high-performing estate, the third generation of his family at the helm since grandfather Francis bought the place in 1941.

The vines lead right down to the river Garonne here, as they do at Beychevelle, and the rooms have lovely views over the estuary. Proximity to water has other benefits, not least the low frost risk for the 100 hectares of vines (in 1991, when many neighbouring estates lost up to 70% of their production because of a particularly severe frost, Ducru lost just 30%). 75 hectares go into the first wine, Ducru Beaucaillou, and 25 into the second wine.

A Second Growth in 1855, the name Ducru comes from the 18th century owner Bertrand Ducru who commissioned a Parisian architect to build the beautiful chartreuse style chateau – which today is one of the most welcoming in the Medoc, with flags from a good two dozen countries flying outside at all times. The vines are planted at mainly 10,000 feet per hectare to 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot, with complete plot-by-plot harvesting and vinification. Sorting takes place in the vines on small tables, to avoid any mixing of healthy and unhealthy grapes even on the short ride to the cellars. After vinification, the wine is aged in 50-80% of new oak, which emphasizes the rich, luxurious texture of the wine.

The second wine is Croix de Beaucaillou – which recently had a designer makeover, with Jade Jagger designing the suitably-glamorous black and gold label. In fact, Borie doesn’t like to think of this as a second wine – it comes from an entirely separate plot of vines, and is treated separately at all stages. A ‘third’ wine, Chateau Lalande-Borie, comes from a separate estate which was created in 1970 by his father Jean-Eugene Borie, who bought the vines from neighbouring classified properties.

33250 Saint Julien, www.chateau-ducru-beaucaillou.com


17. Chateau Langoa Barton 

The famously graceful chateau building, set on a curve in the D2 Route des Chateaux, behind wrought iron gates with large gardens complete with peacocks and white doves, is often ascribed to Leoville Barton but in fact belongs to Langoa Barton. This is the sister property that is also owned by the Barton family. Anthony Barton and daughter Liliane Barton- Sartorius remain jointly at its head.

A Third Growth in the 1855 ranking, the estate is slightly smaller than its partner chateau, with 18 hectares of vines, planted to 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc. Its style is a little more austere when young, but opens beautifully after a few years, with a flavour profile that is a touch softer than its sister estate. If pressed, Anthony would say that geographically Langoa is placed closer to Beychevelle in Saint Julien while the Leoville vinearyds are further north, closer to the border with Pauillac, so perhaps that accounts for the subtle distinctions.

Vinification is similar to Leoville – large oak vats, fermentation between 28-30 degrees C, minimal intervention, traditional egg-white fining, just one racking. There are a few modern touches – with the guidance of consultant Jacques Boissenot, both Leoville and Langoa practise co-innoculation, carrying out malolactic and alcoholic fermentation at the same time, which they find cuts down on any concerns with malolactic getting held up, and allows the wine to get into the barrels earlier.

Production stands at around 8,000 cases per year, with the second wine the charmingly-titled Lady Langoa.

33250 Saint Julien, www.leoville-barton.com


18. Chateau Branaire-Ducru 

The owner of Branaire-Ducru is Patrick Maroteaux, who has headed up the Union des Grands Crus since 2000, and works tirelessly to promote the wines of the region, meaning you are as likely to bump into him at an airport in Hong Kong or New York as in the quiet roads of Saint Julien. His background in banking perhaps gives him a more international outlook than some estate owners, as do his years working in the sugar industry, in a company called Eurosucre (which belongs to the family of his wife Evelyn).

A Fourth Growth in 1855, the chateau today has 60 hectares of vines, and was built in 1824 by the Duluc family, but has been recently restored by Maroteaux,, who bought the estate in 1988. Part of the restoration work has been the vinification room, which is now one of the most modern in the area, with gravity-fed winemaking (dating right back to 1991) carried out in 28 differntly-sized stainless-steel vats specially adapted to the size of plots in the vineyard. The fermenation temperature is usually fairly low – between 26 and28 degrees C – to keep emphasis on elegance, fruit and classic styling. Ageing is carried out in oak barrels for 16 to 20 months, with 60-65% new oak.

The usual blend is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, made from vines that are planted between 6,700 and 10,000 feet per hectare. Jean-Dominique Videau is technical director (who replaced Philippe Dhalluin when he left for Mouton-Rothshchild), and as with many of the best Left Bank estates, Eric and Jacques Boissenot work as consultants.

Second wine is Duluc de Branaire-Ducru, made from the young vines of the estate.

