Category Archives: Bordeaux

Getting Geeky about Malbec

Photo by Marianne Casamance. Released on Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-4.0Continuing our celebration of the oddly named Malbec World Day we’re going to get geeky here at Spitbucket about the Malbec grape.

What’s In a Name?

In Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes, the entry for Malbec is under Cot (or Côt) because of the association with grape’s likely birthplace in the region of Cahors in the historical province of Quercy in southwest France. Ampelographers note that like Côt many of the other early names for the grape such as Cos, Cau, Cor and Cors all seem to be contractions of Cahors.

However, the first written account of Malbec was actually in the Bordaux region of Pomerol in 1761 when the grape was called Noir de Pressac (black of Pressac), likely referring to the individual who first cultivated the grape. From Pomerol, the grape made its way to the Left Bank region of the Medoc where it was called Èstranger (stranger) or Estrangey.

The name Malbec came from a grower named Malbeck who propagated the grape in what is now known as Sainte-Eulalie in the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux AOC of the Entre-Deux-Mers region.

When a Mommy Grape and a Daddy Grape Cross-Polinate…

In 2009, DNA analysis discoevered that Magdeleine Noire des Charentes–the mother grape of Merlot (Check out the Academic Wino’s Who’s Your Daddy? series on Merlot)– and an obscure grape from the Tarn department called Prunelard were the parent varieties of Malbec.

In addition to being a half-sibling of Merlot, Malbec has done a bit of its own “cross-pollinating” being a parent grape to Jurançon noir (with Folle blanche) and Caladoc (with Grenache).

Malbec in Bordeaux

Photo by   Ian L. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Malbec used to be far more prevalent in the Bordeaux region. In fact, Stephen Brook noted in The Complete Bordeaux that it was the most widely planted grape in the vineyards of Lafite in the 18th century. Many of the estates that were classified in 1855 had Malbec account for as much as 50% of their blends in the early 19th century.

However, the later half of the 19th century would usher in the decline of the variety due to its sensitivity to coulure and mildew. Following the devastation of phylloxera, many growers who did replant choose to replace Malbec in their vineyards with the more popular and easier to grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Into the 20th century, Malbec still maintain a presence, particularly in the Right Bank, but the devastating frost of 1956 killed off a significant number of plantings and practically signal the death kneel for the grape in Bordeaux.

There are still some small plantings of Bordeaux with the Côtes de Bourg and Côtes de Blaye being the most significant strongholds. In St. Emilion, Cheval Blanc and Jean Faure are two notable estates with some plantings of Malbec. In Pomerol, Chateau L’Enclos (owned by the Adams family who also own Chateau Fonplegade in St. Emilion) also maintain some Malbec.

On the Left Bank, a small 1 ha block of old vine Malbec is still producing for 2nd Growth estate of Ch. Gruaud Larose in St. Julien. Fellow 2nd Growth Ch. Brane Cantenac in Margaux grows a few parcels of Malbec (as well as Carmenère). In the Graves region of Pessac-Leognan, Ch. Haut Bailly owns a 4 ha block of 100+ year old vines that includes a field blend of all six Bordeaux varieties–including Malbec and Carmenère.

Malbec in Argentina

Photo by PABLO GONZALEZ. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Malbec vines growing in Argentina.

Michel Pouget is credited with introducing Malbec to Argentina, bringing pre-phylloxera cuttings of the grape from Bordeaux to the country in the 1850s.

Compared to their French counterparts, clusters of Malbec in Argentina are smaller with tighter berries. These smaller grape berries create a skin to juice ratio that tends to produce more deeply colored wines with intense black fruit.

The Bordeaux influence in Argentina is still felt today with producers like like Léoville Poyferré (Cuvelier de Los Andes), Michel Rolland (Clos de los Siete), Cheval Blanc (Cheval des Andes), Hélène Garcin-Lévêque (Poesia) and Lafite-Rothschild (CARO) having projects in Argentina making both varietal Malbec and using it in Bordeaux style blends.

Malbec in the United States

The grape is widely planted throughout the US including in states like Missouri, Idaho, Georgia, Arizona, Virginia, North Carolina, New York, Maryland, Texas and Michigan. Here it is made as both as varietal wine and as a blending component.

In Napa Valley, despite being a regular feature of popular blends like Opus One and Joseph Phelps Insignia, Malbec is sometimes considered the “Gummo Marx” of the Bordeaux varieties. Part of the grape’s low standing in the region was historically due to poor clonal selection but as better clone options from Cahors and Argentina become available, Napa is seeing increased plantings of the variety on Mt. Veeder, Coombsville and Atlas Peak.

Outside of Napa, Malbec is most widely planted in the San Joaquin Valley where it is used for mass produced bulk blends. However, there are quality minded producers making varietal Malbec wines throughout the state, particularly in regions like Paso Robles, Dry Creek Valley, Santa Ynez, Lodi and the Sierra Foothills.

Photo taken by self. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons as User:Agne27 and released under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Red Willow Vineyard in Washington State.


In Washington State, Malbec has the curious distinction of being the most expensive grape per ton with the average price for a ton of Malbec in 2016 being $1,587 as opposed to varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon $1,442/ton, Merlot $1,174/ton, Chardonnay $940/ton and Semilion (the most expensive white grape) at $1,054 ton.

While Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley helped pioneer the grape in Washington State, Paul Gregutt in Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide notes that Casey McClellan of Seven Hills Winery was the first to plant the grape in Walla Walla in the early 1990s.

Want More Malbec?

Check out the hashtags #MalbecWorldDay and #WorldMalbecDay on Twitter and the Malbec tag on Instagram for more fun.

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Oh dear heaven — the woeful ‘7s’

Recently I came across a tweet that made me chuckle.

I absolutely adore Lynch-Bages but I’m not sure that this is the best marketing approach for Duclot. While I get the point of this tweet, I fret that the 2017 Bordeaux vintage may have a bit more in common with the other “7 vintages” than the legendary 1947 and it’s probably not wise to remind folks of this woeful trend.

