1855: It was a Very Good Year…

Bordeaux 1Its a familiar story to wine enthusiasts…in 1855, Napoleon III, the Emperor of France, decided that France would host an event to rival the Great Exhibition held in London four years earlier.  That event, the Exposition Universelle de Paris, would showcase all the glory that was France – including its finest wines.

One of the exhibitors was the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce, which decided to feature a list of the region’s best wines. However, knowing better than to draw up the list themselves, they asked the Syndicat of Courtiers (Bordeaux’s Union of Wine Brokers) to draw one up.

It did not take the Syndicat long to think through the list; two weeks later, they were finished.  Their original list included 58 of the finest Châteaux of the Gironde department – four first growths, 12 seconds, 14 thirds, 11 fourths, and 17 fifths.   Apparently, the brokers did what brokers do:  they assigned the rankings based on price, reasoning that the market, in its infinite wisdom, had already ranked the wines based on who was commanding the highest price.  This move makes more sense if you know that in the 1850’s; the wine trade in Bordeaux was still largely controlled by the British.

bordeaux 2The Syndicat’s original list ranked the Châteaux by quality within each class. Mouton-Rothschild, quite famously, was at the head of the seconds.  However, the controversy concerning the entire list was such that by the time the Exposition rolled around, a few months after the list was first released, they had rescinded the quality listing within the categories, quickly claimed that no such hierarchy had ever been intended, and took to listing the Châteaux alphabetically.

As every good wine student knows, the only formal revision to the original list came in 1973, when, following a half-century of unceasing effort by Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Mouton was elevated from second-growth to first growth, and the winery’s motto became “Premier je suis, Second je fus, Mouton ne change.”  (“First, I am. Second, I used to be. Mouton does not change.”)

9.8-The-Haut-Medoc-4-color-[Converted]Since 1855, many changes have occurred in the names and ownership of the properties. However, as long as an estate can trace its lineage to an estate in the original classification, it can retain is cru classé status. Due to divisions of the estates, the 58 original estates now number 61.

And now for the rest of the story…

As any good CSW Student knows, Bill Lembeck, CWE, has designed the maps for the last few editions of the CSW Study Guide.

Next month, (Spoiler Alert) SWE will launch its 2014 version of the CSW Study Guide, and Bill has once again designed and updated the maps for us – this time in color! As a special bonus, Bill has created this map of the Häut-Médoc which gorgeously lists the Châteaux of the 1855 Classification.  A larger image and pdf of the map is available here.

Enjoy, and many thanks to Bill!

 

 

 

Prince Golitsyn’s Award Winning “Crimean Champagne”

76 years before the famous “Judgment of Paris,” at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair, a sparkling wine from Crimea defeated all the French entries to claim the internationally coveted “Grand Prix de Champagne.”  You may need to let that sink in for a few minutes.  In 1900, in France, Sparkling Wine from the Ukraine won the top prize for Champagne. 

Prince Lev golitsynThe wine, known as Novy Svet, was made by Prince Lev Sergeievitch Golitsyn, a highly educated member of a Russian Royal Family, at his wine estate in Crimea. Crimea is a peninsula of the Ukraine located on the northern shore of the Black Sea.  Lying between  44° and 45° in latitude, the region has an excellent climate for growing high quality grapes.  As a matter of fact, during Soviet times this region was the largest wine supplier in the USSR – which sounds like a good story for another day.

Prince Golitsyn, having studied both law and winemaking in France, established his winery in 1878 on the southern coast of Crimea. He dug a series of wine cellars into Koba-Kaya Mountain (Cave Mountain), much of it below sea level. All in all the tunnels stretched on for over a mile. He planted experimental vineyards of Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Aligote and Pinot Meunier and spent ten years perfecting the art of sparkling wine.  The Prince used a variation of what we would call the Methode Traditionelle, allowing his wines to rest on the lees, in the bottle, for three years in his cellars at a constant, underground temperature of 59 – 60°F.

By the late 1890’s, the Prince was an experienced enologist and was producing a large array of sparkling wines.  In 1896 his wines were served at the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II (who would wind up being the last in a long line of Tsars) and Golitsyn was granted the right to display the family coat of arms on this wines.  Soon thereafter, in 1899, Novy Svet

Novy Svet Winery's "Coronation" Sparkling Wine

Novy Svet Winery’s “Coronation” Sparkling Wine

produced its first large-scale production, making over 60,000 bottles of sparkling wine…one of which won the Grand Prix in Paris.  