33250 Saint Julien, www.branaire.com


19. Chateau Beychevelle

You know you have passed out of the hinterland between Margaux and Saint Julien when you see the graceful lines of Chateau Beychevelle hugging a curve of the D2 road. The name comes from a salute to former owner Duke of Epernon, Jean-Louis Nogaret de la Valette, Grand Admiral of France. When ships passed in front of the chateau, they would lower their sails in his honour – and over time Chateau Basse Voile (meaning lower the sails in French), became Beychevelle. 

More recently, Beychevelle has been in the news because French wine company Castel took a 50% stake back in February 2011, joining Japanese drink giants Suntory, who have the other 50% (together they also own Chateau Beaumont and wine merchants Barriere Frere through their company Grand Millesimes de France). The vineyard covers 77 hectares in AOC Saint Julien, and has a further 13 hectares in AOC Haut-Medoc. Production is split between Beychevelle, second wine Amiral de Beychevelle and Les Brulieres de Beychevelle (Haut-Medoc).

The cellars are truly impressive here, sunken and opening directly onto the river. The chateau’s emblem, a griffin figurehead on a boat, with a lowered sail, is sculpted in bronze in the estate’s gardens. More recently, of course, this has been interpreted as a dragon boat in the Chinese market, doing nothing to harm its popularity.

Philippe Blanc is director at Beychevelle, with Aymar de Baillenx overseeing as director of Grands Millesimes de France, and together they follow a strict green  policy in the vineyard – Beychevelle is accredited Terra Vitis, ensuring careful sustainable viticulture, with waste management and recycling, minial use of herbicides, planting of hedgerows to ensure biodiversity and recycling or efficient disposal of all effluents. In the cellars, the wine spends 18 months in oak, with around 50% new each year.

Production 40,000-50,000 cases. Plantings in vineyard 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot.

33250 Saint Julien, www.beychevelle.com

 

20. Chateau Rauzan-Segla

Improvements worthy of a luxury goods’ icon have been seen at virtually every level since the Wertheimer brothers of Chanel bought this estate in 1993. They had famously just missed out on buying Chateau Latour at the time, but managed to extract the Scottish director, John Kolasa, from the Pauillac First Growth.

In January 1995, the brothers hired vineyard architect Bernard Mazieres (also responsible for recent works at Yquem and Mouton Rothschild) to begin work on the vat room, and in the same year, they introduced a second wine, Ségla.

A year later they moved on to the main house, hiring cult American interior designer and architect Peter Marino to work from the original 18th century drawings of the chateau and entirely renovate both inside and out. The underground cellar was started in 2002, although problems with flooding meant that it is only going fully into action this year. Winemaking takes place in 35 stainless steel vats ranging from 41-220 hectolitres, and ageing is rounded out with 18 months in French oak (most typically around 60% new barrels).

Besides all this, the vineyards have been receiving the same care and attention as everything else – with all new plantings now done at 10,000 vines per hectare (this high density currently covers around 50% of the total, with 6,600 being the lowest density). In January 2008, Rauzan Ségla bought 8 hectares from Chateau de La Bourgade, also in Margaux, bringing their current total of vines to 52 hectares, planted to 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot , 4% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc – making around 10,000 cases of the first wine, and the same again of Ségla.

33460 Margaux www.rauzan-segla.com/

 

21. Château Lascombes, Margaux 

In the late 1600s, Chateau Margaux records that its wine was blended from not only its own vines, but those that came in the form of feudal dues from tenants across its wider lands in Margaux. The best plots, according to documents in the archives, came from a close neighbour Antoine de Lascombes.

Awarded a ranking just one below Margaux in 1855, this Second Growth (Deuxième Cru Classé) has the highest production of any Margaux estate, with 500,000 bottles per year, divided between Chateau Lascombes, its second wine Chevalier de Lascombes and the AOC Haut-Medoc (also bottled under the Lascombes name).

In July 2011, Lascombes was sold for €200 million, and after 50 years in English or American ownership, passed back into French hands in the form of insurance group MACSF. At the time, new owner Marcel Kahn made a lot of locals happy when he spoke about being ‘a French company investing in a piece of French heritage’.

Over the centuries, however, Lascombes has suffered a bumpy ride. Just in terms of vineyard alone, it has gone from 27 hectares in 1866 to a tiny 12 hectare in 1951, up to 50 hectares in 2004. The last decade has seen aggressive planting and purchasing, as well as renting 27 hectares of AOC Margaux from neighbouring Chateau Martinens, bringing it up to 117 hectares today.  It also has 6 hectares of AOC Haut-Medoc.