2007The quintessential “Cellar Defender” vintage. A wet and rainy summer saved by a warm September that produced wines that are exceptionally light on fruit and alcohol but have enough charm for short term consumption–especially when paired with food. While it certainly wasn’t a vintage for wine drinkers who favor big “New World-ish” style wines of Napa, it’s a vintage that still holds some positives for fans of “classic clarets”.

Especially compared to their 2008 & 2006 counterparts, the value of many 2007s right now are terrific.


If you have a 2007 in your cellar as well as some 2009/2010, this is the bottle you pull tonight for dinner–even if it is just pizza or a burger. Several of these wines–such as the 2007 Léoville Poyferré I reviewed–will certainly deliver more than enough pleasure to merit their price.

1997Rainy vintage that diluted flavors and brought mildew problems. However, this vintage like 2007 (and 2017) is a beneficiary of increased knowledge and technology that has tempered the impact of troublesome vintages. Good wineries, especially those who can afford to be highly selective in the vineyard and final blend, will still make good (albeit not great) wine–just in much smaller quantity. Ian d’Agata notes that this vintage (as well as 2007, 1994, 1999 and 2002) is one that shouldn’t be written off.

1987A cool year that favored the early ripening Merlot grape on the Right Bank and the warmer soils of the Graves. Until 2017, this was probably considered the best “7 vintage” since 1947. The biggest problem for 1987 was that it followed a string of gorgeous vintages in the early 1980s which artificially inflated the prices for the quality. Though I have to admit that I would have been tempted by a $75 Chateau Lafite.

Following the very successful 2015/2016 vintages and with quite a bit of 2009/2010 still on the market, you have to wonder if 2017 will follow the same fate?

1977“Worst vintage of the Decade” says Jeff Leve of The Wine Cellar Insider. Ouch. Severe frost from late March into April particularly ravaged the early budding Merlot vines on the Right Bank. However, for 1977 birth year babies it was fantastic for vintage Port in the Douro.

1967A cool spring followed by a hot July/August only to be capped by a cold September and then a rainy harvest month of October. Particularly rough for the Medoc.

1957Another rainy, wet vintage marked by a very cold summer. If you have a 1957 Bordeaux still lying around, you better hope that it is a Sauternes.

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Wine Geek Notes 4/9 — Organic Wine, 2017 Bordeaux and Component Wines

Photo by Hudson C. S. de Souza. Released on Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-4.0

Here is what I’m reading today in the world of wine.

Isabelle Legeron MW: why it matters what wine we drink and food we eat by Alistair Morrell for The Buyer (@TheBuyer11)

I recently finished reading Clark Smith’s Postmodern Winemaking: Rethinking the Modern Science of an Ancient Craft where he advocates for a balance between winemakers using all the tools at their disposal (like reverse osmosis, cross-flow filtration, etc) but not lose sight of “soulful winemaking” and letting the wine tell the story of where it came from. It’s almost a contradictory position that is the vino-equivalent of the Kobayashi Maru.

Throughout the entire book, Smith advocates for, above all, more transparency in winemaking. A winemaker shouldn’t use any tool or additive that he or she would not feel comfortable openly talking about. In that regard, he and Master of Wine Isabelle Legeron would be kindred spirits.

In her interview with Alistair Morrell, Legeron draws the connection between consumers’ concerns over sourcing and knowing what’s exactly in their food and how that is changing the wine they are drinking. However, as I discovered in researching for my article about Vegan wines, the wine industry has a bit of a halo effect that has long been given a free pass in most consumers’ minds because—it’s just grapes, right? Well….not exactly.

Like Smith, I don’t think winemakers should be demonized for using technology but I also find sympathy with Legeron’s view that consumers should know what kind of chemicals are being used in the vineyards, what additives like Mega-Purple or oak chips do and what in the world was done to make a wine like Apothic Brew exist.

The article also touches on some of the issues that “natural producers” dealt with in the troublesome vintage 2017 which brings me to my next article of interest.

Photo by Benjamin Zingg, Switzerland. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.5

Ch. Rauzan-Ségla in Margaux

The 2017 Bordeaux Barrels Diary: A View from the Top at Château Canon by James Molesworth (@JMolesworth1) for Wine Spectator (@WineSpectator)

As the 2018 en primeur tastings wrap up, we’re getting ready for the start of the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign. I’m buckling down into my research as I plot my own personal strategy and purchases. I bought very heavily in the 2015 and 2016 campaigns so I naturally expect to buy much less in 2017.

But I’ll still buy something. My initial instinct is that 2017 could serve as a fair “cellar defender” vintage meant to be open for more short term consumption. I use the term “cellar defender” because my cellar will now have a nice stash of 2015/2016 that I will need to fight off the temptation to open too soon–a fate that has unfortunately befallen many of my 2009/2010 gems. If I want to get the full value of my pleasure investment in these potentially great 2015/2016 wine, I will need to have a few good “sacrificial lambs” to help keep my grubby paws off the good stuff.

The key will be in sorting through the hype and fluff to find the real value. I don’t want to pay filet mignon prices for my mutton.

The Chanel Group’s holding of Ch. Canon, Ch. Rauzan-Ségla and now Ch. Berliquet intrigue me because the first two have undoubtedly been on the upswing and reaping the benefit of investments in the vineyards and winery. Rauzan-Ségla has particularly impressed me with delivering quality results in the troublesome 2012 and 2013 vintages. While I would not want to go into the $100+ range, if the 2017 is priced in the $75-80 range like those 2012/2013s then I might be intrigued.

However, having the Chanel team now at Ch. Berliquet (which is priced in the $35-40 range) could be some very enticing mutton

Making Varietal Wines in Bordeaux by Vicki Denig (@vicki_denig‏) for Seven Fifty Daily (@SevenFiftyDaily). Brought to my dash via John Corcoran (@jncorcoran1).

