Please remember to approach the world of wine responsibly
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I'm a fan of Chardonnay. There, I've written it and in these uncertain times when the grape seems to be frowned upon as yesterday's news I've got to say that it's maintained its very high standing with me.
I started as a fan of those buttery bold Californian numbers that taste as though you're chewing on a piece of wood and still enjoy them from time to time. Surely, there's got to be time for those Burgundy beauties that lure you with oodles of fruit before knocking your tastebuds for six with their awesome profiles? I'd be a fool not to have fond memories of the ones I remember like warm sunny days, but I'm not going to keep you waiting long before telling you that when it comes to Chardonnay, it's Chablis that has been part of this love affair since I first tasted them so long ago that I cannot remember when. I can remember how they tasted like nothing I'd had until that point, but what is it that keeps me coming back like a lovesick teenager when there are so many different, sumptuous wines?
'What is it that keeps me coming back like a lovesick teenager?'
If Chardonnay can often seem a little flabby around the middle, then Chablis is Chardonnay that has spent time in the gym following an extreme workout! It is leaner than it's counterparts around the world and the absence of oak allows it to shout its pedigree. I think the region's Kimmeridgian soil; which is a mixture of fossil, limestone and grey Marl all play their part here, and for me when people discuss terroir this wine is a prime example of what that overused vitcultural word means.
The area hugs the River Serein in the northern part of Burgundy and if you look at a map it either looks like an afterthought appellation to this famous region, or an area that is determined to go it's own way. The best vineyards seem to be planted on slopes with a south-facing aspect, usually right in the middle. It's also made in other areas which carry the term 'Petit Chablis' on the bottle. These are okay if you want to dabble for the first time, but why bother when you can pick up a Premier or Grand Cru at a snip compared with those First Growth Bordeaux.
WINEFULLNESS: 'The city of Bordeaux seems to be growing and growing. Do you feel that it is starting to swallow up parts of Pessac-Léognan?'
FLORENCE CATHIARD: 'We are lucky to have a single block 150ha estate with 78ha of vines, and the other half is just forest and nature thriving. We feel like an oasis of freshness, a cool zone among the growing urbanisation. Yet we still feel the pressure from outside, but unless we face consecutive bad crops, or a low financial year, we shall have no reason to yield to real estate developers' offers for our land.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'In recent years, what has been the main innovations at Château Smith Haut Lafitte?'
FLORENCE: 'If one looks at our website, one can read in great detail about the innovations that took place.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'Last year, the Château welcomed Mr. Shinzo Abe. What were his tasting skills like?'
FLORENCE: 'It was a great honour for us to be the only estate to receive Mr. Shinzo Abe and the Japanese delegation prior to the G8 summit in Biarritz last summer. Mr. Prime Minister was very kind to our white wines, and his wife, Akie Abe, had a real thing for our red. He was pretty quiet and self-contained, whereas she was pretty easy-going. Today we maintain a close and supportative relationship with the couple. As a former ski champion, Mrs Abe invited us to her private ski resort party in Japan, unfortunately because of Covid we were unable to make it happen. We send them a few bottles of our wines to their residence in Tokyo on various occasions.'
WINEFULLNESS MAGAZINE: 'Are there competitions between the châteaux? For instance football matches, racing or wine tasting events?'
FLORENCE: 'We do a lot of internal blind tastings to check our level with the other top Bordeaux châteaux. We usually try to compare our wines among the 10 other red wines and 3 whites from wineries that we targeted as tough competition. Outside of work, our winemaker loves to watch rugby matches with his counterparts from other châteaux, but this is just a friendly meeting without any competition at this stage.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'Which vintage do you feel typifies Château Smith Haut Lafitte, and which should the buyer be on the lookout for?'
FLORENCE: '2009, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019 are the vintages that show the true identity of our terroirs and displays the wines full potential, yet even in 'small vintages' we believe that our wines are standing out from the other wines of the appellations.
'2019 is our first certified organic vintage and will be nicely priced compared to 2018. It will definitely create greater purchase opportunites for fine wine lovers.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'Has Bordeaux become too obsessed with classifications?'
