Tag Archives: Billecart-Salmon

Champagne Mystery — Who makes Drake’s Mod Sélection? And will it be worth it?

Ace of Spades, part II?

Photo by The Come Up Show. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Canadian rapper Drake and Brent Hocking (founder of DeLeón Tequila) are partnering to produce a new high-end Champagne called Mod Sélection. Right off the bat, the line-up will feature a $300 non-vintage Brut and a $400 NV Rosé.

That’s a hefty price tag for a Champagne house that is being created virtually out of thin air.

In comparison, consumers can pay $300-400 and get things like:

1996 Bollinger R.D. (Wine Searcher Average $328) aged ten years on the lees. Only 750 cases imported.

1996 Duval-Leroy Femme de Champagne (WS Ave $346) from 100% Grand Cru fruit that was aged 14 years on the lees. Only 1000 cases made.

Dom Perignon “P2” Brut, 2000 (WS Ave $351) aged 15 years on the lees.

Jacques Selosse Substance Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut (WS Ave $312) from a solera that started in 1986. Usually only around 250 cases released at a time.

Pierre Peters L’Etonnant Monsieur Victor (WS Ave $301) from 100% Grand Cru fruit, including the best parcels of Les Chétillons, aged as a perpetual cuvee (similar to solera) that started in 1988. Only around 150 cases imported with each release.

And tons more great Champagnes for a heck of a lot cheaper.

Plus, these are all houses with established track records. We can figure out the grape source and know how long these wines have been aged. We can also get a general sense of how limited and prestigious these wines truly are. Yet, Drake and Hocking want folks to pay an equivalent price for Champagnes that no-one knows anything about?

Even Ace of Spades had a bit of a backstory.

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

From $60 to $300, not a bad business deal for Cattier.

Offended by comments by the CEO of his-then favorite Champagne house, Roederer, the American rapper Jay Z began promoting a brand called Armand de Brignac in 2006.

The gold plated bottle, now known as “Ace of Spades”, was made by the Champagne house Cattier. The Champagne was essentially a rebranding of their Antique Gold line which previously sold for around $60.

But once Jay Z got involved, including acquiring partial ownership of the brand in 2014, the price of the Champagne skyrocketed to around $300 for the basic non-vintage brut, $450 for the NV Rosé and approximately $600 for the NV Blanc de Blancs.

Yeah, you can see why Drake would want to follow suit.

But, again, consumers at least know about Cattier’s involvement. The brand is even prominently featured on their website.  Even though they’re a négociant-firm that purchases grapes, the Cattier family does own over 30 ha (74 acres) of vines in the Montagne de Reims including the notable premier cru Clos du Moulin in Chigny-Les-Roses. For their top cuvee from the Clos, the house only produces around 25,000 bottles.

In the Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine, Tom Stevenson & Master of Wine Essi Avellan offer some more details about Armand de Brignac (presumably provided by Cattier). They note that across all the Ace of Spades wines, only around 3200 cases are produced. They also mention that at least the NV Brut is aged for around four years on lees.

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

Jean-Jacques and Alexandre Cattier who continue to operate their brand in addition to making Jay Z’s “Ace of Spades.”

 

Another Champagne Mystery

Perhaps more details about Mod Sélection will eventually come out. But it is clear right now that its proprietors are purely marketing it based on its association with a celebrity rapper. Still, I’m always down for a good mystery (especially when Champagne is involved), so I decided to see what I could dig up.

Like with Armand de Brignac/Ace of Spades and Cattier, Drake and Hocking are probably partnering with an already established Champagne house. They’re not going to buy vineyards, start aging stock and truly create a brand from scratch.

With a NV Champagne needing a legal minimum of 15 months aging on the lees before release, it’s very likely that the initial release of Mod Sélection is going to be a Champagne that was originally harvested and aged to be labeled as something else. Probably a Champagne that was going to be sold for a much lower price.

That is a big reason why the identity of the house will likely be kept under wraps.  But can we still figure out who makes Drake’s Champagne?

On the Mod Sélection website, details are scarce. However, we do get two solid clues that slip through the marketing flourish.

1.) They’re based in the Vallée de la Marne.
2.) They claim “a legacy” dating back to 1892.

Cracking into some of my Five Essential Books On Champagne, I can eliminate a lot of prospective houses. The Christie’s Encyclopedia is, in particular, really good at noting the location of many houses so I can focus in only on the ones based in the Vallée de la Marne.

Clue #1 – The Vallée de la Marne

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

Vineyards in the Grand Cru village of Aÿ–the most prestigious in the Vallée de la Marne.

This area is broken into three sub-regions. The most prestigious is the Grande Vallée de la Marne which is home to the Grand Cru village of Aÿ as well as several notable premier cru villages like Hautvillers, Cumières and Dizy.

