Friday, August 30, 2019

Cedar Creek - Renovated, Re-Opened, and Refined

Cedar Creek winery in Kelowna just re-opened - and it is well worth visiting!

Apparently the soft opening (for wine club members only) was last weekend but lots of other people caught wind of it and there were line ups out the door and down the path of the wine tasting room! I wasn't there that day but did go mid week and, I have to tell you, I was impressed!

In the whole Okanagan wine picture, I had previously considered Cedar Creek to be sort of in the middle to lower bracket. I hadn't tried a lot of their wine because of that and really didn't have an accurate reading on the winery.

Cedar Creek is owned by the Mark Anthony group, Anthony Von Mandl's company which also owns Mission Hill, Road 13, Checkmate and Martin's Lane, among others. The restaurant at Cedar Creek, Home Block, was also recently given a facelift but has been open for a while. I haven't eaten there but people that have are very positive about the food and service.

We were lucky enough to have both a tasting and a tour around the vineyard. Going through the vineyard was fabulous but it was a rather special opportunity that is not part of the standard wine tasting!

Cedar Creek has two levels of wine - their Estate series and their Platinum series.We had mostly the Estate level with the exception of our first tasting.

Courtesy Cedar Creek website

We started our wine tasting with a wonderful 2018 Block 1 Pinot Noir Rosé ($29.99). I love a good rosé, and this one was one of the best of summer. This had tastes and aromas of grapefruit, strawberries, cherries (those yellow and red Rainier ones) and watermelon and was made with two different pickings of grapes. Some was placed in neutral oak and was on the lees as well. This wine was not too sweet - it had good acidity but was still nice and fruity. This was my favourite wine of the day, perhaps enhanced by our racing along the vineyards in a golf cart while I was sipping on my rosė. Outstanding.

We then tried the 2018 Estate Sauvignon Blanc and the 2017 Gewürztraminer  (both were $18.99). I enjoyed both of these and thought the price point was pretty good. The Sauvignon Blanc was not too citrusy and had some grapefruit flavour that didn't overpower this bone dry wine. The Gewürztraminer was off dry and had a wonderful nose of pear and peach. It would be great with Asian food as well as slurping on the patio with your friends - or even by yourself! Both were Very Good.
Courtesy Cedar Creek website

Next was the 2016 Meritage ($24.99) which was Merlot dominant with about a quarter each of Cab Sauv and Cab Franc. I was quite excited to try this as the price point seemed rather reasonable but I was a little disappointed with the wine. There were flavours and aromas of cassis, plum, blackberry and vanilla but there was also a bit of roughness to the wine that I didn't enjoy. Maybe a year or two in the cellar might round out this wine a bit. Acceptable to Good.

The final wine was the 2016 Syrah ($24.99). The grapes for this wine are grown in the same place as the grapes for the Meritage (Haynes Creek Vineyard near Osoyoos) but these grapes were destined for greatness! The Syrah is made in a Rhone style, with a small bit (1%) of Viognier added. This wine had wonderful aromas and tastes  of violet, blueberries and plums. There were some vanilla notes amongst the explosion of red and black fruit. You could probably age this 5 or 6 years but I would be hard pressed to do so as it is so wonderfully tasty right now! Outstanding.

Next time, I think I'll have to cough up for a Platinum tasting - by the way, the Estate tasting has no charge!

By the way, I have started a wine touring business in the Okanagan. I do have this blog on my company website, but it just doesn't look as good as it is here! Please feel free to check out my website at !


Saturday, August 17, 2019

New to Old - Two Very Different Okanagan Wineries

It’s been a crazy, busy summer.

But I’m happy to say that I have successfully moved from the coast (Maple Ridge) to the Okanagan (Kelowna).

We dealt with the usual things of packing, unpacking, figuring out where the hell everything is going to go, and then making the place livable - the most difficult part being getting rid of a bunch of big, old pots and plants and preparing big, new pots and plants and bags and bags of dirt.