The chateau has managed to rack up a large number of ownership changes also – staying in the Lascombes family until just after the French Revolution in 1789, then passing through a good dozen owners until the modern era began with its purchase by American wine writer Alexis Lichine in 1952 (with investment from financier David Rockerfeller), then UK drinks giant Bass Charrington in 1971, and American investment group Colony Capital in 2001.

All have made their mark, most notably Colony, who invested heavily in the vineyard expansion and in fully renovating the cellars, installing a four-level, gravity-led vat room and barrel cellar that remains one of the most modern in Bordeaux. They also installed the current team, who will remain with the new owners – headed up by Dominique Befve, with Michel Rolland as consultant. This is confident, contemporary-style Margaux, with ripe fruit and a silky mouthfeel. A usual blend is 50% Merlot, 45 % Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% blnd of Cabernt France and Petit Verdot, aged for 18 months in oak, that ranges from 70-90% new. 

33460 Margaux, www.chateau-lascombes.com

 

22. Chateau Giscours

The first written reference for Giscours dates from 1330, citing the sale of a fortified keep, while records of vines date from 1552, making it one of the earliest in the Medoc (which as a whole was significantly later to the winemaking game than Saint Emilion or Graves, not really getting going until the 16th century). Classified a Third Growth in 1855, today Giscours has 83 hectares of vines, spread across the communes of Arsac and Labarde, and set over three gravelly slopes, two reaching up to 20 metres, and a third to 17 metres.

There is a distinctly Dutch influence at the estate. Alexander Van Beek has headed up the team since 1995 (he was just 24 when he was offered the job, fresh from an MBA in Geneva – although he did not become director until 1997). Owner Eric Albada Jelgersma is a Dutch food entrepreneur based who divides his time between Bordeaux and Belgium. Besides a further wine property in Tuscany, Jelgersma owns a second Margaux property, Chateau du Tertre, five minutes from Giscours. For the last few years, the winemaking team has been completely separate to ensure that each chateau receives absolute focus – with Van Beek overseeing both.

At Giscours, the wine is made in a mix of stainless steel and concrete vats, sized according to the vineyard plots. Ageing takes place in oak barrels, about 50% new each year, and traditional egg white fining is carried out. Second wine is La Sirene de Giscours, and the team also produces also La Haut Medoc du Giscours. The vineyard is planted to 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot, producing a modern-style Margaux full of plump fruit, richly-textured.

33460 Labarde, www.chateau-giscours.fr


23. Chateau Malescot St Exupery

This is a vineyard that has seen intense work and intense expansion over the past few decades – in fact ever since Roger Zuger bought it in 1955 with his father Paul, and took it from 7 hectares to today’s 23.5 hectares, plus 6.5 hectares in AOC Bordeaux Superieur.

Roger’s son Jean-Luc Zuger is at the helm right now, and overseeing a wine that has swagger and attitude, and is firmly moving from the shadows to centre stage.

The estate was awarded Third Growth status in 1855, so the fact that it dipped in quality and renown over the 20th century was always a shame, and although it may divide opinions at time over its late-picked ripe fruits, blended from 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot, the leap in quality over recent vintages is clear.

In the vineyard, some of the oldest vines date back 50 years – and despite its shrinking so drastically, the Zuger’s have managed to restore the vineyard to 80% of the exact same shape it was at the end of the 17th century. Gravity has been used in the two-story wine cellars here since the 1870s – something that is continued by the current wine consultant, Michel Rolland.

The name, incidentally, comes from a previous owner – Jean-Baptiste de Saint Exupery, who bought the estate in 1827, and was great grand father of Le Petit Prine author Antoine de Saint Exupery. He added his own name to that of a 17th century owner, Simon Malescot, who was a councillor to King Louis XIV.

Second wine is La Dame de Malescot. The AOC Bordeaux Superieur is bottled as Domaine de Balardin.

33460 Margaux www.malescot.com

 

24. Chateau La Lagune 

The striking chateau, with its wrought iron gates, dates from 1730 and built by Baron Louis, architect of the Grand Theatre in central Bordeaux. Its reputation was cemented in 1855, when it was awarded Third Growth status, which today makes it the highest classified of the AOC Haut-Medoc wines.

