Day Four began with an earlier start and a passage across the Gironde River to the ‘Right Bank’. We were headed first for the region of Montagne St Emilion, which provides a stark contrast with the huge and commercial chateau of the Left Bank. In St Emilion and its neighbouring appellation Pomerol, small is usually beautiful. And it doesn’t come much smaller (in Bordeaux anyway) than Chateau Acappella. Acappella is everything a First Growth is not. It has just 4 ha in total acreage, it was acquired only in 2001, the ‘chateau’ is a tiny (but charming) stone cottage and (best of all) a visit features a personal tour and lunch courtesy of the owner and his wife!
In short, Acappella is the archetypical ‘garage’ winery, of which there are many more on the right side of the Gironde than the left. The wine is made quite literally in a small garage-like building on the side of the cottage; and very much in accordance with the personal caprices of one person: owner and wine-maker Christophe Choisy. But of course small does not mean rustic, at least not amongst the ‘garagistes’. Acappella actually utilises a many very ‘modern’ wine-making techniques, most of which are designed to maximise the extraction of everything the grapes have to offer.
We tasted a number of different Acappella 2007 barrel samples and were invited to try to guess the grape varieties (plots are aged separately). The two Merlot samples were so different that I was certain one of them must have been Cabernet Franc. Wrong! This exercise really underlined how different parcels of the same grape can be – even from a tiny terroir such as Acappella.
Then we repaired into the charming stone farmhouse for lunch and more wine. Over lunch we discussed how little Acappella came to be rated by Robert Parker after only a couple of vintages. It was during this discussion that I began to get a little insight into the interlinked world of consultancy and critical appraisal of wine. Essentially Michel Rolland came across Acappella and even though Mon. Choisy was not able to afford to retain Rolland as a consultant the latter agreed to ‘present’ Acappella to the most influential wine critic in the world.
So far, so straightforward. But I couldn’t help wondering whether if Mon. Choisy had retained the costly services of Mon. Rolland whether this would have increased Acappella’s chances of a Parker rating. The answer was unequivocal: pay Rolland to consult and you will increase your probability of Parker ‘finding’ your wine substantially. I tried to figure out whether there was anything amiss here. After all, a bad Parker score might be regarded as worst than no score at all, and so it was all down to the quality of the wine really. In the end, provided that no financial consideration passes from Rolland to Parker (and there is no suggestion that it does) there is no reason for Rolland not to act as a scout and a screen for Parker when determining which wines to rate.
By this time my brain was starting to hurt, and so it was a relief when Christophe opened some of his wine. Chateau Acappella 2004 was on the reddish side of purple and not quite crystal clear, which I took to be a result of the absence of racking and fining. On the nose I noted some spices and tobacco leaf, with a perfume of white flowers. Certainly a fragrant wine. It had a good mouth presence, but I found it hard to pin down. I got some red currents and vanilla pod but found myself searching for other palate notes. It was extracted but savoury. It was good but I wouldn’t pay E50 for it. 87-88 points. Chateau Acappella 2003 was deeper and denser looking. From the glass I noted dark chocolate, some damp wool, saddle leather and spices. Certainly a more complex and interesting palate than the 2004. The mouth feel was also much better, more gripping and mouth coating. The extraction was more evident but the acidic backbone provided a good structure for the fruit, offering the potential for real aging. A really interesting wine with a good finish. 90 points.
From the micro wineries of St Emilion we travelled across to Pomerol and to Chateau Beauregard. This 17.5 ha property is typical of the better quality Pomerol producers. The harvest is by hand of course and the wine-making process errs towards the modern side, which is perhaps not surprising considering that cellar-master Vincent Priou worked at Chateau Lascombes with Michel Rolland. Rolland still visits Beauregard annually to offer advice on picking timetables. Beauregard is also interesting in that they are now planting more Cabernet Franc vines, in order to produce a more aromatic wine and also to respond to global warming.
In the cellar we had the fascinating experience of tasting cask samples of the same wine aged in different barrels. In the highest quality Bordeaux producers it is common to ask coopers (Beauregard have six currently) to come in and taste cask samples blind and rank them. Mon. Priou told us with a smile that the cooperage coming last was rarely last the following year. The relentless pursuit of ever higher quality never ceases.
For me it was a revelation that the same wine (this Beauregard 2007 already been blended) - aged in the same country’s oak - could taste so different. But it was so. The wine from the barrels of Tauransaud undoubtedly had more structure than that from the Slyvain barrels, which in turn offered more forward fruit. I really began to wonder how anyone could actually blend wine with the number of variables at work. For the record, Chateau Beauregard 2007 from cask was dense purple with a beautifully opulent palate and great structure. The finish was long and poised with some espresso coffee notes. 88 points.
In the tasting room we tried Le Benjamin 2005, second wine of Beauregard. A hint of soy source was all I really got from the nose but the palate was better. It was silky and smooth with lots of red fruits and a pleasing fruit forward mid palate. 88 points. Chateau Beauregard 2001 had an enticingly smoky nose. It was a fresh tasting wine with a good tannic structure. But a lack of ripe fruit and a shortish finish held it back for me. 87 points.
Next stop was the neighbouring Pomerol vineyard of La Conseillante, which has been in the ownership of the Nicholas family since 1871. This producer has one of the best addresses in Pomerol. Bordered by Cheval Blanc, L’Evangile, Petit Village, VCC and Petrus. We were shown around again by the winemaker, this time the youthful and amiable Jean-Michael Laporte. The wine is made in a fairly typical way with a short cold maceration and a little stirring of leys before the first ranking.
We were again treated (like the professional we weren’t) to a 2007 cask sample. La Conseillante 2007 is 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc. The wine was a sparkling purple but with a closed nose revealing little more than trace oak. But this was top notch Pomerol for sure. Voluptuous, soft and long in the finish. It was lovely and fresh with precise ripe fruit and excellent balance through the mid palate. The wine was delightful and I would happily have taken a bottle to drink with dinner that evening.
We said goodbye to Jean-Michael and headed back to our sumptuous hotel in the middle of the medieval town of St. Emilion. I used the free evening to wander around the wine shops and quiet back streets of the town. I couldn’t believe it was Thursday night already and that tomorrow was our last day amongst the vines.