Dourthe: Château Belgrave and blending 'Essence'   
The Bordeaux negociant and property owner aiming to change the fortunes of affordable wines from Bordeaux

At Belgrave we met up with Dourthe’s other senior winemaker, Frédéric Bonnaffous, whose remit is to make the wines from Médoc and Saint Emilion. It’s in the Haut-Médoc on the left bank, and neighbours St Julien, a more prestigious appellation which is separated from Belgrave by just a small stream.

To a large extent, Belgrave shares the beneficial terroir of St Julien, and it has gravel with clay soils, although a portion of the vineyard is just gravel. Planting density is 10 000 vines/hectare. Petit Verdot is grown on the best terroirs here.

Dourthe arrived here in 1979, and replanted the vineyard, putting the different varieties in the right place. The earlier ripening plots got Petit Verdot, and then later ripening got Cabernet Sauvignon, and even later ripening got Merlot.

In a small plot called Soleil, grass is used to compete for water. The gravel is white-coloured here, which is different from the more brown-coloured gravel in Pauillac. A barley cover crop is used in winter to catch nitrogen. Most of the vineyard is worked mechanically, although herbicides are used in some bits.

The cellar was built in 2004, with the intention of fitting it out with tanks sized to reflect the parcels in the vineyard. Since then, a program has been carried out which investigates the hydric stress in the vineyard, and as a result separate parcels within larger parcels are managed differently. The result is that now, three or four different parcels are put in one tank because of selective harvest.

Grapes are destemmed and the tanks are filled by elevator rather than pump. Pigeage is used in all the tanks, which they find keeps the fruit better than pumpovers. After fermentation, the pressings are graded A, B or C. In 2009, an incredible vintage, most were A and they’ve never had so little graded C.

Blending Essence

Essence is Dourthe’s top wine, blended from the top Dourthe properties. The blend is made late, and then the wine is aged for a further six months to get the components to knit together. The work starts in the vineyard, however, with 8–10 hectares chosen and managed for the program, with lower yields. Belgrave and La Garde usually contribute the most, with some La Bosq and some Grand Barrail, and a touch of Petit Verdot from Pey la Tour.

Tim and I were invited to play about blending the components of the 2008 Essence. These were:

  • Belgrave Merlot Lot 8, Fontaine Block
    Sweet blackcurrant with a spicy oak sheen. Concentrated and well defined, but oaky at the moment.

  • Belgrave Merlot Lot 14, Soleil
    Creamy, oaky, spicy nose with pure dark fruits. Fresh and quite mineralic with nice tannins and lovely structure.

  • Belgrave Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Puits’
    Focused black fruits nose with spicy oak. Lovely structured blackcurrant fruit.

  • Belgrave Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Graves’
    Fresh and well defined with lovely supple structure. More fleshy.

  • Belgrave Cabernet Savignon ‘RDVous’
    Fresh, bright, vibrant and juicy with less structure than the others. Lovely, expressive wine.

  • Grand Barrail St Emilion Cabernet Franc/Merlot (40/60)
    Distinctive oak imprint with some floral notes. Elegant but oaky. Lighter style.

  • La Garde Cabernet Sauvignon
    Beautifully focused, dense and structured with lovely purity. Structured and beautiful. Amazing.

  • Le Bosq Petit Verdot/Merlot (50/50)
    Very fresh, bright and structured with expressive blackcurrant fruit and some grippiness. Bright and structured.

My blend? I played around a bit, and in the end settled on:

45% La Garde
23% Le Bosq
8% Belgrave Merlot Soleil
8% Belgrave Puits CS
8% Belgrave Graves CS
8% Belgrave RDV CS

We then submitted our blends, and tasted them blind, giving them scores. I was pleased that out of the four of us (the two Dourthe head winemakers, Tim and I), mine was second! Guillaume’s winning blend was 10% Le Bosq, 45% La Garde and 45% Belgrave Soleil


Château Belgrave 2008 Haut-Médoc (cask sample, final blend)
Nicely structured with lovely gravelly complexity. Fleshy yet structured with lovely blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. 89–92/100

Château Belgrave 2002 Haut-Médoc
Smooth, open, fruity nose with elegant red fruits. Lovely sweet berryish character. Open and elegant with nice smooth fruit; drinking beautifully now. 89/100

Château Belgrave  2004 Haut-Médoc
Nice tannic structure under the sweet pure fruit, with a chalky, minerally character. Great definition and nice ripeness. 91/100

Château Belgrave 2006 Haut-Médoc
Smooth and quite elegant with nice density to the dark fruits. Lovely structure and good density. Good fruit expression. 90/100


1 Introduction
2 Sauvignon Blanc
3 Château La Garde, and dinner with Matthieu Chadronnier
4 Château Pey La Tour
5 Château Belgrave, and blending Essence
6 Château Le Boscq

See also:

The Bordeaux wines of Bernard Magrez (series)

Wines tasted 11/09 
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