The other two sub-regions are the Vallée de la Marne Rive Droite and Vallée de la Marne Rive Gauche (Right bank, Left Bank) which are home to autre cru villages that are ranked below premier cru.

Peter Liem’s book, Champagne, does an excellent job of explaining the differences between these sub-regions.

While it is possible that Mod Sélection’s mystery house is in one of the lesser Rive Droite or Rive Gauche villages, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and focus on the houses in the nine villages of the Grande Vallée de la Marne.

Clue #2 – Founding date 1892

Photo by Arnaud 25. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Bollinger wouldn’t even give James Bond his own made up Champagne house. It’s not likely that they would partner with Drake and not use their own label.

We can rule out major Champagne houses based in the Vallée de la Marne like Deutz, Jacquesson, Bollinger, Philipponnat and Billecart-Salmon because they have little reason to create a branding apart from their own. Plus, their founding dates don’t match up with Deutz (1838), Jacquesson (1798), Bollinger (1829), Philipponnat (1910) and Billecart (1818).

This clue is going to require more heavy digging since many Champagne books don’t list founding dates and sometimes even a winery’s website isn’t very forthcoming with details. Still, we can gradually start to eliminate notable Champagne houses and well-regarded growers like:

Gaston Chiquet (founded 1919)
Gonet-Medeville (founded 2000)
A.R. Lenoble (founded 1920)
Mousse Fils (founded 1923)
Bereche & Fils (founded 1847)
Gatinois (founded 1921)
Marc Hebrart (founded 1964)
Laherte-Freres (founded 1889)
Georges Laval (founded 1971)
R. Pouillon & Fils (founded 1947)
Tarlant (founded 1928)

But eventually, with a little bit of online sleuthing, I was able to come across at least one estate that fits our bill.
Photo by 2005 Zubro. Uplaoded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Vineyards in the premier cru village of Cumières in the Grande Vallée de la Marne. Is this the home of Drake’s $300+ Champagne?

Champagne Philippe Martin in Cumières. Founded 1892.  They produce around 12,000 to 80,000 bottles which range in price from 18 to 34 euros ($20-39 US dollars). While they apparently have a healthy enotourism operation, as far as I can tell, the wines of Champagne Philippe Martin have never been exported out of France.

This kinda aligns with the Mod Sélection description of partnering with a house whose “highly sought-after champagne had never been exported for sale to the general public.” Though you have to eye roll at the “highly sought-after” part.

Is this our mystery Mod Sélection house? Perhaps. There are still at least 30 other small growers that I need to investigate. But so far Champagne Philippe Martin is our most solid lead.

Will the Champagne be worth $300+?

I highly doubt it.

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Geek Notes — Insider’s Peek Into Champagne

I came across two great videos (≈ 10 min) on YouTube that share an insider’s peek into Champagne production. Both of these videos give a perspective that you don’t often find in wine books.

The first one is produced by GuildSomm. They have an excellent YouTube channel that is well worth subscribing to. Most of their videos are in the 10 to 12 minute range with the longest, on the wines of Burgundy, being almost 22 minutes.

The production quality is top notch with beautiful cinematography that really give you a feel for a region. Each episode is also jammed pack with useful historical details and insights from producers. Below the video I’ll highlight my notes from this Dec 27, 2016 episode on The Wines of Champagne.

Notes From The Wines of Champagne

(1:59) Charles Philipponnat of Philipponnat talks a little about the distinction of the sub-region of the Grande Vallée de la Marne from the greater Vallée de la Marne. Most wine books (and even the beginning of this video) treat the entire Vallée de la Marne as a monolith–Peter Leim’s Champagne: The Essential Guide being one of the few exceptions.

But the terroir (and wines produced here) are remarkably different. The Grand Vallée is dominated by Pinot noir with south facing slopes bordering the north side of the Marne river. Heading west through the rest of the Vallée de la Marne, the vineyards flank both sides of the river. Here Pinot Meunier is the main variety with these western sites being more frost prone as well.

(2:52) Rudolph Peters of Pierre Peters highlights the similarities between the Côte des Blancs and Burgundy’s Cote d’Or. Both have east facing slopes with abundant limestone that Chardonnay thrives in. Great close up shots of the vineyard soils where you can see the seashell fossils.

(4:00) The narrator, Tai Ricci, goes into the history of the 1910/11 Champagne Riots with some terrific photographs from the period. This part definitely has an old-school “History Channel” feel to it. Anyone wanting to learn more about the riots and issues behind it, I highly recommend Don and Petie Kladstrup’s Champagne: How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times. Hugh Johnson also covers it quite a bit in his all around excellent wine history book Vintage: The Story of Wine.

