We live in the far South West of England, a long way from the usual cross Channel ports such as Dover. We do however, have a local ferry operator out of Plymouth which gives the choice of 2 routes to Europe. One to Roscoff in Brittany and the other Santander in Spain. Also you can choose to combine these for a ‘round trip’, in by one port and out by the other.
We did this recently in early September with a view to visiting Bordeaux during the grape harvest time. Possibly not the best idea from some points of view as all staff would be pretty much occupied but we thought there would be a good balance of weather, lack of tourists and action at the Chateaux.
We chose to do the circular tour beginning at the Spanish end. We stayed near Santander for a couple of days in glorious weather - high 20s Centigrade. After the very poor UK summer it was lovely and we were also really impressed by the scenery, lush green vegetation and mountains going up steeply to 8000 feet although just a relatively few miles from the sea.
Then, en route for France, stopping only at a Spanish frontier town much visited by the local French where many goods including motor fuel, tobacco and spirits were cheaper than just over the border. We filled up the car with fuel but left the wine buying to later in the trip at Bordeaux.
Making use of the autoroutes with their relatively light traffic we were quickly at our accommodation near Bordeaux.
Chateau Lamothe was a delight in itself, a one time hunting lodge of a King of England (this part of France was English at the time). It is now a private home where the family (mainly 3 sisters, who were delightfully quirky) look after paying guests. It is moated, turreted and quite beautiful, assuming you like peace and quiet. To get anywhere from here requires access to a car. It does give a great platform to explore the different types of wine chateaux in the Bordeaux area without being locked into the city and its associated traffic.
Philip, our son, with his now vast knowledge of wine and contacts arranged for us to visit 3 Chateaux in the Bordeaux area: Chateau Smith Haute Lafitte near Martillac, Chateau Cadillac in Fronsadais and Chateau Palmer in Margaux.
Chateau Smith Haute Lafitte to an outsider coming in from the South was a little bit of a challenge to find - but well worth the effort. This Chateau is a combination site of an hotel, 'Les Sources de Caudalie' with associated restaurant, a spa and a vineyard. The initial impression is one of charm and attention to detail. The whole site is beautifully kept, orderly and tidy with a pervading sense of purpose. If we visit the Bordeaux area next year we will definitely stay at the hotel and maybe even try their world famous spa.
This is evidently carried through to the wine making where carefully thought through changes have been made to the equipment and processes since its beginnings in the middle of the 14th century to bring it up to date while retaining the character, style and quality the Chateau is noted for.
The terroir is gravel over clay, limestone and sand occupying a site of about 67 hectares on a slight rise, hence the name, in part, of the Chateau. The majority is devoted to red wine production but a significant amount of white is also produced from 11 hectares.
The red wine is made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and some Petit Verdot. The grapes are carefully selected in the field and also undergo a further hand sorting during the wine making process. The vinification process takes place in oak vats and aging in barrels for about 18 months.
The result is a wonderful dusky rose coloured, cherry and dark fruit scented complex wine.
Solid yet clear, vibrant and spicy with a great balance of all the elements necessary to make a memorable wine. We really enjoyed my tasting of this 2005 wine in its home.
We also had the opportunity to try a 2006 white produced at this Chateau from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Sauvignon Gris grapes. To be honest I was a little reluctant to try this as over the years I have been dismayed by the thin acidic concoctions sold by some organisations. This wine however, was a revelation and has reinvigorated in me the desire to try other whites. This Smith Haut Lafitte was fresh and elegant with a perfumed nose of elderflower and spring flowers leading one into the tastes of a subtle mixture of pear, oak and vanilla. It was delightful. One of the finest white wines of any price I can remember tasting. Needless to say we bought a couple of bottles, hoping that we can try them with Philip on his next visit home.
These wines are not what I would call cheap (62 Euros) but in terms of value for money for the pleasure they bring must be well up on the scale.
Thank you to Diana Hernandez who gave us a wonderful tour and if anybody decides to visit this area we recommend a tour of the Chateau, it’s open all week - but make sure you make a telephone reservation to ensure there will be space for you.
