Monday, 29 August 2016

An Unwanted Record

A standard device for politicians who are asked an embarrassing question is to answer a different one. So when Nicola Sturgeon was asked about the GERS report showing the Scottish fiscal deficit was £14.8 billion or about 9.5% of GDP, larger even than Greece, she replied that the real threat to the Scottish economy was Brexit.

Aye, as they say, that'll be right. Scotland does about 15% of its trade with the EU and about 70% with the rest of the UK. We are happy to contemplate pulling out of the UK and really upset about pulling out of the EU?

As I pointed out at the time, the so-called White Paper Scotland's Future, despite predicting an absurdly high oil price, already predicted a fiscal deficit of £4.6 billion.

Take away the alleged bonus of oil revenues and we now need bailing out to the tune of well over £3,000 per adult per year. Fortunately as part of the UK we don't have to try borrowing that.

Meanwhile the Scottish Government embarks on another round of trying to persuade the voters that independence makes economic sense.

Yes. Quite. And whilst all this is going on, who's minding the store?

Friday, 19 August 2016

St Emilion, Chateau Soutard, Chateau Franc Mayne

The Benedictine hermit who gave his name to the town of St Emilion lived in a limestone cave which has now been enlarged into a monolithic church (right). This means that instead of being built of stone the church was carved out of the solid stone. It has all the main features of a Romanesque basilica, including aisles and columns, though sadly the structure has been weakened by water damage and now requires the support of interior scaffolding.

The area was under English sovereignty until the latter part of the Hundred Years' War and St Emilion wine was shipped to the court of King Edward III.

Today there are over 800 wine producers here. Since elevation ranges from 3 to 100 metres there is significant variation in terroir between the plateau, the slopes (cotes) and the flat plain. Towards the border with the Pomerol region the soil becomes more sandy.

Limestone soils can be quite thin and vine roots will work their way down through cracks in the underlying rock. You can see examples of this in the cellars that honeycomb the substrata around the town. The cellars at Chateau Franc Mayne are particularly extensive, being linked with a former underground quarry.

Like a rock reservoir, limestone absorbs water in rainy seasons and releases it back to the vines in dry spells.

Whereas Macon wine such as St Julien is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, the principle ingredient of St Emilion is Merlot. Some vignerons use 100% Merlot. Franc Mayne was one of these, but now includes about 10% Cabernet Franc. By contrast the Soutard estate is planted only 63% Merlot and 28% Cabernet Franc, the balance being made up of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.

For my taste just a hint of spiciness provided by a tiny percentage of Malbec makes an ideal St Emilion wine, but others disagree. The variety offered by St Emilion means it can be drunk with a wide range of food. For our sundowner at Soutard we were offered nibbles of both meat and cheese and greatly enjoyed both.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Sauternes and Chateau Myrat

 Sauternes used to be thought of as purely a dessert wine, though in practice it is more versatile.  It can be paired well with local savoury products such as foie gras.

The region lies about 40km south of Bordeaux around the confluence of the Ciron and The Garonne.

It was explained to us that the Ciron maintains a lower temperature than the larger river. In summer the mixing of the two waters produces an evening mist the sun does not burn away until the middle of the next day.

The mist is conducive to the formation of Botrytis cinerea or noble rot, a type of fungal infection. The sun-drying in the afternoons however prevents decay. The result is a wizened or raisin-like grape which has far less moisture than normal but far higher sugar content.

All of this means the Sauternes harvest tends to be late, somewhat variable in quality, more vulnerable than normal to weather volatility and expensive because volume is low relative the amount of labour required.

The wine ages well, progressively darkening in colour as it does so, from blonde through honey to copper (right). It is said the taste develops in sophistication. Unfortunately I am no longer convinced that my wine cellar holds a sufficiently constant temperature all year round, so I shan't risk it for too long.

Probably the most famous of the Sauternes estates is Chateau d'Yquem (left). Jefferson records that, after tasting its product, Washington promptly ordered thirty dozen bottles. Possibly some multi-millionaires still do. I'm not quite that rich, unfortunately.

For myself I was completely delighted with the wine of Chateau Myrat (above and top left). I believe I was heard to declare that it was so superior to anything of the same appellation I'd tasted before that none of the latter could possibly have been real Sauternes.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Wines of Bordeaux

Our 2016 cruise took us on three rivers, but covered relatively little total distance,

From Bordeaux we sailed up the Garonne as far as Cadillac, whence we returned to the confluence where the Garonne joins the Dordogne and together they form the Gironde. Down the estuary we went as far as Pauillac, up the Dordogne to Libourne and eventually back to the Garonne and Bordeaux.

Of the numerous wine terroirs in the region we were able to visit Medoc, Sauternes, St Emilion, Blaye and Cognac for tastings and others to view the scenery, historic buildings and cultural events. Some other local wines were available to accompany on board meals.

As a result I have a far better understanding of  this area and its wines than I did before, though I am bound to confess that is not saying a lot. Over the course of the next few weeks I shall try to describe some of the highlights. The low lights are perhaps best left in obscurity.

I've already posted several photographs of a magical nocturnal cruise along the Bordeaux waterfront, so I'll close this introduction with a panoramic view over the beautiful valley of the Dordogne.