Category Archives: Shopping for Wine

The Hits, Misses and Mehs of Wine Reviews

Earlier this week The Seattle Times published an article about the top Costco Kirkland wines as selected by a local wine blogger.

Kirkland brand Champagne

One of the wines featured was the Kirkland Signature Brut Champagne that I picked up for $19.99. Throughout the month of December, my wife and I like to open up a bottle of sparkling wine each night. That can get expensive with Champagne so we make sure to stock up on plenty of Proseccos, Cavas and Cremants.

Needless to say, I was pretty excited at the idea of trying a true Champagne for the price of a Crémant de Bourgogne.

Reading Owen Bargreen’s review of the wine intrigued me. The Champagne certainly had pedigree with fruit from the Grand Cru village of Verzenay. Also, unusual for Kirkland branded wines, the back label listed who actually made it as Manuel Janisson of the négociant firm Champagne Janisson.

“The Brut Champagne by Kirkland Signature is a blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier sourced from vineyards located in Verzenay. The wine starts off with lovely diatomaceous earth followed by lemon curd and brioche on the nose. The palate shows really nice citrus fruit with kumquat, lemon oil, sourdough bread and a light musty earth flavor. Dense and layered, this is a simply outstanding effort that is a one-of-a-kind value. Drink 2018-2024.” — Owen Bargreen as quoted by Tan Vinh for The Seattle Times 12/7/2018

Unfortunately my experience didn’t quite live up to that glowing review.
label of kirkland champagne

The back label of the Kirkland Brut Champagne.

I was originally planning to share my thoughts about the Kirkland Champagne as a 60 Second Review. But instead I think I need to talk about the risks of buying blindly on the recommendations of critics and wine writers.

At the end of this post I’ll give my take on the Kirkland Champagne. But I’ll blanket it with the same caveats that I’m going to discuss below.

First, let me say that this is not about bashing another blogger.

While I’m going to be disagreeing with a bit of Bargreen’s assessment of the Kirkland Signature Brut Champagne, I’ve been a big fan of his work on the Washington Wine Blog.

Among some of my favorite posts have been his interviews with wine industry insiders like:

Kit Singh of Lauren Ashton
Benjamin Smith of Cadence
Jason Fox of Lagana Cellars
Master of Wine Billo Naravane of Rasa Vineyards
Brooke Robertson of Delmas
Nina Buty of Buty Winery

And many more.

Bargreen has a terrific sense of what’s happening in the world of wine–particularly in Washington. He seeks out the people who are shaping the scene and produces content that is well worth following.

My intent is not to quibble about differences in tasting notes. Taste is highly subjective and personal. From one taster to the next, you are just as likely to agree with someone as you are to disagree.

And that’s precisely the point.

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

This is especially true with professional critics. It doesn’t matter how esteemed their careers or opinions are. The tastes of critics like James Suckling (pictured) may be quite different than yours.

When you buy a wine based on a newspaper, magazine or blog review, you’re essentially gambling on how likely your tastes will align with the reviewers. And I’m not talking Somm Game gambling here. Because with written reviews (as opposed to personal recommendations from a sommelier or wine steward), you really are going out on a ledge.

The author of a wine review is writing solely from the perspective of their tastes and their opinions. They’re not standing in front of you, listening to you describe the kind of wines that you like or don’t like. They’re not acting like a sommelier or wine steward, piecing together clues to recommend something that they feel confident that you’re going to enjoy.

The reviewer may have a tremendous palate with lots of experience tasting a vast array of wines. But when it comes to recommendations published in articles, blogs, “Best of…” and “Top Whatever” lists, your tastes and your opinions do not enter the reviewer’s equation whatsoever.

Yet it is your wallet that is buying the wine. Plus, either your mouth or your kitchen drain is going to end up with the contents of that bottle.

When you buy off of reviews, what are the odds that you’re going to absolutely love the wine?

I would say about 25% or a quarter of the time. For another quarter, it’s likely to be a complete whiff.

But for the majority of the recommendations you buy, the results will be in the middle of don’t love, but don’t hate or what I call “Meh wines”.

Photo by Katy Warner from Orlando, FL, USA. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD text

And then you got to figure out if it’s worth eating at McDonald’s again to redeem your small fry.

Getting a “Meh wine” is certainly not the end of the world.

It’s kind of like playing McDonald’s Monopoly where you pull off a tab and win a small fry. You didn’t lose per se, but you really didn’t win either. You essentially got a token of a prize and with a “Meh wine” you end up with a token of an experience–something drinkable but not much more.

Now ask yourself. How much money and time do you want to spend on “Meh wines”?

Can You Hedge Your Bets?

You most definitely can. But to do that, you need to think more like a bettor at the horse races.

1.) Do Your Homework. Admittedly, a good chunk of this is trial and error. The only way to increase your odds for successful drinking is to learn how your palate aligns with the reviewers. Paying attention to how many Hits/Misses/Mehs you get with a certain reviewer will key you in on if it’s worth the gamble. Even this is not absolute. There still may be wines that you don’t completely jive with. But, at the very least, you’ll be able to weed out more of the misses and the mehs.

Photo by Ronnie Macdonald from Chelmsford, United Kingdom. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-2.0

Though there is some truth to the old Will Rogers’ quote: “You know horses are smarter than people. You never heard of a horse going broke betting on people.”

2.) Pay Attention To The Jockeys–i.e. the wineries who made the wine. Often this is even better than betting on the horse. If you’ve had past experiences enjoying a winery’s wines, your bet just got a whole lot better. Because now you’re not really taking a blind recommendation from a reviewer but rather letting your own palate and experience have a say.

3.) Don’t Bet Big On An Unknown. Buying blindly on a review is never an occasion to buy a case. It doesn’t matter what high score or glowing review it got or how killer of a deal it looks like. It could still wind up being a colossal dud. You’re far better off taking a flyer on a single bottle to try first. Even though I really loved the idea of a $20 Champagne to drink all month, I am so grateful that I only spent $20 on the Kirkland Brut instead of a couple hundred.

4.) Spread Out Your Risk. Don’t bet it all on one wine. While I’m a huge supporter of trying new things, it’s always a good strategy to spread your bets out between long-shots mixed with a few favorites. Go ahead and take a chance on that new bottle, but also pick up something that is more of a sure bet just in case.

A Personal Note

Since I do reviews here on the blog, I hope all my readers take the above to heart and apply these strategies to my recommendations as well.

My favorite wines might only hit a 25% jackpot with you–or even less. Our tastes could be polar opposites and that is perfectly fine. My hope is that with the Geekery tidbits and other posts, you’re still finding resources that’ll help you find bottles you enjoy.

In the end, finding great wines that give you pleasure is the only thing that matters. Life is too short to drink “Meh wines”.

Now About That Kirkland Champagne

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

Lots of citrus notes in this Champagne but they’re more on the bitter green side like unripe pomelos.

Medium intensity nose. Definitely citrus driven but more bitter green citrus notes like unripe pomelo and Bergamot orange. Noticeable yeasty notes reminds me of raw Pillsbury buttermilk biscuit dough.

On the palate, those green citrus notes carry through but they fade pretty quickly. It’s definitely the dough notes that dominate but they taste much sweeter than the nose would have suggested. I couldn’t find the exact dosage but it’s certainly on the sweeter side of brut–likely 10-12 g/l.

The sweet dough with citrus flavors makes me think they were trying to go for the Veuve Clicquot style. However, the medium-plus acidity and moderate mousse has a tangy edge (like Bargreen’s sourdough) that doesn’t quite match the creamy mouthfeel that trademarks Veuve. The finish does have a hint of dustiness but is very short.

The Verdict

At $20, this isn’t a horrible wine. It’s definitely drinkable. If it’s aiming to be a budget Veuve Yellow Label for half the price then it’s not that far off. But it certainly tastes like a half-price “Meh” version of Veuve.

Levert Freres

While I might slightly give the nod to the regular Brut, the rose Cremant de Bourgogne from Levert Freres is also quite delicious for less than $20.

However, this is not “a one-of-a-kind value” by any stretch of the imagination.

There are so many stronger bottles of sparkling wines under $20–most notably the many available Cremants from Burgundy, Alsace and the Loire. These include wines like Levert Freres, Louis Bouillot, Albrecht, Gratien & Meyer and Champalou. Often these wines are aged as long as nonvintage Champagne (15 months) and many times much longer.

These Cremants may not have the magical “C-word” on the label like the Kirkland Brut but they are far more Champagne-like.

Then in the US, we have producers like Gruet, Jacqueline Leonne, Trevari and Roederer Estate who make very solid bottles in the $15-20 range. And, of course, Cava has some tremendous bangs for the buck with the Insito, Juve & Camps and Anna de Codorniu being highly reliable sparklers.

Champagne Dreams With a Budget-Friendly Reality

If you want to go Champagne, paying just a little bit more will give you huge quality dividends above the Kirkland Brut.

Bargreen’s article mentions the Feuillatte Blue Label that is often around $27-29 during holidays. Then there is the Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial ($33-36), Petrois Moriset Cuvee ($30-33), Moutard Grand Cuvee ($30-33) Chanoine Frères Grande Reserve ($33-35), Montaudon Brut ($32-35), Pommery Brut Royal ($33-36) and Laurent Perrier La Cuvee ($33-36).

And if you really want a slightly cheaper Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, the Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top hits those notes better than the Kirkland Brut does in the $33-36 range.

I’m sure you can find even more under $40 Champagne or under $20 sparkling wine options checking out your local wine shop. Plus, you can talk with a wine steward and let them know what you like or don’t like.

That way you’re more likely to go home with a Secretariat, Justify or American Pharoah than you would betting on “Meh”.

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Geek Notes — Decanted Podcast Episode 4 with Lenny Redé on Shopping for Wine

With the holiday season upon us, lots of folks will be hitting their local grocery stores and wine shops looking for wines to serve and give as gifts. That makes this a great time to review the Decanted podcast episode featuring Lenny Redé and their tips for shopping for wine (47:41).

Decanted Podcast screen shot

Full disclosure: Lenny was one of my mentors at the Northwest Wine Academy and is a long time friend. Though I’m obviously biased, I sincerely feel he is one of the most brilliant and personable folks in the wine industry. He was also a participant at my recent Joe Wagner vs The Oregon Volcano tasting whose insights were extremely valuable. At the time of this interview he was with Esquin Wine and Spirits, but he’s now at New Seasons Market on Mercer Island.

While I try not to be promotional with this blog, I have no qualms saying that if you want to discover more about wine and your own personal tastes, go visit Lenny and chat him up. It will be well worth the trip.

The Background

I first became aware of the Decanted podcast at this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference (now Wine Media Conference). While I didn’t get a chance to personally meet the duo behind the podcast, Dave Adams and Sandi Everingham, I heard from several of my fellow attendees that I needed to check them out (as well as the Weekly Wine Show which I reviewed last month).

A relatively new podcast, Decanted started earlier this year in February. Episodes are posted monthly with occasional shorter bonus shows in between. Most of the episodes tend to fall into the 30-60 minute range with the bonus shows usually being 10-15 minutes.

While the podcast has featured wines from the El Dorado AVA in California, Fraser Valley in British Columbia and most recently the Douro Valley of Portugal, the primary focus is on the hosts’ hometown Washington wine industry.

Local Washington Focus
Chris Upchurch

The Decanted interview with Chris Upchurch gave great insights on the origins of DeLille as well as Upchurch’s future plans for his own project.

Several of the episodes are inspired by local wine events that the hosts have attended such as the POUR Event of Urban Seattle Wineries (episode 1 with Bart Fawbush of Bartholomew Wines), Northwest Women Stars of Food & Wine (episode 5 with Lisa Packer of Warr-King Wines), Taste Washington (episode 8 with Chris Upchurch of DeLille and Upchurch Wines), The Sisters of the Vinifera Revolution (episode 11), Auction of Washington Wines (episode 15) and the Wine Bloggers Conference (episode 17 with Seth and Audrey Kitzke of Upsidedown Wines).

In addition to highlighting their favorite wines, Dave and Sandi of Decanted share their personal experiences and observations from attending these events. They also offer fantastic advice and practical pro-tips that wine lovers can use when attending events themselves.

A bit unusual for wine podcasts, the interviews are presented in a story-telling style with voice-over narration and background given by the hosts spliced in-between the answers of the guests. While I’m sure this adds quite a bit of work and editing, it enhances the value and professionalism of the podcast. Listening to the interviews feels like you’re watching a story feature on Dateline or 60 Minutes–with less murder and scandal, of course.

Fun Things I Learned and Enjoyed From This Podcast

(4:57) Great tip from Sandi about the value of being adventurous when shopping for wine instead of just getting the same ole, same ole. Dave follows this up with a tip about the importance of paying attention to vintages (especially for white wine) at grocery stores.

As a former wine steward for a major grocery chain (Safeway), I can attest to the truth of this. Often there are white wines that don’t sell very quickly. These wines would get old sitting on the shelf, losing freshness and flavor. While they might not be bad (and still considered “saleable”), they can definitely be past their peak. As a general rule of thumb, especially in grocery stores with white wines under $20, look for the youngest vintage to get the most for your money.

Tricks of the Trade

With endcaps, grocery stores are banking on you making a high margin impulse buy.

(7:50) One tip that I’m going to slightly disagree with is the advice to look for values on the endcaps. That’s not quite true. Again going back to my wine steward days, often these endcaps were paid displays bought by distributors or wineries with contracts negotiated at the corporate level. The grocery stores gets a sweet deal to promote these high volume wines in a high traffic location at the end of the aisle. While sometimes, they will pass the savings they’re getting onto the consumers, mostly these are high margin wines that just pad the store’s bottom line.

(8:32) Another tip that I’m going to disagree with is the advocacy for Vivino. This is just a personal misgiving but I’m highly suspicious of many of these crowd source review apps. They are extremely ripe for gaming–especially by large corporations with big marketing departments that want to promote positive rankings.

Just like with Yelp, companies are going to use these apps to influence consumers. But, unlike Yelp, many of these wine apps haven’t invested millions of dollars into dedicated fraud-detection teams and software algorithms to try to weed out the gaming. Also, these apps tend to revert back to the lowest common denominator with mass-produced and highly marketed wines rising to the top of the ratings while smaller family wineries often get overlooked.

