RICHARD ESLING: Dourthe stands out from the crowd
The Bordeaux Wine Trade can be a complicated affair.
There are producers, owners, investors, traders, negociants and courtiers, among other players.
But there is one company that stands apart from the rest for a number of reasons.
That company is Dourthe, founded in 1840 and still family owned. Since its inception, the company has always done things differently from the mainstream of the Bordeaux trade. Not just to be different, but to strive for uncompromising quality standards and also gain competitive advantage.
Leaving the Bordeaux trading arena to one side, Dourthe has always sought its own clients direct, thus immediately ‘standing out from the crowd’. Although the company has acted in the role of a negociant in years past, it is first and foremost a wine grower. Today, it sets the standard in Bordeaux for quality wine production and is widely recognised for its innovation and reliability.
Dourthe currently owns and runs nine estates on both the left bank (Medoc) and right bank (Saint Emilion) regions of Bordeaux. Comprising over 1,200 acres of vines, all the different terroirs, styles and quality levels are represented, from a straightforward Bordeaux rouge up to Grand Cru Classé in Medoc.
The difference in trading methods is one thing, but where the company really excels is in its vineyard management and wine production, with barrel loads of innovation and investment in equal measure. Matching the vines to the terroir and soil profile is a technique very much in vogue at present with producers in Chile, California, New Zealand and other countries, all talking of the benefits of this methodology. However, Dourthe has been using this practice for some 20 to 30 years and has adapted its vineyards and wine production accordingly over a considerable period of time.
Other innovations concern planting density of the vines adapted to soil profile and desired yield, choosing different rootstock in different parts of the vineyard, changing the grape varieties on entire vineyards to match the terroir, using wide-topped stainless-steel fermenting tanks, the list goes on. While some of these factors are not unique to Dourthe, many were original innovations which have now been copied by others.
Apart from its own vineyards, Dourthe also produces a number of prestigious wines at very attractive prices, some of which, such as Dourthe No. 1, have revolutionised the brand landscape in Bordeaux. Produced in both red and white wines, production is similar to the model used by champagne companies, with high quality wines being selected from different producers across the region, which are then carefully blended to give a wine which is high in quality and typifies the region and Appellation.
Dourthe Grand Terroirs and Dourthe Terroirs d’Exception are other ranges of wines blended with an extraordinary degree of precision and expertise, producing affordable wines that punch well above their weight. To a large extent, these are ‘designer wines’, made for a market of Bordeaux wine enthusiasts who seek high quality, balanced, wines of character, which typify the appellations but are within the realms of reality when it comes to price.
Last week, I visited some of the Dourthe chateaux and tasted a selection of wines. The day was guided by the knowledgeable Marie-Helene Inquimbert, who is not only in charge of public relations and communications, but is an experienced oenologist. Her enthusiasm for the company and the wines was unparalleled, in a similar manner to every member of the Dourthe team. Perhaps one more reason why the company shines like a beacon in the Bordeaux landscape.
Impossible to describe here all the wines tasted, suffice it to say that none was a disappointment. On the contrary, many will now feature regularly in my private cellar. So, look out for Dourthe on the shelves of independent retailers, Waitrose, Sainsburys, Majestic and others.
Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.
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