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Craving Bordeaux Again

October 11, 2016 6 comments
visuel selection officielle 2013 des crus bourgeois du medoc

Source: Cru Bourgeois

If you listen to the stories of oenophiles, learning how they become who they are (oenophiles, wine lovers, it is), you will hear often that their world was changed with the first sip of that coveted First Growth (best of the best in Bordeaux wines), or another Bordeaux bottle of the similar pedigree – this might not be the story of millennials, but for sure it is the one for the older generations.

As I started getting into the wines, I developed utmost respect to the Bordeaux wines first by reading all possible books and articles about the Bordeaux greatness – this was well before China put the Bordeaux world upside down. This was also happening around the Vintage of the Century in the year 2000, when each and every magazine was going nuts about the greatness of that said vintage. At that time it was still possible to buy Chateau Latour for about $90, which was completely unthinkable to me as a spending on a single bottle of wine.

My first experience with Bordeaux was $6 or $7 Bordeaux AOC or Bordeaux Superiore AOC wine, acquired at a local supermarket in New Jersey – I’m sure I don’t need to describe to you how those wines tasted like – think green branches, lots and lots of green branches, and don’t add any fruit…

Needless to say that this type of experience, coupled with prices for the better Bordeaux wines increasing faster than disappearing TGV train and discovering that the wine world is bigger than anyone’s imagination with more wines to try than there are days in an average human life, put a damper on my interest to Bordeaux wines. Don’t get me wrong – I was privileged to taste Chateau Margaux 2000, and it was beyond amazing, along with lots of other absolutely delicious Bordeaux wines. But the end result is that you will practically never find me in the Bordeaux aisle at the wine store – I will drink Bordeaux if offered or recommended, but will not proactively seek it on my own.

Until now.

cru bourgeois tasting line up

Back in June, I was lucky to be invited to Cru Bourgeois virtual tasting. First of all, that means that I had to drink a lot of Bordeaux wines. Leaving that aside, it was also interesting to find women winemakers behind all of those wines – and practically all of them representing their multi-generational winemaking families.

Before we talk about wines which made me craving Bordeaux again, let’s talk about Cru Bourgeois, as this is not just some random designation.

Origins of the Cru Bourgeois go back to the Middle Ages, so you can imagine that it is impossible to give it due respect in the few lines of the blog post. According to the official Crus Bourgeois description, “The bourgeois were inhabitants of the “bourg” of Bordeaux, a town of merchants and craftsmen. During the period of English rule, they acquired rights and privileges, including exemption from taxes on the sale of the wines from their vineyards both locally (Guyenne) and abroad.

By the fifteenth century, enriched by international commerce, the bourgeois of Bordeaux were able to acquire the finest properties in the region, which gradually acquired the name of “Crus des Bourgeois”.”

Cru Bourgeois classification significantly predates the the famous 1855 Bordeaux classification, but it also went through multiple turbulent times affected by French Revolution and later on by the Great Depression of 1929. In the early 19th century, Cru Bourgeois classification included about 300 producers; 248 Crus Bourgeois were listed in 1858 (divided into 3 categories); in 1932, Bordeaux wine brokers designated 444 Crus Bourgeois.

sticker-cru-bourgeois-millesime-2013

Source: Crus Bourgeois

Fast forward, the latest chapter in Crus Bourgeois history started in 2010, when union of the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc finalized its new quality procedures and published its first official selection of the Crus Bourgeois producers. The whole idea behind the Cru Bourgeois classification is to control quality and ensure that the Cru Bourgeois sticker on the bottle gives consumers piece of mind. Crus Bourgeois du Médoc classification covers 8 AOCs – Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis en Médoc, Margaux, Saint Julien, Pauillac and Saint Estèphe. If producers from those appellations would like to be listed in the official Crus Bourgeois classification, they have to apply for it, pass the inspection and continue operating within the quality requirements of the classification – otherwise, their status will be revoked. Each bottle from the officially classified Chateaux carries a secure sticker which can be easily scanned to obtain all authentic information about producer, vintage and the wine.

To give you an idea about the process, for the 2013 classification, 251 producers were selected from 400 applications – as you can tell, obtaining Crus Bourgeois status is not guaranteed. Few more numbers – Crus Bourgeois production for 2013 stood at about 20 million bottles, representing about 26% of the total wine production in Médoc. For the past 6 vintages (starting from 2008), total Crus Bourgeois du Médoc production was about 166 million bottles. Well, if you need more facts and numbers, you can continue reading on the official Crus Bourgeois du Médoc web site.