But the idea of keeping your smartphone handy is not bad advice and I’m not completely against review sites.
Wine Searcher screen grab

The Wine-Searcher app is terrific for finding great deals. When I saw that my local wine shop had the Otis Kenyon Matchless Red at $20.99 (before coupon), I jumped on it because this bottle averages $29 at most retailers.

Personally, I think the most valuable app to have on your phone is Wine-Searcher. Not only do they tell you the average price of a wine (so you know if you’re getting a good deal or not) but they link to professional critic scores (which has their own pratfalls, I know) as well as the crowd sourced CellarTracker site.

While Cellar Tracker is also potentially game-able, the average user on that site tends not to be the typical buyers of mass-produced supermarket wines. This seems to make it less of a marketing target for corporations compared to Vivino. Also, you are more likely to have actual written reviews of the wines being rated (instead of vague and useless notes of “Yummy!”). These reviews tend to be much more helpful in figuring out if a wine matches your style.

(9:30) Dave and Sandi conduct a fun exercise of checking out the wine selection at places that don’t really have a wine focus. Well worth listening to see what they found at a Shell gas station, Walmart, Grocery Outlet and others.

Interview with Lenny Redé
Lenny at blind tasting

Lenny, center left, at my recent blind tasting battle pitting the Pinot noirs of Joe Wagner against several Oregon wines.

(19:30) The first part of the interview goes into Lenny’s background–including his work in the restaurant industry and time teaching at Le Cordon Bleu and the Northwest Wine Academy.

(24:30) One key distinction of local wine shops that Lenny highlights is that often the folks working at these small shops are the same people buying the wine. This is a big difference compared to grocery stores and large chains like Costco where the buying decisions are made by corporate buyers.

Essentially this means that when you walk into a small local shop, virtually every wine on the shelf is something that has been personally vetted. Someone tasted that wine and said, “Yes, this is a good wine that I want to bring into my store. This is a wine that I want to share with my customers.” That is a powerful endorsement and is world’s apart from the endcap displays at grocery stores that are there because a corporate buyer got cut a deal to feature them.

Don’t Be Afraid To Be Honest

(27:01) Another great piece of advice from Lenny is to never be afraid to tell the steward (or restaurant sommelier) your budget. The steward/somm’s goal is always to get you the best wine they can for that price point. This is advice that I regularly use myself when I play the Somm Game.

(31:06) Sandi asks Lenny what happens when he makes a recommendation that backfires and what wine drinkers should do. Lenny notes all the different variables involved that can impact people’s tastes and how they experience a wine. All great points but one thing I wished he touched on was the need of consumers to be honest about recommendations they didn’t like.

A steward’s goal is to build a relationship with their guests. In many ways they are detectives trying to figure out your tastes. Every clue you can give them from what you absolutely loved and, especially, what wines didn’t appeal to you is immensely valuable. They’re human and taste is personal. A steward may misinterpret some of your clues and recommend a bottle that just doesn’t work. That is perfectly okay and most good wine shops will gladly accept that return. But they’re going to want to get their next recommendation right on the money so let them know what didn’t work.

Where To Find Value and Quality
Four Graces Pinot blanc

I’ll need to check out Lenny’s recommendation of Left Coast Cellar’s Pinot blanc but I wholeheartedly agree with him that Oregon Pinot blanc is delicious!

(35:55) Lenny is asked about some fun alternatives to common wines like buttery Chards. He makes several great recommendations here including checking out the fantastic Pinot blancs coming out of Oregon.

(41:30) Dave asks Lenny his thoughts on the best budget wines out there, especially under $20. He gives some great background on how the Washington wine industry is different from California and where people can find great value here. Lenny also highlights some of the deals with private labels and second labels from established producers–or “happy hour wines” as he calls them.

(44:40) Lenny is very excited at the quality of white wines coming out of Washington and encourages people to look at the Ancient Lakes area. Among reds, Malbec and Cabernet Franc are high on his list. Yes! Another person on the Washington Cab Franc train.

Final Thoughts

My favorite thing about the Decanted podcast is the “real world” perspective of Dave & Sandi. They approach the tasting events they attend and their interviews in much the same way that most regular, normal wine lovers would. When you get knee deep in the wine world, it is so easy to get caught up in a “bubble” that skews your perceptions. It’s particularly easy to get a bit jaded while looking at the world through the lens of wine being a business.

But at its heart, wine is fun. Wine is inspiring and discovering it is an adventure. The folks at Decanted get that and allow their listeners to get caught up in their own fun and adventure of discovering wine.

Crowds at the New Vintage

Seriously, always scope out a “home base” first thing at a tasting before the crowds hit.
I wished I had taken Decanted’s advice when I attended The New Vintage this year.

However, Decanted is still rooted in the realism of what every day wine drinkers experience hunting for good bottles at reasonable prices–as well as dealing with some of the more frustrating aspects of attending wine events (crowds, palate fatigue, etc). The pro-tips they give on how to maximize your enjoyment at these events and when visiting tasting rooms is solid advice that comes from their own personal experience.

Going Forward

As a young podcast, I hope they continue with their narrative story telling and sharing their experiences at wine events. They seem to have a good pulse on what’s happening and which events are worth attending so, selfishly, I would love to hear in their podcasts about future plans and upcoming events they are planning to attend. That would be a great heads up for tastings that I’d want to check out myself.

One constructive suggestion I have is regarding the audio music that plays during their narrative voice overs. Admittedly I don’t know if it is because of my podcast player (Overcast) but sometimes the music is a bit too loud and competes for attention with their narration.

But that is a small thing and overall I enthusiastically recommend folks check out the Decanted podcast!

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Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Gruaud-Larose, Lagrange, Ducru-Beaucaillou, La Croix Ducru-Beaucaillou

It’s been a few months since we’ve visited the 2017 Bordeaux futures campaign. Travel played a big role in that gap but my wallet also needed a bit of a break as well. But we’re going to return now and head to St. Julien to look at the offers for the 2nd Growths Gruaud Larose and Ducru-Beaucaillou, the third growth Chateau Lagrange and the second wine of Ducru-Beaucaillou.

If you want to catch up, a good place to start is with our first Bordeaux Futures 2017 post covering the offers of Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge and Haut-Batailley. There I also lay out my general outlook and philosophy on buying futures for this vintage.

You can also check out the links at the bottom to see what other offers have been previously reviewed in this series.

Ch. Gruaud-Larose (St. Julien)

Some Geekery:
Bottles of Chateau Gruaud Larose in Bordeaux

Bottles of 1815 Ch. Gruaud Larose resting in the cellars of the St. Julien estate

The reputation of Gruard-Larose dates back to the early 18th century when it was owned by a French knight, Joseph Stanislas Gruaud. In the 1750s, two of his descendants, a priest and a magistrate took control. The brothers purchased adjoining parcels, enlarging the estate to 116 ha (287 acres), and established a reputation for high quality.

Clive Coates notes in his work Grand Vins, that during this time the wines of Fond Bedeau (as it was known then) fetched some of the highest prices in St. Julien and was only behind the four First Growths in reputation.

Coates also notes the eccentricity of the magistrate Gruaud who eventually assumed control of the estate. He constructed a large tower, a replica of which is still in use today, in the vineyard so he could keep eye on his workers.

At the end of each harvest, he would also raise a flag up on the tower indicating the nationality of buyers who he thought would most appreciate the style of the vintage. If the wines were full-bodied and firm in structure, he would raise a British flag. For vintages that were more soft and easy drinking, he would raise a German flag. If the style of the year fell somewhere in the middle, then the magistrate would raise a Dutch flag.

The Establishment and Break Up of Gruaud-Larose

When the magistrate passed in 1778, the property was inherited by his daughter and son-in-law, Joseph Sebastian de La Rose. The new estate was christened Ch. Gruaud-Larose. As Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Guyenne, M. Larose was able to get his wines served at numerous public events held by the nobility prior to the outbreak of the French Revolution. These events featured not only Gruaud-Larose but also those of his Haut-Medoc estate Ch. Larose-Trintaudon located outside the borders of Pauillac and Saint Laurent. Several cases of Gruaud-Larose also made their way to the nascent United States.

Following the outbreak of the French Revolution and the financial difficulties of the Napoleonic era, the descendants of Larose had to put the estate up for auction in 1812. It was purchased by a consortium of individuals who included the Baron Jean Auguste Sarget. Eventually disagreements with Baron Sarget and the heirs of the other owners led to a splitting of the estate in 1867. From then until 1935 when the Cordier family reunited the property, there were two Gruaud-Larose wines–Ch. Gruaud-Larose-Sarget and Ch. Gruaud Larose-Bethmann (later Ch. Gruaud Larose Faure).

The Cordier family maintained ownership of the property, along with the 4th Growth Ch. Talbot, the 5th Growth Ch. Cantemerle, Ch. Meyney in St. Estephe, Clos des Jacobins in Saint Emilion and Ch. Lafaurie-Peyraguey, for several decades until selling it to the Suez Banking Group in 1985. Gruaud-Larose went through a succession of owners until 1997 when it was purchased by the Merlaut family of the Taillan Group.

Ch. Gruaud-Larose Today
Chateau Gruaud Larose

Outside the chateau of Gruaud-Larose

Today it is part of a portfolio that includes the 3rd Growth Margaux estate of Ch. Ferriere, the 5th Growth Ch. Haut-Bages-Liberal in Pauillac, Ch. Chasse-Spleen, Ch. Citran and Ch. La Gurgue. It is unique among the 1855 classified estate in that the vineyards are relatively the same as they were when the estate was first classified.

Most of the estate is one large block of vines between Branaire-Ducru and Ch. Lagrange with another segment separated from the commune of Cussac and the Haut-Medoc estate of Ch. Lanessan by a stream. Compared to other estates in the Medoc, Gruaud-Larose tends to have a significant amount of clay in the soil (particularly in the parcels close to Lanessan). However, plantings in recent years has focused on increasing the amount of Cabernet Sauvignon and pulling up parcels of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

The vineyards are farmed organically with several of the parcels farmed biodynamically. Around 18,000 cases a year are produced with some fruit being declassified to the estate’s second wine Sarget Larose.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31.5% Merlot and 1.5% Cabernet Franc.

Critic Scores:

92-94 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 91-94 Wine Spectator (WS), 92-93 James Suckling (JS), 90-92 Vinous Media (VM), 90-92 Jeb Dunnick (JD)

Sample Review:

The 2017 Gruaud Larose is pliant, deep and quite expressive, while staying light on its feet. In 2017, Gruaud is a wine of precision and nuance rather than volume. There is lovely persistence and nuance in the glass. Even so, I can’t help thinking there is quite a bit of unrealized potential here. All of the wine was fermented in oak vats, with slightly higher than normal temperatures for the Cabernets. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $73
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $74.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K&L: $69.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:

2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $85 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $83 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $71 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $68 Average Critic Score: 89 points

Buy or Pass?

A lot of wine experts feel that Gruaud-Larose turned a corner after the 2009 vintages. While notoriously inconsistent and noted for wines that were often quite awkward and austere in their youth, the thinking was that this new era of Gruaud-Larose would bring the estate back to the some of the glory that originally earned it a 2nd Growth classification.

After visiting the estate in 2016 and tasting several of its recent releases at Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tastings, I do think the estate has got the consistent quality part down pat. But I’m skeptical that the “awkwardness” and austerity of youth is gone. These wines are still remarkably tannic and well-structured. They are certainly built for the long haul which makes them a good investment for cellar-worthy vintages.

But for vintages like 2017 where I have an eye for more early-drinking styles, this is not an estate I have on my radar. Pass.

Ch. Lagrange (St. Julien)

Some Geekery:
Winery of Ch. Lagrange

The cuvier of Ch. Lagrange

The estate that is now known as Ch. Lagrange dates back to the Middle Ages when it was known as Maison Noble de Lagrange Monteil. Wine production has taken place since at least the 1630s when it was owned by Jean de Cours, the Sire de Paulliac, who acquired the estate by marrying Marguerite de Vivien.

In the 18th century, it came under the ownership of the Baron de Brane who also owned Brane Cantenac and Mouton Brane (later Mouton-Rothschild). At this time the wines were sold as Baron St. Julien.

During the French Revolution and into the Napoleonic era, the estate was owned by Jean-Valère Cabarrus who eventually became Napoleon’s Finance Minister to Spain. Cabarrus daughter, Thérèse, was notable for saving many nobles from facing the guillotine during the Revolution and being the lover of Jules Ouvard who owned both Clos Vougeot and Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.

The next couple centuries saw a succession of ownership changes including a time in the care of John Lewis Brown who owned Ch. Cantenac Brown in Margaux and Ch. Brown in Pessac-Leognan. For most of the 20th century, Lagrange was owned by the Cendoya family from the Basque region of Spain. Financial difficulties during that period caused the Cendoyas to have sell off parcels of vineyards including several hectares used by Henri Martin to found Chateau Gloria. In 1970, the Borie family of Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou purchased 32 ha (79 acres) with a good chunk of that eventually becoming the estate Ch. Lalande-Borie.

Stephen Brook notes in The Complete Bordeaux that by the time the Japanese whiskey firm Suntory purchased the estate in 1983, it had shrunk from 120 ha (297 acres) to just 57 ha (141 acres) with under half the vines being Merlot.

Ch. Lagrange Today
Chateau Lagrange in Bordeaux

Visiting Ch. Lagrange in St. Julien.

Upon their acquisition of Lagrange, Suntory began investing millions into renovations in the vineyard and winery. Marcel Ducasse was brought on to manage the estate with Emile Peynaud and Michel Delon consulting.

Suntory and Ducasse initiated what Clive Coates called “a Renaissance” at Lagrange and noted that Suntory was uniquely qualified to help the 3rd Growth estate reclaim its standings. In addition to the vast capital from their whiskey empire (which now includes Jim Beam), Suntory is the largest importer and distributor of French wine in Japan. They also have owned a vineyard at the base of Mt. Fuji for many decades, the Yamanashi Vineyard, producing wine under the label of Ch. Lion. Suntory’s head enologist, Kenji Suzuta, spent time at Lagrange assisting Ducasse.

Ducasse introduced sustainable viticulture to Lagrange with many parcels farmed organically. He also began an extremely selective sorting regiment in the vineyard and the winery which necessitated the creation of a second wine, Les Fief de Lagrange, in 1985.