Grand Cru and Growers
 Jean Fannière Grand Cru Champagne

If the wine is 100% sourced from grapes grown in Grand Cru villages, like this Champagne Varnier Fannière’s Jean Fannière, the words “Grand Cru” can appear on the bottle.

(5:46) The difference in Grand Cru designations between Burgundy and Champagne are highlighted here.  Whereas in Burgundy the vineyards are classified, in Champagne it is the village. While there are over 300 villages in Champagne, only 17 villages are designated as Grand Cru.  If they were using the Champagne model in Burgundy, then villages like Vosne-Romanee, Puligny-Montrachet, Chambolle-Musigny would be “Grand Cru”. Then you would have villages like Santenay, St. Aubin and Marsannay designated as Premier Cru and so forth.

It’s not likely that Champagne will ever adopt the Burgundian model of having vineyards individually classified. However, there are certainly notable vineyards with “Grand Cru” reputations. Vineyards like Krug’s Clos d’Ambonnay, Philipponnat’s Clos des Goisses, Franck Bonville’s Belles Voyes, Billecart-Salmon’s Clos St-Hilaire and Pierre Peters’ Les Chêtillons have a long history of acclaim. Additionally, Peter Leim’s book lists numerous single vineyard bottlings from nearly ever major Grand Cru and Premier Cru village. While some of these certainly can get pricey, I found several on Wine Searcher in the $50-70 range.

(6:48) The topic moves to the difference between Grower Champagnes versus the big negociant houses. Here Rudolph Peters highlights some of the advantages and disadvantages for both. As I noted in my review of Robert Walter’s Bursting Bubbles, while I definitely get more excited about Grower Champagnes and their more terroir driven expressions, I don’t agree with the idea that blended Champagnes (like what the negociant houses do) are inferior.

In fact, I think the master blenders of the major houses have remarkable skills and winemaking talents. It’s just that the proliferation of a “house style” can get repetitive and boring. They may be really delicious the first or second time you have it, but by the third time you have a bottle of something like the Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label, you begin feeling like you’re just drinking the same ole, same ole over and over again.

But that’s kind of the point.

Like an army of clones…or the Borg.
You will be assemblage! La résistance est futile!

It’s certainly a successful business model (much like McDonald’s) but it’s one that I get easily bored with—as I was at last year’s Champagne Gala at Daniel’s that was headlined by two vintages of Dom Perignon.

While there were some differences between the two vintages (with the 2004 being far superior to the 2006) neither of the bottles were any more distinctive or exciting than the other Moët & Chandon wines with the NV Rosé Impérial being the best Champagne of the evening.

Sparkling Wine Making From the Wine & Spirit Education Trust

This video was uploaded on Nov 21, 2012 by YouTube user McWilliamsWinesVideo who hasn’t uploaded anything else in nearly 6 years. I strongly suspect this was a sloppily edited recording of video series in the 1980s produced by First Growth Productions for the Wine & Spirit Education (WSET).

I tried to find the original broadcast on the WSET website but to no avail. Nor could I find an online presence for First Growth Productions either. WSET does have its own YouTube channel for their 3 Minute Wine School videos taught by Masters of Wine Jancis Robinson and Tim Atkin. While it hasn’t been updated in over 2 years, the 21 videos featured do have a lot of great content worth viewing.

The quality of this video is no where close to that of the GuildSomm video above. But the illustrations and up close view of the winemaking process used in Champagne has a lot of value.

My Notes From Sparkling Wine Making

(1:46) A discussion and illustration of the transfer method. This is how most 187ml airline splits are made but apparently was quite popular for Australian sparkling wines when this video was produced.

(2:28) Here the video switches to Champagne where they note that the grapes are often harvested in October. Boy has global warming changed that! This year’s harvest started on the 20th of August and was the fifth harvest since 2003 to start in August. And several vintages, like the very stellar 2015 vintage, have started the first week of September.

(3:45) A little subtle dissing of the Aube which is not out of line for the mindset of this time period. The Aubois led the Champagne Riots highlighted in the GuildSomm video when they were threatened with expulsion from the Champagne zone. It’s only recently that a wave of high quality grower producers from the Côte des Bar sub-region of the Aube have turned this into one of the most exciting regions in Champagne.

A crazy delicious blend of 25% Arbane, 25% Petit Meslier, 25% Blanc Vrai (Pinot blanc) and 25% Chardonnay.
It’s a hunt to find this unicorn but will certainly be worth it if you can score a bottle!

Producers like Pierre Gerbais, Cédric Bouchard, Vouette et Sorbée, Jacques Lassaigne, Marie-Courtin, Nathalie Falmet, Drappier and more are making outstanding bubbles. I’m still trying to hunt down another bottle of Pierre Gerbais’ L’Originale (100% Pinot blanc) and the Drappier Quattuor Blanc de Blancs that I had while playing the Somm Game in Vegas is a strong contender for my Wine of The Year.

