Ode to France, Les Accabailles and Les Crus Classés de Graves

Tasting dinner of top Pessac-Léognan wines at Château Carbonnieux

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com

21 November 2019

A round-trip on the high-speed train TGV traversing France from Strasbourg to Bordeaux and back took less than 6 hours. No stop in Paris. Comfy, first class seat at €170: Convenient, efficient and greener than flying or driving. I visited friend and wine author Jane Anson, who is about to publish a massive tome on Bordeaux wines. She and her husband Francis live in Bordeaux, a city that Alain Juppé has made most beautiful during his tenure as mayor. And then? A wonderful dinner on 11 November this year at Château Carbonnieux to mark the 2019 harvest in a fête known as “Les Accabailles”.

Each year, the 14 châteaux classified as Crus Classés de Graves take turns to host the event. Château Carbonnieux organized the 11 November evening this year featuring the cuisine of two-star Michelin chef Hélène Darroze. Jean-Jacques Bonnie of Château Malartic Lagravière, and president of the Crus Classés de Graves, joined Eric Perrin of Château Carbonnieux to moderate ceremonies throughout the dinner, attended by some 200 people.

Classified “great growths” in 1953 (and in 1959), the top estate is Château Haut-Brion, which had been earlier classified as “First Growth” in 1855, the only non-Médoc red wine included in that classification. Since 1987, they are categorized as Pessac-Léognan appellation wines, a distinction for what is considered superior terroir in the northern part of the Graves region, which takes its name from its stony terroir. Recognized for their superior quality as far back as the 17th century, these top Graves all have rich histories, as exemplified by the host château.

Gorgeous dinner setting at Château Carbonnieux (Credit: l’Atelier de Style)

About Château Carbonnieux

Like so many other estates in Bordeaux, this one boasts a lovely castle, tracing its history back to the Middle Ages, as the name Carbonnieux is said to come from a family called “Carbonius” or Carbonnieu, who cleared and cultivated land near Léognan at the beginning of the 13th century.

The region has experienced many ups and downs, from ruined harvests and epidemics to peak historical periods.

The Jefferson Tree

Soon to be President Thomas Jefferson, a gastronome and great wine lover, went on a grand tour of France to discover its vineyards. In 1786, he selected a few famous estates and his diary shows that he came to Carbonnieux to taste the “Wine of the Odalisques” as it was then called in the United States.

Jefferson left his mark at the estate by planting an American pecan tree on the grounds of the château. Over two centuries old, the tree still takes pride of place in the estate’s inner courtyard today. Read More

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Burgundy bargains?

Sure, at Pernand Vergelesses  

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com

29 October 2019

In Beaune at the Centre Interprofessionnel Techniques des Vins de Bourgogne, I was welcomed earlier this month by tasting director Hervé Bianchi, to assess nearly 30 white Côte de Beaune wines from 13 producers – both premiers and villages crus – from the somewhat under-the-radar appellation of Pernand Vergelesses.

Tucked into valleys among the hills of Côte de Beaune, Pernand-Vergelesses straddles the famous Hill of Corton and Aloxe-Corton and Ladoix-Serrigny, harboring prestigious Grands Crus of Corton in red and Corton-Charlemangne in white.

After the tasting, Bourgogne Wine representative Cécile Mathiaud, pictured above, drove me to the 385-meter high Frétille Hill, overlooking the premier cru Pernand Vergelesses vineyards of Sous Frétille (officially recognized as premier cru in 2000). The gorgeous autumn day proved perfect for photos, as you can see!

From this high vantage point, the sloping sites of the appellation are in evidence, with various exposures from south/southeast to north, the latter proving to be more favorable in hot vintages that seem to be coming more often with climate change. Read More

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Euro wine companies fear consequences of wine tariffs

25% duty goes into effect next week, but only for wines with under 14% alcohol

11 October 2019

From various news sources

I have obtained press releases from various wine companies in recent days to react to President Donald Trump’s recent tariff on European wines that will take effect one week from today, 18 October.

As Eric Asimov of the New York Times recently reported, the duties will not affect sparkling wines. And they will only apply to wines with alcohol levels below 14%, which will hit producers from regions like Sancerre and Chablis hardest.

As alcohol levels for wines have been going up, generally speaking, many Bordeaux producers (but hardly all) – can breath a sigh of relief. As can producers in Châteauneuf du Pape, I suppose.

For lovers of lower alcohol wines, made in Europe? Well, this sucks.

Indeed, many companies, too, are worried. Because the US represents a significant market for them, and because of its good economy, it has become a main focus for international development.

Take for example French online wine auctioneer iDealwine, which is  “very concerned” over the 25% ad valorem import duty, the result of a long-running dispute with the EU over airplane subsidies.

As some have already noted, wines with already rather lofty price tags likely will still sell, as affluent buyers can take the hit. Although, even for this category, an increase in price will slow down purchasing. Wine that will have the hardest time it seems would be the category of under $15 retail bottles that face fierce international competition. Competition that does not have to deal with this tariff.

In any case, if nothing is done to prevent the United States imposing tariffs of 25% to French, Spanish and German wines, the consequences could be severe for wine industry professionals such as iDealwine.