Stephen Brook notes that the strict selection process continued even after Ducasse successfully rehabbed Lagrange’s image and through his retirement in 2007. Today, under the direction of Bruno Eynard, many top quality parcels of Lagrange are still declassified down to the second wine, making Les Fief de Lagrange a top value in Bordeaux.

Today Lagrange produces around 60,000 cases of the Grand Vin each year.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot.

Critic Scores:

92-93 JS, 89-92 WS, 89-92 VM, 89-91 Wine Advocate (WA), 91-93 JD

Sample Review:

The 2017 Château Lagrange is certainly a success in the vintage. Possessing a great nose of crème de cassis, violets, and spicy oak, it hits the palate with medium to full-bodied richness, a terrific mid-palate, present tannin, but a sexy, forward, charming style that’s already hard to resist. It should keep for two decades or more. — Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $46
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $44.97
K&L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:

2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $55 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $51 Average Critic Score: 91
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $48 Average Critic Score: 91 points
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $43 Average Critic Score: 89 points

Buy or Pass?

This 2009 Les Fiefs de Lagrange was outrageously delicious. I would put it on par with many 3rd Growths by itself in the $50-60 range.

This was another estate that I had the opportunity to visit in 2016. While I was a little underwhelmed with the 2012 Lagrange they poured, I was blown away by how scrumptiously delicious the 2009 Les Fief de Lagrange (Wine Searcher Ave $45) was. However, I don’t want to judge the Grand Vin too harshly on a youthful showing from an average vintage (especially compared to the more superior 2009 vintage).

But with that track record, I am going to be cautious. There is definitely value in the 2017 offering being priced less than the 2014-2016 vintages so I can’t blame anyone for pulling the trigger. I’m still going to take a “wait and see” approach. It’s unlikely that the price will jump dramatically so I’m okay with give it a Pass for now.

Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou (St. Julien)

Some Geekery:

Clive Coates notes that Ducru-Beaucaillou was originally known as Maucaillou (bad stones) because of how difficult the stoney soil was to work with. Once the quality of the wine from the vineyard began garnering attention in the 1700s, the name gradually changed to Beaucaillou (beautiful stones).

The “Ducru” part of the name came in 1795 when Bertrand Ducru purchased the estate and commissioned the famous Parisian architect, Paul Abadie, to design the chateau. His descendants would later sell Ducru-Beaucaillou in 1866 to Lucie Caroline Dassier, wife of the notable Bordeaux merchant Nathaniel Johnston. Johnston unsuccessfully tried to change the name to just Beaucaillou but by this point the name, and its 2nd Growth classification, had solidified itself in the market.

It was during this time at Ducru-Beaucaillou when vineyard manager Ernest David accidentally stumbled upon the recipe for the famous “Bordeaux mixture“. According to Coates, David was looking to thwart thieves who were snatching grapes from the vineyard by painting the vines closest to the road with an organic blue-green mixture of copper sulfate and lime.

Neighboring growers and professors from the University of Bordeaux noticed that these treated vines did not get infected by powdery or downey mildew and convinced David to conduct more trials. Cautious about adverse effects on the Ducru vines, the trials that eventually confirmed the efficacy of the Bordeaux Mixture were conducted at another property of the Johnston family–the 5th Growth Ch. Dauzac in Margaux.

Ducru-Beaucaillou Today
Photo by Megan Mallen. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-2.0

Bruno Borie of Ducru-Beaucaillou

In 1941, the estate was purchased by the Borie family who still own the property today. In addition to Ducru, the family owns the 5th Growth Pauillac estates of Grand Puy Lacoste and Haut Batailley. These estates are managed by Francois Xavier Borie with his brother, Bruno, managing Ducru-Beaucaillou.

From 1986 to 1995, the estate was plagued with systematic cork taint issues that required significant investment to eradicate. Many of the bottles from this period had to be recorked with those demonostrating noticeable TCA destroyed.

Beginning in the late 20th century, production of the Grand Vin at Ducru started decreasing from a high point of 20,000 to 25,000 cases in the early 1980s to around 9,000 to 11,000 cases today.

Since 2010, Virginie Sallette has been the technical director working with long time cellar master René Lusseau.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. Due to more severe selection in this vintage, there is estimated to only be around 7500 cases produced for 2017.

Critic Scores:

97-98 JS, 95-97 WA, 94-96 WE, 93-96 WS, 93-96 VM, 96-98 Jeff Leve (JL), 94-96 JD

Sample Review:

There was no frost at Ducru-Beaucaillou in 2017 due to its proximity to the estuary. This barrel sample comes from the final blend, which was made in early 2018. Composed of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot and sporting a deep garnet-purple color, the 2017 Ducru-Beaucaillou is intensely scented of blackcurrant cordial, blackberries and lavender with hints of crushed rocks, iron ore, rose hips and Provence herbs plus touches of wood smoke and sandalwood. Medium-bodied, very firm and grainy in the mouth, it possesses lovely freshness, lifting the intense flavors, finishing long and minerally. Sporting an incredible core of muscular mid-palate fruit, this wine should age incredibly. — Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $169
JJ Buckley: $167.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: $175 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $169.97
K&L: $169.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $206 Average Critic Score: 95 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $199 Average Critic Score: 95 points
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $151 Average Critic Score: 95 points
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $126 Average Critic Score: 92 points

Buy or Pass?

While Ducru is a wine that I never want to open up too young, it’s virtually an automatic buy for me every year. Just stellar stuff that’s usually worth bending my financial discipline a bit for. While the 2017 is priced a little above the 2014, the reduced yields and supply likely played a significant role.

It’s still well below 2015 & 2016 levels and is a wine that I can see jumping $20-25 higher when it hits the market. That makes its a justifiable Buy for at least a bottle or two.

La Croix Ducru-Beaucaillou (St. Julien)

Some Geekery:

La Croix is the second wine of Ducru-Beaucaillou that was first introduced in 1995. Since 2005, the wine has been produced from dedicated plots located near Ch. Talbot instead of just declassified fruit from the Grand Vin.

Starting with a limited release in 2009 and with all bottlings since 2010, the labels have been designed by Jade Jagger, daughter of rock star Mick Jagger.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 58% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot.

Critic Scores:

92-94 WE, 92-93 JS, 90-93 VM, 89-92 WS, 89-91 WA, 90-92 JD

Sample Review:

The Merlot here is grown on sandy-gravel soils and brings both freshness and structure. There’s good balance, plush autumnal berry fruits and lovely spice, supported by well placed, delicate tannins. It’s a clear Médoc twist on the varietal, even though this is a little lusher and more approachable than in recent years where Cabernet Sauvignon has been higher in the blend – last year it was at 66%, but vintage conditions in 2017 affected some of the crop. It’s a little different in expression from 2016, but is an extremely high quality, great drinking wine. (91 points) — Jane Anson, Decanter

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $45
JJ Buckley: No offers yet
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $44.97
K&L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:

2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $56 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $58 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $50 Average Critic Score: 91 points
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $35 Average Critic Score: 90 points

Buy or Pass?

My affinity for Ducru certainly extends to its second wine which I often buy. A bit unusual in being a Merlot-dominant Medoc in this vintage, I find that these Merlot heavy blends usually fall picture perfect into the role of “Cellar Defender” that I’m seeking in years like 2017.

The pedigree, coupled with solid pricing under 2013-2016 vintages makes this a good Buy for me.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

Why I Buy Bordeaux Futures

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Langoa Barton, La Lagune, Barde-Haut, Branaire-Ducru

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Pape Clément, Ormes de Pez, Marquis d’Alesme, Malartic-Lagraviere

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Lynch-Bages, d’Armailhac, Clerc-Milon and Duhart-Milon

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clos de l’Oratoire, Monbousquet, Quinault l’Enclos, Fonplegade

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Cos d’Estournel, Les Pagodes des Cos, Phélan Ségur, Calon-Segur

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clinet, Clos L’Eglise, L’Evangile, Nenin

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Malescot-St.-Exupéry, Prieuré-Lichine, Lascombes, Cantenac-Brown

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Domaine de Chevalier, Larrivet Haut-Brion, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Smith Haut Lafitte

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Beychevelle, Talbot, Clos du Marquis, Gloria

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Beau-Séjour Bécot, Canon-la-Gaffelière, Canon, La Dominique

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Carruades de Lafite, Pedesclaux, Pichon Lalande, Reserve de la Comtesse de Lalande

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Vieux Chateau Certan, La Conseillante, La Violette, L’Eglise Clinet

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Montrose, La Dame de Montrose, Cantemerle, d’Aiguilhe

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clos Fourtet, Larcis Ducasse, Pavie Macquin, Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Kirwan, d’Issan, Brane-Cantenac, Giscours

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Birth Year Wine Myopics

Wine Enthusiast recently published a great article highlighting what wines from the recent 2015, 2016 and 2017 vintages are worth laying down in the cellar for 20+ years. They titled this article “A Guide to Finding Ageworthy Birth Year Wines”.

But for the moms and dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles who want to set aside a thoughtful birth year bottle to share with someone on their 21st birthday, you’re better off ignoring 97% of the advice Roger Morris gives you in this Wine Enthusiast article.

A well structured Bordeaux from Pauillac or Margaux?

A nutty, toasty vintage Champagne?

A savory, spicy Hermitage or Côtes-Rotie?

A big, robust Napa Cabernet Sauvignon?

A brooding and mouthwatering Barolo?

A complex and nuanced Burgundy?

Those are all great wines, no doubt, and examples from the 2015 & 2016 vintages in particular will be giving wine lovers pleasure for the next 2 plus decades. But before you plunk down some serious cash and invest in the proper storage conditions to take care of these wines, ask yourself one very important question.

Do you think the person that you are saving this wine for is really going to appreciate and enjoy this wine when they turn 21?

Let me re-phrase that question for you from another perspective.

What were you drinking when you turned 21?

Unless your last name is Moueix, Bezos or Gates, I’d probably call BS on you sipping Petrus at 21.

Petrus?
Giscours?
Opus One?
Silver Oak?
Jordan?
Quilceda Creek?
Beaucastel?
Domaine du Pégau?
Cristal?
Romanée-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru?
Joly Coulée de Serrant?

If you were then my hat’s off to you but I’ll be honest and admit that 21 year old me was drinking Boone’s Farm, Arbor Mist Blackberry Merlot and St. James Winery’s Velvet Red and Pink Catawba. And that was after 16 to 20 year old me had graduated from drinking Bud Light and whatever alcohol made its way to the various jello shots at the parties I attended as a kid. Oh and I guess growing up in the church I had my fair share of Mogen David and Manischewitz Concord wine as well.

Being a gambling woman (only somewhat reformed), I would wager that the vast majority of you had similar early drinking experiences and palates that I did.

What reason is there for us to think that the next generation of 21 year olds are going to be any different?

Is it Better for the Giver or the Receiver?

Even when I turned 30, I don’t know if I had the palate to fully appreciated this birth year wine.

The problem with articles like the Wine Enthusiast guide is that they are almost completely driven by the perspective and palate of the person giving the wine. Yeah,folks like us are going to absolutely adore what a 2016 Lynch Bages, Gaja Sperss, Guigal La Mouline or Chappellet Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon will taste like in 2037. At that point these wines are going to have evocative bouquets of savory tobacco spice, dried herbs and other tertiary flavors with long, lingering and mouthwatering finishes.

But you know who is probably not going to like those wines at all?

My niece Elise.

At best, she would smile politely and acknowledge the gift. I’m sure at dinner she would take a sip or two, trying not to gag at the bitterness and acidity. I could see her swirling the wine a little in the glass, trying to imitate what the other adults at the table are doing, hoping that maybe somehow the air would magically transform the wine into a strawberry margarita.

I’m not going to put her through that dog and pony show. But I’m definitely still squirreling away special wines to share with her and my other nieces and nephews when they turn 21.

However, its not Barolos, Napa Cabs or other age-worthy red wines.

No, I’m squirreling away Sauternes, Tokaji, German Rieslings, Vouvray Demi-Secs, vintage Ports and Madeira.

The Overlooked Majesty of Age-worthy Sweet Wines

To Roger Morris and Wine Enthusiast‘s credit, they do name drop a couple of these Birth Year worthy sweet wines in the article noting the quality of the 2016 vintage for German Rieslings and quoting Joe Campanale, owner/beverage director at Fausto in New York City on the potential of 2017 for vintage Port and Madeira. But the fact that these tremendous wines got lip service at best (with others like Sauternes not even mentioned) is sadly reflective of the “Rodney Dangerfield-status” of sweet wines in general.

It’s a shame that cheap mass-market Moscato give the category such a bad rap because well made Moscato d’Asti from high-quality producers like Mauro Sebaste are delicious wines.


In an age of Moscato Mania, Stella Rosa’s rapid ascent and the Capriccio Craze, the idea of enjoying sweet wines often gets a negative reaction from “wine people”.

This snobbish aversion to anything sweet still persists even with many of the best selling “dry” red wines being laden with residual sugar via the additions of Mega Purple or, in the case of wines like Meiomi Pinot noir, sneaking in sweet white grapes like Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

Yet there is a reason why some of the most legendary wines throughout history have been sweet dessert wines.

They’re freaking delicious!

Plus, the presence of all that sugar coupled with acidity (Rieslings and Vouvray), fortification (Ports and Madeira) and Noble Rot (Sauternes, Tokaji and some German & Alsatian wines) gives these wines amazing aging potential. The evolution of Sauternes, in particular, is a remarkable journey to follow as the fresh, youthful exuberance of tropical fruit give way to richer notes of honey, spice, caramel and crème brûlée.

The Beauty Of It All

When you look at the pros and cons of saving sweet dessert wines for future 21 year olds versus the typical roll call of great red wines and dry Champagnes, there is no contest.

These dessert wines are wines that in 20 + years will not only have the complexity and nuance to appeal to seasoned wine drinkers but for newly christened 21 year olds these wines will be sweet and approachable with identifiable flavors of fruit, candy and honey.

I have one nephew and one niece born in 2008 but I bought a couple extra bottles of this Rieussec so I could crack into it a bit earlier. Purely for educational and research purposes, of course.


