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During last winter's whirlwind tour of Bordeaux we were able to visit some of our favorite producers including Planquette in the northern Medoc, Les Closeries des Moussis in Arsac and Bel Air Marquis d'Aligre in Margaux before crossing the river to visit organic estates in Saint-Emilion and surrounding areas. Our first stop was the small seven hectare, well situated Château La Grave Figeac which converted to organic farming in 2009 under owner/winemaker Laurent Clauzel. Located at the border of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol on sandy clay and gravel soils over the limestone, it's neighbors are Cheval Blanc and Figeac in Saint-Emilion and La Conseillante in Pomerol. The blend here is 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Franc with an average vine age of 45 years. Harvesting is by hand and fermentations are with wild yeasts with no SO2 added until later, and there is now a cuvée with zero added sulfur, the 2015 "L'Essai." We were very impressed with the committment of M. Clauzel to organic agriculture and it was easy to see the dramatic increase in quality here, especially beginning with the very pretty 2014 vintage. We're happy too offer the 2014 and 2015 vintages as well as the 2015 "L'Essai" Sans Soufre.
Chateau Coutet is located on the Saint-Martin de Lazarat hill, not far from the town of Saint-Emilion with neighbors Beausejour-Becot and Bellevue. We have been organic "depuis toujours" (always) says the Beaulieu family, and no weed-killer or pesticide has ever been used (but with certification only in 2012) and indeed the estate is a unique oasis of green with very diverse vegetation, unusual in Bordeaux. The cepages here include 60% massale selection Merlot "Queue Rouge," 30% Cabernet Franc and 5% each Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. An old wooden press is used on the small-berried Merlot "Queue Rouge" and fermentations are with wild yeasts, which is not normal in Bordeaux. The vines here grow on three different terroirs: limestone with thin brown soils on the Saint-Martin plateau; heavier clay/limestone soils on the Côte de Franc, and thin sandy clay with iron at the bottom of the slope next to Chateau L'Angelus. We found the wines here to be remarkably complex and pretty and are happy to offer the 2014 Coutet as well as the "second label" Chateau Belles-Cimes from 2015, both of which offer great value for Saint-Emilion of this quality. And for something completely different, try the luscious Claret de Coutet 2016!
The most interesting discoveries of this trip were the unique Biodynamic wines of Henri Duporge at Chateau le Geai. Located about ten miles north of Pomerol, the vines are on south-facing slopes above the river Isle with soils of clay with sand, high in iron, over the limestone bedrock. The grapes here are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and a large percentage of Carménère Noire. Fermentations are of course with wild yeasts, with minimal or zero sulfur added, and aging is in old barrels or amphora. Unusual at le Geai is the percentage of Carménère Noire - very little of this ancient variety still exists in France and M. Duporge is perhpaps the only French winemaker to produce a pure Carménère. All of the Le Geai wines are worth trying: the "Grand G" at only $13.99 will especially appeal to those seeking a more natural, earthy and mineral flavored Bordeaux; the "Pur Nature" is a fresh and vibrant wine with zero-added SO2; the "Argiles de Pauline" is an elegant, supple Bordeaux, aged in amphora; and the "Pur Carménère" is a fascinating glimpse into the history of Bordeaux. Bravo to Henri Duporge for his great vineyard work and uncompromising natural vinifications!
