April 27, 2015

5 Things I Learned in Bordeaux

Recently, I was privileged enough to travel to Bordeaux with the respected Lay & Wheeler who are specialists in fine wine and have been in operation for 160-years. You might wonder how on earth this happened, considering I'm just a blogger in a ragged bobble hat, but it did and I'd like to tell you more about it.  
The Cafe Cat
A rare picture of me from Mondo Mulia sipping a vintage Dom Pérignon that tasted like peaches and cream

A wine novice, I certainly drink my fair share, and yet the wine industry itself hasn't always seemed very accessible to me. Where I start on this point, I will also finish. Currently, I feel that wine masquerades as a fat cat or a wealthy man's vice. However, I've always hoped it would evolve and now have room to believe it might.

Let's talk through the trip first. Here are five things I learned by the expert hands of Lay and Wheeler and their charming, friendly and fun team, and also some of my own observations.

Bordeaux 2014, #lwbordeaux, wine tasting
Photography from Mondo Mulia


WHO KNEW? (a lot of people actually but I didn't).

Referred to as 'En Primeur', the wine I tasted during the week translates as 'futures'. These are wines whose fate and price will be sealed this month before bottling, giving investors a chance to buy at a lower rate with the anticipation that they might grow in value in the future. Or simply because they'd like a great wine to drink in ten years' time.

I really like this idea of putting money into something that might grow your investment with age. Failing that, you can always drink it, which is not something you can say about property or bonds. That's right, drown your sorrows in your own loss or use a company like Lay & Wheeler to advise and have been trusted by many for over a century to largely improve your odds.

 For me, investing in wine is more tangible and delicious a risk and one I am actually considering.

"Have a great holiday." They said.

"I can't believe you get to go to Bordeaux and drink wine for four days."

Let me tell you, the drinking wine part isn't all that enviable a) because the wines are so young and only just harvested in the late autumn of 2014 and b) you're spitting most of it out anyway. I think only about three of the dozens I tried slipped slyly down my throat and the rest coated my gums and turned my teeth a fetching shade of black.

Wine tasting is remarkably intense, heady work. Pair this with very little sleep and a schedule fit to burst and you'll find yourself somewhat greening at the gills. My utmost respect to the team who bear with this process, tasting hundreds of wines to seek out those truly potential gems for their clients, which leads me to number 3...
Chateau Haut Brion Red Wines
Photography by the wonderful Giulia Mule of Mondo Mulia at Chateau Haut-Brion

A question I've asked and been asked a lot is 'If the wine is so young, how on earth do you know that it'll be a corker in ten years' time?'

Well, you really ought to be trained to recognise exactly what you're looking for: texture, smell, body, taste and so on... The Lay & Wheeler team have been training for years but tell me that, at the end of the day, even though training is the process of refining and using your palate appropriately, the decision really comes down to a 'feeling' that you're tasting a really excellent wine; a really delightful feeling. I'm pleased to hear that the three I secretly let pass my lips are highly regarded. 

As such, I understand what they mean by a 'feeling' - these wines felt wonderful, standing out proudly in an ocean of others.
Fine Wines, En Primeur Tasting with Lay and Wheeler
Photograph from Mondo Mulia

A well-worn industry, the British have been trading wine with Bordeaux since 1302, and so rich and affluent must be the stories that come from the area and its magnitude of châteaux. I fish a lot for tales and get told numbers, wines, good years and bad, but no one really gets that I want to know families, affairs, betrayals and tragedies, and so I don't push it.

Widely undocumented, such romantic and decadent settings must hold legends that novels and BBC dramas are made of. At dinner one night, I am told of Rudy Kurniawan, possibly the world's biggest wine fraud. Vanity Fair tells the tale well in this article but I'm hard pressed to uncork much else. The excitement this story garners around the table, however, is palpable. Beyond the wine, it's clear that the industry is really rather fascinating.

We joke that Lay and Wheeler ought to begin a film production company telling such legends (while also strategically merchandising the wines) and I'm secretly quite serious.
5 Things I Learned in Bordeaux

Accessing the inaccessible made for a wonderful four days that I won't forget hurriedly. I know much more about wine, I'm considering investing one day and amongst all those stiff coloured trousers, I managed to slip in a woolly bobble hat, although it didn't quite go unnoticed. 

While I'm not saying it wasn't probably ill-judged to attend so formal an affair dressed as such, I feel as if there is much to enjoy by a wider market. Typically a man's world in the past, the Lay & Wheeler team is proportionately balanced by comparison to others, there are more women in attendance across the week, and less of those coloured trousers in sight. It feels as though there is at least room to modernise.

It is not so strange that I should enjoy wine that's not directly from the shelf at Waitrose, especially now I feel more educated and informed, and I certainly feel as if  new demographics ought to be explored and captured by the fine wine industry.

While it's inevitable that the press for this year's wine mused heavily on prices (as it always does, I research), I'd like to see more about the wine and the châteaux themselves. I want to know more about the châteaux that do things differently, such as those who have become or are becoming biodynamic and show concern for their long-term sustainability and responsibility to the land, those which serve the meanest cheese board and where they sourced it from, and what more there is to do and enjoy in a region that also provides incredible wines.
5 Things I Learned in Bordeaux
By the end of the trip and thereafter, enjoying fine wine moulds itself into the shape of a lifestyle to which I'd like to aspire and partake: good wine, travel, amazing food and the expertise from great people.

My thanks to Lay & Wheeler for guiding me through the week, my partner in attendance Giulia Mule of Mondo Mulia who played also the part of wine novice and knowledge seeker, and to the chateaux that hosted us so generously.

If you'd like to follow Lay & Wheeler, you will find their friendly and expert advice on Twitter and Facebook and should you like to see more from the trip, the #lwbordeaux will reveal all.

Photograph from Mondo Mulia.
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