Sure, they may not “get” all the concepts of terroir, Botrytis, aging and vintage variation behind these wines. For them, each sip will probably taste the same while you’re likely going to see each sip unfurling another layer of flavor that has spent decades developing.

But you’re both going to still really enjoy those sips and are far more likely to share a celebratory moment that’s worth treasuring for many years to come.

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Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Kirwan, d’Issan, Brane-Cantenac, Giscours

Photo by davitydave. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0We are in the home stretch of our series on the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign with only a few more offers left to review.

Today we’re making our second to last stop in Margaux to review the offers of the 3rd Growths Ch. Kirwan, d’Issan and Giscours as well as the 2nd Growth Brane-Cantenac.

In our previous visits to the commune we explored the offers of Marquis d’Alesme, Malescot-St.-Exupéry, Prieuré-Lichine, Lascombes and Cantenac-Brown as well as that of Ch. Palmer.

You can check out the links at the bottom to see other offers from across Bordeaux which we have reviewed so far in this series.

Ch. Kirwan (Margaux)
Some Geekery:

The origins of Kirwan date back to the 17th century when the land belonged to the noble de Lassalle family. In 1710, the Bordeaux negociant Sir John Collingwood bought the property which eventually passed as a dowry to his daughter when she married an Irishman from Galway named Mark Kirwan.

In 1780, Thomas Jefferson visited the estate on his tour of Bordeaux and ranked the wines of Kirwan as a “2nd Growth” behind his ranking of First Growths Latour, Lafite, Margaux and Haut-Brion.

Photo by Gilbert LE MOIGNE. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Label of Chateau Kirwan featuring the Chateau and the portraits of Armand and Jean-Henri Schÿler

After Mark Kirwan passed away in the early 19th century, the estate went through a succession of owners until it family came into the hands of Camille Godard, the mayor of Bordeaux. In 1882, Godard bequeathed the estate to the City of Bordeaux who contracted the negociant firm Schröder & Schÿler to manage the property.

By 1925, the Schÿler family had purchased Ch. Kirwan outright. The property is still in the hands of family today with Nathalie Schÿler managing.

In 1991, the Schÿlers brought Michel Rolland in to consult. Prior to this, Rolland had worked almost exclusively with clients on the Right Bank making Kirwan his first foray into the Haut-Medoc. He quickly made several substantial changes, insisting on lower yields and more strict selections with the creation of a second wine, Les Charmes de Kirwan, to help limit the fruit that would go into the Grand Vin. Since 2002, all the fermentation have been done via native wild ferments.

Ch. Kirwan is unique among the classified growths with virtually all of its 40 ha (99 acres) vineyards being the same as they were during the 1855 classifications with only slight changes in the cépage assortment. Today the vineyards are planted to 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot and a little bit of experimental Carménère.

Over the years the amount of Cabernet Franc has decreased (and replaced with Cabernet Sauvignon) but Kirwan still has one of the highest percentages of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot planted in the Medoc. Most of the Cabernet varieties are found on the deep gravelly-sand soils of the Cantenac plateau while the Merlot thrives on the more clay and limestone-based soils on the western side of the Margaux commune near Arsac.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Around 16,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

93-95 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 90-92 Wine Advocate (WA), 89-92 Wine Spectator (WS), 89-91 Vinous Media (VM), 89-90 James Suckling (JS), 90-92 Jeb Dunnuck (JD), 88-89 Jeff Leve (JL)

Sample Review:

This is well extracted, with dark berry fruits, attractive tobacco leaf and charcoal notes. It has that same savoury frame that so many from Margaux have this year, and the fruit character is not bursting with generosity but is still expressive and lyrical. It really does offer something for those looking for a more sculpted wine. Medium term drinking. (91 points) — Jane Anson, Decanter

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $45
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $45.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K&L: $46.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $47 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $56 Average Critic Score: 92
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $46 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $43 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

Photo by Ryan O'Connell. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Merlot berries being sorted at Ch. Kirwan during the 2010 harvest.

Kirwan has been charming the pants off of me since the 2009 vintage (WS Ave $79). Both the 2012 (WS Ave $55) and 2014 vintage were released in the mid $40s and offered stellar value for the quality they delivered. Even the troublesome 2011 (WA Ave $54) and 2013 vintages of Kirwan drank way above their similarly priced peers with the former starting to see a steady price bump as more folks have catched on.

That personal track record of producing a savory, yet elegant style which hits my pleasure spots as well as pricing which fits perfectly in line with the 2014 vintage makes this a Buy for me.

Even though it looks like most critics have been poo-pooing this years release, this is a case where I’m going to go with my gut and past experience instead of numerical scores.

Ch. d’Issan (Margaux)
Some Geekery:

Engraved above the door in the entryway to Ch. d’Issan is the estate’s Latin motto–Regum Mensis Arisque Deorum “For the tables of kings and the altars of the gods”–which pays tribute to the property’s long history and presence on the tables of royal families throughout Europe.

Legend has it that wine from the vineyards of d’Issan were served at the wedding banquet of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henri II in 1152.

Clive Coates notes in Grand Vins that following their defeat at the Battle of Castillon in 1453, the English Army made their last stand at d’Issan. At the conclusion of the Hundred Years War, the property was granted as a reward by King Charles VII to the Comte de Foix for his service is fighting the English.

Centuries later the wines of d’Issan were well stocked in the cellars of the Prince of Wales (later George II) along with those of Latour, Lafite, Margaux and Pontac (Haut-Brion). While serving as the Ambassador to France, future US President Jefferson ranked the estate (then known as Ch. Candale) as a “3rd Growth” following his tour of the wineries of Bordeaux. In the 19th century, the favorite claret of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria was reportedly Ch. d’Issan.

Image from The U.S. Diplomacy Center exhibition page which states All materials in this exhibition are in the public domain and can be reproduced without permission.

When Thomas Jefferson visited the estate in 1780, he ranked the wines Ch. Candale (named after its then owners) as a 3rd Growth–a ranking that would later be affirmed in the official 1855 Classification done by the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce.

The estate gets its name from its time under the ownership of the 17th century French knight Pierre d’Essenault who acquired the estate as a dowry with his descendants running it till 1760.

The modern history of the estate began after World War II when it was purchased by the Cruse family who also owned the 2nd Growth Ch. Rauzan-Ségla. The Cruses eventually sold Rauzan-Ségla in 1956 to focus completely on d’Issan.

The estate is still managed today by the Cruse family however, in 2013, Jacky Lorenzetti acquired a 50% stake in the ownership of d’Issan to go along with his holdings of Ch. Lilian Ladouys in St. Estephe and Ch. Pedesclaux in Pauillac.

When the estate was officially classified as a 3rd Growth in 1855, the vineyards were planted almost entirely to the obscure variety Tarney Coulant (also known as Mancin). Today the 44 ha (109 acres) of d’Issan vineyards are planted to 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot with the percentage of Merlot increasing in recent years.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot. Around 6000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

93-94 JS, 90-92 WA, 89-92 VM, 92-94 JL, 89-91 JD

Sample Review:

The 2017 d’Issan is plump, juicy and forward. There is lovely depth and texture to the 2017, but without the explosive energy that has characterized some recent vintages, including the 2015 and 2016. Plush fruit, silky and soft tannins all add to the wine’s considerable appeal. I expect the 2017 will drink well with minimal cellaring. In 2017, d’Issan is a wine of finesse, persistence and nuance rather than power. The blend is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot. Harvest started on September 18, the earliest since 2003. Quite unusually, there was no break in between the picking of the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Indeed, some of the younger vine Cabernet came in before all the Merlots were in. Tasted four times. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $60
JJ Buckley: $61.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $59.97
K&L: $59.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $71 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $76 Average Critic Score: 93
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $63 Average Critic Score: 92
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $51 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

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

The castle looking chateau of d’Issan.

The history geek in me absolutely adores the story of d’Issan. But I’ve only have had tasting experiences with a couple of vintages of d’Issan–both stellar years (2005 WS Ave $119 and 2009 WS Ave $95). While its relatively easy to make good wines in vintages like those, I find that the mettle of an estate shines in the more average to sub-par vintage.

So while I love the story, without having a bearing on what the d’Issan team can do in vintages like 2017 or poorer, I’m not inclined to gamble on their 2017 offer. Pass.

Ch. Brane-Cantenac (Margaux)
Some Geekery:

Founded in the 18th century as Domaine Guilhem Hosten and later known as Chateau Gorce-Guy, Brane-Cantenac received its current name when it was purchased in 1833 by Baron Hector de Brane, known as “the Napoléon of the Vineyards”. To finance the sale, Brane sold his Pauillac estate Brane-Mouton (later known as Mouton-Rothschild). The “Cantenac” comes from the plateau that the estate’s 75 ha (185 acres) are located on.

In 1866, Brane-Cantenac came under the ownership of the Roy family who also owned neighboring d’Issan. Under the Roys the estate would fetch among the highest prices of all the classified 2nd growths with some vintages being on par with the pricing of the First Growths.

The modern history of Brane-Cantenac began in 1920 when it was purchased by the consortium behind the Societe des Grands Crus de France that also owned Ch. Margaux and Ch. Giscours as well as Chateau Lagrange in St. Julien. Among the shareholders were Léonce Recapet and his son-in-law, François Lurton. After dissolution of the consortium in 1925, Recapet and Lurton purchased Brane-Cantenac with the estate later passing to François’ son, Lucien.

Lucien Lurton would go on to acquire several estates that he turned over into the care of his 10 children in the 1990s. His son, Henri Lurton, took control of Brane-Cantenac in 1992.

While mostly traditional in style, Brane-Cantenac was one of the first in Bordeaux to adopt the use of the use of an optical sorter during harvest and in some vintages will make use of a reverse osmosis machine–mostly in rainy vintages to remove excess water that has swelled the grapes.

The author and Henri Lurton at the 2016 UGC tasting featuring the wines of the 2013 vintage.

Around 25% of Brane Cantenac is farmed organically with only ploughing and organic manure used throughout all the vineyards. Additionally 12 ha (20 acres) are farmed bioydnamically.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot with this vintage being the first vintage to include Petit Verdot in the final blend. Around 11,000 cases a year are produced. In 2017, most of that year’s frost hit the portion of vineyards usually allocated towards production of the estate’s second wine, Baron de Brane.

Critic Scores:

94-96 WE, 92-93 JS, 91-93 VM, 88-91 WS, 89-92 JD, 91-94 JL

Sample Review:

The 2017 Brane-Cantenac was picked from 14 September to 2 October at 31.2hl/ha after frost destroyed 35% of the vines in April. It is matured in 75% new oak and 25% one-year old and it has 13% alcohol. It has a tightly wound bouquet with broody black fruit, tar and a touch of graphite, very Pauillac in style as usual. The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannin, very linear and precise, not a deep Margaux and unashamedly classic in style with dry, slightly brusque tannin. The finish is dominated by tobacco and pencil lead notes with healthy pinch of pepper on the aftertaste. Classic Brane-Cantenac through and through. Tasted on three occasions. — Neal Martin, Vinous

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $64
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $413.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $69.97
K&L: $66.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $75 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $80 Average Critic Score: 94
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $60 Average Critic Score: 92
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $56 Average Critic Score: 90

Buy or Pass?

Describing Brane-Cantenac as the “Pauillac of Margaux” is a spot-on description. Outside of the top estates of Ch. Margaux and Ch. Palmer, no one else in the communes makes a more structured and age-worthy Margaux than Brane-Cantenac. Compared to its 2nd Growth peers and even the highly esteemed Pauillac 5th Growths Lynch-Bages and Pontet-Canet, Brane-Cantenac is often vastly underpriced for its quality level.

However, it is that highly structured and exceptionally age-worthy style which causes me to avoid Brane-Cantenac in vintages like 2017 when I’m looking for more shorter term “cellar defender” wines. While the estate is a stellar buy in cellar-worthy vintages like 2009/2010 and 2015/2017, it doesn’t fit the bill on what I’m looking right now so Pass.

Ch. Giscours (Margaux)
Some Geekery:

While the origins of Giscours goes back to the 14th century, the first documentation of winemaking at the property dates to 1552. In the 18th century, the estate was owned by the Marquis de St. Simon whose family saw the government confiscate Giscours during the French Revolution.

The property was sold in 1793 to two Americans, John Gray and Jonathan Davis. Eventually Giscours was acquired in 1845 by a Parisian banker, the Comte de Pescatore, who hired Pierre Skawinski to manage the property.

Photo by Ken Case. Released into the public domain and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons.

The exterior of Ch. Giscours.


Over the next 50 years, Skawinski would go on to develop many innovations in the vineyard and winery including the design of a new plow as well as the use of sulfur spray to combat powdery mildew. He also developed techniques of gravity flow winemaking at Giscours that his sons would later take to other notable Bordeaux estates like Léoville-Las Cases, Lynch-Bages and Pontet-Canet.

In 1875, Giscours was purchased by the Cruse family who had their hand in the ownership of several Bordeaux properties. They sold the estate in 1913. By 1952, Giscours came under the ownership of an Algerian vigneron, Nicolas Tari. In 1976, Tari’s son, Pierre, was one of the judges at the famous “Judgement of Paris” wine tasting in 1976.

Today Giscours is owned by Eric Albada Jelgersma who also owns the 5th Growth Margaux estate Chateau du Tertre, the Haut-Medoc estates Ch. Duthil and Ch. Houringe as well as the Tuscan estate of Caiarossa.

In 1995, Alexander van Beek was brought in to manage the estate and is credited with taking Giscours (as well as du Tertre) to new heights of success.

All the vineyards are sustainably managed with 20% farmed biodynamically.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. Around 25,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

94-96 WE, 92-93 JS, 90-93 VM, 90-92 WA, 89-92 WS, 92-94 JL, 89-91 JD

Sample Review:

An up and coming Margaux estate, the 2017 Château Giscours offers a complex bouquet of sandalwood, damp flowers, sous bois, and spicy red fruits. It’s slightly stretched and firm on the palate, with medium-bodied richness. I’d like to see more fat and texture here, but I suspect it will put on more weight with time in barrel and bottle. It should drink nicely for a decade. — Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $59
JJ Buckley: $60.94
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $365.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping
Total Wine: $59.97
K&L: $59.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $68 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $72 Average Critic Score: 93
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $67 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $52 Average Critic Score: 90

Buy or Pass?