It was a welcome change, then, when we went on a very nice wine tour today, with the first and last of the day

We left Kelowna and headed south - to Checkmate Artisanal Winery just outside of Oliver. This winery is the brainchild of Anthony Von Mandl, owner of Mission Hill and many other wine related ventures. They only make Chardonnay and Merlot.

I had been to Checkmate two years ago and was eager to see how it was growing. Back then, we basically did our tasting in an office - this time, it was in their pop-up tasting room - a temporary building that has been open almost two years but will be replaced by an appointment only tasting room.

The tasting was $20 per person - but you do get the money refunded if you buy a bottle of wine. Mind you, while we were there, a couple came in for a tasting, blanched at the price, and hurriedly left.

It’s a bit different - we were at a table and could sit down. We were tasting four different wines and so had four glasses each in front of us. Our pourer (didn’t catch the name) was friendly and knowledgable.

First up was the 2015 Queen’s Taken Chardonnay ($125). This was an oaked Chardonnay and had a nice, smooth taste. There were stone fruits such as peach on the nose and palate as well as a hint of tropical fruits. There was also a definite mineralogy about the wine. Very Good.

Next was the 2015 Knight’s Challenge Chardonnay ($85). This was a less oaked Chardonnay - and had stronger tastes of citrus fruit as well as butter. It was quite lively on the palate, something I don’t usually mind, but this did not like as much as the first one. Good

The first Merlot was the 2014 Silent Bishop ($85). I have a 2013 vintage of this wine in the cellar and it was easy to see why as this wine had powerful fruit tastes of blackberry, blueberry and black cherry as well as underlying tastes of coffee, vanilla, and tobacco.  Outstanding.

The final Merlot was a 2014 Opening Gambit. This was all black fruits like cassis and blackberry with medium tannins and integrated oak. This was a wine to age, as is the other Merlot, and, since it was my wife’s favourite, we bought a bottle. Very Good.

As a bonus, we also got to taste the Bear’s Move Chardonnay ($60). This wine is natural, open ferment. The first year it was made, a bear opened the top of the fermenter but got scared off by the venting gasses! This is a wonderful, funky wine that has the stone fruit that you associate with Chardonnay but has a whole bunch of other, earthy, funky flavours intermingling with the wine. In fact, I bought two bottles! Outstanding.

After visiting two other wineries on the way back towards Kelowna, we stopped in at Hainle Winery in Peachland.

My wife and I had visited Hainle Vineyards about 30 years ago so it was interesting to see what it was like now. ]

When they opened in the 1970s, I believe it was one of the few wineries that actually knew what they were doing and made good wines. They were the first winery to make ice wine in Canada and were the first certified organic winery in Canada in 1988.
The original owner, Walter Hainle, was originally from Germany, and was winemaker and owner until his passing. In 2002, Walter Huber (the other Walter), bought Hainle Winery and combined it with Deep Creek Winery to make one winery. Walter Huber sold the winery in 2006 but has stayed on as winemaker ever since. He is a very charming man and we were privileged to have both Walter and our pourer, Barbie, for our tasting.

We had many different wines there and I don’t quite recall everything about all of the wines but here are my notes

2009 Deep Creek Ehrenfelser  ($30)- A very aromatic wine with some stone fruits. A bit subdued in taste, overall. Acceptable.

2016 Gewurztraminer ($25) - Another very aromatic wine. This one did not disappoint in the fruit as the tastes of stone fruit, tropical fruit and roses. Good.

2016 Estate Zweigelt ($31) - This is a crossing between Blaufrankish and St. Laurent in Austria. The wine had definite red and blue berry tastes balanced with high acidity. A good food wine that would satisfy a number of people at a dinner party. Very Good.

2008 Reserve Pinot Noir ($477) - This was an amazing Pinot Noir! There were wonderful aromas and tastes of cherry, strawberry, and even some tropical fruit. There were also underlying earth flavours as well as leather and tobacco. The price was a bit high but the 2009 Reserve Pinot (regularly $370) was on sale for $99 so I bought one (which is why the 2009 is pictured here). Outstanding.

