The Château that Probably Isn’t
Well, honestly, what a week. Now I’m not going to waste your time by
relating the whole sorry saga, because you might have had an awful week too.
So I shall resist the temptation to tell you the story of the dim-witted
teenager who crashed his wretched motorbike into the side of my car while he
was talking on the phone and riding down the wrong side of the road. I’m
sure you don’t want to hear about how I had to then traipse off to the
hospital and fork out the money for his medical examination. Despite the
fact that he had only a minor cut, he was given an enormous bag of tablets
and potions with which he could have opened a small pharmacy. And of course,
being the foreigner in the piece, I had to pay for those too.
I won’t tell you about how I tripped over a recumbent dog in the kitchen and
dropped a glass of half-decent Bordeaux. And you probably don’t want to know
about the septic tanks either, which had become so full that the
appropriately named Mr. Wattapong had to be summoned with his rusting
honey-wagon. I’m not going to bore you comatose with the tale of the dog
called Ee-ah, who hasn’t been feeling at all well. She didn’t even touch her
clarinet on Tuesday or Wednesday, so I knew something wasn’t right. But of
course, every cloud has a silver lining and at least we all got a few decent
Now then where was I? Ah yes, wine châteaux. I knew there was something that
I wanted to tell you. (I thought we’d never get there. - Ed.)
Château Haut Lamothe 2011 (red), Bordeaux,
France (Bt. 559 @ Tesco-Lotus)
The first thing you’ll probably notice about this wine is the
bottle. It’s a tall, tapered and rather elegant looking thing, with some
sort of coat-of-arms embossed near the neck. The wine is quite elegant too.
It’s a deep, rich red with purple hues and a pleasingly dry aroma of plums,
cherries and other dark fruits. There’s a very faint overtone of raspberries
and strawberries too. You’ll find that the wine is quite smooth on the
palate, the cherry fruit rich but restrained in the Bordeaux tradition.
There’s a satisfying layer of firm, dry tannins, a slight mineral touch and
a very long oaky finish.
At 13% alcohol this strikes me as very much a food wine. Its assertive
character needs appropriately seasoned food and I think it would go well
with many full-flavoured beef dishes or game. The label is strangely
uninformative, but it shows a drawing of what one assumes is the château
itself. However, closer inspection reveals that the minuscule caption merely
says (in French) “A Bordeaux-style house”. So it’s not the château at all.
And to be quite honest, my guess is that this particular château doesn’t
even exist, despite the fact that there are several genuine wineries in
Bordeaux with suspiciously similar names. If you ask me, it’s a bit of a
But you know, it’s not as surprising as it sounds, because the
majestically-named Fédération des Syndicats des Grands Vins de Bordeaux
allows local wine companies to sell identical wines under different and
totally fictitious châteaux names. Anyway, it’s decent enough claret with a
lovely earthy mushroom-like background and almost certainly made from the
classic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot though
probably with quite a high proportion of Merlot.
Château Causse, Saint-Chinian 2011 (red), France (Bt. 575
Way down in Southern France, Saint-Chinian is a commune in the
Languedoc-Roussillon region and considered one of the oldest winemaking
areas in the country. The vineyards were first developed during Roman times
and in those far-off days, wines of the region were much appreciated by the
cream of Roman society. They were trundled off to Rome in those heavy
ceramic casks called amphoras but sometimes it must have been a
perilous voyage across the Mediterranean. Today the wine syndicates in
Saint-Chinian are in the process of rebuilding the local reputation with a
marketing campaign stressing the region’s easy-drinking, everyday wines.
Saint-Chinian produces sixteen million bottles of wine a year and 90% of it
This château, which actually exists, is a respected domain in the hills
northwest of Béziers. Even so, because the name of the region carries more
clout than that of the château, the words Saint Chinian dominate the label
and the name of the château is barely visible. This blend of Cabernet
Sauvignon and Merlot has a lovely aroma of dark fruit with blackberries
up-front. There’s also a smoky woodland aroma that often comes with Merlot.
You might even pick up the homely smell of dried herbs in the background,
especially thyme and dill.
The mouth-feel is superbly soft and silky and comes with a generous dose of
ripe black fruit. Again, the blackberry tends to dominate but you’ll
probably get a kind of peppery blackcurrant taste too. The wine is
delightfully dry and there’s just a touch of satisfying tannin. Saint
Chinian wines are usually more tannic than other reds of the region, but the
makers of this wine have got the balance just right, to my mind anyway. It
has a good firm structure with a pleasant, long dry finish. Incidentally,
you see the word “balance” quite a lot in wine reviews, including mine. I
usually try to avoid geeky words but I can’t think of a word better than
“balance” to describe how a wine’s main components - the tannins, acidity,
fruit, sweetness, and alcohol - relate to one another and no particular
component sticks out like a sore thumb.
This is a very pleasant, quite elegant wine and at 13% alcohol content it’s
fairly typical of the vins nouveaux that have been emerging from the
Languedoc in recent years. It’s really quite an easy drinker and you could
pair it with red meat or game. The label suggests that it’s served at
16°-18°C but that’s probably a bit on the warm side, especially in our
tropical climate. To my mind, medium-bodies reds usually taste at their best
at between 13°-15°C which, if you’re still using the old money is between
And talking about temperature, I’ve just discovered that the drinks fridge
has managed to get itself iced up again, despite a severe reprimand last
month. But you probably don’t want to hear about that either. I just hope
you had a better week than I did.