Now, let’s talk about the virtual tasting. It was done in the usual format, over the UStream, with live chat and ability to ask questions, which was, of course, a big part of fun. Seven producers represented seven Crus Bourgeois regions (out of 8 – very nice coverage). Every winemaker had a few minutes to introduce themselves and their wines – I did my best to capture at least a few words coming from each presenter  – this is easier said than done, so below are the results of my efforts together with detailed tasting notes (except one wine – you will see below). Overall, very impressive level of quality.

Here we go:

Virtual Tasting Panel Crus Bourgeois

virtual tasting Crus Bourgeois

Magali Gyuon – the wines should be drunk at the right time – only 2009 ch la Cardonne is available on US market. 2012 is an exception. It is very good At the moment. It will close in 1–2 years, and then it will reopen in about 4 years – I have to say that this is perfectly resonates with my viewpoint on the wines – I truly believe that many wines have their “close up”, “sleeper” periods and if you are unlucky to open wine in such a period, you might not be able to enjoy it at all. This is why you always need to buy more than one bottle 🙂
2012 Château La Cardonne Médoc AOC (13% ABV, $25, 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet-Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 12 mo in French oak)
C: garnet
N: warm, inviting, dark berries, cassis, sage
P: round, supple, touch of green undertones, but good balance overall. Acidity on the finish even on the day two.
V: 7+, rating unchanged on the second day

Armelle Cruse – Château has open door policy. Studied in California, and she wanted to reintroduce the same style in Bordeaux. First women to become a winemaker in the family (out of 5 girls).
2012 Château du Taillan Haut-Médoc (14.5% ABV, $25, 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 12 mo in French oak)
C: dark Ruby
N: fresh fruit, warm, open
P: fruit core, but finish is very tart, almost bitter. Needs time? yes! Much more round and approacheable on the second day; dark concentrated fruit.
V: 7- first day, 8- on the second day – much improved, tannins subsided, fruit appeared

Nathalie Meyre, has B&B at the château, winery in the family for 6 generations
2012 Château Cap Léon Veyrin Listrac-Médoc (13.5% ABV, $30, 60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 12 mo in French oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: freshly crushed cherries, touch of the savory notes
P: supple, fresh, good acidity, cherries, touch of white pepper, good balance, excellent spicy aftertaste
V: 8-, excellent wine, this verdict stands on the second day, may be the wine is a bit softer, but still with a good balance.

Pierre Cazeneuve represented his mother, who is the winemaker. Has strong marketing presence on Internet.
2012 Château La Garricq Moulis-en-Médoc (13% ABV, $21, 48% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot, 12 in French and American oak)
C: dark garnet
N: warm, inviting, cassis, eucalyptus,
P: Classic, cassis, green bell pepper, perfect balance, perfect tannin core on the finish – just right.
V: 8, excellent right now and has a great promise of aging; 8+/9- on the second day.

Mélanie Fabre – taking care of the vineyard and also a winemaker, works in partnership with parents. Makes the wine she likes – fruit forward and balanced.
2012 Château Bellevue de Tayac Margaux AOC (13% ABV, $30, 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 12-18 mo ageing )
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: roasted meat, smoke, dark, brooding, tar, pencil shavings
P: dark fruit, more roasted meat, good concentration, excellent balance
V: 8, excellent, second day is equally good. Round.

Pascals Peyronie – small property works very hard and can produce wines at the reasonable price ( I have cheaper than the famous neighbors). Society of women in winemaking, 12 members, formed in 1994, first organization in France.
2012 Château Fonbadet Pauillac AOC (13% ABV, $54, 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 16-18 mo in French oak)
C: dark garnet
N: borderline corked, can’t evaluate

Violaine Labauge – involved in the marketing of the wine. The Château belongs to the same family for 3 centuries. Wine is made to be enjoyable now but can be cellared for 10–15 years.
2012 Château La Haye Saint-Estèphe AOC (13.5% ABV, $20, 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 12-14 mo in oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: mostly closed, touch of fruit and kitchen spices
P: nice touch of cherries, pencil shavings, soft, round, explicit minerality, good acidity, good balance
V: 7+/8-, rating stands the second day.

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That’s all I have for you for today, my friends. I’m glad to find some great values coming from Bordeaux – I’m sure more is to come. What were your recent Bordeaux discoveries? How often do you drink Bordeaux wines? What do you think of them? Put that comments section to the good use! Cheers!