We also tried some fortified wine (OK) and some Madeira that was more of a barrel taste (has potential). I think that’s all we tried….

Overall, it was a good tasting day with our two bookends, Checkmate and Hainle, contrasting as one of the newest wineries versus one of the oldest in the Okanagan. Both of them were well worth the visit.


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Sex on the Vine - Crossings and Hybrids

The reproduction of grapes is a strange and wonderful thing.

Grapes are hermaphrodites - that means they have both male and female parts. When it comes time to fertilize, they don't need bees to pollinate them - they do it on their own. Truly self-sufficient! That makes sure that the grapes are identical - clones - year over year.

If you want to plant a new vine, you can simply cut off a hunk of vine and plant it somewhere else. Usually, that hunk of vine is grafted onto another type of vine so that it is resistant to phylloxera, the nasty little bugger that almost wiped out all the grapes in Europe in the nineteenth century.  There's other ways of propagating vines, but that is the one most commonly used.

A recent trip to Arrowleaf Cellars with the family.
If you take a grape seedling of a species (most wine vines, for example, are from the species vitis vinifera),
 and cross it with another seedling from the same species, you get what is called a crossing. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon is actually a crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc that happened in nature. There are lots of crossings, however, that happen in a lab. The South African grape Pinotage, for example, is a crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsault, made so it would taste like Pinot Noir but could stand hotter temperatures like Cinsault.

Weirdly, even if you take a seedling from a certain type of grape and cross it with another seedling from the exact same grape, you will get something different. Crazy!

Zweigelt, an Austrian grape, is a crossing of two well known Austrian grapes, St. Laurent and Blaufrankisch. It is now the most common red grape varietal in Austria.

The Zweigelt that we tried was from Arrowleaf in Lake Country, just east of Kelowna. The 2017 Arrowleaf Zweigelt ($23) had aromas of blackberry, blueberry, plum, pepper, and spice, It had a faint aroma of acidity as well and had a medium plus intensity on the nose. On the palate were similar tastes to the nose with the addition of leather. It was quite acidic with medium tannins and a medium finish. This was a pleasant, easy-drinking wine that was rated as Good.

Now, here's where it gets a little  crazier.

If you take a grape vine seedling from one species (like vitis vinifera) and cross it with a grape from another species (think, grape juice grapes), this is called a hybrid. The advantage of hybrids is that they are resistant to phylloxera as well as other nasty things like nematodes and mildew. The Canadian icewine grape Vidal, for example, is a hybrid grape.

Our second wine was a Marechal Foch - a hybrid of Goldriesling (a crossing between Riesling and another grape) and another grape that is a different species, which itself is a cross between the river grape and mountain grape.

The wine was a 2014 Little Straw Single Vineyard Marechal Foch from West Kelowna ($19.90). This wine had aromas and flavours of red cherry, blueberry, spice, a lot of pepper, some leather, and a definite minerality. The intensity of the nose was medium and this wine had medium plus acidity, medium minus tannins, and a short finish. The pepper aspect of this wine combined with its spiciness would make it a great food wine, accompanying a nice soft cheese or some chicken. This was also rated as a Good wine.

So why aren't there a ton of hybrid grapes? The problem with many of them is that they develop a 'foxy' or musky aroma in wine which is definitely not desirable. Although the Marechal Foch is a pleasant grape, that is not always the case.

There you have it - reproduction, propagation, crossings and hybrids. For grapes, sex is a complicated and fairly unique process.

I think I'll light up a smoke and have a glass of wine....

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Tasty Reds from Australia and Chile - Both Under $20!

Before wine tasting, we always paint plein air. This week was Kanaka Park in Maple Ridge.

Almost twenty years ago I went on a teacher exchange, with my family, for a year. Being Canadian, we had several countries like the US as an option as well as English speaking members of the Commonwealth. We focussed on those Commonwealth countries as we searched for a great place to live for a year.

We eventually settled on the UK - where we applied for the south of England but ended up going to the north of Scotland - but one of the countries we seriously considered was Australia.