Going along with my Bordeaux mood, I got very excited reading about this new project with Michael H. Kennedy II of Component Wine Company in Napa (a protege of Aldo Sohm) and Château Lynch-Bages to come up with a special series of varietal wines from some of the Cazes family’s holdings in the Left Bank.

While blending is always going to be intimately connected with Bordeaux, the chance to try the individual components in isolation (from such a high quality producer) is worth geeking out over. Of course it will depend on if the price is crazy or not. While I expect to pay $100+ for Ch. Lynch-Bages, I’m not sure a varietal Cabernet Franc from them at that price is going to entice me. My optimistic hope is that these Component wines will be priced more in the $35-45 range.

I signed up for Component Wine Company’s mailing list to keep an eye on this project and will post any updates.

What’s On Deck for SpitBucket

In addition to getting knee deep in readings about the 2017 Bordeaux vintage and Futures campaign, I’m also prepping for my upcoming trip to Paso Robles for Hospice du Rhone at the end of this month and a trip to Burgundy at the end of May. So expect to see a few more posts geeking out about Rhone varietals and a couple more installments in my “Keeping up with the Joneses in Burgundy” series.

My top wine at the 2017 Wine Spectator Grand Tasting was this Adobe Road Cabernet Sauvignon from the Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III in Rutherford.

In the middle, I’ll also be attending the Wine Spectator Grand Tour Tasting in Las Vegas. You can check out the first part of my three part series from last year’s Grand Tour Tasting here.

While my blog postings won’t be as frequent during my travels, I will still be posting regularly to Instagram and Twitter so feel free to follow me on those platforms as well.

Cheers!

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Wine Geek Notes 3/16/18 — Pinot Meunier, 2015 Bordeaux and Cali 2nd Wines

Photo by Igor Zemljič. Released on Wikimedia Commons under PD-user

Here is what I’m reading today in the world of wine.

Interesting Tweets and Weblinks

Pinot Meunier Goes Beyond the Blend in Champagne by Jameson Fink (@jamesonfink) for Wine Enthusiast (@WineEnthusiast). Brought to my dash via Frank Morgan (@DrinkWhatULike).

I absolutely ADORE Pinot Meunier so I was thrilled to see Fink give this unheralded grape of Champagne some much needed love. While Chardonnay and Pinot noir get all the attention, Pinot Meunier is often the backbone of some of the most powerful and evocative Champagnes made in the region. Echoing David Speer of Ambonnay Champagne bar (@AmbonnayBar) in Portland, Oregon, Fink notes that the flavors that Pinot Meunier brings to the table includes “… white flowers, herbs (in a good way), blueberries, spices, earth and meaty notes—[a] ‘fascinating mix of sweet, savory and spicy tones.'”

A few of my favorite Pinot Meunier-dominant Champagnes include Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV and Duval-Leroy NV Brut with the grape often playing equal billing with Pinot noir in the wines of Pol Roger and for Charles Heidsieck’s Brut Reserve. But what excites me the most about Fink’s article is the emergence of single varietal Pinot Meunier Champagnes with Fink’s providing a nifty shopping list of producers to seek out. Several of these growers (such as Jérôme Prévost and Laherte Frères) have been on my must-try list since I reviewed Robert Walters’ Bursting Bubbles and this just gives me more incentive to hunt them down.

Photo by PA. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Château Paloumey in Ludon-Médoc

Here We Go Again: Value Bordeaux 2015 by Neal Martin (@nealmartin) of Vinous (@VinousMedia).

The 2015 and 2016 vintages are going to be a smorgasbord of goodness for Bordeaux lovers. While, yes, there are going to be the outrageously priced top estates, there is also going to be an abundance of value. In this article, Martin list several top finds under $25 that are very intriguing. I’ve had Château Paloumey from the less than stellar 2011 vintage and was rather impressed so I would be very interested in trying the 2015 of this Haut-Medoc estate. Another wine that Martin highlights is the 2015 Eva from Château Le Pey that is 25% Petit Verdot!

All these wines look to be well worth exploring. Other sub $25 Bordeaux from the 2015 vintage that I’ve personally had and would also encourage Bordeaux lovers to explore include:

Ch. Lanessan (Haut-Medoc) Wine Searcher Ave $25
Ch. Chantegrive (Graves) Wine Searcher Ave $19
Ch. Vrai Canon Bouche (Canon-Fronsac) Wine Searcher Ave $25
Ch. de la Huste (Fronsac) Wine Searcher Ave $19
Ch. Ferran (Pessac-Leognan) Wine Searcher Ave $19

Berger on wine: Parallel brands allow room to grow by Dan Berger for The Press Democrat (@NorthBayNews)

The concept of Second Wines is well known for Bordeaux lovers. It allows an estate to be more selective in both the vineyard and winery, limiting their top cuvee to just the “best of the best”. The remaining juice is still very good but often doesn’t merit being premium priced so estates would create a second label to sell the juice. The benefit to the consumer is that they get the pedigree of the Grand Vin’s viticulture and winemaking teams but are only paying a fraction of the price of the top cuvee.

In California, the wineries are also very selective in limiting their top cuvee to just the “best of the best” but would instead sell off the declassified juice as anonymous bulk wine to other producers. California négociants like Courtney Benham often make off like bandits buying premium lots from top wineries and selling them under their own label.

But the consumers still don’t know where the juice came from which is why I’m encouraged by Berger’s article that more wineries are starting to create their own second labels to bottle their declassified lots. I’m particularly intrigued by Cathy Corison’s Corazón and Helio labels and Ramey’s Sidebar wines.

Hide yo kids, Hide yo wife

I really wish this was an April Fool’s Day joke but I fret that it is not. So consider this a public service warning because soon your local grocery stores and gas stations are going to be inundated with displays and marketing for Apothic Brew— a “cold brew-wine” hybrid created by Gallo.