FLORENCE: 'Yes and no. For instance, Carmes Haut-Brion shall probably be classified with their red, and our white wine shall definitely be classified too regarding the outstanding quality compared with other classified wines in the appellations, yet we have no problem selling those wines at a much higher value and promoting them. It means that quality also speaks for itself.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'What is the biggest myth you have heard about Château Smith Haut Lafitte?'
FLOENCE CATHIARD: 'When the Chinese arrived massively in Bordeaux, there were many millionaire tycoons, and some of them wanted to build something with us similar to what we have here, vineyard, luxury hotel and art de vivre, back in China. Rumours started to spread around and people were saying that we were selling SHL to the Chinese, but it was all fake!'
WINEFULLNESS MAGAZINE: 'Do you think that French winemakers are open to outside influences, and if they are what caused that change?'
WINEFULLNESS: 'You mentioned getting a good score earlier. What do you think of the points system?'
KAREN: 'Don't get me wrong. It's a riot when you get a good score and if any winemakers tells you that they don't get a rush they're lying because it is a rush when you get a good score.
'The 2016 Cabs, which have not been released yet, achieved the lowest score of 93 across the board. John and I thought that it was pretty good because we think it will sell really quickly. Ratings are big in the United States and more so in Napa than Sonoma.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'You've had the same winemaker since you started?'
KAREN: 'Yes. He has twelve to fifteen small producing clients and is responsible for about twenty-five thousand cases.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'Why should people come and visit Jean Edwards Cellars tasting room off Sonoma Plaza?'
KAREN: 'So that you can drink a quality wine in a relaxed setting, and there's also a really great team who
FLORENCE: 'I strongly believe that for now, Bordeaux is still the benchmark of great wines all over the world. Great Bordeaux wines, and we are glad to be amongst them, are much cheaper than Napa or some of the prestigious Italian wines. Many are envious of our efficient distribution network, selling our wines all over the world in more than thirty-five countries.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'What is your favourite time of day?'
FLORENCE: 'Either early in the morning or just before the evening when I ride my bicycle through the vines of the estate. It's a very peaceful time and I enjoy nature around me.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'In five words, how would you describe the essence of Château Smith Haut Lafitte?'
FLORENCE: 'Density, length, precision, elegance and typicity. It works for both our whites and reds, but it's difficult to sum up 18 months of work, finalising our wines as a piece of art in just five words.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'Bordeaux has decided that it is permissible to use a greater range of varieties than it has done in the past. Is this a good thing or a sign that climate change is a major concern for the area?'
FLORENCE: 'It depends which varieties you are talking about. If you talk about insect-resistant or disease resistant vines, we are not interested because the wine will taste like strawberries in the U.S. For now, at least, they will probably improve with time.'
WINEFULLNESS MAGAZINE: 'Which question do you wish that I'd have asked you, and how would you answer it?'
FLORENCE CATHIARD: 'Climate change is a major concern and we would like global warming on the planet to stop now. This is why we planted hedgerows around our vines, and kept large amounts of forest. We love this Atlantic climate on our estate and we don't want it to change one bit.
'The real question you should have asked is why we turned towards biodynamics, and I would say that you need to come to visit to fully understand, because you'll have to learn how to read its usage through the vines.'
And given time and the ability to travel this is where I hope to visit in the near future. Reading the answers that Florence gave it is obvious that a passion for her wines exudes in every sentence, but there is so much more to her than this, and it is obvious to me why she is the President of the Wine Tourism Board. With Florence Cathiard there is a sense of purpose that, to me, typifies the people in the wine industry, and her enthusiasm has just made me go online to purchase a case of Château Smith Haut Lafitte En Primeur I'm sure there will be many successful years ahead for her and her lovely château.
Ones to Try
W & J Graham's Late Bottled Vintage Port
'Bordeaux is still the benchmark of great wines all over the world.'
'It was a great honour for us to be the only estate to receive Mr. Shinzo Abe.'
'When I'm in Austria I am everyday at work.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'How often do you visit the factory in Kufstein?'
GEORG: 'I live in Europe for seven months of the year and when I'm in Austria I am everyday at work.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'Do you still go running?'
GEORG: 'I'm very active, but no more running. Walking whenever I have the chance, but no more running.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'And finally, which question do you wish I'd have asked you, and how might you have answered it?'