There are so many things that are attractive in Australia;  people, sights, animals, food, and culture, to name a few. However, there are a lot of things that can kill you; spiders, snakes, jellyfish, giant centipedes, crocodiles, sharks, snails, and stonefish. Looking at our 7 and 10 year old children, at the time, we figured that we didn't want to lose either of them so we opted against Australia.

Even during that time in 2000, Australia had already garnered a reputation for excellent wines. The way to really test that out, of course, is in a wine tasting. The other wine we tried was from another place  I haven't been, Chile.

Starting with the wine from Chile, we had a 2017 Undurraga Sibaris Gran Reserva Carmenere ($18.50). On the nose I noticed black currant, pepper, black plum, black cherry and a hint of mushroom. On the palate, the same fruits were there with the addition of strawberry. It was a touch astringent, which I think was because it had pretty high acidity. It was a dry wine that had medium tannins and a medium finish. It was excellent with the cheese and crackers we were having (brie and Boursin) so  that is why I felt it would be a good match with food. My guess on this was that it was a Syrah from Languedoc. Oh well! This was a Good wine.

The second wine blew me away! It was a Quarisa Caravan Durif Petite Sirah from Australia ($15.99). Petite Sirah is the offspring of Syrah and another, near-extinct, grape. Durif is the grape's original name but was renamed when it was first imported to the states. As a warm climate grape, it loses a fair bit of acidity so isn't really a good wine to age.

But is it good to drink? Hell, ya!

This wine had aromas of pepper, pencil shavings (first time I've noticed that!), black plum, blackberry, and cassis.  On the palate there were additional flavours of pepper, leather and vanilla from oak. This had medium minus acidity, medium plus tannins, and quite a strong finish. This was nice on its own and would b e good with food as well. I think this is a steal for the price and may very well back up the truck so I can grab a load of this wine. I thought this was a GSM blend from Cote du Rhone - a village class, at least. Wrong again! I would rate this wine as Very Good.

I have been avoiding Australian wines of late as I have had too many overly bold reds that tends to turn me off, unless I am having a fatty steak. The Petite Sirah has definitely given me pause. I think it is worth delving into Aussie wines once again... just stay away from that Yellowtail!

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Small Wineries Equals Great Wines - St. Emilion Wines -Bordeaux Wineries Part 6

St. Emilion is wonderful. It is nestled on the Right Bank of the Bordeaux region and is a beautiful medieval town with narrow, twisty roads, a wonderful church spire and is not overrun by tourists.

The day we went, it was a beautiful, warm, sunny day without a cloud in the sky.

We weren't even sure what some of the ruins were - this one looks like it might have been from another church - and we didn't have a lot of time as it was actually a stop between our visits to two wineries that day.

Many of the streets were cobblestoned and were a bit challenging to walk on, especially this steep downhill street. It must have been very exciting in times of old when it rained and residents had to negotiate the slippery streets. 

As I said, we stopped here for lunch, We booked online at Lard et Bouchon and had a wonderful meal.

My favourite part of the meal was the Oeufs en Meurette - basically a special wine sauce with bits of Beef Bourgignon in it with a couple of toasted bread crostinis which had a slab of foie gras on each one topped by a poached egg. I have never had anything like it before and it was heavenly! We both had a tasty piece of duck next and then, my wife's favourite, the deconstructed lemon tart. 

So, what did we do to earn such a wonderful meal? Visited some wineries, of course!

The Right Bank is not so showy as the Left Bank was. The chateaux are often just houses, not castles. The wine production is smaller. The wines are less expensive. 

But the wines are just as good. 

Practical information - unless you take a wine tour, you will need to rent a car. You will also need a good GPS (I used my iPhone and wayyy too much data) to find the wineries. It's also important to book ahead which I was able to do online by sending an email.

When we rolled up to the first winery, Chateau Cantenac, we knew it was a different. The chateau was nice but looked, well, lived in! We were greeted by our host, A.J., who was from California. When we asked her how she ended up in St. Emilion, she told us this story. 