The 2005 Giscours is such a beauty but even in sub-par vintages Giscours has been producing winners that over deliver for the price of a 3rd Growth.


Probably one of the best buys in Bordeaux is the 2005 Giscours (WS Ave $102). This is a wine that is drinking at its peak now and is easily outshining wines almost twice its price. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy this wine several times with a few bottles still left in the cellar.

Likewise the 2012 (WS Ave $75) and 2014 are still punching above their weight though both were closer to $55 when they were released. It’s been clear for sometime that Giscours has been an estate on the ascent but, sadly for our wallets, the prices are starting to catch up with its stellar quality level.

That makes seeing a 2017 future offer below 2014 levels quite surprising. While I doubt the price of the 2017 will reach into the $70s, it’s far more likely that the wine will be closer to 2014 by the time this wine hits the shelf in 2020. It’s worth it to Buy now and lock in the futures price.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

Why I Buy Bordeaux Futures

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Langoa Barton, La Lagune, Barde-Haut, Branaire-Ducru

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Pape Clément, Ormes de Pez, Marquis d’Alesme, Malartic-Lagraviere

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Lynch-Bages, d’Armailhac, Clerc-Milon and Duhart-Milon

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clos de l’Oratoire, Monbousquet, Quinault l’Enclos, Fonplegade

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Cos d’Estournel, Les Pagodes des Cos, Phélan Ségur, Calon-Segur

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clinet, Clos L’Eglise, L’Evangile, Nenin

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Malescot-St.-Exupéry, Prieuré-Lichine, Lascombes, Cantenac-Brown

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Domaine de Chevalier, Larrivet Haut-Brion, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Smith Haut Lafitte

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Beychevelle, Talbot, Clos du Marquis, Gloria

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Beau-Séjour Bécot, Canon-la-Gaffelière, Canon, La Dominique

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Carruades de Lafite, Pedesclaux, Pichon Lalande, Reserve de la Comtesse de Lalande

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Vieux Chateau Certan, La Conseillante, La Violette, L’Eglise Clinet

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Montrose, La Dame de Montrose, Cantemerle, d’Aiguilhe

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clos Fourtet, Larcis Ducasse, Pavie Macquin, Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse

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Yeah, I’d Like To Know If I’m Drinking a Racist’s Wine

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

So I can stop drinking it.

Similarly, I’d want to know if I’m drinking a misogynist’s wine, an anti-semitic’s wine or a homophobe’s wine.

In short, I care about where my wine comes from and, frankly, the values and core being of the people behind it matter more to me than if they’re farming biodynamic or conventional, inoculating with yeast or doing native ferment, using sulfites, fining, filtering or any other minutia of wine that can stir wine folks into a tizzy debating over.

But here’s a thought that haunts me often when I open a bottle — How do I know?

It’s not like the back label is going to have a notice that this Nebbiolo “… pairs well with nativism and racial segregation.”

Outside of personally knowing the producer, a consumer’s only access behind the curtain is via the eyes and ears of wine writers and journalists. However, as Jon Bonné notes in his recent article for PUNCH, Why Is the Wine World So Un-Woke?, many folks in the wine industry are oft too willing to gloss over the gross and loathsome side of the industry as well as the people who populate it.

In particular, Bonné cites the example of Italian winemaker Fulvio Bressan who went on a racist Facebook tirade against Cécile Kyenge, a black female member of the Italian cabinet, calling her and other African-Italians monkeys and gorillas.

In response, critics and writers questioned whether they should continue reviewing Bressan’s wines. Along similar lines, restaurant critics are grappling with the dilemma of how to handle reviews of restaurants owned by men who have been accused of horrendous behavior in the fall out of the #MeToo Movement.

Photo by http://www.provincia.modena.it/. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

By the way, the amount of news article and blog posts covering the Bressan incident that just talked about his racist attack on a “black cabinet member” was equally disturbing. She has a name–Cécile Kyenge.

I say review them. But give me the dreadful details.

Every review of Bressan’s Schioppettino or Verudzzo should have a link to the screenshot of his attack on Kyenge as well as his response which consumers can use to evaluate how they personally feel about supporting his winery.

Just like knowing that a wine has biting tannins or noticeable brettanomyces, so too should wine lovers know if the wine they’re considering buying has the bitter stank of antipathy.

But “Gotcha Journalism” is of No Benefit Either

The opposite of glossing over and overlooking the ills of the industry is not to start going on a righteous rampage to root out all the folks behaving badly. Nor should we necessarily let one comment (which may have been taken out of context) write the entire chapter. The benefit of the doubt is not just for the benefit of the accused but for everyone’s benefit as well to get the full breadth of the story.

While I appreciate Maya Angelou’s famous quote “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”, I don’t think we should ever disregard humanity’s capacity to change and grow.

But when people associated with a winery reveal this unsavory side to their character, it should be noted and publicized just as much as a systematic problem in the winery with cork taint would be.

Oh Come On! It’s Just Wine!

I get this sentiment. I really do.

Living in a time that seems to get progressively more crazy with each passing day, it can be wonderful to escape into a world that is both simple in its pleasures and stimulating in its possibilities. With the pull of a cork, you can drown out the droning about tariffs and scandals, Brexit and borders.

When you look at a map of the vineyards of Burgundy while sipping a glass of Meursault, no one cares who you voted for. Sometimes at the family table, all you need is a good bottle of Cabernet to muse over and suddenly your relatives who were just at your throat moments prior about politics are now waxing poetically about that one trip they took to Napa many years ago. The way that wine can bring people together and push out the noise is truly beautiful and a much needed refuge in this day and age.

I’m not advocating that we need to shutter that safe haven. But I am saying that when the troublesome history and values of the people behind our favorite bottles comes to light that we recognize them for what they are–the wolf that is at the door to that safe haven.

Sure, we can ignore its howling and blissfully down another bottle. Eventually, though, we are going to have to step outside and that wolf–with its sharp teeth that has caused others so much pain–will still be there. Just because we haven’t been bitten ourselves doesn’t mean that our wound isn’t forthcoming.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

The Consequences of Not Caring Also Means Shittier Wine

When we stop caring about who makes our wine then we stop caring about a vital component and distinction that makes wine (and particularly great wine) unique–its story. Like from cradle to grave, the story of a bottle of wine starts in the vineyard and is shaped and molded by hundreds of hands with each leaving an indelible print.

The decisions that were made to hand harvest the grapes and which clusters to harvest went into the story of this wine.


As wine geeks, we obsesses over terroir and often only ascribe physical and natural influences to it–the soil, the climate, etc. But those physical hands are just as much a part of the nature of terroir and, in many ways, the part of the story that is most tangible to our own experiences with the wine.

When we have a bottle of wine, it is like a gift of the grower and the winemaker that they’ve nurtured and tended to for years which we willingly accept from them to put on our table, share with our family and take into our bodies.

Who we accept that gift from matters.

When we stop caring about the story, about the who, then we stop carrying about the context behind the wine’s creation which feeds into the corporatization and commodification of wine (another point that Bonné makes in his article). If there is no story and wine is just “booze” then it really doesn’t matter how the wine got on our table–whether by people or machine, mega-purple or manipulation.

This is how we get to the point where around 60% of the US wine market is controlled by 5 large companies.

This is how we get to the point where consumers walk into their local supermarket and find hundreds of wines made by these same handful of large companies–limiting our ability as consumers to have true choices in what we buy.

This is how we get to the point where people talk of the small family winery as if it is a myth while the real family wineries are out there busting their butts in the vineyard and cellar struggling to sustain themselves in an industry that has a lot of cards stacked against them.

What About the Racist/Misogynist/Whatever Small Winery?

Like Fulvio Bressan?

It’s true that these are the folks most likely to get caught up airing dirty laundry on Facebook and Twitter compared to the slick corporate PR wineries. There is no magical ethos surrounding small family wineries that sets them apart in character from large corporate entities.

But what does set them apart is that the veneer of truth is much easier to see with these smaller wineries–even if that truth underneath is ugly. Undoubtedly these bad apples will be exposed but removing them makes the entire bushel more healthy and more appealing to dig through.

When people start caring about who makes their wine and the type of people they are, the entire industry has to step up their game–both in the quality of their wines and in the quality of their character.

To paraphrase the apocryphal Gandhi quote:

We should drink the wine that reflects the world we want to see.

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Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clos Fourtet, Larcis Ducasse, Pavie Macquin, Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse

We head back to St. Emilion to look at some of the 2017 Bordeaux Futures offers from 4 of the 14 Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’ — Clos Fourtet, Ch. Larcis Ducasse, Ch. Pavie Macquin and Ch. Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse.

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

In our previous jaunts to St. Emilion we examined the offers of Clos de l’Oratoire, Ch. Monbousquet, Ch. Quinault l’Enclos and Ch. Fonplegade as well as Ch. Beau-Séjour Bécot, Ch. Canon-la-Gaffelière, Ch. Canon and Ch. La Dominique.

You can also check out our first Bordeaux Futures 2017 post covering the offers of the St. Emilion estates of Ch. Valandraud and Ch. Fombrauge with more links at the bottom of the page featuring other estates across Bordeaux that we have reviewed so far in this series.

Clos Fourtet (St. Emilion)
Some Geekery:

Located on the limestone plateau, near the entrance to the town of St. Emilion itself, Clos Fourtet was first born as Camfourtet–a defensive fortification built during the Middle Ages to protect the village. Roughly translated as “Camp Fort”, vines were planted by the late 18th century when it was owned by the Carles family who also owned Ch. Figeac.

Photo by Ernmuhl at lb.wikipedia. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under : CC-BY-SA-3.0

The Chateau of Clos Fourtet.

In 1868, the estate’s owners, the Rulleau family, changed the name to Clos Fourtet. In 1919, the property was purchased by the Ginestet family–a powerful negociant family who owned several properties throughout the Bordeaux. They would own the estate until 1948 when it was “traded” to François Lurton in exchange for the Ginestets receiving his share of Chateau Margaux.

Under the Lurton family, the quality in the vineyards and winery steadily improved with François’ grandson, Pierre Lurton, taking over winemaking in the 1980s. Pierre would continue to manage the estate until 1991 when he left to manage Cheval Blanc. He was succeeded by Tony Ballu who is still managing Clos Fourtet today.

In 1999, the Lurtons sold Clos Fourtet to Philippe Cuvelier who made his money in the office supply industry. Cuvelier retained Ballu and brought in his son, Mathieu, to assist in managing the estate. Jean Claude Berrouet, the former winemaker of Chateau Petrus, and Stéphane Derenoncourt consult.

In addition to Clos Fourtet, the Cuveliers also own the St. Emilion estates of Ch. Les Grandes Murailles, Clos St. Martin and Ch. Cote de Baleau as well as the Haut-Medoc cru bourgeois Ch. Poujeaux.

All 20 ha (49 acres) of the estate are farmed sustainably with parcels being converted to biodynamic since 2010.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 86% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. Around 4,500 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

93-96 Wine Spectator (WS), 94-95 James Suckling (JS), 92-94 Wine Advocate (WA), 92-95 Vinous Media (VM), 94-97 Jeb Dunnuck (JD), 93-95 Jeff Leve (JL)

Sample Review:

The 2017 Clos Fourtet is very good, but also very tightly wound. Powerful and tannic, the 2017 is likely to require many years to come in its own. Today, the 2017 is certainly less charming than some recent vintages and other 2017 Saint-Émilions. There is certainly no lack of depth or concentration. The dark red/purplish berry fruit, rose petal and lavender flavors are very nicely delineated. Clos Fourtet is one of the wines that improved over the two weeks I followed it. I won’t be surprised if it is even better from bottle. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $102
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $629.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $104.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K&L: $104.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)
Previous Vintages:

2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $123 Average Critic Score: 94 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $122 Average Critic Score: 95
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $98 Average Critic Score: 93
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $81 Average Critic Score: 91

 

Buy or Pass?

The 2014 Clos Fourtet was one of my favorite wines during the 2017 Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting highlighting the wines of the 2014 vintage. I ended up buying several bottles that night which are still in my cellar.

While I appreciate that the 2017 pricing for Clos Fourtet is tilting closer to 2014 instead of 2015/2016 pricing, I’m quite content sticking with the sure thing of the 2014s I bought so I will Pass.

Ch. Larcis Ducasse (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

The origins of Larcis Ducasse date back to Roman times when the hillside slope on the southern end of the St. Emilion plateau (near modern-day Ch. Pavie) was particularly prized by Roman viticulturists.

The modern history of the estate began in 1893 when it was purchased by Henri Raba. Through the female line of his descendants, the property has remained in the ownership of the same family for over a 120 years with Jacques-Olivier Gratiot managing the estate since 1990 when his mother and niece of Henri Raba, Hélène Gratiot-Alphandéry, passed away.

While the last half of the 20th century saw the quality level of Larcis Ducasse dip, things began to turn around when Gratiot brought in Nicolas Thienpont in 2002 to manage the estate. Well known for his work at fellow Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’ estates Ch. Pavie Macquin as well as Château Berliquet, Thienpont began a series of extensive renovations in the vineyard and winery.

Photo by Isabelle Albucher, Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Stéphane Derenoncourt consults for Larcis Ducasse as well as several other estates in St. Emilion.

Since 2005, the entire estate was converted to organic viticulture and, with the assistance of consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt, wine production methods were changed to incorporate whole berry fermentation, micro-oxygenation and gravity flow movement.

Several prime parcels of the 11 ha (27 acre) estate are located next to the Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘A’ estate of Ch. Pavie while others neighbor Ch. Pavie Macquin, Canon-la-Gaffelière, La Gaffelière and Troplong-Mondot.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 92% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc. Around 3000 cases were produced.

 

Critic Scores:

 

94-95 JS, 92-95 WS, 92-94 WA, 92-94 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 91-93 VM, 92-95 JD, 91-94 JL

 

Sample Review:

Blueberries, blackberries, violets, licorice and ample crushed rock notes all emerge from this medium-bodied, tight, firm 2017 Larcis Ducasse, which comes from a magical terroir not far from Pavie. It doesn’t have the density or depth of the 2015 or 2012, yet has beautiful purity of fruit, ripe tannins, and considerable elegance and purity. I suspect it will put on weight with time in barrel and evolve similarly to the 2008. — Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $69
JJ Buckley: No offers yet
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $69.97
K&L: $69.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $79 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $90 Average Critic Score: 94
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $59 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $51 Average Critic Score: 90

Buy or Pass?

