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Old Style Claret Returns to Bordeaux

Have you ever wanted to drink an Old Style Claret?  A Claret that harks back to the Victorian era of Gentlemen’s Clubs, cigars and fine wine?  If you travel back in time to 1855, when the chateaux were being ranked into Grand Cru Classé, the Claret the British loved so well had a little Syrah from Hermitage, in the northern Rhône, in the blend.  Bordeaux has started to create limited amounts of these wines again – they are unusual and difficult to find but the great Third Growth Chateau Palmer has revived this 19th century practice.

Chateau Palmer created an experimental cuvée (only 100 cases), called Historical XIX Century Wine. It’s a blend of 85% estate fruit from Palmer and 15% Syrah from Hermitage and was sold privately to clients and high class restaurants.

Apparently the wine is fuller and richer when compared to the usual Margaux style and shows more of the Syrah character. Of the few cases made, the chateau is holding back some for a minimum ten years to see if the wine changes back to show more of the Margaux character. Priced the same as Chateau Palmer ex-cellars, this isn’t your typical vin de table.

Michel Chapoutier has also made a Pomerol Hermitage with oenologist Michael Rolland. The wine was produced for charity and was made 50% Merlot from Château Le Bon Pasteu, Rolland’s property in Pomerol and 50% Syrah from Chapoutier’s l’Ermite. The wine was named, aptly, .  Rolland and Chapoutier intend to create an M² every time the vintage deserves it.  The wine was sold at auction in aid of Chapoutier’s charitable foundation, M. Chapoutier Vins et Santé, set up in 1994 to help children with leukemia.

Alain Reynaud, owner of Chateau Le Croix de Gay i Pomerol and consultant for over 10 properties in the region has expressed a desire to grow Syrah: “As long as I have clay soils, I will plant Merlot. But temperatures do seem to be rising, and if I had more gravel, I would love the right to plant Syrah in Bordeaux.”

First Growth Chateau Lafite Rothschild’s brand new vineyard in China is also growing Syrah and the Syndicat des Vins de Bordeaux (Bordeaux Wines Union) is now trialling the growing of Syrah in Bordeaux with a view to the future . . . or should I say the past?

Jean Baptiste Audy own several chateaux in Pomerol and Saint Emilion and have created an Old Style Claret named simply  Cuvée.  The blend is 75% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Syrah and the abv of 12.5% also represents a return to the lower alcohol levels of Bordeaux in the past.  This is a captivating wine, easy to drink and is full of character.  Cuvée is a dark garnet colour with intense aromas.  In the mouth the wine has a good backbone with smooth tannins and good fruit.With notes of blackberry jam, ripe dark plums and black pepper with a hint of smoke Cuvée also goes well with food especially feathered game, venison, beef, lamb, richly flavoured casseroles and Italian tomato based dishes.

We have managed to acquire some of  this Old Style Claret – Cuvee de Jean Baptiste Audy – and this wine is exclusive to Bordeaux-Undiscovered and you won’t find it anywhere else in the UK.  We hope you enjoy it!

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4 Responses to Old Style Claret Returns to Bordeaux

  1. gdfo says:

    Good story of a good idea.

    Some CA wineries will read this and come up with their own overpriced versions, I ‘m sure.

    Have you tasted any of them?

    • Nick says:

      Hi – I haven’t tasted any Californian wines made in the Bordeaux style or Meritage for many years now. I have however sampled Bordelaise wines that experiment with old/obsolete grape varieties and thoroughly enjoyed the Cuvee de Jean Baptiste Audy – which is why I brought it here to sell in the UK! It’s a deeper, earthier style and is incredible value for money. I am always on the look out for interesting wines!



  2. Em says:

    You said Chateau Lafite Rotschild, which is to my knowledge a bordeaux, is now growing a vineyard in China. How are they adjusting this? Are they keeping the name of the brand knowing this wine from China can’t be considered a bordeaux wine acording to the AOC?

    • Nick says:

      Hi Em,

      The wine from Lafite’s vineyard in China will not be a ‘Bordeaux’ wine and I brought it in as an example to show how the Syrah grape is being used. I have not heard yet what the wine will be named but it will be part of the Rothschild brand.

      These ‘old style clarets’ and experimental wines made in Bordeaux do not fall under any AOC as the grapes used are ones that are not included in the AOC ‘permitted varieties’. The reason that the INAO are trialling these old / forgotten varieties is that they were used in the past and might prove to be again in the future due to climate change.

      The phylloxera epidemic at the end of the 19th century wiped out vineyards in France and there are pockets of long lost vines dotted about that are now attracting conservation and research. The ‘modern’ permitted grapes for Bordeaux AOC were established much later than the phylloxera epidemic and don’t include many grapes grown there historically in the past. The Vintage Clarets that you see at auction from the 1800s and early 1900s contain some of these long lost grapes, which I find fascinating!

      Interestingly Ch Palmer has also produced a white wine using a blend of 65% Muscadelle, 25% Sauvignon Gris with the remaining 10% a mix of Merlot Blanc and Lauzet. Lauzet is not included in the permitted white grapes for Bordeaux AOC but old records show that this grape was once known Doset or Corbin Blanc centuries ago in Sauternes so maybe it was once grown there, especially as it is a good grape for encouraging Noble Rot! Times change and as wine producers have to adapt – albeit very slowly – we may see these grapes permitted in AOC Bordeaux in years to come.