The parents, who own the winery, have three sons. A few years ago, they had interns come each summer to help with the wine season. A.J. came from California - and married one of the sons. Another intern came from Toronto - and married another one of the sons. Another intern came from the States - and married the last son! By that time, the parents had asked that no more female interns be sent, but it was too late! All of the sons have had daughters so, in a few years, maybe there will be some male interns sent to the winery!

A.J. took us out to the vineyard and we spent at least a half hour schlepping around the vines while A.J. regaled us with stories of the wine. My wine nerd meter was at 10 - I loved every minute of it - but even my distinctly less nerdy wife also enjoyed this part.

A.J. talked about the different types of pruning, wine varietals, and grafting among other things. She really knew her stuff and I wish I'd been able to see all of this when I was doing my WSET. It all made so much more sense, because we were actually in the vineyard!

Founded in 1870, Chateau Cantenac has always been a family winery with the current family purchasing the winery in 1937.  They grow predominantly Merlot and some Cab Franc with a little Cab Sauv on just 19 hectares. 

Inside the winery, we first saw their concrete tanks. These are used to ferment the wines at the beginning of the wine cycle and used to blend the different wines near the end.  A.J. told us how the intern has to clean out all of the grape skins and other leftovers after the wine has finished fermenting. It's a crappy job, with the additional danger of carbon dioxide asphyxiation, which necessitates oxygen being pumped into the tank during cleaning. 

The barrel room in Chateau Cantenac is not only for wines. There are concerts (of the classical type) held in the barrel room during different times of the year. What a great idea! 

The wines were, overall, more approachable than the Left Bank wines - meaning that they don't require a lot of ageing.

The first wine we tried was from another St. Emilion winery in the family, a 2015 Chateau Moulin de Grenet ($20) from Lussac. This wine is 75% Merlot and 25% Cab Sauv and was aged for 18 months. This was the most approachable wine of the tasting, being a fruity and fresh wine that was ready to drink now. It had aromas of blackberry, black currant, and cherries as well as some earthiness. On the palate, there was medium acidity, a slight taste of oak, medium tannins, and a medium finish,. Overall, a Good wine. 

The next wine was a 2015 Chateau Cantenac Grand Cru Selection Madame ($32).  This wine is made with 95% Merlot selected by the mom of the winery (the other 5% is Cab Sauv).  This wine has lots of dark fruit like plum and blackberry as well as cedar, vanilla spice, and some earthy characteristics like leather. This is another fruity wine that should be drunk in the next couple of years rather than waiting ten years. There were some medium to medium plus tannins, medium acidity , and a medium plus finish. I felt this wine was balanced, complex and fairly intense - so I would give it a rating of Very Good. 

The final wine of this chateau was the 2015 Chateau Cantenac Grand Cru Grand Vin ($34) - the best wine of the property.  This wine was 70% Merlot, 18% Cab Sauv and 12% Cab Franc.  On the nose, this wine had black cherry, blueberry, plum and blackberry. On the palate, this wine had additional flavours of oak, cedar, smoke and earth and had medium tannins and acidity. It had complexity, balance, and a nice medium plus finish. I would rank this wine as Very Good. 

They had a deal at the winery - all three wines for €50 - guess what we bought?

In the afternoon, we went to Chateau Coutet for our final tasting. Luckily, we had my iPhone because it was hard to find - narrow roads, dirt roads, and finally driving by the vineyards on what seemed like a trail, we managed to find winery. We got out of the car and were greeted by a couple of smelly farm dogs and the sound of bird song in the air. What a great start!

We finally found the entrance to the winery and we were given a private tour by Capuchine, an intern.  Dating from Roman times, the current family has owned this chateau for 400 years.

She first took us to the vineyard where she showed us that tulips were able to co-exist with the vines due to the organic nature of the winery. In fact, the property had a thick hedge going all the way around it, preventing contamination from other farms. They have been organic for a long time and are proud of their legacy.