Seriously, if you love Champagne, you need to start looking for bottles from the Côte des Bar and Aube.

Getting Into The Nitty-Gritty

(3:52) A really good demonstration of the traditional pressing process in large wooden basket presses. Champagne’s wine laws strictly regulate the press yields. Producers can use only the first 100 liters of juice from every 160 kgs of grapes they press. The first 80 of these liters (the cuvée) are highly values as the best quality. The next 20 liters are the taille. This is often used for producing fruity, aromatic wines that are meant to be consumed young.

(4:45) The video doesn’t explain why but says that the houses who ferment their wines in oak prefer casks from Hungary. Will need to research this more. Wines and Vines has a pretty in-depth article about Hungarian oak (though doesn’t mentioned Champagne houses using them) while the home-winemaking site MoreWine! has a simple breakdown of the difference between French, American and Hungarian oaks.

(6:54) This is probably the best segment of the entire video. A fantastic explanation and illustration of riddling. At the 7:15 mark  they show an illustration of the two different types of sediments that form during the autolysis process. Again, this is something that wine books rarely draw out and explain. But learning about these two different types of sediment (heavy & sticky vs light & dusty) helps explain why the riddling process needs to be so methodical.

Enjoy the videos! If you find these Geek Notes breakdowns helpful, post a comment below!

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

Photo By Bjørn Erik Pedersen - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Continuing our series on the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign, today we are looking at offers on the 3rd Growth St. Julien estate of Ch. Langoa-Barton, 3rd Growth Haut-Medoc estate Ch. La Lagune, the St. Emilion Grand Cru Classe estate of Ch. Barde-Haut and the 4th Growth St. Julien estate of Ch. Branaire-Ducru.

For previous installments of our series check out:

Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge, Haut-Batailley
Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Pape Clément, Ormes de Pez, Marquis d’Alesme, Malartic-Lagraviere

Be sure to subscribe to SpitBucket so you can stay up to date with new installments as more 2017 offers are released.

Langoa-Barton (St. Julien)

Some geekery:

This 3rd Growth estate has been in the Barton family’s hands since 1821. Its story began when Hugh Barton of the negociant firm Barton and Guestier purchased Ch. Pontet-Langlois and renamed the estate. A few years later he purchased part of the massive Leoville estate which would subsequently become the 2nd Growth Leoville-Barton.

With the no winemaking facilities, the wines of Leoville-Barton were (and still are) made at Ch. Langoa-Barton with the chateau featured on the label of Leoville-Barton actually being the manor house of Langoa-Barton.

Photo By Jamain - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The chateau of Langoa-Barton featured on the logo of Leoville-Barton.

Today the estate is managed by Anthony Barton and his daughter Lillian with 25 hectare of vines close to neighboring estates of 2nd Growths Leoville Poyferre and Ducru-Beaucaillou as well as the 4th Growth estate of Ch. Beychevelle. The vines are planted to a mix of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Franc with the percentage of Merlot increasing in recent years.

The winemaking style of Langoa-Barton is very traditional with fermentation taking place in large wooden-vats with the must co-inoculated with MLF bacteria to induce malolactic fermentation during primary fermentation. Around 7,500 cases a year are produced.

The 2017 is a blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc.

Critic scores:

92-94 James Suckling (JS), 92-94 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 90-93 Wine Spectator (WS), 90-93 Vinous Media/Antonio Galloni (VM/AG), 91-93 Jeff Leve (JL), 90-92 Jeb Dunnuck (JD)

Sample review:

There is no doubt that this offers a good expression of the appellation in the medium to long term, but there’s a slightly wider gap between Léoville and Langoa this year – the first time I’ve felt that in several years, and perhaps a reflection of the slightly cooler terroir here. It’s impressively structured and well held together, with black fruits which aren’t as concentrated as the estate has displayed in the previous two vintages, but it displays an innate St-Julien elegance. Drinking Window 2025-2038. — Jane Anson, Decanter (92 pts)

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $46
JJ Buckley: $49.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: $50 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet
Total Wine: $47.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K & L: $48.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:

2016 — Wine Searcher Average $51 Average Critic Score: 91 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $54 Average Critic Score: 92 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $59 Average Critic Score: 92 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $46 Average Critic Score: 89 pts

Buy or Pass?

Langoa-Barton was one of the estate that I thought really overachieved in 2014 and I’m grateful that I bought several bottles soon after release in the $48-50 range before the prices jumped. Compared to its sister estate, Leoville-Barton, I appreciate how approachable Langoa-Barton is at a relatively young age for an “old-school style” St. Julien that leans more towards the savory and cedary style.