While I was able to find some redeeming factors in the whiskey barrel aged wine trend that Apothic helped popularize, I really have no clue what Gallo’s marketing team is thinking with this. But, it’s Gallo and they didn’t become a billion dollar company by coming up with stupid ideas so who knows?

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Wine Geek Notes 3/13/18 — Domaine Jacques Prieur, Les Forts Latour and Geeky Napa Grapes

Photo by Craig Drollett. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Here is what I’m reading today in the world of wine.

Interesting Tweets and Weblinks

Edouard Labruyère’s transformation of Domaine Jacques Prieur by Peter Dean (@TweetaDean) for The Buyer.

Domaine Jacques Prieur is one my favorite Burgundian estates and I was enjoying its sleepy-under-the-radar-status. With as crazy as prices in Burgundy can get, I was selfishly hoping that other wine insiders wouldn’t notice how sneaky good this estate has gotten over the last couple vintages under the winemaking direction of Nadine Gublin. But it looks like the cat is out of the bag.

Still I learn a lot of cool stuff in this article about DJP and its owner Edouard Labruyère–namely the expansion into Santenay (hopefully with affordable bottlings), the family owning Château Rouget in Pomerol, planting Syrah and Pinot noir in Beaujolais and the launch of Labruyère’s Champagne.

Sourcing from Grand Cru vineyards that use to supply Dom Perignon, this Extra Brut style Champagne is partially fermented in old white DJP barrels and spends 5 years aging on the lees. Looks like something to keep an eye out for.

LATOUR TO INCLUDE FORTS 2012 IN NEXT RELEASE by Rupert Millar (@wineguroo) for The Drinks Business (@teamdb)

Since Ch. Latour left the en primeur system in 2012, its been hard keeping track of their releases. While we still don’t know when the 2012 Grand Vin is going to be released, the estate announced that on March 21st, their second wine Les Forts de Latour will be released along with (re-release?) the 2006 Grand Vin.

Photo by BillBl. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

While considered a “second wine”, in many ways Les Forts is really its own entity being sourced from three dedicated plots with only some years having declassified Grand Vin parcels included. That said, these plots are still tended to by the Latour viticulture and winemaking team and is often an outstanding wine.

Back in 2015, I did a side by side tasting of the 2005 Latour and 2005 Les Forts and you could certainly see how the pedigree shined through with the Les Forts. While the 05 Latour was way too young at that point, the Les Forts was raring to go at 10 years with many tasters thinking it was, at that moment, the better wine.

With the 2005 Latour averaging $1119 on Wine Searcher and the Les Forts averaging $263, it was certainly the best value of the night. It remains to be seen what the pricing of the 2012 will be.

14 OF THE MOST UNUSUAL GRAPE VARIETIES IN NAPA VALLEY by Ilona Thompson at Palate Exposure (@PalateXposure)

Ilona at Palate Exposure is quickly becoming one of my favorite content creators in the wine world. Her website is well worth a peak with fabulous original posts about winemakers and wineries with a Napa Valley focus. Of course I geeked out like crazy with this article!

While Grenache and Tempranillo aren’t very surprising and even Pinot Meunier makes sense with sparkling wine producers like Domaine Chandon in Napa, who knew about Lagier-Meredith’s Mondeuse? Heitz Cellars’ Grignolino or even Spiriterra Vineyards’ Scuppernong?

Napa Valley Scuppernong. For realz, y’all. Ilona just gave me my new unicorn-wine list.

Upcoming Posts for Taste Washington Wine Month!

First quick apologies to subscribers as last night we accidentally, kinda, maybe, sorta hit “submit” on an unfinished version of my book review of Paul Gregutt’s Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide. Our bad! All I can say is that the post will be finished properly and published shortly over the next few days.

Other posts in the pipeline for Taste Washington Wine Month include a Geek Out over Washington Cabernet Franc courtesy of Savage Grace Wines, an exploration of the legend of William (W.B.) Bridgman in Washington wine history and his lasting legacy of Harrison Hill and Upland Vineyards as well as a flashback post to last year’s Taste Washington Grand Tasting!

Plus more 60 Second Wine Reviews featuring exclusively Washington wine for the month of March. In April, we’ll get back to our regular peppering of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa and other fun wine reviews.

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Petrus — The Super Bowl of Wine

I finally got a chance to try one of my bucket list wines–a bottle of 2006 Petrus from Pomerol. My wife and I originally bought it for our early December wedding anniversary but then I got a cold so we shelved that idea.

Then we were going to open it up for Christmas Eve and another cold hit. So we decided to hold off till we both were 100% healthy and fully on point with our tasting sensibilities before cracking into this baby. My tasting notes (and whether I think it is worth the cost) are below after a bit of geeking.

The Geekery

What makes Petrus, Petrus?

As Clive Coates notes in Grands Vins: The Finest Châteaux of Bordeaux and Their Wines, the phenomenon of Petrus as a cult wine for Bordeaux lovers is a relatively new creation. As recently as the post World War II years leading up to 1955, the wine merchant Avery’s of Bristol had exclusive rights to buy up virtually all available allocations of Petrus–which it usually did–but would struggle to find buyers.

While there is some evidence of winemaking at the estate dating back to the 1750s, the first recorded mention of Petrus can be found in the 1837 notebooks of the merchant house Tastet and Lawton. Here the estate was owned by the Arnaud family and considered the third best property in Pomerol behind Vieux Château Certan and Trotanoy. In pricing, it fetched far less than the top estates of the Medoc and only a third of the top estates of St. Emilion such as Ch. Belair. But its reputation for quality was soon to be discovered, as David Peppercorn noted in his work Bordeaux, when at the 1878 Paris Exhibition Petrus won a gold medal–becoming the first wine from Pomerol to earn such an achievement.