This was annother Medoc estate that languished after the Second World War, and when George Brunette bought the property in 1958, there were barely five hectares of vines in production. He began the replanting programme, which has continued ever since, most recently by the Frey family, who bought the estate in 2000 and has seen it grow to a full 80 hectares, planted in north-south rows of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and a fairly high 10% Petit Verdot. Recent improvements include raising the canopy cover and carrying out a study of the soils and subsoils to ensure viticulture is fully adapted.

Besides work in the vines, they have also completely renovated the winery, creating a 2000m2 beechwood-framed space which now contains 72 gravity-fed tanks. The grapes are triple-sorted, and moved without being pumped into the vats.

This is a rich and structure wine, with a gentle spice evident even when young, both from the Petit Verdot and the gentle toasting on the oak barrels (which are around 55% new each vintage).

Caroline Frey, director, is joined by consultant Denis Dubourdieu, and technical director Patrick Moulin. Second wine is Moulin de La Lagune, and there is also a charming ‘third wine’, Mademoiselle L, which is made from vines a good way further up the Medoc peninsula.

33290 Ludon-Medoc www.chateau-lalagune.com



25. Chateau Belgrave

Just west of Chateau Lagrange in Saint Julien, this AOC-Haut-Medoc property was classified as a fifth growth in 1855, and is owned by Vins et Vignobles Dourthe, a separate arm of negociant house CVBG-Dourthe Kressman. As with all its estates (which include Le Boscq in Saint Estephe and Lagarde in Pessac Leognan), recent years have concentrated on instilling green winemaking practises, carrying out detailed terroir studies, and ensuring improved technical facilities.

The new cellars at Belgrave have been in operation since 2004, with a fully restored barrel cellar since 2007, including small-sized stainless steel tanks, and a separate room for malolactic fermentation. The greater precision allowed has gone a long way to restoring the quality of this estate which frankly needed a little work. Today, it turns out reliable, high-quality wines that are often excellent value for money.
 
Dourthe has also completely restructured the vineyard, changing clones, rootstock and grape location as necessary over the 59 hectares of vines. Today these are planted at 10,000 vines per hectares in over 75% of the land. Usual blend of first wine is 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 51% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot. Reception of the grape harvest includes a Viniclean; a device that comes into use after the de-stemmer and gets rid of all the small particles of vegetal parts that are stuck to the berry. No pumps are used at any point- the grapes are carried in small containers by lifts from the sorting table into the vats.
 
The team includes Patrick Jestin as president of Vignobles Dourthe, Frédéric Bonnaffous as the director of Belgrave (as he is of all Dourthe estates in the northern Médoc), and Michel Rolland as consultant. Second wine Le Diane de Belgrave.

33112 Saint-Laurent-Médoc

www.dourthe.com

 

26 Chateau Cantemerle 

Another 1855 classified AOC Haut-Médoc wine (there are only three of them, out of 60 from the Médoc in total), this Fifth Growth is also located just to the south of Margaux, within walking distance of La Lagune. It is also one of the oldest properties in this part of Bordeaux – there were vines here right back in 1354, way before most of its neighbours.

Since, December 1980, Cantemerle has been owned by insurance company the SMABTP Group, and is headed up by Philippe Dambrine. When they bought it, the vineyard had just 20 hectares in production, but has since grown to 87 hectares of vines. These are planted at a density of 9600 plants per hectare to 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc (this last variety has been brought down considerably over the last decade, as at one point it represented a full 23% of the vineyard). The vineyard has not entirely cut into the beautiful park around the estate thankfully – it contains many rare species of trees and plants, and was laid out by Louis-Bernard Fischer, one of the 19th century’s most celebrated garden designers, who also created the Jardin Public in downtown Bordeaux.

Back to the wine, and in the cellars, there are truncated conical oak vats (some built from the best staves of the original vats before SMABTP’s purchase) for the old vines, together with a mix of stainless steel for the  young vines and cement tanks for blending.

Fairly unusually for classified Bordeaux, in most vintages there is a light fining but no filtration before bottling, and new oak is kept to no more than 50%, to ensure subtle toasted flavours without overpowering the fruit.

The second wine, Les Allées de Cantemerle, comes from the younger vines. Production ranges from 400,000-580,00 bottles, depending on vintage.

33460 Macau www.cantemerle.com



27. Chateau d’Yquem 

Sauternes can be a difficult place to navigate around, and you often find yourself using Yquem as a kind of viticultural North Star, standing as it does at the highest point of the appellation, its medieval stone turrets softened by the spreading leaves of the cedar tree that stands just to one side.