The cooler nature of their terroir that Anson mention gives me some pause for this cool and frost-prone vintage. Like the 2014, I could take a wait and see approach to taste the 2017 in the bottle before buying in. If the price was north of $50, this would definitely be a pass but the impressiveness of the 2014 and compelling value is tilting me towards Buy–but only for a couple bottles at this point.

La Lagune (Haut-Medoc)

Some geekery:

Ch. La Lagune is noted for its classically style chateau that was designed in 1715 by Baron Victor Louis, the same architect who designed the Grand Theater of Bordeaux. During this time the estate was owned by the wealthy de Seze family that owned many properties throughout Bordeaux including what would eventually become the St. Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classe estate Ch. Troplong-Mondot.

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

Ch. La Lagune

The estate fell on hard times in the early 20th century and was especially ravaged by World War II and the great frost of 1956. By the time George Brunette purchased the property in 1958 only 5 hectares of vines were in healthy production. Brunette started the estate on the path of revitalization that really took off when he sold it to the Ducellier family who owned the Champagne house Ayala.

Modern day La Lagune

In 2000, Ch. La Lagune and Ayala were sold to the Frey family who partially own Billecart-Salmon. The Freys subsequently sold Ayala to Bollinger, keeping La Lagune and also acquiring the Rhone estate Maison Paul Jaboulet Aine in Hermitage, Chateau de Corton Andre in the Cote de Beaune region of Burgundy and Chateau D’Arche in the Haut-Medoc commune of Ludon near La Lagune.

Today the estate is managed by Caroline Frey with around 20,000 cases a year produced.

One unique aspect of the winemaking, similar to the style of Ch. Haut-Brion, is that the final blend of each vintage is determined shortly after fermentation with the blended wine being put into the barrel for aging. In contrast, most estates wait till closer to the time of En Primeur in April following harvest to determine the blend and even then the varietal components may be kept separate throughout the aging process until closer to bottling.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. While many estates were hit hard by frost in 2017, causing a drop of around 40% in total production, Ch. La Lagune came out relatively unscathed with only a loss of 5% of their vineyards.

Critic scores:

90-92 VM, 89-90 JS, 88-90 Wine Advocate (WA), 88-90 JD

Sample review:

This has clear damson flesh to the fruit, a good plummy wine with an elegance and freshness to the tannins. It’s good, linear with a precision that you don’t find everywhere. This is still not quite at the 2015/16 level of completeness, but delivers from start to finish, and is a wine that should age well. It has a 2001 type of elegance and lift with a tension to the tannins that gives confidence in its ageing ability. Now certified organic, in conversion for biodynamics. — Jane Anson, Decanter (92 pts)

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $45
JJ Buckley: No offers yet
Vinfolio: $50 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet
Total Wine: $49.97
K & L: $49.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 — Wine Searcher Average $51 Average Critic Score: 91 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $55 Average Critic Score: 92 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $51 Average Critic Score: 91 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $49 Average Critic Score: 89 pts

Buy or Pass?

As I noted in my previous Bordeaux 2017 posts, the focus of my spending this campaign is on value and getting “cellar defenders” with wines that have a good track-record of delivering pleasure at younger ages.

While the La Lagune is offering decent value, I don’t have enough personal track record with the estate to pull the trigger. My previous experience with the estate has been with the stellar 2005 and 2009/2010 vintages. Those wines were certainly enjoyable and encouraged me to buy some more from 2015/2016. But my buying habits are much more cautious for vintages like 2017 so this will be a Pass for me.

Barde-Haut (St. Emilion)

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

Vineyards in St. Emilion.

Ch. Barde-Haut is a relatively young estates who fortunes changed dramatically when it was purchased by Sylviane Garcin-Cathiard in 2000. Today it is owned by her daughter, Hélène Garcin-Lévêque, who previously managed the Pessac-Leognan estates of Château Haut-Bergey and Ch. Banon (now ran by her brother Paul Garcin).

In addition to Barde-Haut, Garcin-Lévêque also owns the Pomerol estate Clos L’Eglise, Château D’Arce in Côtes de Castillon and a new project in St. Emilion near Valandraud called Poesia. Previously known as Chateau Haut Villet, the estate is named after the Garcin-Lévêque estate in the Mendoza region of Argentina.

While her husband Patrice oversees the viticulture, Hélène Garcin-Lévêque is in charge of the winemaking with Thomas Duclos consulting. Around 3,500 cases a year are produced.

The 16 hectares of vineyards are found mostly on the limestone plateau of St. Emilion by Troplong Mondot and Pavie Macquin as well as parcels near Ch. Fombrauge.

The 2017 is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc.