The fortune, and pricing of Petrus, began to change in the 1920s when then owner, M. Sabin-Douarre, began selling shares of Petrus to the proprietor of his favorite restaurant in Libourne, l’Hotel Loubat. Madame Loubat continued purchasing shares from Sabin-Douarre until she was the sole owner of the estate.

when my wife and I were in Bordeaux, we drove around for at least 40 minutes through Pomerol trying to find Petrus. We kept passing by it because it was so unassuming.

Stephen Brook notes, in The Complete Bordeaux, that at this point Petrus was being priced on par with the Second Growths of the Medoc but Mme. Loubat wanted everyone to know the high quality of Petrus and began demanding higher prices.

In 1943, she hired Jean-Pierre Moueix as the sole agent in charge of not only distribution of her wine but also production. Soon Petrus was never priced below the acclaimed Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘A’ estate of Cheval Blanc and was beginning to rival the First Growths of the Medoc.

Moueix started out owning Ch. Fonroque in St. Emilion before beginning his négociant business–mostly to help sell his own estate wine. When Mme. Loubat passed away in 1961, she bequeathed Moueix a single share of Petrus while splitting the rest between her niece and nephew. Over the next few years, Moueix gradually bought out Loubat’s heirs and assumed full ownership of Petrus by 1969.

Today the Moueix family owns several estates in Bordeaux including Trotanoy, La Fleur-Pétrus, Hosanna, Latour à Pomerol, La Grave, Lafleur-Gazin and Ch. Lagrange in Pomerol; Ch. Bélair-Monange and Clos La Madeleine in St. Emilion as well as Dominus, Napanook, Othello and Ulysses in Napa Valley.

While historically Petrus has kept a small parcel of Cabernet Franc on the property, these vines have been gradually replaced with Merlot. The 2006 vintage I tasted was 100% Merlot.

Why So Expensive?

The grounds of Petrus with vineyards to the right. The weather was gorgeous the week we were there, with it only raining on our last night, so we didn’t get to experience the muddy clay sticking to our shoes.

Petrus certainly has distinctive and very unique terroir which wine writer Oz Clarke has described in his work Bordeaux as “…one of the muddiest, most clay-clogged pieces of land my shoes have ever had the ill luck to slither through.”

Petrus sits on a “button-hole” of this blue muddy clay which covers a subsoil of gravel that is followed underneath by a virtually impenetrable layer of hard iron-rich crasse de fer. The soil is around 40 million years old compared to the 1 million year old gravel soils surrounding the Pomerol plateau. The dense, hard smectite clay causes the vine to struggle as its roots cannot penetrate deep yet it does amply retain moisture that is invaluable during warm years and dry summer months when the risk of hydraulic stress is high. As Jeff Leve of The Wine Cellar Insider notes, there is no other wine producing region in the world that has this soil structure.

There is about 50 acres of this unique soil in Pomerol and while neighboring estates like Vieux Château Certan, La Fleur-Pétrus, La Conseillante and L’Evangile have some parcels featuring this terroir, Petrus is the only estate whose 28+ acres of vines are exclusively planted on it. Additionally, Petrus is located on the top of this gently sloping button-hole which allows for better drainage during wetter years.

The vines of Petrus are relatively old with some parcels dating back to 1952. The root system of other parcels are even older because after the 1956 frost that devastated the Right Bank, and killed nearly 2/3 of Petrus’ vines, Mme. Loubat refused to completely replant and instead attempted the untested technique of recépage where new vines were grafted onto the established root-stock. It was believed that these vines would only produce for a few vintages but decades later they are still viable.

I wasn’t brave enough to go up and touch the building.

The Moueix family spares no expense when it comes to tending the vines, with severe yield restrictions of 32 to a max of 45 hl/ha (3 tons an acre) with some years going as low as 17.5 hl/ha. In contrast, many well regarded estates frequently harvest at 60-70 hl/ha.

If inopportune rains hit close to harvest, Moueix will rent a helicopter to hover over the vines and dry them off. In 1992, they covered the entire vineyard in plastic sheeting to avoid excess moisture seeping into the ground, plumping up the berries and diluting flavors.

Like with top Sauternes, harvest is done at Petrus on a berry by berry basis with vineyard workers manually picking the individual grapes off the vines. These 100% de-stemmed berries are then hand sorted with an optical sorter joining the process only since the 2009 vintage.

After fermentation and malo, the wine is aged in 50% new French oak for 18-20 months before going through a rigorous selection process that narrows the barrels down to only the very best that will go into the final Grand Vin. Anything that doesn’t meet the grade is sold off as anonymous Pomerol. It’s every Bordeaux insider’s dream to figure out where these “discard barrels” of wine go.

This is where we ultimately get down to the biggest cost driver. In the end, only around 2,500 cases (30,000 bottles) of Petrus is made each year.

I honestly don’t think they will ever make gummy bears from Petrus like they do with the 5 million+ bottles of Dom Perignon.


Compare this to the 31,000+ cases of Ch. Latour, the 10,000+ cases of Opus One or even the 5 million+ bottles of Dom Perignon produced virtually every year and the scarcity means that so few people will ever get a chance to try this wine.

The Wine

So how was it? I knew that this was a wine that really should’ve been held onto for at least 15-20 years and, even then, given a good several hours of decanting. But this was more about sharing a moment with my wife so we popped it open when she got home and watched it evolve as we cooked and savored dinner.

Pop and pour–Medium intensity nose. Red fruits–plums, raspberry and a little earthy funk that is not defined but intriguing.

Palate has medium-plus acidity, very juicy and fresh, with medium tannins and medium-plus body. The red fruits carry through and then WHOA the mid-palate just jumps with an assortment of spice that I will need some time to piece out. Minute and half long finish right now.

After an hour and half in the decanter— Nose is now medium-plus intensity with the spice notes coming out more with a little herbal thyme. The fruit is also now a richer deeper dark fruit like Turkish fig with black currant.

Would St. Peter rob Paul to drink Petrus?