 

Larcis Ducasse is another estate that I bought several bottles of the 2014 vintage of. However, my experience with this wine and previous vintages is that it is going to need a bit more time in the bottle than typically what I would hope for with a “cellar defender”. The 2012 (Wine Searcher ave $68) likewise was charming and undoubtedly age-worthy though I fret I may only have a single bottle left of that vintage in the cellar.

I strongly suspect the 2017 will follow the same pattern. But with the 2014 and 2012 being much more attractively priced, I’m going to Pass on this offer in lieu of hopefully finding more of these older vintages on the market.

Ch. Pavie Macquin (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

Ch. Pavie Macquin was once part of the large Pavie estate that extended from the top of the St. Emilion plateau and down the southern slope. In 1887, Albert Macquin purchased the Chapus-Pavie and Pavie-Pigasse sections located on the top of the plateau to form the estate that now bares his name.

Macquin earned his fortune in the aftermath of the phylloxera epidemic pioneering grafting techniques to plant Vitis vinifera vines onto American rootstock. Noting the susceptibility of vines planted on limestone soils to develop chlorosis (a nutrient deficiency particularly impacting iron uptake), Macquin advocated for the use of Vitis berlandieri rootstock which had much more tolerance to lime-rich soils. Over the next several years, his nursery produced more than 1 million grafted vines to help replant the Libournais after the devastation of phylloxera.

Today the estate is ran by Macquin’s grandchildren, Benoît and Bruno Corre and Marie Jacques Charpentier. In 1990, the owners brought in Stéphane Derenoncourt to consult and assist with converting the vineyard to biodynamic viticulture. However, a particularly bad attack of mildew in 1993 caused Pavie Macquin to lose more than 2/3 of its crop and ended the estate’s experimentation with biodynamics. The vineyards are still farmed organically but without certification to maintain the flexibility of being able to respond if another viticultural hazard threatens a vintage.

Under Thienpont

In 1994, Nicolas Thienpont of the notable Belgian merchant family–whose extended members own such illustrious properties as the Pomerol estates Le Pin and Vieux Chateau Certan as well as the Margaux estate Clos des Quatre Vents–was brought in to manage the estate.

The oak leaves and noose on the modern labels of Pavie Macquin pay homage to the unique history of a large oak tree on the estate.

The 15 ha (37 acres) of Pavie Macquin are located above Ch. Pavie, next to Pavie Decesse, on the plateau with Troplong Mondot to the west and Ch. Trottevielle to the north.

On the property is a large solitary oak tree believed to be hundreds of years old. According to legend this tree was the site of criminal executions and the modern bottles of Pavie Macquin pay homage to this history with the image of two oak leaves and a noose on the label.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 80% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. Around 4,500 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

 

95-97 WA, 94-96 WE, 94-95 JS, 92-95 WS, 92-94 VM, 93-95 JD, 91-94 JL

Sample Review:

Delicate, soft, skillfully shaped tannins and mature, dark fruit proffer sweetness and lift at the core of this year’s presentation. Full bodied, lush and polished with juicy fruit characteristics, length and complexity, the vintage is about stylish refinement, vibrancy and purity of fruit. — Jeff Leve, The Wine Cellar Insider

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $73
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: $75 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $74.97
K&L: $74.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $89 Average Critic Score: 94 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $94 Average Critic Score: 92
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $69 Average Critic Score: 92
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $50 Average Critic Score: 92

Buy or Pass?

 

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m just not very inspired at these 2017 prices compared to those of the still available and very delicious 2014 wines that are out on the market.

Like 2017, the 2014 vintage was an uneven year that was mostly saved by a nice Indian summer which led to a dry and warm harvest. Coming off the releases of the fairly rough years of 2013 and 2011–and then succeeded by the blockbuster 2015/2016–prices for 2014 have kept steady as the wines have made their way to market with a quality level that has surprised many.

2017 could also go own to surprise folks in the bottle but, for my money, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush so as long as the pricing for 2014s are more enticing I’m going to Pass on gambling on the potential of 2017.

Ch. Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

 

Like neighboring Ch. Beau-Séjour Bécot and Ch. Canon, Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse was once part of a large ecclesiastical estate that was tended in the Middle Ages by the monks of Saint-Martin de Mazerat.

In the 17th century, the Beauséjour half of the property (known as Peycoucou) came into the hands of the Gerès family who were the current Lord of Camarsacs. A descendant of theirs married into the Carles de Figeac family in 1722 with the estate bequeathed to the new couple as a dowry. It wasn’t until 1787 when the couple’s son, a general in the Bourbon army, rechristened Peycoucou as Beauséjour meaning “Good day”.

In the early 1800s, the wines of Beauséjour merited critical acclaim with Clive Coates noting in Grand Vins that they were often ranked 5th in the commune behind only those of Belair, Troplong Mondot, Canon and Ausone.

Eventually the estate passed to a cousin, Pierre-Paulin Ducarpe, who upon his death saw the estate divided between his two children. His son received the half that would become Beau-Séjour Bécot while his daughter, who married into the Duffau-Lagarrosse family, received the other half.

Today, the same family still owns Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse.  Since 2009, Nicolas Thienpont has been in charge of winemaking with both Michel Rolland and Stéphane Derenoncourt consulting.

The estate is composed of one single 6.5 ha (16 acres) parcel that spans the top of the St. Emilion plateau, west of the city, near Beau-Séjour Bécot and Canon and along the slopes near Clos Fourtet, Ch. Angelus and Clos Saint Martin.

The 2017 is a blend of 88% Merlot and 12% Cabernet Franc.  The winery produces around 800 to 1,200 cases of the Grand Vin each vintage.

Critic Scores:

 

95-96 JS, 94-96 WA, 94-96 WE, 93-96 WS, 92-94 VM, 93-96 JD, 94-96 JL

Sample Review:

Very dark. Ripe, dark black plums and just a touch of red cherry. Then quite oaky on the palate, rich, firm, smooth, with chocolate on the finish from the oak. Needs quite a bit of time. Chewy on the second taste. No lack of fruit but the structure dominates at the moment. (16 out of 20) — Julia Harding, JancisRobinson.com

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $107
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $659.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping
Total Wine: $109.97
K&L: $109.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $121 Average Critic Score: 94 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $153 Average Critic Score: 94
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $89 Average Critic Score: 93
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $73 Average Critic Score: 91

Buy or Pass?

 

With pricing averaging nearly $20 more than the 2014 vintage, this offer for Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse already had one strike against it. Then couple it with a very oaky style that multiple tasting notes from critics suggest is going to need quite a bit of time and I have little reason to see this 2017 wine fitting my plans for a “cellar defender”. Pass.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

Why I Buy Bordeaux Futures

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Langoa Barton, La Lagune, Barde-Haut, Branaire-Ducru

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Pape Clément, Ormes de Pez, Marquis d’Alesme, Malartic-Lagraviere

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Lynch-Bages, d’Armailhac, Clerc-Milon and Duhart-Milon

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clos de l’Oratoire, Monbousquet, Quinault l’Enclos, Fonplegade

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Cos d’Estournel, Les Pagodes des Cos, Phélan Ségur, Calon-Segur

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clinet, Clos L’Eglise, L’Evangile, Nenin

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Malescot-St.-Exupéry, Prieuré-Lichine, Lascombes, Cantenac-Brown

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Domaine de Chevalier, Larrivet Haut-Brion, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Smith Haut Lafitte

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Beychevelle, Talbot, Clos du Marquis, Gloria

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Beau-Séjour Bécot, Canon-la-Gaffelière, Canon, La Dominique

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Carruades de Lafite, Pedesclaux, Pichon Lalande, Reserve de la Comtesse de Lalande

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Vieux Chateau Certan, La Conseillante, La Violette, L’Eglise Clinet

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Montrose, La Dame de Montrose, Cantemerle, d’Aiguilhe

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Kirwan, d’Issan, Brane-Cantenac, Giscours

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Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Montrose, La Dame de Montrose, Cantemerle, d’Aiguilhe

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

For the last several postings in our series about the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign, we’ve been skipping around Bordeaux to focus on the offers from different communes.

Today we’re going to take a break from that to look at some individual offers from the St. Estephe 2nd Growth Ch. Montrose and its second wine, La Dame de Montrose. Then we are going to head out to the Haut-Medoc AOC to check in on the 5th Growth Ch. Cantemerle before ending on the offer from another Vignobles Comtes von Neipperg estate with Ch. d’Aiguilhe in the Côtes de Castillon region of the Right Bank.

If you are new to our Bordeaux Futures series, be sure to check out my post on Why I Buy Bordeaux Futures as well as the our first Bordeaux Futures 2017 post covering the offers of Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge and Haut-Batailley.

At the bottom of page are links to the offers of other estates that we’ve reviewed so far in this series.

Now onto the offers.

Ch. Montrose (St. Estephe)
Some Geekery:

Photo by Rosendahl. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD-author

The vivid pink color of heather flowers in bloom on the hill that would become Montrose could be scene by sailors on the Gironde.

Founded in 1815, Ch. Montrose was the youngest estate to be classified 40 years later in the 1855 classification. However, the history of the land dates back much longer when it was part of the historical Calon-Ségur estate that was once owned by the Marquis de Ségur–the “Prince of Vines” who also owned what would become the First Growths of Ch. Latour, Lafite and Mouton-Rothschild.

The descendants of the Marquis sold Calon-Ségur in 1778 to Etienne Théodore Dumoulin. His son, also named Etienne Théodore, took interest in an unplanted hill on the property near the Gironde known as La Lande de l’Escargeon that was covered in heather, stunted trees, gorse and bramble. Underneath this growth was a croupe of gravel soils that Dumoulin suspected would be ideal for grape growing.

Dumoulin cleared the hill and renamed it Montrose (hill of pink) with the name likely alluding to the pink (rosé) heather flowers that were visible to sailors on the Gironde when they were in bloom. While Dumoulin would later sell Calon-Ségur in 1824, Montrose would stay in his family until 1861 when it was sold to an Alsatian businessman, Mathieu Dollfus.

Clive Coates notes in Grand Vins that Dollfus was a very progressive employer for his time–building housing and a well for all his winery and vineyard workers, offering them free medical care and paid maternity leave as well as dividing 10% of the profits between them on top of their salaries.

When Dolffus passed away in 1887, the estate was sold to the Hostein family who owned Ch. Cos d’Estournel. In 1896, it was passed to Louis Victor Charmoule who was born at Ch. Figeac in St. Emilion and married into the Hostein family.

The Charmoule family would own Ch. Montrose for more than 100 years until 2006 when it was sold to the Bouygues brothers who made their fortune in the construction and telecom business.

Photo by BerndB mailto:cassandros@cityweb.de  Released on Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

A bottle of 2000 Montrose, one of the last few vintages of the Charmoule family.

Under the Bouygues ownership, Herve Berland–formerly of Ch. Mouton-Rothschild–was brought in to manage the estate and Jean Bernard Delmas, previously of Ch. Haut-Brion, was coaxed out of retirement to oversee the winemaking both at Montrose and at the Bouyques’ neighboring sister property of Ch. Tronquoy Lalande.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. Around 15,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

96-99 Wine Advocate (WA), 96-97 James Suckling (JS), 94-96 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 94-96 Vinous Media (VM), 91-94 Wine Spectator (WS), 97-99 Jeff Leve (JL), 93-95 Jeb Dunnuck (JD)

Sample Review:

This has more Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend this year, the highest level since 2006, because the Merlot didn’t quite make it through the September rains unscathed. The wine is correspondingly powerful with a robust accompanying acidity that promises a long life. The fruit character is savoury, succulent and extremely persistent, with fleshy blackberry alongside touches of redcurrant and a pulsating freshness that keeps on coming. Harvested 12-29 September with twelve days spent actually picking, compared to sixteen days over the last few years, with more hands on deck. They have never been affected by frost, as far as they can remember, and 2017 was no exception. The wind is always such a benefit here. (96 points) — Jane Anson, Decanter

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $133
JJ Buckley: $132.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: $138 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $839.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $134.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K&L: $129.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $197 Average Critic Score: 95 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $177 Average Critic Score: 94
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $141 Average Critic Score: 95
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $98 Average Critic Score: 92

Buy or Pass?

Montrose is a stalwart in my cellar but even though I know the style has been changing to make the wines more approachable younger, I never want to touch a bottle until it has at least 15 years of age on it. A couple years ago, I opened up a 2005 with just a little over 10 years of age and it was heartbreaking how tight and not ready that wine was–especially since that was my only bottle and it is now fetching over $200. Lesson learned.

Needless to say that means that even though this will undoubtedly be a tasty bottle and a solid value with pricing under 2014 levels, Montrose’s style doesn’t fit with my personal objectives of finding early-drinking “cellar defenders” from this 2017 vintage. So while this will be good buy for other Bordeaux fans, it will be a Pass for me.

La Dame de Montrose (St. Estephe)

Some Geekery:

La Dame de Montrose is named after Yvonne Charmolue, mother of Jean Louis Charmolue who created the wine in the 1980s. In January 1944, more than a year before World War II would come to an end, Yvonne’s husband, Albe Charmolue, passed away leaving just Yvonne to care for the estate and her young son.

During this time, Montrose was still recovering from having the chateau and several of the winery’s buildings occupied by the Wehrmacht artillery with portions of the vineyards used as a rifle range by the German soldiers. The unit’s presence and its location near the Shell petrol refinery in neighboring Pauillac made the area a frequent target for Royal Air Force bombers with several bombs that overshot their targets hitting the vineyards and creating huge craters.

Photo by BerndB; GNU free licence; mailto:cassandros@cityweb.de;. Released on Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

A bottle of 1953 Montrose–one of several post war vintages that the widow Yvonne Charmolue would oversee the production of.


With only the assistance of Marcel Borie, owner of the 5th Growth Ch. Batailley and mayor of Pauillac, Yvonne single-handedly managed Ch. Montrose for the next 16 years until Jean Louis was ready to take over in 1960.

