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 nights’ sleep.

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 cheek.

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 @ Tesco-Lotus)

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 is red.

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 39°-40° F.

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.