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One Foot in the Graves

Bordeaux vineyard
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When I was in my early 20s, the wine company I was working for sent me to live for part of the year in Bordeaux. I stayed in the guest room of a retired British wine critic who must have spent all his money on his cellar and had nothing left over for house repairs. I remember looking up at the ceiling over my bed and being able to see through the gaps to the stars. Closing my eyes, I can see John now, with his long white beard and wooden walking stick, ambling across the garden to his little bistro table where he’d sip a glass of Sauternes alongside his morning espresso.

The purpose for this stay was to immerse myself in the wines of Bordeaux and become more versed in the world’s most famous wine region. However, with 57 appellations and more than 7,000 producers, I quickly understood why John had dedicated a lifetime to this undertaking.

One thing I took away from my time in Bordeaux, home to many of the world's most sought after wines, like Lafite Rothschild and Margeaux, was the of thrill of discovering hidden gems in the lesser-known appellations made by old and new under-the-radar producers who work their small parcels with great care and commitment to understanding how to get the best from their terroir.

Today’s wine is a great example of the kind of Bordeaux gem I get so excited to find:

Chateau Pontete-Bellegrave 2016 ($34) is from the small Graves de Vayres appellation, which is just across the Dordogne River from the famed regions of Pomerol and St Emilion. This area has pillows of sand and gravel, which make wines with wonderful red currant and plum fruits. The gravels impart a wonderful earthy character as well, with notes of cedar and juniper berries and a clean dry finish.

The Rivière family’s 32 acres of vineyards are farmed with organic practices, and the grapes are handpicked from their 30-year-old vines. You can just taste the care they put in. In this area, you must watch the warmer vintages as the soils can dry up quickly, but 2016 was wet to begin with and then had a wonderful ‘Indian’ summer from August onwards that allowed the grapes to ripen fully.

This wine is a great counterpoint our other Bordeaux wine, Chateau Peyredon, which many of you have loved, as it has over 75% Merlot rather than Cabernet Sauvignon which makes it a little softer. The earthy tones would pair beautifully with a sheep cheese like Petit Brebis, roast duck or slow braised beef.

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