Critic scores:

93-94 JS, 92-94 VM, 91-93 WA, 90-93 WS, 88-90 WE, 92-94 JD

Sample review:

Barde-Haut didn’t see any frost this year due to the altitude of the vineyards. Composed of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, the deep garnet-purple colored 2017 Barde-Haut gives notions of baked blackberries, blueberry compote and Black Forest cake with touches of potpourri, dusty soil and cast iron pan. The palate is medium to full-bodied with a firm frame of grainy tannins and great freshness, finishing long and minerally. — Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Wine Advocate

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $38
JJ Buckley: No offers yet
Vinfolio: No offers yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $221.94 for 6 pack + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $37.97
K & L: $39.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 — Wine Searcher Average $41 Average Critic Score: 90 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $46 Average Critic Score: 91 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $35 Average Critic Score: 90 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $27 Average Critic Score:88 pts

Buy or Pass?

I think there are exciting things in-store with Ch. Barde-Haut and was thoroughly impressed with their 2015 which is drinking absolutely scrumptious now and probably could be commanding prices north of $50.

But, again, I’m feeling cautious with my wallet and my only “sub-par vintage” experience with this estate was a very underwhelming 2013 (which I can’t hold against any winery) and a 2014 that was super-tight and not fitting the mold of my ideal “cellar defender.” At this point, I’m more incline to Pass on this offer and buy up more of the 2015 before the prices start reflecting its very high quality level.

Branaire-Ducru (St. Julien)

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

Ch. Branaire-Ducru

This fourth growth estate has a long history dating back to 1600s when it was originally part of the large Beychevelle estate. The owner’s passing in 1680 lead to the break up of that vast estate. Jean-Baptiste Braneyre would go on to buy the parcels that eventually became Branaire-Ducru. Gustave Ducru added the “Ducru” part of the name when he acquired the property in 1875.

In 1988, Patrick Maroteaux purchased the estate and brought in Philippe Dhalluin to help modernize the winemaking. Dhalluin would go on to the revitalize the use of gravity-flow wine production at Branaire-Ducru.  He would later leave in 2004 to take over winemaking at the First Growth Pauilliac estate Ch. Mouton-Rothschild. Jean Dominique Videau succeeded him with Eric Boissenot consulting.

This was the last vintage of Patrick Maroteaux with him passing away just after harvest in November 2017. His son, François Xavier Maroteaux, has taken over the estate.

Branaire-Ducru covers 60 hectares in the southern portion of St. Julien with parcels in view of the Gironde next to neighboring 2nd Growth Ducru-Beaucaillou and 4th Growth Beychevelle. There are also parcels more inland near 3rd Growth Ch. Lagrange and 4th Growth Ch. Talbot. The winery produces around 25,000 cases a year.

The blend for the 2017 is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 6.5% Petit Verdot and 4.5% Cabernet Franc.

Critic scores:

91-94 VM, 92-93 JS, 91-93 WE, 90-93 WS, 88-90 WA, 90-92 JD

Sample review:

The 2017 Branaire-Ducru offers lovely depth and density. The characteristic dark red/purplish fruit character of Brainaire comes through beautifully. As always, Branaire is a wine of polish and finesse. Stylistically, the 2017 comes across as a smaller scaled and more accessible version of the 2015. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $49
JJ Buckley: No offers yet
Vinfolio: No offers yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $299.94 for 6 pack + shipping
Total Wine: $51.97
K & L: $51.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 — Wine Searcher Average $58 Average Critic Score: 92 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $62 Average Critic Score: 92 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $51 Average Critic Score: 92 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $49 Average Critic Score:89 pts

Buy or Pass?

This is one of my personal favorite estates that is virtually an automatic Buy for me every year. This wine always seems to vastly over-perform its price point and classification. Most years it drinks on par with a 2nd Growth. The 2009 vintage (with a Wine Searcher Average price of $92) is one of the best wines I’ve had from that vintage and has put several of its more expensive peers to shame.

With this wine priced in line with 2014, this was a no-brainer purchase for me.

More 2017 Bordeaux Futures Posts

Why I Buy Bordeaux Futures

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

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

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

Interesting Tweets and Weblinks

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

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

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

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

Château Paloumey in Ludon-Médoc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hide yo kids, Hide yo wife

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

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

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Thought Bubbles – How to Geek Out About Champagne

By Joseph Faverot - [1], Public Domain, on Wikimedia CommonsLast week I got into a bit of a tizzy over some ridiculous things posted by a so-called “Wine Prophet” on how to become a “Champagne Master.” See Champagne Masters and their Bull Shit for all the fun and giggles.

But despite the many failings of Jonathan Cristaldi’s post, he did dish out one excellent piece of advice. To learn more about Champagne, you have to start popping bottles. I want to expand on that and offer a few tidbits for budding Champagne geeks.