 

One On One With Winemaker: Michel Rolland

May 6, 2016 20 comments

To anyone inside of the wine circles, the name “Michel Rolland” needs no introduction. If you enjoy an occasional glass of wine but don’t dig deep, very deep into what is behind the label, it will probably tell you nothing. Unlike Araujo, Bryant Family, Harlan, Staglin – right? All of these are the cult wines from California, revered, adored and drooled upon by many wine connoisseurs. Let’s not forget Tenuta dell’Ornellaia from Italy, Angélus and Ausone from St-Emilion and  l’Evangile from Pomerol. In case you didn’t know, Michel Rolland, classically trained French winemaker, is behind these and hundreds (I’m not exaggerating – search for his name on Wikipedia) of other wines. He is a consulting winemaker, sometimes also referred to as “flying winemaker”, who made wine on all continents and all possible and impossible corners of the world.

When I got an invitation for lunch with Michel Rolland, who was visiting New York to introduce some of his newest wines, I was excited at first, and then bummed. The lunch was overlapping with the Jura wine tasting, which I was planning to attend for a very long time. So as a last resort, I asked if I can meet with Michel Rolland after the lunch so I can ask him a few questions. To my absolute delight, kind folks at Deutsch Family, a wine importer company hosting the event, managed to arrange the time for me right after the lunch to sit down and talk to Michel Rolland.

As you understand by now, unlike most of my virtual interviews in this “one on one” series, this was a real face to face conversation, with a real handshake and visible emotions. At first, I was thinking about recording our conversation. That probably would be okay, but I never did this before, and fighting with technology in front of the busy man who was doing me a favor didn’t feel right. So I did what I always do – I prepared my questions in advance. After a subway ride and a brisk walk, I arrived – on time – and shake hands with the legend. We sat at the table, three different glasses of red wine appeared on the table. And conversation started – here is what we were talking about, with the precision of my fingers hitting the screen of the trusted iPad:

Q1: You made wine all over the world. Is there one place or one wine which was your absolute favorite?

“No. I like the challenge, so every time I’m going to the new place, it is very exciting.”

Q2: What was your most difficult project and why?

“To make wine, we need soil, grapes, and weather. When the weather is not playing, it is very difficult. There were 2 places which were the most difficult. First one was India – everything is great except the climate. India has only 2 seasons – dry and wet. Another one was China – extreme climate, very difficult to make wines. In the project in China, years 1,2 and 3 had no frost, then in the year 4 we decided not to cover the vines, and half of the vineyard became dead.”

Q3: You are known to create big and bold style wines. At the same time, it seems that wines with restrained are more popular today. Did you make any changes to your winemaking style to yield to the popular demand?

“After 43 years in this job, it is good that I have style. So the style is what the market is asking – the wines are made to be sold, so we have to follow tendencies in the market. Even that not everything is changed at the same time, it is more of the evolution and adhering to the fashion. The wine to drink tonight is not the one to be stored for 10–15 years. So the wine have to be made more enjoyable younger, and this is what we do.”

Q4: Where there any projects which you rejected and if yes, why?

“Yes, of course, but it doesn’t happen very often. The biggest concern is the relationship with the team. Day to day in the cellar and field it is the team – if the relationship with the team is not good, I prefer to leave. For sure if nobody is happy, then it is better to leave. I never refused project because it is too challenging. In Chile, 25 years ago the variety called Sauvignonne had to be used, which was hard – and I didn’t refuse the project because it was challenging. So the relationship is the major part.”

Q5: Again, appealing to your worldwide expertise, what do you think is the hottest new wine region today, if there is one?

“We have to look back – we have new world and old world. France, Italy, Spain – being there before. Then came US, then South America. Chile, and Argentina is growing the fastest now. Then there is New Zealand and Australia. But I think the area around the Black Sea, which was historically there, is very promising. Now Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Russia all started making really good wines and we will see great wines coming from there. I [actually] currently work in Turkey, Russia, Bulgaria.”

Q6: What are the most undervalued wine regions in the world today, if there are any left?

“One of the most difficult countries to make and produce wines is South Africa – great wines which sell well only in UK, but very difficult everywhere else.”

Q7: What do you think of natural wines, which are very often are very opposite in style to “big and bold”

“We can’t fight against natural wines, but all the wines are natural [laughing], minimal intervention. We have to slow down with all the chemicals, but the wines should be made to be good wines – a lot of “Bio” is done only for marketing, so if it is done smart, it is good. I have small estate Val de Flores in Argentina which is for 8 years is completely “bio”, so yes, I support that.”

Q8: What are the latest projects you are working on?

“The one in Tuscany (Maremma) running by the German family, they have a wonderful vineyard and wonderful winery, and now making very good wines.”

Q9: You are a role model and a teacher for many in the wine world. Who were your role models and teachers?