Legend has it that Prince Golitsyn was was inspired to build an estate in the area during a passionate love affair with Nadezhda Zasetska, an aristocratic young lady who had inherited large land holdings in the Crimea. It is rumored that the Prince bought the land to be near to her and studied enology in order to impress her.  We may never know if the rumors are true, but it does seem that wine and romance often go hand-in-hand.

Prince Golitsyn passed away in 1915 and was buried in a large tomb on his beloved estate.  The Novy Svet winery did not survive the Russian Revolution and the beginnings of the Soviet Union intact, and was plundered and nearly destroyed several times.  Today the restored winery, including the underground tunnels, is government-owned.  Under the leadership of Ms. Yanaina Petrovna Pavlenko, the winery produces a wide range of unique sparkling wines, many of them reflective of the original style and spirit of Prince Golitsyn.

In 1978, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Novy Svet Winery, the Golitsyn House Museum was opened in the house where the Prince lived for over 37 years.

The Novy Svet Winery in Crimea:  http://nsvet.com.ua/en

Rosé for the Sun King

Rose de RiceysBefore Louis XIV, known as “The Sun King,” sipped Champagne at Versailles, he became a fan of a rare wine – a still rosé of Pinot Noir known as Rosé de Riceys– produced in the Champagne region.

Louis XIV is said to have discovered this aromatic and lightly tannic rosé when a group of workers from the village of Riceys-Haut arrived at the construction site of the Palace of Versailles, bringing a supply of their local rosé along with them.  The King was a big fan of Provence rosé, so he asked to try a bottle. (Well, he probably demanded it, but we’ll pretend he asked.) The King liked the wine so much that he soon dispatched the workers back to Les Riceys to bring back more Rosé de Riceys for the royal court.

This unusual, non-sparkling pink wine, produced within just a few miles of Burgundy, is officially part of the Champagne region.  The wine comes from a tiny spot called Les Riceys.  Les Riceys is made up of three close-knit villages named Riceys-Haut, Riceys Haute-Rive, and Riceys-Bas. Wine has been produced in this region since the 1100’s, made by the Cistercian Monks living at the nearby Abbey of Molesme.  The monks  selected the particular south-facing slopes where the grapes are grown as one of the few spots in the whole of the chilly Champagne region with enough sun and heat to ripen Pinot Noir to the point where it can be turned into this aromatic, brightly colored rosé. 

Making rose de riceysThe AOC regulations for Rosé de Riceys are among the strictest in France for a rosé wine, with the goal of keeping the tradition started by the monks at the Abbey of Molesme alive.  The wine is produced using the saignée method of vinification, and the grapes must be picked at a minimum ripeness of 10° Baumé from vines that are at least 12 years old.  The minimum ripeness standard is not always possible to reach, particularly in cooler years.  If the ripeness standard cannot be met, Rosé de Riceys will not be produced that year and the grapes will be used in the production of the region’s other wine, Champagne.  

This tiny appellation has only about 70 acres planted to Pinot Noir designated for Rosé de Riceys. No more than 20 producers make the wine, with an annual total output usually about 70,000 bottles a year. The wine is hard to find, even in Paris (perhaps even at Versailles), so aficionados of the wine drive to the edge of the Champagne region every spring to buy their year’s supply.

Mr HoriotThe Rosé de Riceys AOC was approved in 1947.  However, there was a time not too long ago when the wine was almost lost for good.  It was the 1970’s, and Champagne production was running high.  Champagne was more popular than ever, and growers were making a good living selling their grapes to the large Champagne houses.  In addition, for a few years in a row, the weather wasn’t cooperating enough to sufficiently ripen the grapes to make Rosé de Riceys.  For a few years in a row,  nobody wanted to produce Rosé de Riceys.  However, according to INAO regulations, if a certain type of wine is not produced for five consecutive years, the AOC will cease to exist. 

Pierre and Jules Horiot, 12th-generation proprietors of Horiot Père & Fils, were not about to let that happen! Despite being producers of Champagne as well as rosé,  they strived to keep their part of French wine history alive and continued to produce Rosé de Riceys, even when it would have been much more profitable to  turn their Pinot Noir into Champagne. In time, the other vignerons of the region joined in the fight to save the historical Rosé from ruin, and today this tiny region tucked into the far southern corner of Champagne still makes a rosé fit for a king – if he can find it!

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