With Easter falling this month did you know that the Church was responsible for creating many of the great vineyards in Bordeaux? The religious orders of the Benedictines and Cistercians grew grapes back in the 11th century and have left their foot mark in the names of the châteaux you see today.
The Fourth Growth Château Prieuré Lichine in Margaux was originally a Benedictine Priory. The monks cultivated grapes for service at dinner and at religious ceremonies and the chais at Prieuré still contain part of the Priory's original structure dating from the 16th century.
Château Pape Clement Château in Graves is the oldest wine estate in Bordeaux and is also one of the finest clarets, harvesting its 700th vintage in 2006. The Château takes its name from Pope Clement V who was presented with the estate in the 1300s upon his appointment as archbishop of Bordeaux, by his brother Berald. Pape Clement remained in the possession of archbishops of Bordeaux until the French Revolution.
The Saint Emilion First Growth Château Angélus takes its name from the pealing of the 3 Angélus church bells from the surrounding churches and chapels, which the workers in the vineyards could hear as they toiled. Angélus is one of the most prestigious St Emilion estates and has been in the same family for 4 generations. The ascendant star of Angélus hit new heights of fame when it was fêted as James Bond's preferred tipple in Casino Royale but you don't have to be a film buff to enjoy its rich and concentrated wines.
Smaller vineyards owned by petit chateaux also owe their histories to the Church – Chateau Sainte Marie once belonged to to the 12th century Benedictine Abbaye de la Sauve Majeure (one of the most ancient abbeys in France, located just a mile from the Château).
The Abbey takes its name from the Silva Major – the great forest that then occupied the whole region known as Vignoble de l'Entre Deux Mers (vineyard between the two seas) which was given as a gift by Duke William VIII of Aquitaine. In fact Eleanor of Aquitaine, famous for introducing claret to England with her husband Henry II, often stayed there. Pilgrims often stopped at the Abbey on route to Saint-Jacques-of-Compostelle and legend says that miracles happened as the blind were healed and could then see.
The chateau's signature white wine is perfect for this lovely spring weather we have been enjoying. The Chateau Sainte Marie 2005 is a beautiful pale golden colour and is full of fragrance. With great aromas of lemon, lime and grapefruit with a hint of elderflower it is perfectly balanced on the palate offering a a well structured and long lasting finish.
It is made from 60% Sauvignon and 40% Semillon. Semillon grapes make up 80% of the blend in the most expensive and famous dessert wine in the world, Château d'Yquem and is one of the 3 grapes permitted to make white Bordeaux. The grape is a rich yellow colour that turns an amber pink as it ripens. The skin is thin and tender so the grape can actually get sun burnt!
Chateau Sainte Marie makes an excellent aperitif served nicely chilled as it is less dry than most but is superb with cheeses like Roquefort, Asparagus and Avocado. Spring salads of Rocket, Balsamic vinegar, laced with nuts spring to mind as it will pair well with these.