MW students visit iconic wine regions as part of AXA Millesimes Scholarship
Having won places in 2020 on the coveted AXA Millésimes Scholarship trip by writing an essay on the potential of still white wines in the Douro, five MW students – Cherie Huang (U.S.), Nicoletta Dicova (Italy), Tiago Macena (Portugal), Fleur Pushack (U.K.) and Elena Spaeth (Austria) recently undertook a whirlwind tour of the key AXA properties in France, Hungary and Portugal.
This is what they experienced.
FLEUR PUSHACK: Travelling from our homes in London, Napa, Tuscany, The Wachau and The Dão region of Portugal, the five of us excitedly descended on to Pichon Baron to start the AXA Millésimes scholarship trip. Most of us had never met before despite all being MW students; we all worked in different sectors of the wine trade and brought different viewpoints and insight to the week.
Following a busy day tasting and touring Pichon Baron, we were allocated our rooms inside the majestic Château itself. I could hear a few squeals of delight from fellow students as they took in the splendour of staying in the iconic 1851 Château; my room included one of the emblematic turrets which was breathtakingly beautiful.
The delicious dinner the first evening was with the affable and knowledgeable Pierre Montégut (Technical Director for both Pichon and Suduiraut) and we all quickly bonded over the exceptional wines poured, ending with the 2013 Suduiraut, charmingly described by Pierre as a “miracle of nature”.
Following Bordeaux our trip quickly moved to Hungary with an outstanding visit around Tokaj and the Disznókő estate, and then to the serene and magical Quinta do Noval estate in the Douro. It was an extraordinarily intense few days as we hurtled around Europe getting from one glorious spot to the next, and within a few days it felt like we had all known each other for years, all agreeing this was an experience of a lifetime!
Each visit was handled with such care and generosity by the relevant AXA Millésimes team. It was an enormous privilege to be given such an in-depth sense of excellence through centuries of experience at Pichon Baron, Disznókő and Quinta do Noval – each being central to their own regions majestic character and icons today for their quality, consistency and grace.
Thank you to Corinne, Nicolas and all the team at AXA Millésimes who made the trip so outstanding and unforgettable, and thank you to the IMW for enabling the opportunity to happen.
Each one of the Scholars wrote about a specific part of the trip:
ELENA SPAETH: Château Pichon Baron is undoubtedly one of the most photographed buildings in the Bordeaux region, but I can now say that the view out of the Château windows felt even more special. We moved into our rooms, which are equipped with open fireplaces and beautiful antiques and can make every dream of being a prince or princess come true. We strengthened ourselves over lunch with Corinne Ilić and Christian Seely for the upcoming vineyard tour and tasting with Pierre Montégut. To avoid the temptation to spend the night looking for the key to the great wine archive, Pierre dug deep into his bag of tricks during dinner. He first tried to lull us to sleep with a range of the finest wines including Pichon Baron 1988 and Château Suduiraut 2013, but to be really sure we wouldn’t leave our rooms he then warned us about the Château’s very own ghost, which one might encounter in the hallways. We could not get to the bottom of the reason for the alarm going off at 4am until the end of the trip. It will remain our secret…
CHERIE HUANG takes up the Pichon Baron story: Inside the historic and spectacular Chateau, Pichon-Baron has advanced equipment and spacious wine cellars. Technical Director Pierre Montegut prepared a big wine tasting surprise for us: we not only vertically tasted different vintages of Pichon-Baron (1988, 2001, 2003, 2011, 2016-2020), but also tasted 2022 vintage with different single varieties from different vineyards. We learned how only the best and most suitable varieties and qualities are selected for the Pichon-Baron Cuvées. This top winery can not only guarantee high quality with aging ability in lesser vintages such as 2003, but can also achieve perfection in top vintages such as 2016 and 2019.
Alongside this, we tasted Chateau Suduiraut’s famous Botrytis wine, and dry white wines whose production is increasing year by year. In order to preserve the terroir of Sauternes, the winery deliberately focuses on Semillon, blended with smaller amount of Sauvignon Blanc. Unexpected quality, comparable to top Pessac-Leognan, but in a class of its own.