In 1982, around 30,000 cases a year of the Grand Vin of Montrose was produced. With the introduction of La Dame de Montrose in 1984 as well as the reintroduction of a mostly restaurant-only third wine, Le Saint Estephe de Montrose, in the 2000s that number has been halved to around 15,000 cases a year of the Grand Vin being produced from the 95 ha (235 acre) estate.

Today a little more than half of the crop is declassified with La Dame de Montrose getting around 30% of the total crop and Le Saint Estephe de Montrose getting about 20%. The remaining fruit is sold off in bulk.

The 2017 is a blend of 49% Merlot, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot. Around 10,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

91-92 JS, 89-91 WA, 88-90 VM, 90-92 JD, 89-91 JL

Sample Review:

Deep crimson. Much more scented than the Tronquoy-Lalande, lovely dark fruit on the nose. But still with that savoury graphite quality of the grand vin. Fully ripe but not sweet. Even a touch floral. Silky texture, tannins are so supple. Lightish but juicy on the mid palate and with a good balance between fruit and freshness even in this lighter mode. (16.5 out of 20) — Julia Harding, JancisRobinson.com

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $38
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $221.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping
Total Wine: $39.97
K&L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $41 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $46 Average Critic Score: 91
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $40 Average Critic Score: 90
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $36 Average Critic Score: 88

Buy or Pass?

While I’m a huge fan of Montrose and I adore the story of La Dame, this is another second wine that has never really wowed me–even though it remains a decent value as the prices of other second wines keep jumping. There is nothing offensive about the wines but for the same $40-50 price point, I can find plenty of other Bordeaux wines that deliver more pleasure for my money.

I wouldn’t be opposed to purchasing this at a restaurant but even with pricing below 2014, there is nothing very compelling about this wine to entice me to buy for the cellar. Pass.

Ch. Cantemerle (Haut-Medoc)
Some Geekery:

Ch. Cantemerle is one of the oldest estates in the Haut-Medoc with a history dating back to the 11th century when the property belonged to the Lords of Cantemerle. Unlike the other vassals who were seigneurs of the powerful Lords of Blanquefort, Cantemerle were direct vassals of the king and had many privileges.

From a private postcard collection. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD-OLD

Ch. Cantemerle circa 1900-1920.


In 1575, the estate came into the hands of the Villeneuve family who would own Cantemerle for over 300 years and count Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, author of Beauty and the Beast, as an extended member.

In the 19th century, the wines of Cantemerle where held in high esteem and regularly ranked as 4th or 5th Growths. But its entire production was sold almost exclusively through Dutch merchants so when the local merchants and brokers of Bordeaux put together the original 1855 Classification, Cantemerle was omitted.

When the owner, Madame Caroline de Villeneuve-Durfort, heard about this slight, she barged down to the offices of the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce while the Paris Exposition unveiling the classification was still taking place. With over 40 years worth of receipts, she argued successfully to the head of the broker’s union that the wines of Cantemerle had a long track record of fetching prices on par with many of the wines that were included in the classification.

For her efforts, Cantemerle was added to the original document listing the estates of the 1855 classification, albeit clearly in a different handwriting than the other estates.

In the 20th century, the property came into the hands of the Dubois family who owned Cantemerle until 1981 when it was sold to the French insurance group SMABTP with the Cordier family (of Ch. Talbot and the notable negociant house fame) managing the vineyard and winemaking.

Today Cantemerle is still owned by SMABTP where it is part of a portfolio that includes the St. Emilion estates of Ch. Haut Corbin, Ch. Grand Corbin and Ch. Le Jurat. In 1993, Philippe Dambrine replaced the Cordiers as estate manager and is still responsible for production today.

The 2017 is a blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot. Around 25,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

93-94 JS, 92-94 WE, 89-91 WA, 89-92 VM, 87-90 WS, 87-89 JD, 90-92

Sample Review:

The 2017 Cantemerle is deep, fleshy and wonderfully expressive. Savory herb, tobacco, menthol, licorice, dark red cherry, smoke and incense run through this super-expressive, pliant Haut-Médoc Grand Cru Classé. All the elements simply meld together effortlessly. Rose petal, lavender and a host of floral notes add perfume to the finish. The 2017 should be one of the finer values of the year. Tasted two times. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $29
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $179.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping
Total Wine: $31.97
K&L: $29.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $34 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $37 Average Critic Score: 91
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $34 Average Critic Score: 90
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $37 Average Critic Score: 88

Buy or Pass?

Sourced from http://www.tenzingws.com/blog/2015/5/28/original-handwritten-letter-of-the-1855-classification-of-bordeaux

The inclusion of Cantemerle under Château Croizet-Bages in the original 1855 classification is noticeably smaller and in a different handwriting. Source


The history geek in me loves the story of Cantemerle and particularly the feisty Madame Villeneuve-Durfort who wouldn’t take no for an answer. When I look at photos showing the shaky and hastily added Cantemerle to the 1855 classification, I chuckle thinking of Madame Villeneuve-Durfort hovering over the shoulder of the scared broker and his pen.

However, despite that love and affection for the story, outside of the 2010 Cantemerle (WS Ave $55), I really haven’t found much in the glass to excite me. The pricing is certainly intriguing because there aren’t many classified growths being sold for less than $40–much less under $30–but I prefer to take a wait and see approach with Cantemerle. I may get a bottle when it hits the market (likely around the $35 price point then) and see if there is finally something there worth getting excited about. Till then I’ll Pass.

Ch. d’Aiguilhe (Côtes de Castillon)
Some Geekery:

While wine has been produced at the estate since the 1700s when it was owned by the Leberthon family, the modern history of Ch. d’Aiguilhe (meaning “needle”) began in 1989 when it was purchased by Stephan von Neipperg.

Von Neipperg, who also owns the St. Emillion Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’ estates La Mondotte and Ch. Canon-la-Gaffelière as well as Clos de l’Oratoire, Ch. Peyreau, Clos Marsalette in Pessac-Léognan, the Sauternes Premier Cru Ch. Guiraud, Capaia in South Africa and Bessa Valley in Bulgaria, brought in his longtime consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt and began renovating the estate and vineyards.

All the vineyards are farmed organically with many parcels biodynamic.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Around 20,000 cases a year are produced though with close 60% of the production being lost to frost in 2017, that number will be much lower this vintage.

Critic Scores:

90-93 WS, 89-90 JS, 88-90 WA, 85-87 VM, 91-93 JD, 90-92 JL

Sample Review:

Brought up in 30% new barrels, the 2017 Château d’Aiguilhe offers a gorgeous perfume of framboise, blueberries, strawberries, and flowers. Possessing medium body, fine, silky tannin, impeccable balance and obvious minerality on the finish, it’s seriously good Côtes de Castillon that over-delivers. — Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $22
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $23.97
K&L: $22.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $24 Average Critic Score: 90 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $26 Average Critic Score: 90
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $26 Average Critic Score: 90
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $20 Average Critic Score: 87

Buy or Pass?

As I noted in my reviews of the 2017 offers for Canon-la-Gaffelière and Clos de l’Oratoire, I strongly equate the wines of von Neipperg and Derenoncourt with very New World-ish, Napa-like styles. While that is a style that I tend to avoid during more highly regarded Bordeaux vintages (where I’m looking for more classical and age-worthy Bordeaux), this more lush and fruit forward style fits perfectly into the mold of short-term consumption “cellar defenders” I aim for in vintages like 2017.

And the value is always there as well with it being very difficult to find sub-$30 Napa wines drinking to level of Château d’Aiguilhe. While I’m not going to spring for cases, this is an easy Buy for several bottles.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

Why I Buy Bordeaux Futures

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Langoa Barton, La Lagune, Barde-Haut, Branaire-Ducru

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Pape Clément, Ormes de Pez, Marquis d’Alesme, Malartic-Lagraviere

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Lynch-Bages, d’Armailhac, Clerc-Milon and Duhart-Milon

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clos de l’Oratoire, Monbousquet, Quinault l’Enclos, Fonplegade

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Cos d’Estournel, Les Pagodes des Cos, Phélan Ségur, Calon-Segur

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clinet, Clos L’Eglise, L’Evangile, Nenin

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Malescot-St.-Exupéry, Prieuré-Lichine, Lascombes, Cantenac-Brown

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Domaine de Chevalier, Larrivet Haut-Brion, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Smith Haut Lafitte

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Beychevelle, Talbot, Clos du Marquis, Gloria

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Beau-Séjour Bécot, Canon-la-Gaffelière, Canon, La Dominique

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Carruades de Lafite, Pedesclaux, Pichon Lalande, Reserve de la Comtesse de Lalande

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Vieux Chateau Certan, La Conseillante, La Violette, L’Eglise Clinet

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clos Fourtet, Larcis Ducasse, Pavie Macquin, Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Kirwan, d’Issan, Brane-Cantenac, Giscours

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Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Vieux Chateau Certan, La Conseillante, La Violette, L’Eglise Clinet

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

Vineyards of Ch. Gazin in Pomerol.

After striking out completely on our last visit to Pomerol where we explored the 2017 Bordeaux Futures offers for Ch. Clinet, Clos L’Eglise, L’Evangile and Ch. Nenin, we head back there to see if maybe, possibly, somehow there will be anything resembling a decent value in the offers from Vieux Chateau Certan, La Conseillante, La Violette and L’Eglise Clinet.

Or maybe I will just end up buying more 2014s? Though that vintage has been more hit or miss for me in Pomerol than it has been in St. Emilion and on the Left Bank.

While I did pick up some Pomerols during the 2015/2016 campaigns, rising prices and difficulties in finding good, consistent values has lead to this appellation taking up an ever shrinking amount of space in my cellars.

But, hey, it never hurts to keep exploring. So let’s see what we’ve got here.

First time visitors are encouraged to check out the first Bordeaux Futures 2017 post in the now 13 article series that covered the offers of Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge and Haut-Batailley and laid out the groundwork for our approach with buying 2017 Bordeaux Futures.

So far we’ve reviewed the 2017 offers of more than 50 Bordeaux estates and compared them to the current retail pricing over previous vintages. You can check these out and more via the links at the bottom of the page.

Now onto the offers.

Vieux Chateau Certan (Pomerol)
Some Geekery:

Clive Coates notes in Grand Vins that the name “Certan” was originally spelled Sertan and likely derived from an old Portuguese word for “desert”. It was reported that when Portuguese settlers were traveling through the area in the 12th century that they found the soils to be so poor and arid that they thought little could grow successfully there.

Vines were planted by at least the 18th century when the property came under the ownership of the De May family who were merchants of Scottish origins. The De Mays also owned neighboring Ch. Nenin until 1782 when it was sold so that the family could focus all its attention on Vieux Chateau Certan.

After the French Revolution, the property was split among the heirs with one part becoming what is now Ch. Certan de May. The other part that remained Vieux Chateau Certan would stay in the De May family until 1858 when it sold to a Parisian businessman, Charles de Bousquet. Unfortunately soon after the acquisition, the ravages of phylloxera hit and the estate entered a period of several decades of financial hardships.

The tower of Troplong-Mondot in St. Emilion which Georges Thienpont sold to focus on Vieux Chateau Certan.


The modern history of Vieux Chateau Certan began when it was sold to a Belgian wine merchant, Georges Thienpont, who also owned the St. Emilion estate Troplong Mondot. It was Thienpoint who had the idea of using bright pink capsules so that he could easily spot bottles of Vieux Chateau Certan in his clients’ cellars.

While financial difficulties in the 1930s would cause the Thienponts to sell Troplong Mondot, the family still retains ownership of Vieux Chateau Certan today with Georges’ grandson, Alexandre, managing the estate.

In 1978, when the Loubie family was selling Ch. Le Pin, Alexandre’s father Léon was looking to buy the property and absorb its 2 hectares of vines into those of Vieux Chateau Certan. But when the pricing couldn’t be worked out, Thienpont convinced his nephew, Jacques, to purchase the estate that has now go on to achieve cult status in Bordeaux.

The 14 ha (35 acres) of vines at Vieux Chateau Certan covers 3 distinct soil types with different grape varieties planted on each type. The parcels located next to Ch. Petrus and sharing some of its famous blue clay are planted to Merlot. Here there are some plots that have been planted in 1932 and 1948, making them some of the oldest vines in Pomerol.

On the soils that are a mixture of clay and gravel, Cabernet Franc is planted and accounts for around 30% of all Vieux Chateau Certan vines. In the winery, Thienpont treats the Cabernet Franc differently than other producers by fermenting the wine at high temperatures (30C/86F) and having malolactic fermentation take place in stainless steel tanks instead of in the barrel. The amount of Cabernet Franc used in the final blend varies depending on vintage with some years like 2003 being 80% Cabernet Franc.

The parcels on red gravel are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon which account for around 5% of all the vines. All the vineyards are farmed sustainably.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 81% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Around 4000 to 5000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

97-98 James Suckling (JS), 96-98 Wine Advocate (WA), 95-97 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 94-96 Vinous Media (VM), 96-98 Jeff Leve (JL),

Sample Review:

The 2017 Vieux Château Certan is a rapturously beautiful wine. Dark, sumptuous and seamless in the glass, the 2017 is going to tempt readers early. This is the first vintage that includes a bit of young vine Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 2012 to complement the old-vine Merlot and Franc that are the core of Vieux Certan. A wine of exceptional balance and purity, the 2017 dazzles from start to finish. There is an element of tension in the 2017 that is incredibly appealing. “We are back to Bordeaux,” adds Alexandre Thienpont in reference to the personality of the year as compared to both 2016 and 2015. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $231
JJ Buckley: $239.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $239.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K&L: $239.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $281 Average Critic Score: 95 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $330 Average Critic Score: 96
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $190 Average Critic Score: 95
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $156 Average Critic Score: 91

Buy or Pass?

The 2009 Vieux Château Certan rocked my world and my mouth drools at the thought of how delicious the 2003 Cabernet Franc-dominated VCC must be tasting today. But, alas, the trend of 2017 pricing that we saw in our last foray into Pomerol is still holding true here with an average price well above the comparable 2014 vintage that is still on the market.

While I have no doubt that this will probably be a tasty wine, there just isn’t the compelling value to make this a worthwhile futures purchase. Pass.

Ch. La Conseillante (Pomerol)

Some Geekery:

Photo by RenseNBM. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

A bottle of 1940 La Conseillante with the distinctive purple capsule still visible.

