January 09, 2013

Gems in Médoc - the BLM strategy

All the thin blue lines catch my eye when I take a first look at the maps of Médoc. The solid ones are drawn from west to east, towards the water in the Gironde bay. The dashed ones connect, often at a right angle, to the solid ones; sometimes at longer intervals, sometimes in a tight grid. Only the solid ones have names, such as Jalle du Cartillon, Chenal du Milieu and Jalle du Breuil.

The wine geography journey around the world is about to start. A bit traditionally perhaps, but Bordeaux has a certain shimmer. The history with a successful export strategy and early brand building has put a solid foundation for the fame. And, it is the largest AOP region of France. Bordeaux it is, and take off will be from the left bank.

When you are found of Médoc wine, you have a lot to thank those deep ditches for. Before the Dutch drained the district in the 1500-century, it was not much more than marshes and forests. The ditches liberated large areas from water and the well known meagre gravel soil came to light. Perfect for growing high class grapes.

North of Bordeaux. There they are, the famous villages. First Margaux, then a small jump, and next on line are St Julien, Pauillac and St-Estèphe. The classified estates and châteaus are located side by side, trying to outshine each other. Fancy buildings, manicured vineyards, careful vinification. Perfection. And that is valid for the price of the highly demanded bottles too.

Of course I like the austerity of the Bordeaux wines, but not to any price. Hysterical levels push the wines to a status as collectibles rather than objects for culinary pleasure. At least for us with limited wallet. From time to time, related to the moments of cellar replenishment, I consider ignoring the region. Why Bordeaux, when an abundance of lovely wines from all around the world is available? But then I stumble upon a remarkable beautiful wine and realise that it is impossible to withstand the temptation. However, there is an alternative to the top of the price list. A better strategy; to search for the gems outside the gilded gates.

In Médoc the strategy is called BLM.

B is of course crus Bourgeois. This Médoc specific classification, created in 1932, when more than 400 estates were awarded a cru bourgeois. Their wines had good quality, but not enough high prices to be included in the classification of 1855. Since 2008, the crus bourgeois is however not a classification of the estate. Instead it is a quality mark of the wine. After application the wine is judged blindly by a group of professionals. If the wine passes the eye of the needle, the label will state cru bourgeois. Next vintage, new test.

The 2009 vintages of Château Le Boscq, from Saint-Estèphe, and Château Cambon la Pelouse, a Haut-Médoc estate located just south of Margaux, found their way into our cellar based on the B in the BLM strategy.

The other two letters in the BLM strategy refer to geographical areas. Listrac and Moulis. So, grab the atlas again. Just north of Margaux I turn to the right. The villages are found on the central Médoc spread in Johnson & Robinson's excellent wine atlas.

Moulis-en-Médoc is the first one. Directly, outside the little village Grand(!) Poujeaux, I run into the well-known favourites Château Chasse-Spleen and Château Poujeaux. To the north-west is then Listrac-Médoc with a couple of estates to remember; Château Fourcas Hosten and Château Fourcas Dupré.

All four estates' vintage 2009 are available right now, at least in Sweden. Some time ago we tasted the Château Poujeaux 2009. It was so nice,  so very "Bx-like", just as we want our Médoc. A real gem.

Vines in Grand-Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc. Photo: Berndt Fernow (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vignes_Moulis.jpg)
(licensed for free use: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)

January 03, 2013

To know by heart; the year of wine geography

Excerpt from a recent dinner conversation:

"You really don't need to know things by heart, it's so unnecessary!" my friend said. "Fortunately, school is focused on other things today. To analyse, to see the bigger context, to argue. That's far more important."

"Yes, I remember all that unnecessary stuff we had to learn when we were in school," another one agreed. "Things like the rivers in Halland [Swedish landscape, my comment]. Why should we know them by heart? So ridiculous. When you can find it all on the web, so easy."

The rivers in Halland. Of course I know them. We all had to learn that rhyme; "We shall eat, you shall cook." So I know that the rivers are Viskan, Ätran, Nissan and Lagan.  Is that unnecessary knowledge? And learning things by heart, is that totally outdated?

I didn't agree and argued against my friends. Geography, for example. How would we be able to grasp the context, analyse and argue about an incident if we don't know where in the world it has taken place?

Of course, my thoughts were at the same time in the world of wine. Wine without geography, that should for me be a much poorer pleasure. Wine, without origin, that would only be an industrial product. An alcoholic beverage made by fermented grapes. Wine, together with geography, on the other hand, give so much nuances to the experience. To be able to place the wine on the map, for me, that is just as important as the knowledge of the included grape varieties.

Do we then have to know our wine geography by heart? Yes, I think so. At least in broad terms. To know that Barossa is in Australia, Stellenbosch in South Africa and Puglia is in the southern Italy, that should be a minimum. It would be very inconvenient and take too much time to be forced to consult the computer or the smart phone every time you want to know.

Can you think of a sommelier who has to take a look at the Ipad before she/he can tell you where in the world the grapes for the chosen wine were grown? No, of course not. But the new generation of wine lovers, both professional and amateurs, will have a more difficult time when school don't teach and ask for basic knowledge. Well, I hope my friends around the dinner table exaggerated. That the situation in school is not that bad.

However, when I reflected on our dinner conversation, I got an insight. Geography is incredibly important for my wine experiences. So essential that it influenced my choice of New Year's resolution: 2013 is hereby appointed to the year of wine geography.

It will be a pleasure to take a tight grip of the wine atlas and start repeating the old well-known wine regions. And just as fun to start exploring and put new regions to the bank of "by heart knowledge".