They say you can tell a man by his shoes.
So, what to make of wine consultant Olivier Dauga’s snazzy scarlet lace ups with lethally-pointed toes? Or cowhide slip ons? An ebullient maverick who’s a bit of a dandy, perhaps.
Definitely not your usual Bordeaux man-in-wine, that’s for sure. Or at least what I had in mind prior to my visit.
But that’s the point. For Olivier wants to demonstrate that there’s more to Bordeaux as a region than fancy châteaux and grand, unaffordable wines you have to wait decades to drink.
“Two per cent [of the wines produced here] are grand crus which portray an untouchable image of Bordeaux,” says Olivier, over mint tea at Le Marhaba Café in Quartier Saint Michel.
“You cannot visit a château without a reservation. Not only are they not easily accessible, but when you do go, you only get a small sample to taste.” He thinks this is not only negative for Bordeaux as a wine region, but also for the quality of the wine itself.
“There’s nothing new in winemaking,” he adds, believing that too many winemakers hide behind tradition, vinifying all wines as if they were great. They don’t think enough about the actual consumer.
You could argue that Olivier takes this view because of what he does – helping clients in lesser-known properties in Bordeaux and beyond improve their wines. He wants to get them recognition. On the other hand, it’s fair to say that the word “Bordeaux” alienates an awful lot of people I know. It all seems rather complicated and snobby.
“I don’t want to say I make the best wines in the world, but I want my clients to have their wines enjoyed across the world,” says Olivier.
Through his company, Le Faiseur de Vin (literally, the winemaker) he works with around 25 clients at any one time. It can be just on the blend, or everything from the vineyard to the final marketing (where he is aided by his partner Cathy Socasau).
He is keen to point out that he doesn’t stamp his personal style on the wines, saying “that would be the easy way”. And, over the course of three days, meandering from wine bar to restaurant in Bordeaux, I do taste an array of styles. Many are good, if not wildly memorable. A few are very good. And a couple are, in my opinion, pretty horrid.
Olivier doesn’t try to change my mind over them, or tell me I’m wrong. Instead, he reminds me that the wine is “the image of the owner”. He’s also very open about using oak staves in some instances to add texture and complexity to the wines, a cost effective alternative to barrels. No mystical claptrap here. This is about making wines to sell at particular price points.
“If I were a producer, I would make a red that was pretty but not over-extracted. Then a complex nose with a mix of berries and spice, and then a soft palate without an aggressive finish,” he says.
Unusually, I don’t visit any châteaux to taste the wines. Yet it doesn’t seem to matter. The tastings are organised in different venues around the city itself, run (in the main) by young entrepreneurs, such as Le Rince Doigts – with a back room made up as a beach. We wander between them on foot, our numbers swelling at times with various clients and local wine communicators. It is relaxed, laid back and friendly. We have plenty of time to discuss the wines. And we laugh a lot.
Sadly, many of the wines I taste – and particularly the ones I’ve picked out below – are not available in the UK.
Nevertheless, the casual approach of tasting while discovering a city is a smart way to get your message over about the accessibility of Bordeaux. In addition to the shoes, of course.
If no stockist/agent listed, they’re not available in the UK. I’ve only covered the wines made by Olivier’s Bordeaux clients.
Château Les Eyrins, 2010, Margaux – Eric Grangerou (pictured above), descended from Chateau Margaux cellar masters, used to own Les Eyrins and still makes the wine here. He sometimes works with Olivier. The wine is crammed with sweet, pretty plummy fruit, cassis and slate.
Château Goëlane 2011, Bordeaux Supérieur – Merlot driven, fresh blackcurrants and brambles. Nice concentration structure and finish. Nothing fancy, just an enjoyable drink with dinner.
Château Pirouette, Cuvée Haut de Gamme 2011 , Cru Bourgeois – Vivacious nose of graphite, cassis and fragrant plums; deep, bright and graceful in the mouth. I also liked Pirouette’s main wine as well, though it needs a couple more years to start unfurling.
Château Doms 2010, Graves Rouge – A real lightness of touch to a pruny, tobacco and leather tinged blend.
Château Respide Medeville, 2011, Graves Rouge – Good depth of flavour with being overdone. The Merlot in the blend is from 80-year-old vines. Tobacco, spice, and a bit savoury.
Château les Combes 2012, Bordeaux – Simple, clean, mostly Sauvignon Blanc with bags of white grapefuit and wet stones. Delicious with oysters. (Stonevine.co.uk)
Château Doms 2012, Graves Blanc – I prefer my white Bordeaux with a decent amount of Semillon in with the Sauvignon, to give some smokiness and weight. With 40%, this hit the spot. Lots of passionfruit too and a mineral undertow.