“When I began my job my mentor was Émile Peynaud. It was another era. When I began the oenology, we were not speaking about quality. The goal was to avoid problems. I discussed this a lot with Peynaud. Peynaud was convincing people to do better in the cellar, to have clean wines, to use better material. It was very difficult, but Peynaud was great dealing with the people, so I learned a lot from him, including the patience for dealing with people. I often said that my job is 80% psychology, and 20% oenology, this is what I learned from Peynaud.”

Q10: What are the new trends in the wine world? What wine consumers should expect to see and experience over the next few years?

“I think people like more and more approachable, and gentle wines – full bodied, but gentle. The big problem I see is that during the 90s, I did a lot of work where we dramatically improved quality. In the 2000s, we drunk best wines we could. What I don’t like now that everybody is going after cheaper and cheaper wines – we can still do good wines, but not better than in the previous years. In the end, the wine is a business, so I don’t want to see people reduce quality just to survive.”

Chateau La LouviereAs you can imagine, Michel Rolland didn’t come to the New York to talk to me. He was promoting his latest project, the wines of André Lurton which he helped to create. André Lurton is the winemaker in Bordeaux whose family winemaking heritage goes back more than 200 years, and who is not only known as a  winemaker but also was very instrumental in advancing Bordeaux wine industry, including creating of the new appellations.

Here is the story of how Michel Rolland started working with André Lurton (don’t you love wines with the story?):

“Lurton is one of the last projects. I had an interview on the radio, and the journalist asked me if I have any regrets. I said at 65 years old, I don’t have a lot of regrets. When making wines, you get to meet wonderful people from all over the world. So the regret is “why I never met this guy” – one of such people is André Tchelistcheff – I met his wife, but never met him. And then the journalist asked me “who else”. So I said in Bordeaux, there is André Lurton, who I never met and worked together.

3 hours after the interview I received a call from Andre Lurton who said: “come and meet me”. Now we are working together.

So what we are doing is looking after the future, what can we produce for the people. We have to make approachable wines – still with the ability to age, but more approachable. “

This was the end of my conversation with Michel Rolland. We spoke for about 45 minutes, and it was clear that Michel had to continue on with his day. But there were still three wines standing in front of me, so I had to go through the speed tasting and only capture general impressions, there was no time for detailed notes. Here are my brief notes:

2012 Château Bonnet Réserve Rouge Bordeaux ($14.99, Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend) – beautiful tobacco nose, fresh fruit, soft, round –  clearly Bordeaux on the palate, green notes, restrained. Green notes do get in the way, though.

2012 Château de Rochemorin Rouge Pessac-Léognan ($33.99, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend)  – beautiful, classic Bordeaux, great finish, some presence of the green notes

2012 Château La Louviére Rouge Pessac-Léognan ($74.99, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Petite Verdot), new oak, open fruit on the nose, lots of complexity, very beautiful, layers, delicious finish. Overall delicious wine, my favorite of the tasting. This wine was polished and concentrated, and I would love to drink it every day.

What is interesting for me here (besides the clear proof that I’m a wine snob who prefers expensive wines) is that there is a clear progression of taste and pleasure in this three wines – the price was increasing accordingly, and this is how things are quite often in the wine world.

After an encounter like this one, and the pleasure of talking with the legend, if blogging would be my job, I would gladly proclaim “I love my job”. But even without it, I still would proudly say that I love blogging as it makes possible conversations like this one, which is priceless for any oenophile. Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – A Mini Quiz, 100 Point Scores, Super Rhone, Story of Pappy and more

October 22, 2014 8 comments

Yes, there been a lapse in the wine quizzes and subsequently, in these Meritage posts – the quizzes will resume at some point, I just think that I exhausted the ‘grape’ series and need to come up with another series which can last for a while – if you have any suggestions, please let me know. But – I came across quite a few interesting articles well worth sharing, and – I also have a mystery object for you to guess what it can be – so let’s have some fun!

Meritage time!

Instead of providing the answers for you today, I have a mini-quiz. A few people saw this and asked – “What is it????”. So the idea came – why don’t we make a quiz out of it? Please take a look at the picture below and let me know what do you think this is, and as a bonus part, name the place of origin of this object:

What Is It?

What is it?

Please provide your answers in the comments section, as usual.

And now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and web!

First, I came across an interesting article by Tim Atkin, Master of Wine and an author of a number of wine books. In this article Tim is talking about the problem with 100-points wines, which seem not to be a “universal truth” for everybody. He is talking about his personal experience with 3 of the 100-points wines, where his own ratings were not anywhere near that perfect score. I can also attest to having the same situation with two of the 100-pointers I was able to try. Yep, a classic case of YMMV – but read the article, it’s definitely worth your time.

