Sunday, 31 March 2013

Château Haut Brion goes masstige with Clarendelle

What is there left to do when your wine is already acknowledged as the best in the world, with a reputation so steeped in history that it was already being praised in the mid-17th century? For Prince Robert of Luxembourg, owner of Bordeaux First Growth Château Haut-Brion, the answer was to create the masstige brand Clarendelle, a range of wines positioned as being super-premium while at the same time affordable enough for the masses. 

The name Clarendelle pays homage to Prince Robert’s great grandfather Clarence Dillon, an American financier who purchased Château Haut-Brion in 1935. Although both brands share the same winemaking team and blend of grape varieties, Clarendelle is a generic Bordeaux blend while Château Haut-Brion is entitled to the superior appellation of Pessac-Léognan. In other words, Clarendelle is the result of wine bought from producers around Bordeaux and blended together. 

Joan Mourgues, Export Manager at Clarence Dillon Wines, is quick to point out that Clarendelle should not be compared against other mass-market brands looking to bask in the reflected glory of a superior label (could this be a poke at Mouton Cadet?). “The fact that our 2010 vintage obtained a score of 90 from wine guru Robert Parker shows the level of positioning we want to achieve.” 

There are other motives as well. By introducing a generic Bordeaux label, Clarendelle is able to drain off some of the excess production in the region and in the process provide producers with the capital necessary to modernise and improve quality. According to Joan, the company pays producers a higher price for their wine than the market rate. A common problem in Bordeaux is that while the grand crus have no problem selling their wines, producers lower down the food chain suffer from a lack of distribution channels and branding.

Photo courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon
The Clarendelle range consists of Clarendelle Rouge, Clarendelle Blanc, Clarendelle Rosé and Amberwine, the last being a sweet wine. The Clarendelle Rouge, Clarendelle Blanc and Amberwine were poured at a trade dinner held at the Flutes at the Fort Restaurant. Guests were also treated to the Bahans Haut Brion 2005, which is the second wine of Château Haut-Brion (renamed to Le Clarence de Haut-Brion starting from the 2007 vintage). 

It was perhaps difficult to judge the merits of the Clarendelle Rouge on its own, being served afterwards by the far superior Bahans Haut Brion, but the standout wine that evening was the Clarendelle Amberwine 2003, a toothsome mix of candied pineapple, honey and quince paste. Paired with a white chocolate cannelloni, the wine highlighted the smooth creamy flavours of the chocolate while not losing any of its own character. 

As an interesting titbit, the company’s foray into social media has revealed some insight about the audience for their wines. While Japan is still their largest market, Turkey and Indonesia contribute the most Facebook “likes” for Clarendelle. An indication of where valuable marketing dollars may next be spent perhaps?

Clarendelle is distributed by Crystal Wines Pte Ltd.

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