La Conseillante is one of the oldest estates in Pomerol being founded in the 1730s by Catherine Conseillan, a Libournais businesswoman who was known as a dame de fer for her work in the metal industry where she sold ploughshares and wires for vine training.

For the first couple decades the vineyards were managed via a métayage system of sharecropping until 1756 when Madame Conseillan took full control of the property and built a chateau. She managed the estate until her death in 1777 when the property passed to her niece and then a succession of owners until it was purchased by the Nicolas family in 1871.

A well connected negociant family who owned Nicolas Freres, it was the Nicolas family who began using the distinctive purple capsules on the bottle. When they purchased the estate the vineyards of La Conseillante was planted to around a third Malbec, a third Merlot and a third of Cabernet vines split between Sauvignon and Franc.

The property is still owned by the Nicolas Family today. In the early 2000s, Jean-Michel Laporte was brought on as winemaker with Gilles Pauquet as a consultant. By 2013, Michel Rolland replaced Pauquet as consultant and, in 2015, Laporte left La Conseillante and was succeeded by Marielle Cazaux who used to direct the winemaking at Ch. Petit Village.

The 12 ha (30 acres) of vines are now planted to 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc with plans to increase the percentage of Cabernet Franc up to 30%. Nearly two-thirds of the vines are close to Vieux Chateau Certan and Petrus. Other parcels are close to Ch. Beauregard, L’Evangile, Petit Village and the St. Emilion border with Cheval Blanc. Many of the parcels are farmed organically.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc. Around 4,500 cases a year are produced though with the frost damage of 2017, production will be lower for this year.

Critic Scores:

95-97 WA, 95-97 WE, 94-95 JS, 93-95 VM, 95-97 JL, 94-96 Jeb Dunnuck (JD)

Sample Review:

With 15% lost to frost (just 1.5ha entirely lost), the final yield was 34hl/ha, with no second generation fruit in the wine. It’s an excellent take on the vintage, the austerity coming through on the attack before it opens to a wonderfully smoky mid-palate with loganberry and blackberry fruit, showing real fullness and volume. This has texture, structure and good aromatics, with a great sense of energy and persistency. The plot affected by the frost was a Duo parcel, so they will make a small amount of second wine but not as much as usual, and the overall production will be 85% grand vin. In organic conversion. 70% new oak. (94 points) — Jane Anson, Decanter

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $165
JJ Buckley: $169.94 + shipping
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $1,019.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $169.97
K&L: $169.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $213 Average Critic Score: 95 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $192 Average Critic Score: 94
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $106 Average Critic Score: 93
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $93 Average Critic Score: 91

Buy or Pass?

My only experience with La Conseillante has been with their very delicious 2014 release. While I would certainly like to explore more of their bottlings, at the prices being asked for their 2017 futures I’m going going to Pass and look into stocking up on more of the 2014.

Ch. La Violette (Pomerol)

Some Geekery:

Ch. La Violette is a relatively young estate that was founded in the late 1800s by a cooper, Ulysse Belivier. Despite a very enviable location on the plateau of Pomerol flanking Ch. Trotanoy and what is now Le Pin, the wines of La Violette were marred in obscurity until 2006 when it was purchased by Catherine Péré Vergé.

Péré Vergé, who also owned Chateau Le Gay and Chateau Montviel in Pomerol, Ch. La Graviere in Lalande-de-Pomerol and Bodega Monteviejo in Argentina, brought in her longtime consultant Michel Rolland. Over the next several vintages, the winery was renovated and all Cabernet Franc vines uprooted and replaced with Merlot.

Very labor-intensive viticulture practices were put in place with each individual vine in the tiny 1.68 ha (4 acres) estate being “manicured” by hand throughout the growing season with individual green and unripe berries removed during several passes in the vineyard after veraison. After harvest, instead of using a machine, the grapes are destemmed by hand with a very selective triage and sorting. Coupled with severe pruning in the winter months, this produces incredibly low yields that can be as low as 18 to 20 hl/ha (a little over 1 ton/acre).

Catherine Péré Vergé passed away in 2013 and today the estate is managed by her son, Henri Parent, who has also added the Pomerol estates of Ch. Tristan and Feytit-Lagrave to the family’s holdings. Michel Rolland still consults with Marcelo Pelleriti managing the winemaking.

The 2017 vintage is 100% Merlot. Only around 250 cases a year a produced.

Critic Scores:

94-96 WA, 94-95 JS, 92-94 VM, 91-94 WS, 93-95 JL, 93-96 JD

Sample Review:

The 2017 La Violette is another silky, elegant effort that has a Burgundian flare. Black cherries, blueberries, violets, white flowers, and spice characteristics all emerge from this seamless 2017 that is as classy, silky and pure as they come. Total class and up with the crème de la crème of the vintage. — Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $249
JJ Buckley: No offers yet
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $254.97
K&L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $263 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $336 Average Critic Score: 94
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $273 Average Critic Score: 92
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $205 Average Critic Score: 91

Buy or Pass?

Throughout the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign, I’ve been pretty disciplined in only going with wines from estates that I have a track record of previously tasting and enjoying. In more stellar vintages like 2015/2016, I’m far more adventurous and open to trying new estates but in more average years like 2017 I prefer to be conservative.

I’ve bent that rule already for the 2017 Carruades de Lafite and I think I’m going to have bend this one again for the La Violette. For one, the price is compelling being under both the 2016 and 2014 vintage. But, truthfully, my prime motivator is how much of a unicorn La Violette is and this maybe one of the few opportunities I will ever get a chance to try this wine.

Beyond just how scarcely limited it is, the only time that I’ve ever seen La Violette has been on restaurant wine lists topping over $800 a bottle. That is far more riskier of a venture for me to try a new estate versus buying a bottle as a future.

More ideally, I would want to spend the $9-14 extra to get the better 2016 vintage but I didn’t see any future offers for this last year so I would have to do some investigating to see how many of the offers for the 2016 on Wine Searcher are legit. But right now I’m inclined to go with the sure thing and Buy the 2017 just so I can bag this unicorn.

Photo by cassandros@cityweb.de. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0-migrated

A bottle of 1961 L’Eglise Clinet made by Pierre Lasserre of Clos Rene.

Ch. L’Eglise Clinet (Pomerol)

Some Geekery:

The origins of L’Eglise Clinet date back to 1803 when Jean Rouchut first purchased some lands near the church (église) and cemetery for a vineyard. 1882, his descendants purchased vineyards belonging to the Constant family of Ch. Clinet and entered into a joint venture that would be known as L’Eglise Clinet.

In the early 20th century, the owners took a very hands off approach to winemaking–first by entering a leasing agreement in 1914 with a negociant firm to make the wine and then formulating a sharecropping arrangement with Pierre Lasserre of Clos Rene in 1942 that would last for more than 40 years.

In 1983, Denis Durantou took over his family’s estate and today still manages L’Eglise Clinet along with Saintayme in St. Emilion, Ch. Montlandrie in Cotes de Castillon and Ch. Cruzelles and Ch. Chenade in Lalande-de-Pomerol.

Much of L’Eglise Clinet’s 4.4 ha (11 acres) of vines escaped the devastating 1956 frost which means that L’Eglise has some of the oldest vines in Pomerol with more than a quarter being over 75 years of age. Two parcels of old vine Cabernet Franc located near the cemetery were planted in the early 1930s.

The current ratio of planting is 85% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec, however, all of the Malbec is actually part of a field blend interspersed with the old vines and is gradually being replaced by massale selection of Cabernet Franc. Many of the parcels are farmed organically.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Around 1000 to 1500 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

97-98 JS, 96-98 WA, 95-97 VM, 92-95 WS, 94-96 JL, 92-94 JD

Sample Review:

Black core with purple crimson rim. A hint of oak char on the nose but underneath that is pure black fruit and a creamy character. Smooth and rounded on the palate, the fruit and the oak already well melded. The finish is darker and more savoury, the oak char closing the circle. But the harmony is very good. Not as charming as La Petite Église but longer-term in potential. (17 out of 20) — Julia Harding, JancisRobinson.com

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $231
JJ Buckley: $239.94 + shipping
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $239.97
K&L: $249.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $313 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $290 Average Critic Score: 95
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $211 Average Critic Score: 94
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $177 Average Critic Score: 92

Buy or Pass?

L’Eglise Clinet is another Pomerol estate that I have no previous track record with so that is one strike against this offer for me. But, unlike La Violette, the pricing for the 2017 compared to other vintages is not compelling enough to come close to enticing me to bite here. Pass.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

Why I Buy Bordeaux Futures

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Langoa Barton, La Lagune, Barde-Haut, Branaire-Ducru

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Pape Clément, Ormes de Pez, Marquis d’Alesme, Malartic-Lagraviere

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Lynch-Bages, d’Armailhac, Clerc-Milon and Duhart-Milon

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clos de l’Oratoire, Monbousquet, Quinault l’Enclos, Fonplegade

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Cos d’Estournel, Les Pagodes des Cos, Phélan Ségur, Calon-Segur

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clinet, Clos L’Eglise, L’Evangile, Nenin

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Malescot-St.-Exupéry, Prieuré-Lichine, Lascombes, Cantenac-Brown

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Domaine de Chevalier, Larrivet Haut-Brion, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Smith Haut Lafitte

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Beychevelle, Talbot, Clos du Marquis, Gloria

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Beau-Séjour Bécot, Canon-la-Gaffelière, Canon, La Dominique

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Carruades de Lafite, Pedesclaux, Pichon Lalande, Reserve de la Comtesse de Lalande

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Montrose, La Dame de Montrose, Cantemerle, d’Aiguilhe

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clos Fourtet, Larcis Ducasse, Pavie Macquin, Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Kirwan, d’Issan, Brane-Cantenac, Giscours

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Why I Buy Bordeaux Futures

As folks who have been following my on-going series examining the offers from the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign have noticed, I enjoy playing the Futures Game.

But I understand that this is a game–one where I’m gambling money on today in hopes of future pleasure in the years to come.

Though while I have a gambler’s heart, just like when I’m playing the Somm Game in Vegas, I like to hedge my bets and get the cards stacked in my favor.

When it comes to buying Bordeaux Futures, I have one solid rule that I never waver from.

Buy for pleasure, not for investment.

Like the stock market, you can certainly “invest” in buying Bordeaux wines with the goal of selling or trading them at a higher value. Of course, there are some legal gray areas that are worth paying attention to and David Sokolin’s Investing in Liquid Assets is a great read for anyone interested in dipping their toes in that area.

But I’m not looking to make a profit. I just want to get a good deal on something that I will enjoy drinking at some point. If I lock in the price of a bottle as a future that ends up saving me $20 versus buying it later on a retail shelf, I’m a happy camper.

By not hoping for the price to skyrocket after purchasing it as a futures (and buying only 1 to 3 bottles for personal consumption), I’m able to keep my expectations grounded and realistic.

However, there are certainly times when Bordeaux’s notorious fickleness and pricing does end up giving me a really good deal that I kick myself for not buying more of.

Case in point-2015 Ch. Margaux.

I purchased a single bottle of this wine back in June 2016 for $519.97. I don’t have the wallet to often buy multiple bottles of First Growth Bordeaux or many other estates that regularly fetch $200+ a bottle but a bottle here and there when the vintage and price is right is something I can afford to do.

Lest anyone doubt the price I originally paid for the 2015 Margaux from Total Wine & More’s Concierge service.

I knew 2015 was a very solid year and one worth bulking up my cellar with from both the value end to some of the top crop. With Margaux being one of my favorite estates, it was worth buying at that price as well as a bottle of their second wine, Pavillon Rouge, for $134.97.

The wine had some nice barrel scores during the 2015 en primeur season like 95-98 points from Antonio Galloni of Vinous, 98-100 from Neal Martin (then of Wine Advocate) and 19/20 by Jancis Robinson.

While I don’t personally ascribe much weight to critic scores, I do read the tasting notes for tidbits about the vintage and general style of the year. But the numbers themselves are virtually meaningless to me. I’ve drank 100 point wine and I’ve drank 94 point wine and derived the same amount of pleasure–not to mention many excellent 88-92 point wines.

Then Came The Jump

But I’m very cognizant about the impact of critic scores on the pricing of Bordeaux so when I’m on the fence about a futures purchase, I do weigh how much the price could potentially jump once the bottle scores are released.

So while I certainly expected to see the price of the 2015 Margaux rise above $519.97 (like to maybe around the $994 ave of the 2005), I have to admit that I wasn’t quite expecting this.

100 points Jeb Dunnuck.
100 points Jane Anson of Decanter.
100 points James Suckling.
100 points Jeff Leve of The Wine Cellar Insider.
100 points Roger Voss of Wine Enthusiast.
99 points Lisa Perrotti-Brown of Wine Advocate.
99 points Antonio Galloni of Vinous.
99 points James Molesworth of Wine Spectator.

And now we have the 2015 Ch. Margaux averaging $1,643 a bottle–more than $1100 above what I originally paid for it as a 2015 Bordeaux Futures.

YIKES!

Yeah, I wish I had bought at least one more bottle.

Other Good Futures Deals I’ve Gotten

While I certainly don’t expect anything from the current 2017 campaign to jump as crazy high as the 2015 Margaux, I still think there is enough consistent savings and value that merit buying futures even in vintages like 2017. But as evident with my 2017 series of posts, I do a heck of a lot of research and decision making before putting my money down on the table.

It’s a lot of work, but to me it’s worth it to get solid deals like this:

2015 Pavillon Rouge — Futures price $134.97, now averaging $233
2015 Valandraud — Futures price $139.97, now averaging $186
2015 Pape Clement — Futures price $76.97, now averaging $120
2015 Malescot St. Exupery — Futures price $47.97, now average $74
2014 Mouton Rothschild — Futures price $299.97, now averaging $517
2014 Angelus — Futures price $219.97, now averaging $297
2014 Canon — Futures price $59.97, now averaging $92
2014 Prieure-Lichine — Futures price $29.97, now averaging $48
2013 Lascombes — Futures price $44.97, now averaging $74
2013 Rauzan-Segla — Futures price $49.97, now averaging $68
2012 Clos Fourtet — Futures price $76.49, now averaging $98

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