This grape press is over one hundred years old and is still used today to extract the juice from the grapes. The 13 hectares of grapes are 60% Merlot,  30% Cab Franc, 5% Cab Sauv and 5% Malbec. 

This winery did not have such a fancy place to store their barrels. However, the room smelled good and the wine ended up being a great product.

Ah, again, the dusty collection of amazing old wines. One that isn't here is a bottle that was found recently under a pile of dirt when a winery worker was fixing a broken wine rack. The bottle has been determined to be from around 1750! During this era, most wine was aged and sold in barrels, not bottles - but some special bottles were made - with glass stoppers. Because glass is airtight, the wine inside that bottle will taste just like it did when it was bottled over 250 years ago.  

Capuchine gave us a very interesting tour but the best part, of course, was in the modest tasting room. 

The first wine we tried was a 2015 Chateau Belles-Cimes Saint Emilion ($25). It was a fruity wine with aromas of black plum and black pepper. It had medium tannins and medium acidity and had some vanilla on the palate. It was a balanced wine, but not overly complex, with a medium finish but good intensity. I would rate this wine as Good.

The second wine was the 2015 Chateau Coutet Grand Cru ($42). This somewhat tannic wine had aromas and tastes of blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, plum, cedar, tobacco, coconut, as well as mushroom, smoke and leather. What a complex wine! With medium plus acidity, a long finish, intense flavours, and a balance of flavours, I would rate this as Outstanding and will hold onto it for a few years.

The final wine we tried was the 2015 Chateau Coutet St. Emilion Grand Cru Cuvée Desmoiselles ($98).  This wine is made the traditional way - including interns' bare feet to work the cap during fermentation! This wine had aromas of blackberry and black currant as well as black plum, cedar and vanilla. It was bit more tannic than the last wine so would benefit from more ageing time. This had a long finish, was balanced and had good intensity of flavours. I would give this wine a rating of Very Good. 

We ended up with a bottle of the Grand Cru - a wine I think was a great deal for the money. 

As we left the winery, we emerged outside into the wonderful sounds of birds chirping and dogs romping around in the sunshine. If you look closely, you'll see some ducks and geese in the distance at the top of the photo. 

We both loved St. Emilion. We would definitely come back here to explore the village some more and to try out more of the great wineries in this region. A great day!


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Rosé All Day - A Friendly Rosé Challenge - France vs BC!

Some tasty Rosés from the cellar.

Every week, my friend Keith and I try to get out in the great outdoors and paint.

Neither of us is an expert - in fact, we both have so much to learn - but we enjoy getting out and trying to paint. The idea is not to make a great painting; the idea is to do some aspect of the painting well - or at least improve. Sometimes that happens, and sometimes it doesn't.

Today's plein air attempt at Mission Heritage Park.

Today was not a bad day for painting. I was happy with my tree - especially the leaves - and with the grass in front. The background wasn't so bad, either. A good couple of hours spent.

So then, it was time to have some Rosé.

A much younger version of me and wife with Rosé and Pastis.

Rosé is so popular now but it wasn't always that way. I discovered Rosé (not the sugary stuff like Mateus) in 2005 when my family was on a house exchange in Nimes, France. It was August and it was hot. Really hot.

At that time, my wife and I were red wine drinkers exclusively. But it was not red wine weather. Too hot! We looked around and people in Nimes tended to drink Kir (wine and cassis), Pastis (Pernod or Richard and water), beer, or Rosé. So we adapted.

After that, it became (and still is) our summer wine drink.

Two weeks ago, I was in Kelowna at the Salt and Brick restaurant for lunch with family. I had their Rosé flight which I really enjoyed. For today's tasting, I thought we'd do a mini flight of Rosé - one from France and one from BC.

The French wine was our first wine of the tasting. It was a 2017 Domaine De L'Ostal Rosé ($16)  from Pays D'Oc which is basically country wine from the Roussilon-Languedoc Region of France - just west of Nimes. This pale salmon wine made of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah had a medium intensity aroma and smelled of cherry, strawberry, red liquorice, cinnamon and red jujubes. You can see that I struggled to use the usual descriptors!

