An article over at The Drinks Business caught by attention recently. It was about Simon Thompson, founder of An Englishman in Bordeaux who is attempting to preserve Bordeaux’s distilling heritage with a range of traditional and more innovative spirits. Bordeaux actually has a long history of making spirits and liqueurs, ranging from the long forgotten and obscure to the world famous. Vestiges of this can still be seen – Bordeaux is home to one of the most important liqueur manufacturers: that of Marie Brizard and Roger of Bordeaux, founded in 1755 and up until 2008 the Lillet Company in Podensac (made famous by the James Bond film Casino Royale) was owned by Bruno Borie, owner of Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou.
Thompson is championing the production of Fine de Bordeaux which is an ‘eaux-de-vie’ (brandy). ‘Fine’ is the French word meaning ‘fine’, as in ‘high quality’ and varieties include: Fine de Bordeaux, Fine de Bourgogne, and Fine de la Marne. People used to refer to having a couple of Fines after their coffee but the term, though once common, is now dying out.
Fine de Bordeaux is double distilled in copper pot-stills and matured in oak casks. It’s made using Ugni Blanc and Colombard grapes which are among the white grapes permitted in Bordeaux (the others are Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle, Semillon, Mauzac, Ondenc and Merlot Blanc). Fine de Bordeaux is in decline but was notably made in the Cotes de Blaye. Historically it was produced under the name Cognac but this was no longer permitted at the beginning of the 20th century and so it was made under the name Eaux-de-Vie d’Aquitaine from 1942 and finally Fine de Bordeaux from 1974. From the late 1980s production has been phased out in favour of using the grapes for white Bordeaux wines instead. Chateau La Botte in Blaye still makes a Fine de Bordeaux: Hors d’Age and Passavant make red, white and rosé Fine de Bordeaux in the Cotes de Cadillac.
Thompson is producing his own Fine de Bordeaux but has also managed to acquire old stock which means that he is able to offer 25 and 30-year-old Fine as well as the last few bottles of the 1979 and 1986 vintages. A vodka has also been produced and there are plans to distil a grape-based gin as well. (Ciroc, a grape Vodka and G’Vine a grape gin are already successfully produced in France by EuroWineGate and Diageo, originally being the brain child of Jean-Sébastien Robicquet). Thompson said that he is quite keen to expand the range to include other neglected French Fines, he already has a prototype for a Fine de Bourgogne from Burgundy.
The two Rothschild First Growth Chateaux have been producing eaux-de-vie for some time. Chateau Lafite makes both Cognac and Armagnac but Chateau Mouton makes Eau de Vie de Marc d’Aquitaine de Mouton Rothschild (as well as a Blackcurrant Liqueur and a Plum Cognac). The difference between a ‘Fine’ and a ‘Marc’ is that a Fine is made of distilled wine and a Marc is made by distilling the grape skins, seeds and stalks left over from the pressing process. Marc is much stronger in taste while the Fine is finer and is said to be closer to a Cognac.
Interestingly Jean Luc Thunevin of Chateau Valandraud in Saint Emilion (recently promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classé B) also makes a Fine de Bordeaux: La Fine Bordeaux de Valandraud. If you have heard of any other chateaux producing Fine de Bordeaux please let me know!