I’m not going to promise to make you a “Champagne Master”–because that is a lifelong pursuit–but I will promise not to steer you towards looking like a buffoon regurgitating nonsense about Marie Antoinette pimping for a Champagne house that wasn’t founded till 40+ years after her death.

Deal? Alright, let’s have some fun.

1.) Start Popping Bottles!

Pretty much you can stop reading now. I’m serious. Just try something, anything. Better still if it is something you haven’t had or even heard of before. Pop it open and see what you think.

They say it takes 10,000 hours to master anything so take that as a personal challenge to start getting your drink on. Well actually that 10,000-hour thing has been debunked, but mama didn’t raise a quitter.

Though seriously, if you want to make your tasting exploration more fruitful, here are some tips.

Make friends with your local wine shop folks

They pretty much live and breath the wines they stock. They know their inventory. The good ones also have a passion to share their love and knowledge with others. Admittedly not every shop is great but go in, look around, ask questions and see if you find a good fit. Finding a great local wine shop with folks whose opinions you trust is worth its weight in gold for a wine lover. Once you’ve found that, the door is open for you to discover a lot of fantastic bottles that will only enrich your explorations.

Learn the differences between négociant houses, grower-producers and co-operatives
On Wikimedia Commons under PD-US from United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsca.05590.

Online retailers can be helpful as well but sometimes it’s good to have a face to put with a bottle.

In Champagne, you can often find on the label a long number with abbreviations that denote what type of producer made the Champagne.

NMnégociant manipulant, who buy fruit (or even pre-made wine) from growers. These are the big houses (like the LVMH stable of Moët & Chandon & Veuve Clicquot) that make nearly 80% of all Champagne produced. These Champagnes aren’t bad at all. Most are rather outstanding.

But the key to know is that while there are around 19,000 growers, the Champagne market is thoroughly dominated by several large négociant houses. Chances are if you go into a store (especially a grocery store or Costco), these wines are likely going to be your only options. You should certainly try these wines. However, it’s worth the leg work to find the whole wide world of Champagne that exists beyond these big names. This is a huge reason why making friends at the local wine shop (who often stock smaller producers) is a great idea.

But here is where it gets exciting.

RMrécoltant manipulant, who make wine only from their own estate fruit. These are your “Grower Champagnes” and while being a small producer, alone, is not a guarantee of quality, exploring the wines of small producers is like checking out the small mom & pop restaurants in a city instead of only eating at the big chain restaurants. You can find a lot of gems among the little guys who toil in obscurity.

CMcoopérative-manipulant, who pool together the resources of a group of growers under one brand. This is kind of the middle ground between true Grower Champagne and the big négociant houses. Some of these co-ops are small and based around a single village (like Champagne Mailly) while others cover the entire region (like Nicolas Feuillatte which includes 5000 growers and is one of the top producers in Champagne). Some of these are easier to find than others, but they are still worth exploring so you can learn about the larger picture of Champagne.

An example of a négociant (NM on left) and grower (RM on right) label.

Pay attention to sweetness and house style

While “Brut” is going to be the most common sweetness level you see, no two bottles of Brut are going to be the same. That is because a bottle of Brut can have anywhere from Zero to up to 12 grams per liter of sugar. Twelve grams is essentially 3 cubes of sugar. Then, almost counter-intuitively, wines labeled as “Extra Dry” are going to actually be a little sweeter than Brut. (It’s a long story)

By Kici, Released on Wikimedia Commons under public domain

Though to be fair, if they served Champagne at McDonald’s, I would probably eat there more often. It is one of the best pairings with french fries.

This is important to note because while Champagne houses often won’t tell you the dosage (amount of sugar added at bottling) of their Bruts, with enough tasting, you can start to discern the general “house style” of a brand.

For instance, the notable Veuve Clicquot “Yellow Label” is tailor-made for the sweet tooth US market and will always be on the “sweeter side of Brut” (9-12 g/l). While houses such as Billecart-Salmon usually go for a drier style with dosages of 7 g/l or less. If you have these two wines side by side (and focus on the tip of your tongue), you will notice the difference in sweetness and house style.

The idea of house style (which is best exhibited in each brand’s non-vintage cuvee) is for the consumer to get a consistent experience with every bottle. It’s the same goal of McDonald’s to have every Big Mac taste the same no matter where you are or when you buy it. All the dominant négociant houses have a trademark style and some will be more to your taste than others.

Explore the Grand Crus and vineyard designated bottles

While Champagne is not quite like Burgundy with the focus on terroir and the idea that different plots of land exhibit different personalities, the region is still home to an abundance of unique vineyards and terroir. You can best explore this through bottles made from single designated vineyards. However, these can be expensive and exceedingly hard to find.