On the palate there were some tastes of the same as the aroma as well as a bit of cotton candy and a slight syrupy flavour. Interestingly, the fruitiness of the aromas were not nearly that strong on the palate. It actually tasted just a hint off dry but on second tasting, that went away. This had medium acidity, a medium minus finish, medium alcohol and medium intensity. I would say this is between Acceptable and Good.

The BC wine in this friendly battle was a 2018 Mt. Boucherie Rosé ($22)  from West Kelowna.  I'm not sure what grape is in it but the 2017 was made with Zweigelt (an Austrian crossing of St. Laurent and Blaufrankisch)  so it's likely the 2018 was made with the same grape.

On the nose, which was pronounced in intensity, there were aromas of grapefruit, lemon, blood orange, strawberry and a minerality. On the palate, there were these same flavours as well as watermelon. This high acidity wine was dry,. intense, had a short finish, and medium alcohol. It was a great patio sipping wine and was very refreshing. I would give it a Very Good rating,.

Both wines had their pluses but the BC wine was overall a better wine, in our humble opinion. The French wine would make a nice pairing to different summer foods, especially grilled food. The BC wine was great on its own and would probably stand up to most light summer meals. The only problem with the BC wine is that it is only available online or at the winery. Road trip...

Rosé all day!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

From Sea to Sand to Sipping - Wine from Pessac Léognan - Chateau Pape Clement

Which wine to accompany this bounty of shellfish in Arcachon?

During our recent trip to Bordeaux, we ended up renting a car for a couple of days. I showed up at the rental desk (Hertz, pronounced 'Ertz, of course) expecting a snazzy little Citrioën with a manual transmission. The guy behind the desk took one look at me and my terrible French accent and upgraded our car to a French version of a CUV with an automatic transmission. C'est la vie!

The Opel Crossland was a pretty zippy car and was not too big. It was, however, parked on the seventh floor of a parking garage with just a chicken wire fence between the passenger door and the precipice that led to certain death. Très excitant!

The first place we went to was on the sea - Arcachon. It was a lovely place where we could walk along a boardwalk in the sunshine, explore a bustling marked where we could purchase all sorts of interesting canned fish, and then have a delicious seafood lunch at Café de la Plage where I had rather large but tasty oysters and rather small (and less tasty) sea snails, ordered by accident due to my limited French shellfish vocabulary.

After, we climbed up the giant Dune of Pyla, a short drive away. There is a lot of sand there and the only way up the hill is to take off your shoes and stagger up the hill, taking one step back for every two steps forward. But what a view!

On the way back, we decided to stop at a winery suggested to us by Bogdan. He had said that there were no reservations necessary so we just popped in. We found that there were only English tours every hour or so but one was starting in five minutes. Bonne chance!

We started out on the grounds of Chateau Pape Clement, beside the vineyard. The history of the winery is pretty amazing. It is the oldest Chateau in Bordeaux being 713 years old! It was given to an archbishop by his brother  in the 1300s - and the archbishop eventually became Pope Clement V. He's the pope that moved the papacy from Rome to Avignon. The chateau was passed from archbishop to archbishop of Bordeaux until the French Revolution.

After the revolution, the chateau was owned by a few different owners and, by the 1800s, became one of the best chateaux in Bordeaux. Unfortunately, in the 1900s, a neglectful owner as well as WWII almost brought the chateau to ruin. Happily, a new owner purchased the winery in 1939 and basically ripped up everything and started anew. The current owner has partnered with another wine magnate (Bernard Magrez) and together they own over 30 wineries.

We did the expected tour - and I have to admit that I never tire of seeing those old barrel fermenters.

Like the wineries in Haut Medoc, there were some experimental methods being tried, including this concrete fermenting egg. Incidentally, Chateau Pape Clement is biodynamic - this means that not only are they organic, but they also do some interesting farmer almanac-ky type things like using the zodiac to select harvesting times and burying a sheep's horn full of manure to promote better growth in the vineyard. It's definitely different but there are many wineries who feel this really makes a difference.