Next on our list was Chateau Cadillac North East of Bordeaux heading out towards St Emilion. This is smaller than the previous enterprise and is devoted totally towards wine making. Less grand in appearance than the foregoing it is, nonetheless, an interesting sight surrounded by its acres of grape vines, at the time of the year we were there the fruit was well coloured with just one or two weeks left before harvest. The wines we tried here were:
2005 Chateau Cadillac Bordeaux superieur Cuvee Lesgourgues. This wine is made from 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in oak barrels of which 33% are new. Dark plum in colour with a bright ruby rim it is attractive to the eye, the scent is of dark fruits and cassis. The taste is full with tannin and dark fruits, the balance is good and has a long finish. Smooth and well rounded.
2003 Chateau Haut Selve (under same ownership) Graves. This wine is made from 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is aged for 14 months in barrels. The colour of this wine is an intense ruby with purple tones at the rim. The nose is spicy, peppery with dark fruits and cherries. The taste is fruity, complex yet subtle with a lingering fruity aftertaste. Very pleasant.
Another red Chateau Cadillac aged in a mixture of barrel and vat but in this case a 70/30% blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Intense and bright in colour with a good depth and balance.
Chateau Cadillac white of a pale straw colour, made from Semillon and Sauvignon grapes. I found this light and refreshing with a touch of dryness. It had hints of elderflower, other flowers and pear.
Chateau Cadillac rose. This is based on a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, a light strawberry colour and a nose of strawberry and raspberry and, for me, a hint of banana. Very pleasant. The taste was dry and light with just a hint of tannin - no doubt a great summer wine.
Finally we were off to Chateau Palmer, a troisieme cru establishment which is frequently regarded as being underclassified.
A very efficient planned air surrounds this attractive range of buildings and its 55 hectares of vineyards. The main wine is blended from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (47% each) and 6% of Petit Verdot. As you might expect from such a potentially great wine it is aged for a lengthy period in barrel (21 months).
The one we tried was a 2001 at 135 Euros a bottle. It was dark in the glass with purple rim and brown depths. Pungently spicy with a little oak coming through. Complex in taste with a rounded finish. No doubt a good wine but not as much to my taste as the one from Smith Haut Lafitte.
It probably needs a little more time to develop its character fully.
There is another wine available - a sort of 2nd string. Designed to be more modern in style and drinkable sooner, called Alter Ego. This similar to its more illustrious family member but lighter, more acidic and in my view more tannin. This was 47 Euros a bottle
We rounded our trip off with a visit to one of the wine sheds at Roscoff to load the car with yet more wine to hopefully last us until next summer.
Ann & John James
- Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Nov 4, 2008.
What a wonderful report and the photos really added to the piece. Philip did well!
Thank you for sharing!
- Reply by Philip James, Nov 4, 2008.
Yeah, thanks for writing this up...
- Reply by Ann James, Nov 4, 2008.
We are available for the Chateauneuf du Pape region by way of Bordeaux next year if you require some official writers. ha ha!!!
Thank you Phil for setting up our visits, we certainly received a great reception at these three sites.
A small detail: the picture of the wine bottles is at Chateau Palmer-so it's in the wrong place. I don't think it matters much really, one bottle is much like another eh?
- Reply by Philip James, Nov 5, 2008.
Are we ever allowed to see any of these Chateauneuf du Pape reviews?
- Reply by roneranger, Nov 15, 2008.
We stayed at Chateau Lamothe eleven years ago with our two daughters. It was then run by a husband and wife. What a great place! We just stayed at a private home at least its equal this past September in the Southern Rhone. Le Vallon was heaven on earth amidst vineyards with formal gardens, orchards, pool, veggie and herb garden and a lovely couple who own it.
- Reply by roneranger, Nov 16, 2008.
There is no question but that we stayed at the same place as your pictures. But somehow I remember it as being called Chateau de la Motte.