Friday, June 24, 2011

Field Trip to Chateau Gruaud-Larose and Chateau Maucauillou


June 11, 2011 – We slept in on Saturday morning, then drove to downtown Bordeaux to park in their underground parking structure. Then we had brunch at a charming sidewalk cafĂ© before boarding the bus which headed to the Medoc for a tour of two wineries. When we saw the names of the wineries – Gruaud Larose and Maucauillou – people laughingly said they must have selected the two most difficult winery names to pronounce. Most marketing textbooks recommend selecting a product name that is easy to spell and pronounce, but this is not always the case in Bordeaux.

Chateau Gruaud-Larose – Elegance and History
This chateau, located in St. Julien, was started in 1725 and has 80 hectares of vines. We started in the vineyard and enjoyed see the gravely soil and learning that the grand cru is only created from old vines (25 to 80 years of age). In the cellar, they use concrete tanks for primary fermentation with 2 pump-overs per day for the first 9-10 days and a total of 23 days for maceration. Secondary fermentation takes place in large oak foudres for the grand cru. Interestingly they blend everything after fermentation and then age 16 months in 70% new French oak barrels, topping every 2 weeks and racking every 3 months.

In the tasting room, I was surprised to see that they are selling some wine direct to consumer – but you must make an appointment to visit, as is the case with most Bordeaux grand cru chateaux. We tasted 2 wines, beginning with the second label, Chateau Sarget 2002. It had a ripe cassis nose with dark fruit and earth on the palate. It was a medium-bodied wine, lightly oaked with a medium to long finish. Good for food, and still rather astringent for a 2002.

The next wine was my favorite -- Chateau Gruaud-Larose 2001. It was nice they let us taste some of the older vintages. 2001 is usually over-shadowed by the brilliant 2000, but it is still quite enjoyable. This wine tasted very fresh, and still has 8-10 more years in the bottle. It was a dark red opaque color with a dense fruit nose and tobacco, earth, toast, and gravel edge on the palate – very complex, good intensity, well-balanced, and long finish. It was instructive to see and taste how careful sorting of grapes and different winemaking distinguishes the grand cru from the second label.

Chateau Maucauillou – Whimsy and a Great Museum


Chateau Maucauillou was started in 1871 in the Moulis region. It is considered to be a “Cru Bourgeois,” though the designation has now been dropped in Bordeaux. Regardless this distinction indicates it is of higher quality than a generic AOC Bordeaux. The first impressive I received upon entering the estate was one of delightful whimsy reflected in the large bronze bull on the lawn in front of the country-house chateau and the two roosters on the entry sign shaped from a large black ball (see photo). After disembarking from the bus, we had to wait 15 minutes for our tour guide who was running behind schedule, however she did provide an informative and quick tour of the cellars.

A unique aspect of their winemaking is that they ferment in stainless steel at rather low temperatures for Bordeaux red varietals – approximately 21 degrees Celsius – which is a technique usually adopted for pinot noir and zinfandel, rather than cabernet sauvignon and friends. The purpose is to maintain the fresh fruit aromas and notes in the wine. They also construct the blend after aging individual lots for 18 months in 100% new French oak barrels.

As this was my first time to taste this brand, I was disappointed to find they only opened the 2007 Chateau Maucauillou -- my least favorite vintage. Though it did start with a beautiful nose of ripe berries (most likely from the cool ferment), it did not follow through on the palate. Instead we were greeted with a medium-bodied wine with high acid, astringent tannins and a bitter finish. Hopefully I will be able to try this wine on another occasion with a better vintage.

After the tasting we had time to visit the wonderful wine museum, which is a special feature of Chateau Maucauillou. Definitely worth the time!

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