The palate is still juicy with medium-plus acidity. The spices are getting a little more defined–making me think of Asian cuisine with tamarind fruit, star anise, coriander seed and pink peppercorn.

After 3 hours–Still medium-plus intensity nose but a little tobacco spice has joined the party. Still has the mix of Asian spice with black currants and a smidgen of eucalyptus. Pretty remarkable how this keeps evolving. Truthfully, I can only imagine how much more evocative this would get if I had the patience and restraint to milk this out over several more hours.

The palate is still incredibly juicy with medium-plus acidity that only works against you trying to ration and be restrained as the mouthwatering makes you want to take another sip and then another. The tannins have gotten more velvety at this point. The finish has topped out at about 2 minutes with the cornucopia of spices being the last notes.

The Verdict

So is it worth $2600 (when I got it in November 2017) to now at $3000 a bottle?

Kinda.

It truly is a remarkable wine that enchants you as it continuously evolves in your glass. Not just hour by hour but sip by sip. It’s an experience that I’m quite pleased to have had but, at the same time, it is not necessarily an experience that I feel compelled to ever splurge on again.

As I mentioned in my reviews of the Samuel Adams’ Utopias and the Pappy Van Winkle 20 yr, a lot of the cost (and subsequent pleasure) for these Veblen goods often comes from the hunt to finally acquire them. For me, getting a chance to try a Petrus was a bucket list item–just as jumping out of an airplane and meeting Jancis Robinson are. It is always a thrill to check a bucket list item off.

My wife is a native Boston girl who was a season ticket holder during the crappy years. We finally went to Super Bowl in 2017 when the Pats played the Falcons.


I’ll also somewhat borrow an analogy from my Behind the Curtain post about wine pricing. In many ways, drinking a wine like Petrus is like attending the Super Bowl.

With only around 70,000 tickets for a single game each year, how many people in their lifetime get a chance to watch the game in person? How much of a premium do they pay for the privilege of watching a game that could very well suck (especially if their team loses)? And what are they paying for but really just a single night of an experience that is over after a few hours–much like a single bottle of wine?

Now compare that to how much you pay to attend a regular NFL playoff game, a regular season game, a college game or even your local Friday night high school game? Of course, you can argue about the supposed superior play of NFL players playing at the pinnacle of their profession but, likewise, you can argue about the supposed superior terroir of Petrus, craftsmanship of Pappy Van Winkle, uniqueness of Utopias, etc.

The truth of the matter is–no one needs to attend the Super Bowl just like no one needs to try Petrus. There are a lot of great football games at all different levels just like there are lots of great wines at all different price points. Whether or not it is “worth it” is purely about how much the experience means to you.

Admittedly, the first 3 quarters of Super Bowl LI sucked pretty hard to watch as a Pats fan.
The last quarter was totally worth it though.
The Petrus, meanwhile, gave me 3 hours of excellence.

For me, they were both worth it. After attending the Super Bowl once and tasting Petrus once, I treasure both experiences and am grateful that I had those opportunities.

I just don’t feel like I ever need to do either again. When I think of all the other things I could do for the same costs (travel, enjoy multiple bottles of Ch. Angelus, Ch. Palmer, etc), I am content to happily check those things off the bucket list and move on to the next experience.

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Getting Geeky with 2007 Leoville Poyferre

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about the 2007 Ch. Léoville Poyferré from St. Julien.

The Geekery

The history of Léoville Poyferré is intimately connected to its fellow 2nd growths, Léoville Las Cases and Léoville Barton, dating back to the 1638 vineyard founded by Jean de Moytie. Along with Ch. La Tour de Saint-Lambert (now Ch. Latour) and Ch. Margaux, this estate–known then as Mont-Moytie–was one of the first estates to produce wine in the Medoc.

Over the next couple centuries, the estate was the source of much innovation in Bordeaux, identifying some of the current Bordeaux varieties for their smaller berries and higher quality wine as well as utilizing the use of oak barrels and sanitizing them with sulfur.

In 1740, Clive Coates notes in Grand Vins the estate was acquired by Alexandre de Gascq, the Seigneur of Léoville. Under his stewardship, the estate grew to almost 500 acres.

During the French Revolution, a quarter of the estate was sold off and eventually became Léoville Barton. In 1840, the estate was divided again when Pierre Jean de Las Cases inherited 2/3 of the estate with his sister, Jeanne, passing her share to her daughter, the wife of Baron Jean-Marie Poyferré de Ceres.

In the 1920s, Léoville Poyferré came under the ownership of the Cuvelier family where it joined the family’s holdings of Ch. Le Crock in St. Estephe, Ch. Moulin Riche in St. Julien and Ch. Carmensac in the Haut-Medoc (which was later sold in 1965 to the Forner family of Marques de Caceres fame in Rioja).

At first, the Cuveliers delegated management of the estate to the Delon family from Léoville Las Cases as the two properties were interconnected with adjoining chais. In 1979, Didier Cuvelier took over management and began overseeing not only massive vineyard replanting but also renovations in the cellars. He brought in first Emile Peynaud and then, in 1994, Michel Rolland to assist in consulting.

2006 vintages of Léoville Barton and Léoville Poyferré on sale at a wine shop.


Coates quotes the famous Bordeaux wine merchant Nathaniel Johnston as describing Léoville Poyferré as having the best terroir of the 3 Léoville estates with their vineyards being second only to the First Growths in potential. Most of the vineyards are located on gravelly soils on the west side of the famous D2 road across from Las Cases that is on the river side.

Further inland near the Pauillac border with Ch. Batailley is the almost 50 acres of Ch. Moulin Riche. Declared a Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel in 1932, Stephen Brook notes in The Complete Bordeaux that until 2009 it was treated as a second wine of Léoville Poyferré. Since 2009, Pavillon de Poyferré has been the estate’s second wine.