We all know the carrying power the words “super-tuscan” have – attach those to the simplest bottle of wine, and everybody are immediately interested. Put some effort into that bottling – and you can easily ask for $90+ per bottle, and you will have no problems selling the wine at that price. Yes, the Super-Tuscan is an Italian phenomenon, and now some producers in France, in the Rhone valley to be precise, are trying to create something similar – a Super-Rhone wine. Here is the link for you to read more.

Have you heard of the Pappy Van Winkle? Well, if you didn’t, may be it is better to leave it like that? Pappy Van Winkle is an American whiskey, a Bourbon, which has such a cult following that while it costs a lot more than absolute majority of single-malt scotches of any age (prices for the simple 10 years old start from about $300), it is literally impossible to find, especially the well aged bottles of 15, 20 or 23 years old. I think it is one of the most fascinating stories for any of the alcoholic beverages, considering that it got to such a prominence in less than 10 years. The story of Pappy Van Winkle definitely worth few minutes of your time – here is the link to the article.

Bordeaux is coming back! Well, of course it never really left, but it lost its luster, especially in the eyes of the millennials, and finally the folks at Bordeaux decided to do something about it. The Bordeaux wine Bureau (CIVB) is starting a global campaign in US, China, Japan, UK and a few other countries to convince the wine buying public that Bordeaux is well and alive, and worth their hard earned money. You can find more details about the campaign here.

Last for today – a few words about 2014 harvest, which have mostly completed in thew Western hemisphere. This article from Wines and Vines presents some interesting numbers – for instance, the whole grape harvest in California was a bit less than 4 million tons. It also goes beyond the numbers and presents some of the trends – as an example, some growers in California Central Valley pull out the vines and replace them with the nuts – our sacred beverage, wine, is only a business for many, and it must be profitable, or else. Go read it for yourself.

And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on the way. Cheers!

Weekly Wine Quiz #103: Grape Trivia – Blends, Part 7

May 17, 2014 11 comments

wine quiz pictureThe Wine Quiz series is not meant to intimidate. The whole idea here is to have fun and learn something new. When answering the questions, it is fully encouraged to use all available sources of information, including Google or any other search engine. There are no embarrassing answers – the most embarrassing thing is not giving it a try…

Welcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

We are continuing our grape trivia series,  focusing on the blends, even if it is a blend of 1. White, Red, Rosé, Sparkling, Still, Fortified and Dessert – all goes. Oh yes, and we will blend in some regions and even wineries as well, just to make it more fun.

So how do you feel about red blends for today? I know, the temperatures in US and Europe are rising, but quite honestly, while I know that it is very popular and appropriate to set the wine preferences based on the temperature outside (red for the winter, whites and light red for the summer), I personally go by the mood and general desire, no matter what the thermometer says. So for today, it is reds.

And now, to the quiz!

Q1: As you know, Merlot is one of the Bordeaux stars. Below are some of the best Merlot wines Bordeaux can produce, but only some of them are made from 100% Merlot. Do you know what wines are those?

a. Château Le Pin

b. Château Petrus

c. Château Hossana

d. Château Certan Marzelle

Q2: What is common between the following 3 Bordeaux producers: Château Trotte Vieille, Château Belle Assise, Château Le Bel

Q3: Wine lovers around the world are well familiar with so called GSM wines and their great range of expression, coming from Rhone valley in France, Australia, US and may other places. If we are to replace the Syrah in GSM blend with the Cinsault, which will produce powerful, dense, concentrated, long living red wines, where do you think such a wine most likely will come from? You need to name not just the country, but the exact region in order to get a full point here.

Q4: Sangiovese is a star grape of Italy, used in many regions and producing great range of wines. Montepulciano is another well known red Italian grape, most often associated with juicy, delicious and versatile wines made in the region of Abruzzo. If the wine is made as a blend of Monteluciano and Sangiovese, often in 50/50 proportions (doesn’t have to be always 50/50), can you name the region where these wines would most likely come from?

Q5: Below is the [partial] list of grapes which I personally call “Power Grapes” (I’m contemplating the blog post under the same name for a while). When used on their own (at a 100%, no blending), these typically black-skinned grapes produce powerful, dense, extremely concentrated wines, often with gripping tannins. For each grape below, can you identify the region(s) and the country(ies) making best known wines from those grapes? You don’t have to name all countries and the regions, one per grape is enough:

a. Alicante Bouschet

b. Sagrantino

c. Saperavi

d. Tannat

e. Vranec (or Vranac)

Good luck, enjoy the quiz and your weekend! Cheers!

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