The Clauzel family does not disappoint with this vintage! This wine is a blend of 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Franc, planted on sandy gravelly soils and aged for about 15 months in barrels. Elegant and classic, the nose displays aromas of dark plum, crunchy cassis, prunes, nutmeg, light tobacco, dried violet petals and leather notes. On the palate, the wine is luscious and vibrant with good acidity, beautiful minerality and supple tannins. The finish is long with a delicate bouquet. A delicious Saint-Emilion to drink now or cellar for +10 years. Pair this wine with roast beef, grilled steak, nutty cheese or roasted lamb. Caroline Coursant
Chateau Le Geai is located north of Pomerol on limestone with soils of sandy clay with iron, certified Biodynamic. The 2015 "Grand G" is made with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Carmenere - truly a "natural" Bordeaux, showing earthy cassis and red currant aromas with floral and citrus notes. The palate shows red currant, berry, earth and mineral flavors - a real wine of terroir that needs a bit of tme to open up. Serve with charcuterie, roast chicken. hearty stews and full-flavored cheeses. This is a sensational value for those who like some minerals in their wine - open in advance or decant, if possible. David Lillie
The Le Geai "2015 "Pure Nature" is a natural wine with no added sulfur, certified Biodyanmic. Its unusual blend is 70% Merlot, 10% Malbec, 10% Carmenere and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a fresh, earthy and delicious Bordeaux, showing vivid aromas of black raspberry, red currant and cassis, ripe but bright; the palate is dense with cassis and red currant, quite lively and with underlying earth and mineral flavors that linger in the finish. For anyone seeking a more natural style of Bordeaux, with zero-added SO2, this is highly recommended! David Lillie
Henri Duporge makes this unique wine from 100% Carmenere grown on his Biodynamic estate north of Pomerol. Only about 10 hectares of Carmenere still exist in Bordeaux - it's fascinating to taste the grape in its pure, unblended form, especially when grown on this great terroir of sandy clay, rich in iron, over the limestone bedrock. The 2015 "Pur Carmenère" shows a deep, opaque black/red color with bright aromas of black raspberry, cassis and black plum with hints of citrus, tobacco, earth and spice. The palate shows bright, spicy red fruits with firm acidity and strong mineral flavors, finishing with bright red fruits, cedar, minerals and tangy acicity. This unique Bordeaux will benefit frm a long decant or a few years in the cellar - serve with a grilled steak, duck breast and full-flavored cow cheeses. David Lillie
Henri Duporge at Château Le Geai makes this unique Bordeaux from Merlot and Malbec, the tradional blend in the northern Libournais in the 1800s. The vines grow in "blue clay" over limestone, fermentation is with wild yeasts and the wine ages 12 months in amfora, with only a tiny addition of volcanic sulfur. Certified organic and Biodynamic. The 2016 Argiles de Pauline shows a deep black/purple color and lush aromas of ripe cassis and red currant with rose, earth, spice and citrus. The palate is deep and ripe with blackberry, cassis and plum, with silky tannins - dense but bright and balanced finishing with black fruits and juicy acids. Drinking beautifully now, this is a perfect pairing for a steak, pork chop or grilled lamb, and aging for eight to ten years should be very interesting. David Lillie
What a beautiful fresh Bordeaux! Certified organic since 2012, this estate has been making outstanding wines since the beginning, showing the expertise of the Clauzel family and superb terroir. This 2014 wine (a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc) is elegant and vibrant with a gorgeous bouquet of black and red berries, plum, exotic spices, leather and cedar box notes. On the palate, the wine is bright with acidity and minerality, and shows supple tannins with a long fresh finish. This is a vibrant Bordeaux which can accompany casual to fancy meals. Pair this wine with hamburgers, seared lamb, or with more elaborate dishes, such as roast beef or braised duck. A delicious wine to drink now or cellar for a few years. Caroline Coursant
Who said that no S02 red wine can't be classicly structured and delicious! L'Essai is mostly Merlot (90%) with a touch of Cabernet Franc (10%), planted on sandy gravelly soils. Aged for 15 months with no added sulfur, this wine showcases a beautiful structure of good acidity, light tannin and superb minerality while displaying a freshness of aromas, quite unique for this appellation. With a bouquet of juicy red berry, tart black plum, rose petals, white pepper, crushed rock and green tobacco, the wine is vibrant with its complex flavors lingering deliciously on the finish. Pair this wine with hamburgers, steak tartare or a plate of charcuterie and cheese. Caroline Coursant
This is a delicious wine from Château Coutet, a Saint Émilion estate which has been certified organic since 2012. The domaine has never used chemical treatments on the land creating a unique flora and fauna not found on any other surrounding estates. The 2014 Coutet shows a beautiful bouquet of red berries and black plums with purple floral and green tobacco notes. On the palate, the wine displays bright minerality, good acidity, and silky tannins, with a long finish. Drink now or age it for several years (5+ years). Caroline Coursant
This second label of Chateau Coutet is a great value! With flavors of violets, red and black plum, dark cherry, tobacco, earth and musk, the wine displays an elegant bouquet that is lifted by bright acidity, grippy tannins and superb minerality. With a good finish, the lovely flavors linger on the palate. Pair this wine with a classic steak and fries, roast beef, and lamb shoulder. Caroline Coursant
What a fantastic Claret from Coutet! This Saint Émilion estate, certified organic since 2012, does not use any chemical treatments on the land and the results show on the quality of their wines. A Claret, the wine shows off a gorgeous dark pink color with purple hue. On the nose, the bouquet of juicy red raspberry, ripe strawberry, and dark rose petal notes is enticing. The palate is complex and luscious with notes of red berry fruit, yellow plum, wild flower and mint lingering on the finish, and with a beautiful texture and pretty acidity. Drink this wine by itself or with blackened salmon, light roasted chicken or steak tartare. Caroline Coursant