Brook describes the style of Léoville Poyferré as the most opulent and hedonistic of the 3 Léoville estates with Léoville Barton being more classic and structured while Léoville Las Cases is more concentrated. Coates compares Poyferré to being the Mouton-Rothschild to Las Cases’ Latour.

The 2007 vintage is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot and 4% Cabernet Franc. The wine spent 18 to 20 months aging in 75% new oak with around 20,000 cases made.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. While there is still some dark fruits like cassis and blackberry, the nose is dominated by savory notes of cedar cigar box, earthy forest and smokey spice. Very evocative and mouth watering bouquet.

Photo by AlejandroLinaresGarcia. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0.

While the seductive and silky mouthfeel hints at being a St. Emilion, the tobacco spice and cedar cigar box notes gives the 2007 Léoville Poyferré away as a St. Julien Cab dominant blend.


On the palate, the smokey notes become more leathery and meaty while the dark fruits from the nose become more muted. Medium-plus acidity adds to the mouthwatering while the medium tannins have a silky, velvety curve to them. If it wasn’t for the tobacco spice and cedar cigar box, I can see myself being fooled into thinking this was a Merlot-dominant St. Emilion with the velvety mouthfeel. The finish is regretfully short for how savory and delicious the palate is.

The Verdict

As I noted in my review of the 2011 Ormes de Pez, you can’t overlook the issues of problematic vintages like 2007. A wet, mildew ravaged late spring was followed by an unusually cool and rainy summer. By the time more ideal weather came in September, the acidity of many wines were dropping faster than the flavors were ripening. This produced wines that Jancis Robinson noted are often “… characterised by what they lack: alcohol, acid, ripe tannins, flavour.”

But the truism that good wine can still be made in rough vintages is still apt and this 2007 Léoville Poyferré is a perfect example. Many estates responded to the troubles of 2007 by being more selective in the vineyard and winery and making less (but hopefully better) wine. While Léoville Poyferré usually makes around 31,000 cases a year, in 2007 they made around 20,000.

Photo by self. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons as User: Agne27 and released under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Really poor lighting but the 2006 Léoville Poyferré I had back in 2013 was outstanding too. You almost can’t go wrong with this estate.


It is not a great wine by any means, the short finish gives it away as well as the fact that there is so much tertiary aging notes emerging in a relatively young 10+ year old Bordeaux. This is not a wine that you want cases of in your cellar.

But it is still an absolutely scrumptious wine that is drinking very well now and will probably continue to give pleasure for another 3-5 years. With a Wine Searcher average price of around $83 for the 2007 vintage it certainly offers good value compared to the 2008 ($94 ave) and 2006 vintages ($97 ave) that people are cracking into now.

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Getting Geeky with 2008 Sarget de Gruaud-Larose

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about the 2008 Sarget de Gruaud-Larose from St. Julien.

The Backstory

Clive Coates notes in Grand Vins that the 2nd Growth estate Ch. Gruaud-Larose was formed in 1757 when two brothers, one a priest and the other a judge, pooled together their inheritance and purchased adjoining vineyards to create the 116 hectare (≈ 287 acres) property. Wine that was in high regard and commanded prices almost on par with estates like Ch. Latour and Margaux had been produced on the property for sometime prior to the brothers’ involvement.

The Gruaud brothers were known for their eccentricities, particularly the judge, who would hoist different flags on the property after harvest to signal what nationality he felt that year’s wines would most appeal to. A British flag would be raised if the wines were going to be full-bodied and firm, a German flag if they were going to be soft and supple and a Dutch flag for a style that was a mix of the two.

The magistrate also garnered a reputation for alienating the merchants and négociants with his business practices. Each year when the previous vintage was ready to be sold, he would go to the market center and set his price for the vintage. If his price wasn’t met, he would leave only to come a few months later with an even higher asking price for his unsold wine. In what seems like a foreshadowing of the future tranche release and en primeur systems, M. Gruaud would keep raising his price until eventually the merchants capitulated else wise the price would be higher the next time he returned.

In 1778, the property passed to the magistrate’s daughter and son-in-law, Joseph-Sébastian de La Rose, who affixed the name Larose to the estate. Larose would also go on to establish the large Haut-Medoc estate of Ch. Larose-Trintaudon located on the border of Saint-Laurent and Pauillac.

The author at Gruaud-Larose.


The estate would change hands multiple times and in 1867 the two families who jointly owned the property split it up into two estates–Ch. Gruaud Larose Sarget and Ch. Gruaud Larose Faure (sometimes labelled as Ch. Gruaud Larose-Bethmann). The two estates co-existed until the early 20th century when the Bordeaux négociant family of Cordier bought first the Sarget portion in 1917 and then the Faure portion in 1935 to reunite the two properties.

Founded in 1877, the Cordier négociant house became a significant player during World War I when they landed the exclusive contract to supply the daily wine rations for the entire French Army. Flushed with income, they were able to acquire numerous estates over the next several decades beyond Gruaud-Larose, including the St. Emilion estate Clos des Jacobins, the Premier Grand Cru Classé Sauternes estate Ch. Laufarie-Peyraguey, Ch. Meyney in St. Estèphe, the 5th Growth Haut-Medoc estate of Ch. Cantemerle and the 4th Growth St. Julien estate of Ch. Talbot.

Today, Gruaud-Larose is owned by the Merlaut family under their Taillan Group which also includes the 5th Growth Pauillac estate of Haut-Bages Libéral, the 3rd Growth Margaux estate of Ch. Ferrière, Ch. Chasse-Spleen, Ch. Citran and several others in Bordeaux, the Loire and the Rhone.

The Estate

Bottles from the 1815 vintage of Gruaud-Larose in the estate’s cellar.

While still a large estate by Bordeaux standards with over 200 acres planted to vines, Ch. Gruaud-Larose has seen it size reduced somewhat since the 18th century. However, it is still one of the few estates whose vineyards have remained relatively the same since the property was classified in 1855.