When red wine is fermenting, there is a big cap of grape skins that rises to the top. Winemakers want this in the wine as it gives flavours, colours, and tannins to the wine. One way of doing this is punching down - using a big metal thing to push the skins down to the bottom of the vat. This is what that looks like.

The bottled wines are stored in an underground cellar. We were really fortunate in that we were able to visit the cellar at Chateau Pape Clement. Unfortunately, as I later discovered, people in the 1300s were a lot shorter I am. Our Estonian guide (sorry, I forget his name), opened the door and let us in.

First stop was a small underground chapel. It was lovely to look around but not great to exit. I scraped the top of my head on the 700 year old roof and left bits of my scalp in the chapel entryway,. This caused a lot of alarm with our guide but, heck, I had a napkin in my pocket so dabbed my wound with it and encouraged him to continue the tour.

Next was the underground library. Again, we were able to schlep around the wines and take photos of these ancient bottles.

The oldest I found was from 1893.

These bottles were the owner's private stock. That's right - his private wine for when he wants to have some sort of party. How do I get an invite?

On the way back to the tasting room, we were shown a display of the different sizes of bottles that are made. We then tasted four different wine:

First up was Bernard Magrez 2017 Le Prelat Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun. Obviously, this was one that is made in one of their wineries in the Rhône valley. Worth about 8 bucks a bottle, it was Acceptable. Made from Grenache and Syrah, and grown on limestone and clay, this wine had flavours of blackberry, plum and some pepper spiciness. There was also some oak on this. Although there were tannins on this, I didn't think there was enough in the bottle to age this one.

Next up was Bernard Magrez Le Prelat du Pape Clement which actually was made by this particular winery.  This wine was a wonderful blend of 49% Merlot, 46% Cab Sauv, 3% Cab Franc and 2% Petit Verdot and is hard to find - although found bottles between $60 and $120.  Flavours and aromas included black fruit like black currant, blueberries and plum, oak flavours like cedar and espresso coffee, and earthy flavours like leather and smoke. This could probably age for another five years but was delicious right now! It was fairly complex, mostly balanced, had a nice long finish and fairly intense flavours. A Very Good wine.

Another wine was the 2014 Bernard Magrez Chateau des Grands Chênes ($29).  This wine is from Medoc - so on the left bank but not in the named areas of Haut Medoc. It was also a Grand Vin which means it is the best wine in that chateau.  This is also a Cru Bourgeois, according to their website, which means that there is a selection  process to earn that qualification. This wine is 70% Merlot, 29% Cab Sauv, and 1% Cab Franc. There were flavours and aromas of blackberry, black currant and black berry as well as oak, coffee, and vanilla. There were also tertiary flavours of smoke and earth. It was quite tannic and a bit astringent on the palate with a fairly short finish. Overall, it was a pleasant wine that could age for a few years but was good to drink now with a big steak or maybe some spaghetti Bolognese. Good to Very Good.

The big daddy - or big 'Pape' - was left for last when we had the 2015 Bernard Magrez Chateau Pape Clement ($220). This Grand Cru Classé wine (top rating) had all of the big black fruits (blackberry, blueberry, plum, cassis) as well as oaky notes such as tobacco, cedar, and vanilla. It also had those nice tertiary flavours such as smoke, leather, mushroom and barnyard. This wine was a powerhouse Bordeaux wine and would easily age for another 10 years. The mix of 55% Cab Sauv and 45% Merlot made a concentrated wine that was balanced, intense,. complex and had a beautiful long finish. Although I don't think I could afford this one, I still give it an Outstanding Rating.

After another successful wine tour, we bought a tasty bottle of Rosé from their wine shop and left Chateau Pape Clement, walking in the sunshine to our rental car. After such a wonderful day out, we were pretty exhausted and spent the evening sipping Rosé on the balcony, enjoying our repast of baguette, cheese, and meat, and chatting about our day on the sea, the sand and the sip!