Then on to Hungary, Tokay and Disznókő.
NICOLETTA DICOVA: Disznókő is one of those mythic places exuding history, charm and class, reminding us that wine is so much more than a beverage: it is culture, a living tradition, an identity.
We had the unique chance to explore the idiosyncratic Tokaji Aszú category throughout its depth and breadth: from “baby wines” from the last vintage to noble aged examples reaching as far as the 1995! It was extremely interesting to taste acerb barrel samples of the single Tokaji Aszú varieties of the last vintage prior to blending in order to understand their characters and unique contribution to the final blend. And it was an intense, unforgettable experience to do a remarkable vertical tasting of 17 + Tokaji Aszú wines guided by the knowledgeable László Mészáros, Technical Director of the estate, understanding how the vintage imprints on this peculiar, eccentric wine style, where botrytis and the capriciousness of Nature play such an important role.
Lastly we were treated to several vintages of a very unique product, the Eszencia, with its colossal intensity, viscosity and complexity – an impressive representation of the true essence of the terroir of Tokaj in its most concentrated and sublimated form. The visit to this noble, historical wine region in Central Europe and the mind blowing range of wines we tasted is something we will neverr forget. A huge thanks to the Axa Millésimes and the Disznókő team for this amazing visit.
And finally, TIAGO MACENA – on home territory – writes about the final day, in the Douro:
After a long, happy week, our AXA Millésimes trip was coming to an end… but the final stage brought us to the Douro. Saturday early morning we were finally heading to the historic Quinta do Noval. The mighty, warm, dusty schist Douro Valley was waiting for us, dressed with the lively green of the new vineyard shoots, and smelling of rock roses. Arriving at Quinta do Noval, in the Cima-Corgo sub region, close to the village Vale de Mendiz,,we stood on the terrace for a moment of silent contemplation to take in the incredible view. .
Quinta do Noval is an iconic wine producer, with records of great wines being made on the propriety since the early 18th century. From the 192 ha of vineyards all ‘A’ graded, all mapped and , documented, with different grape-varieties, different expositions, altitudes, and slopes, the team creates a portfolio with still wines both white and red, and also – obviously – an impressive range of of Port wines.
All the vineyards we saw illustrated the high level of the team’s commitment to a caring, nurtured viticulture. Paying attention to the plants, the soils, preserving the hills, keeping the terroir. Particular mention has to be made of the historic 1,6 ha plot – “Nacional”. This is a ungrafted vineyard, mostly planted in 1920’s, located in the stone schist “patamares” near the estate house, and facing north. We stepped onto “holy” ground when we visited this plot, where the crooked vineyard was showing lively green vegetation. The red poppies between the rows, the singing birds, all gave a sense of magic to that moment.
In the winery we saw the granite stone “lagares”, the oak vats “toneis” and the “cascos”. That gave us the visual image of the gravity work flow of the winemaking process.
During the time we were at Quinta do Noval, we were fortunate to taste a large range of still white and red wines. All showed nuances and details, according to whether they were single or blended varieties, and if they were sourced from specific parcels or ‘field blend’’ ones.
The Ports we tasted covered a range of styles – White, Tawny and Ruby up to Vintage.. In each case we were given in depth tastings from aged Tawnies, and marvellous Colheitas, to Ruby Reserves, Late Bottled Vintages, and classic Vintages. We compared Port from the same year aged differently – Colheita 2007 vs. Vintage Noval 2007. We made horizontal Vintage tastings (2021 and 2003) Quinta do Noval Vintage side by side with Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage. We were extremely well treated!
A huge thank you to both the AXA Millésimes and the local Quinta do Noval teams. The five of us had already shown our knowledge of the region with our award-winning essays. But after this visit, we all now have a deeper knowledge and a clearer understanding of the Douro, the wines, the land – and Quinta do Noval.