The majority of the vineyards are on the southern side of St. Julien between Ch. Lagrange and Ch. Brainaire-Ducru. There is a parcel further west next to Ch. Talbot and another plot of vines located on the boundary of St. Julien and the commune of Cussac, across the road from the Haut-Medoc estate of Ch. Lanessan. While the average age of the vines are 40 years old, the estate owns several plots that are more than 100 years of age. All the vineyards are sustainably and organically farmed with around 100 acres farmed biodynamically.

Jeff Leve of The Wine Cellar Insider notes that Gruaud-Larose is unique in St. Julien for not only having the most clay soils in the commune but also for being located at the highest elevation on the St. Julien plateau.

After the retirement of winemaker Georges Pauli, Eric Boissenot has served as consultant for the estate.

Wine Stats

Ch. Gruaud-Larose produces around 540,000 bottles a year with about 45% of the yearly production being declassified to the second wine of Sarget de Gruaud-Larose. Named after the mid-19th century owner, Baron Jean Auguste Sarget, the wine spent 18 months aging in 30% new oak.

In 2008, the blend was 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec with around 15,100 cases made.

The Wine

Photo by © Superbass. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-by-SA-4.0

A lot of cedar cigar box notes in this wine.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Very cigar box with tobacco spice and cedar. Underneath there is some red fruits like currant and plum.

On the palate, those cigar notes carry through and bring an even more savory, meaty element. Medium-plus acidity maintains freshness and adds a little juicy element to the red fruits. Medium tannins still have some grip but are rather mellow at this point. Moderate length finish ends with the same cigar box notes that have dominated this wine from the beginning.

The Verdict

With the 2008 edition of the Grand Vin of Gruard-Larose going for around $90, the 2008 Sarget de Gruaud-Larose is a very solid second wine at around $35-40.

It is a classic St. Julien that would certainly appeal to folks who like old school, savory Bordeaux. While the tannins are softening, the wine has enough acidity and structure to still be drinking well for at least another 3 years.

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60 Second Wine Review — 2011 Ormes de Pez

A few quick thoughts on the 2011 Château Ormes de Pez from St. Estephe.

The Geekery

Since 1940, Château Ormes de Pez has been under the ownership of the Cazes family, owners of the famous 5th Growth Pauillac estate of Lynch Bages, with the same viticulture and winemaking team used at both estates. Additionally the Cazes family also own the Graves estate Villa Bel Air and Domaine des Senechaux in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Stephen Brook notes in The Complete Bordeaux that Ormes de Pez has 3 distinct soil types with a third of the vineyards planted on a mix of clay and gravel, another third planted on gravel and sand and another parcel, located near Tronquoy Lalande, planted on pure gravel.

The 2011 vintage is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot that spent 15 months aging in French oak (45% new). The estate produces around 210,000 bottles a year with no widely distributed second wine.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. Some dark fruits (currants and blackberry) with earthy leather. With a little air some of the oak spices comes out.

Photo by The U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under Public Domain usage.

There is quite a bit of spice and complexity in this wine as well as an intriguing black licorice note.


On the palate the dark fruits carry through and have a juicy component with medium-plus acidity. Medium-plus tannins still have a firm grip on this wine but, thankfully, they don’t seem as green as some of the other 2011 Bordeaux wines have been. A little black licorice spice joins the more pronounce oak spice of clove and cinnamon. The finish has good length with the earthy leather from the nose returning.

The Verdict

You can’t sugar coat the problems that the 2011 vintage gave Bordeaux with its crazy spring, rainy July and uneven ripeness seen throughout the region. However as Andrew Jefford noted in Decanter even in rough vintages, high quality producers still have the tools to make good quality wine.

At around $35, this 2011 Ormes de Pez has impeccable pedigree with the Lynch-Bages team and is a solid value for Bordeaux.

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60 Second Wine Review — 2011 Carbonnieux Blanc

A few quick thoughts on the 2011 Chateau Carbonnieux Blanc from Pessac-Léognan.

The Geekery

Stephen Brook notes in The Complete Bordeaux that Carbonnieux has a long history dating back to the 12th century. Vines were first planted by Benedictine monks in the 18th century with the church tending the vines till the French Revolution. In 1787, this was one of the estates that Thomas Jefferson visited in Bordeaux.

In 1953, Carbonnieux was recognized as Grand Cru Classé in the Graves Classification for both red and white. Located on a large gravel hill in the center-east section of Pessac-Léognan near Haut Bailly and Smith-Haut-Lafitte, the 3 sections of vineyards have diverse terroir. Cabernet Sauvignon & Semillon are planted on the higher gravel while Merlot and Sauvignon blanc are planted in the lower clay-dominant soils.

The 2011 Carbonnieux Blanc is a blend of 65% Sauvignon blanc and 35% Semillon. Including their red, Carbonnieux produces around 400,000 bottles a year with a second wine, Ch. Tour-Léognan also produced in both colors.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. A mix of grass and hay straw. Some pithy citrus notes and dried apple chips as well.

On the palate, those pithy citrus notes carry through and is joined with a waxy lanolin note. Medium-plus acidity still has some life but doesn’t add freshness to the fruit. Long finish.

The Verdict

Photo by Jan van der Crabben. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Hay straw notes dominant in this 6+ year old White Bordeaux.

The more I taste aged white Bordeaux, the more I realize that they aren’t my style. As opposed to aged Chardonnay in White Burgs and aged Red Bordeaux, I don’t find the tertiary notes of older Sauvignon blanc and Semillon–dry straw, raw honey and lanolin–very compelling. I feel like I’m missing too much of the freshness I crave from those varieties.

That said, I can’t deny that this is a wine still with impeccable structure and life. For those who enjoy this style, it probably will continue developing beautifully for another 3-5 years and is a solid bet between $35-45. But for me, I probably would have enjoyed this wine more 2-3 years earlier.

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