The tree was planted by recovering soldiers during World War Two, when the chateau was temporarily used as a military hospital, and today is just one small part of a beautiful botanical garden that lies behind the stone walls.

Producing perhaps the most famous sweet wine in the world, Yquem is owned by luxury goods house LVMH, with the impeccably turned-out Pierre Lurton as director.  Yquem has 113 hectares of vines, but only 100 hectares are in use at any one time, with plantations of 80% sémillon and 20% Sauvignon blanc.

Standards at all 1855 First Growth estates (Yquem is famously Premier Cru Classé Superieur, so theoretically one notch ahead of the red wine First Growths) are legendary – and put that together with the meticulous attention to detail needed for all Sauternes, and you really have a whole lot of manpower going on. Vineyard work is all done by hand, and grape pickers during harvest will visit each row of vine up to ten times, carefully selecting only the berries that have reached the perfect state of ‘noble rot’, where they have been shriveled almost to raisins, but still with a touch of lusciously concentrated juice inside. Yields are low, as at all Sauternes properties, and can vary from 3 or 4 hectolitres per hectare to 15 hectolitres depending on if the weather conditions play ball. And as befits a vineyard where such care is taken, all fertiliser is organic and used sparingly, with no chemicals ever applied.

In the cellars, fermentation stops naturally, leaving an average of 125grams per litre of residual sugar, but reaching up to 140g in some years (not that you’d know – a signature of this wine is its delicately sour notes of citrus and lime blossom, that cut through the honeyed sweetness). Its ageing abilities are legendary, easily hitting a century in the best vintages.

The wine maker, Sandrine Garbay, has been making the wine here since 1998 (the previous cellar master was at Yquem for 44 years), with Denis Dubourdieu – who owns Chateau Doisy Daene, as well as being a professor at the institute of oenologist – as consultant winemaker.

There is no second wine, but the chateau produces a fantastic dry white wine, called Y d’Yquem, made from 50% sémillon and 50% Sauvignon blanc.

33210 Sauternes www.yquem.fr/

 

28. Chateau Rieussec

Part of the Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) stable, Chateau Rieussec is a rich, succulent example of Sauternes pleasure, made from up to 95% sémillon in most years, with the balance a mix of Sauvignon and muscadelle.

Director Charles Chevallier began his career with the Rothschilds at Rieussec (who bought the estate in 1984, just before Chevallier joined them) before heading up to Pauillac and Chateau Lafite. He clearly loved the decade he spent there, and credits much of his winemaking skill to the precision and care demanded by Sauternes – namely the idea of true grape-by-grape selection, and having reserves of patience to last throughout the growing season. He still spends at least one day per week at Rieussec, where he is joined by Serge Lagardere as cellar master, and Jean de Roquefeuil in the vineyard.

This is a sizeable vineyard at 90 hectares, and is largely contingent to Yquem across the communes of Fargues and Sauternes. In the cellars, fermentation takes place in barrel, and ageing is fairly long, between 18 and 24 months, in around 55% new oak barrels.

The average production at Rieussec is around 6,000 cases per year – but as with all quality Sauternes properties, some years (such as 1993) see nothing at all and others (such as 2000) only 3,000 cases. Those reserves of patience truly come in handy around here.

Besides the main label, the estate produces a second wine, Carmes de Rieussec and a dry white R de Reussec, which is an equal blend of semillon and Sauvignon blanc.

33210 Fargues, www.lafite.com/fre/Domaines-bordelais/Chateau-Rieussec

 


29. Chateau Suduiraut

Another AXA Millesimes chateau that seems to effortlessly uphold the elegance of Bordeaux.

Located in the commune of Preignac, the estate has been owned by AXA since 1992, and covers over 200 hectares, with vines accounting for 92 hectares on sandy-gravel soil. Classified in 1855, it is planted to 90% Semillon, with 10% Sauvignon blanc. For the richly elegant first wine, both fermentation and ageing takes place in barrel, followed by between 16 to 24 months of ageing – with anything from 35% to 70% of new oak, depending on the needs of each year’s harvest. Lower yields and stricter selection have been introduced since 2001, when the decision was taken to stop making a Crème de Tête special cuvee, and to instead ensure the very best selection went into the first wine, and introduce instead a second wine, Castelnau de Suduiraut. In most years, only 50% of the crop makes it into the first wine.

For the dry white S de Suduiraut, the blend is around 75% Sauvignon blanc, with the balance made up of Semillon, while Castelnau de Suduiraut has been known to go up to 99% Semillon in certain vintages – more than is ever seen