GEORG RIEDEL: 'You have asked excellent questions and some were very personal. I've tried to give you good answers. Let me just finish by saying that my greatest passion in life is wine. Understanding wine and delivering wine to my customers through my glassware has been my greatest achievement. I'm still working on it for further improvement, but I never get tired of enjoying wine, studying wine and sharing wine with the people I love.
And I think that is the sort of place you want to leave an interview.I
Cockburn's Quinta dos Canais Vintage Port
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Georg & Maximilian. Harmony through glassware
Frost can be a problem in the region and in recent years the spectre of ruined vintages have been a constant threat. Heaters and sprinklers are often used but with the climate changing faster than a quick change act growers are looking at a variety of strategies that will ensure the constant potential of the region.
At it's best there is a ripeness and concentration to the wines of Chablis that just sit happily on my palette in a way that not many others can manage. It can be withdrawn and sullen, but if you treat it correctly when pouring, and give it a little time, it will almost always come around.
There are one or two producers who have been known to dabble with a spot of oak in the mix but I find this a risky game to play with a wine where the flavour profile seems to rely upon a clean, stainless steel and concrete nuturing.
I find that when a Chablis is at its best then the descriptors just tumble out as you grasp to pin down every nuance in the glass. That opulent green fruit is always welcome, but for me it is always overtaken by a flinty stone that gives the wine its distinctive mineral profile.
When it's young it can look a green colour that might not sit right with an audience who like everything to be clear and pale, but this is a wine that goes the distance longer than a lot of people would imagine. Indeed, some of the best will reward you for laying them down a couple more years than the drinking window often states, and with age you often get a pungently addictive earthy taste that some would describe as sour, but let's put the science away and look at a few producers who really set my excitement receptors into overdrive.
2017 Christophe et Fils. 1er Cru 'Montee de Tonnerre'
I tried this at a recent tasting (along with my next recommendation) and I found it to be a Chablis with the potential to grow old along with me. The green apple taste was fresh and the acidity was contained and not rampant. That minerality reared its welcome head and I felt satisfied.
Give it time and you'll feel a mixture of the citrus and green fruit fighting for your attention.
It lovely and austere and I'm already looking forward to revisiting it in a couple of years.
2018 Christophe et Fils 1er Cru 'Montee de Tonnerre'
While I enjoyed the 2017, I think that this 2018 will stay the distance longer. It had all the same attributes of the earlier wine but with an added clarity that made it a far more interesting wine to explore.
The green fruit is there and the chalky minerality is never far away, but this seemed to keep balanced in a way that will lead your tastebuds on a longer journey. Of course it's only a baby, but I'm betting that over time this will become the Chablis for a lot of people.
This is a great food wine that will sit pretty with fish, chicken and act as a support for your cheeseboard.
2015 Domaine L. Chatelain. Premier Cru 'Fourchaume'
Typical green fruit of pears and apples with some straw on the nose. The taste gives you bags of French apples, minerality, wet stone and earth. It's so smooth and easy to drink that I'm keeping this for myself. You get your own.
2014 Domaine Long Depaquit. Grand Cru 'Moutonne'
The fruit tastes so young. It is absolutely glorious. There's stone, there's apple and the colour is still youthful it might need proof of age!
2012 Domaines Brocard. Grand Cru 'Bougros'
Very youthful lemon colour. Large watery rim. Clean with a slight oak smell of vanilla that I'm suprised by. In the mouth I think the lees come through even more. There's a slight zing in the inside of my top lip. Moderate acidity, long finish and that enjoyable stoney Chablis taste.
Louis Jadot Chablis
For what is supposed to be a run-of-the-mill Chablis, I found this lovely and crisp with a subtle nose. The flinty stone was not obvious at first. It was crisp and weighty with a lot of green fruit in the mix. I was finding the acidity high and it seemed to go all over the place.
2015 William Fevre. Petit Chablis
The light green fruit was clear on the nose and I enjoyed the slight nettle I found coming through as it mixed with bracken and straw.
I did find it a little harsher than I was expecting, but as a Petit Chablis it was sound. Of course, if you place it against the big boys of course you're going to feel let down.
Soil and Steel