One of the most exciting aspects of life in the drinks industry is the opportunity to work in sunnier climes. For John Kolasa from Dumbarton, that journey took him first to London and then on to Bordeaux, where he has stayed for the past 43 years.
Kolasa was commercial manager at Chateau Latour, one of Bordeaux’s five premier cru vineyards, until 1994, when the Wertheimer family, which owns luxury goods group Chanel, took over Chateau Rauzan-Ségla in Margaux and recruited him as its managing director. The family added Chateau Canon in Saint-Emilion on the opposite side of the Gironde estuary in 1996, tucking its vineyard under Kolasa’s wing too.
On the right bank of the Gironde, where Chateau Canon sits, the soils are mainly composed of clay and limestone and favour the Merlot grape variety, whereas the soils of the Medoc on the left bank, where Chateau Rauzan-Ségla is found, are mainly composed of gravel and are used to grow primarily Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The differences between the two dominant grape varieties influence the wines of the left bank and the right bank in Bordeaux; in very, very broad terms, the wines from the left bank tend to have higher levels of tannin, while those from the right bank tend to be softer.
And soft, silky and smooth were definitely all words that were on the lips of diners at Howies’ Scottish restaurant on Waterloo Place in Edinburgh during a recent dinner with Kolasa and his wines from Chateau Canon, one of the premier cru vineyards around Saint-Emilion. Kolasa had been up since 4am in order to reach Edinburgh but if he was suffering from any fatigue then it didn’t show as he charmed his guests with tales from his vineyard.
“My love of Bordeaux is all about the fascination that it is able to produce wines that can age with elegance and finesse,” said Kolasa. He explained that the three brothers who own Chanel had recently stopped off to see him in Bordeaux on their way to Spain to shoot with their guns made by Holland & Holland, another of the brands that they own.
“We drank the 1955 Canon and it was absolutely amazing,” beamed Kolasa, who is due to retire in July. “It was an amazing bottle of wine that really brings you back to the fundamentals of what a property is all about and what the heritage is all about.
“I’m planting vines at the moment that I won’t benefit from but that someone will benefit from over the next 50 years. When you can go down into the cellar and open a bottle that someone made 100 years ago you realise that you’re really just passing by, and during the time you’re there you have to do your very best because you’re leaving the heritage that will pass on to someone else.”
Kolasa highlighted the need to grow the best grapes possible so that the wine in the bottle would age well. His enthusiasm was infectious and wet his audience’s appetite for the meal that followed.
A delicious starter of pan-friend Borders wood pigeon was served with Stornoway black pudding, parsnip puree and a red wine jus, accompanied by a glass of the 2004 Clos Canon, the chateau’s second wine or little brother to main brand. Made from a blend of 95 per cent Merlot and 5 per cent Cabernet Franc, the wine was silky smooth, with flavours of blackcurrant, damson and mint.
Following an organic chicken consommé, the main course of fillet of Limousin beef from the Lothians (a nice touch, as Limousin is the breed of cattle found in Bordeaux) made its appearance, accompanied by a braised shin and foie gras croquette, dauphinoise potato and jus lie, served with glasses of first the 2001 Chateau Canon and then the 1998 Chateau Canon, allowing guests to compared and contrast the two wines.
The 2001, with its blend of 80 per cent Merlot and 20 per cent Cabernet Franc, had subtle aromas of wood smoke, vanilla and sweet spices like cinnamon and cloves on the nose, with a warmth in the mouth that could easily make you forget that this was a wine already 14 years old.
The 1998 was even more complex, with aromas of liquorice and mint being joined by red- and blackcurrant on the palate. Yet it was still smooth and silky, and formed an interesting comparison as it had the same blend of grapes as the 2001 in the same proportion. For me, the 1998 was arguably the star of the evening.
Dessert consisted of Isle of Mull cheddar – one of my favourites – along with Mimolette and Brie de Meaux, which in particular was an amazing match for the 1978 Chateau Canon. Despite its age, the wine still had bright acidity, with flavours of coffee, mocha and sweet spices joining the more developed blackcurrant and blackberry fruit.
Stunning wines to accompany top-notch food and a graceful speaker.
To sign up for details about other wine dinners being organised by Howies, visit www.howies.uk.com
Plus, keep an eye on The Wine Society’s website for future releases of the wine.