“In Europe, France is second only to Italy in terms of quantity of wine (in containers of less than 2 litres) exported to the US”, the FEVS (Federation of Exporters of Wines and Spirits) stated in a press release. What’s more, while the aeronautic industry represents France’s first trade surplus, wines and spirits are in second position. The decision is very significant for foreign trade.

While for now the USA represents only a small portion of iDealwine’s annual turnover (<5% in 2018), it is one of their most dynamic markets and main area of focus for international development in the years to come, according to a press release from the company.

“The market is mature and highly knowledgeable. Americans were among our first non-French customers to buy wines such as Clos Rougeard, naturalwines, wines from the Jura… Given the constraints that already exist when it comes to importing, our progress on this market has been slow but sure; it has shown itself to be very reactive and dynamic. Our turnover increased by 62% between 2018 and 2019 (January-September). This success has led us to dedicate a development project focusing on the region. For example, we will be participating in the New York wine show Matter of Taste organized by The Wine Advocate (formerly Robert Parker). The next step would be to open an office in New York, just like we did in Hong Kong in 2013 – which then went on to become our top buying country after France. We had planned to make various investments and recruitments to develop growth. This supplementary tax of 25% for wines headed to the US forces us to seriously question these projects. For now, we are waiting to hear the reactions of our American customers. We sincerely hope that the French government will support us by continuing negotiations with the United States, so as to reestablish normal trading conditions”, Cyrille Jomand, CEO of iDealwine, explained.



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Cyclades Log: T-OINOS

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com

23 September 2019

French-Greek cooperation had been part of T-OINOS Winery since initial vine plantings in 2002 made T-OINOS a pioneer for Assyrtiko production outside of Santorini in Greece’s Cycladic Islands. Located  some 460 meters above sea level on the windy island of Tinos, the winery thrust Tinos into the modern wine-producing era, even if people have made wine there since ancient times.

Extending nearly 200 square kilometers, this northern Cyclades island, with over 50 villages, is far more relaxed and discrete when compared to the chic and expensive Mykonos Island nearby. Its intense northern winds, dubbed “Meltemi”,  explain why Tinos is home to the god Aeolus, as I outlined in my more general post about the island earlier this month. As you will discover in this text, the wind matters also for viticulture.

The Stegasta name 

The island’s dramatically terraced landscape illustrates historical agricultural activity, with wine production dating back to Prehistory through to the Middle Ages and today.

Brought back to life in a different way: Stegasta (photo courtesy of T-OINOS Winery)

By the 18th century, Venetian inhabitants were making 20 different wines on the island, as evidenced by remnants of stone huts, where workers had pressed grapes and fermented wine on the spot, to protect themselves from the strong winds and because it was impractical to haul grapes down the island’s villages. These stony habitats are called “Stegasta”, which means “covered” in Greek, and they explain the name of T-OINOS Winery’s top terroir: “Clos Stegasta”.  Read More

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Cyclades log: Tinos

Windswept island, great food, superb winery

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com

11 September 2019

After several hours cruising from the port of Piraeus near Athens, I arrived to the gusty environment on Tinos Island, whose barren and hilly landscape seems perfect for dystopian cinema. Its beauty is evident from the many windmills and over 50 villages, some among the most charming in Greece, like Pyrgos, dotting the landscape.

With a land area of 194,464 square kilometers (over 75,050 square miles) and about 9,000 year-round inhabitants, this Cycladic island is rather large, but more discrete than the jazzy, jet set Mykonos, just a 20 minute boat ride away, which is lit up like Taj Mahal by night.

The strong winds – gusts of 40 kilometers an hour are normal – explain why Tinos is known as the island home of Aeolus, the Greek god of the winds.

In more recent times the island is special for the Virgin Mary, as Our Lady of Tinos church houses a miraculous icon which, according to tradition, was found after the famous Virgin once appeared to a nun Pelagia and revealed to her the place where the icon was buried. A rug wide enough for pedestrians is parallel to the road from the port leading to the church, and some pilgrims still insist on getting to the church to see the icon on their knees, although most use their feet to light a candle and kiss the icon.

A veritable grand cru in Tinos

Starting at about 400 meters above sea level and up to 460, the island boasts a unique winery on an almost lunar landscape of enormous granite boulders. Many Assyrtiko vines of the T-OINOS winery are planted on thick sands over this rock and the estate, in operation since 2002, is justifiably highly prized for its high altitude, cool terroir.

Its wines wet stone like flavors emanating from these soils are so impressive that famous Bordeaux wine consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt has been the consultant winemaker here since about five years, and he travels to Tinos almost once a month to focus on new plantings. A new winery will be built by 2021.

I caught up Bordeaux-based assistant to Derenoncourt Julien Lavenu over dinner, and we spoke at length of the qualities of this wine, which will be the subject of my next blog entry.

Suffice to say that T-OINOS has been getting loads of positive press from critics and writers around the world, from FAZ in Germany to Julia Harding and Jancis Robinson. As I was leaving, PR manager Eleni Blouchou told me that a Financial Times correspondent was coming to visit next week.

Stay tuned for more details in the next Cyclades tour blog entry…

A gorgeous setting: Aeolis Tinos Suites 

While I paid my own way to get to Athens, it is important to point out that the visits to Tinos were part of a media tour, and the T-OINOS team covered my travel expense from Athens to the island and two nights stay at a most gorgeous luxury hotel, aptly named the Aeolis Tinos Suites. Read More

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