Quite a bit easier to find (especially at a good wine shop) are Grand Cru Champagnes that are made exclusively from the fruit of 17 particular villages. There are over 300 villages in Champagne but over time the vineyards of these 17 villages showed themselves to produce the highest quality and most consistent wines. All the top prestige cuvees in Champagne prominently feature fruit from these villages.

To be labeled as a Grand Cru, the Champagne has to be 100% sourced only from a Grand Cru village. It could be a blend of several Grand Cru villages but if a single village is featured on the front of the label (like Bouzy, Mailly, Avize, Ambonnay, etc) then it has to be only from that village. Since the production of the Grand Cru villages represents less than 10% of all the grapes grown in Champagne, you would expect them to be somewhat pricey. That’s not the case. Many small growers have inherited their Grand Cru vineyards through generations of their families and can produce 100% Grand Cru Champagnes for the same price as your basic Champagnes from the big négociant house.

Well worth the hunt

They may be a little harder to find than the big négociant houses, but Grand Cru Champagnes from producers like Pierre Peters, Franck Bonville, Pierre Moncuitt, Petrois-Moriset, Pierre Paillard and more can be had in the $40-60 range.

While not as terroir-driven as single vineyard wines, tasting some of the single-village Grand Crus offers a tremendous opportunity to learn about the unique personality of different villages in Champagne and is well worth the time of any Champagne lover to explore.

2.) Great Reading Resources

Truthfully, you can just follow the advice of the first step and live a life of happy, bubbly contentment. You don’t need book knowledge to enjoy Champagne–just an explorer’s soul and willingness to try something new. But when you want to geek out and expand your experience, it is helpful to have robust and reliable resources. There are tons of great wine books dealing with Champagne and sparkling wine but a few of my favorites include:

A few favs

The Five Essential Books On Champagne, Plus One For the Wine Prophet

Tom Stevenson and Essi Avellan’s Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine — The benchmark reference book written by the foremost authorities on all things that sparkle.

Peter Liem’s Champagne [Boxed Book & Map Set] — This set ramps up the geek factor and dives deeper into the nitty-gritty details of Champagne. The companion maps that shows vineyards and crus of the region are enough to make any Bubble Head squeal.

David White’s But First, Champagne — A very fresh and modern approach to learning about Champagne. It essentially takes the Christie’s Encyclopedia and Peter Liem’s opus and boils it down to a more digestible compendium.

Robert Walter’s Bursting Bubbles — Thought-provoking and a different perspective. You can read my full review of the book here.

Don & Petie Kladstrup’s Champagne: How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times — One of my favorite books, period. Brilliantly written work of historical non-fiction about the people who made Champagne, Champagne. If you ever wondered what was the big deal about people calling everything that has bubbles “champagne,” read this book about what the Champenois endured throughout their history and you will have a newfound respect for what the word “Champagne” means.

Ed McCarthy’s Champagne for Dummies — A little outdated but a quick read that covers the basics very well. I suspect that if the “Wine Prophet” read this book, he wouldn’t have had as many difficulties understanding the differences between vintage and non-vintage Champagnes.

3.) Next Level Geekery

As I said in the intro, the pursuit of Champagne Mastery is a lifelong passion and you never stop learning. Beyond the advice given above, some avenues for even more in-depth exploration includes:

The Wine Scholar Guild Champagne Master-Level course — I’ve taken the WSG Bordeaux and Burgundy Master courses and can’t rave enough about the online programs they have. Taught by Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine, the level of instruction and attention to detail is top notch. They also offer immersion tours to the region.

Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages — This Master of Wine is one of the most reliable sources for information and tasting notes on all kinds of wine but particularly for Champagne.

Allen Meadow’s Burghound — While Burgundy is Meadow’s particular focus, he does devote a lot of time reviewing and commenting on Champagne and, like Robinson, is a very reliable source. But the caveat for all critics is to view them as tools, rather than pontiffs.

Visit Wineries
By Webmasterlescordeliers - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, on Wikimedia Commons

If you get a chance to riddle, it will be enjoyable for the first couple of minutes. Then you realize how hard of a job it is.

Even if you can’t visit Champagne itself, chances are you are probably near some producer, somewhere who is making sparkling wine.

Throughout the world, producers making bubbly. From African wineries in Morocco, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa; Asian wineries in China and India; to more well known sparkling wine producing countries in Australia, Argentina, Chile, United Kingdom and Eastern Europe–the possibilities are near endless.

Even in your own backyard

In the United States, there is not only a vibrant sparkling wine industry in the traditional west coast regions of California, Oregon (Beaver State Bubbly) and Washington State but also New Mexico, Missouri, New York, Virginia, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Georgia, Colorado and more.

While they may not be doing the “traditional method,” there is still benefit to visiting and tasting at these estates. At small wineries where the person pouring could be the owner or winemaker themselves. These experiences can give you an opportunity to peek behind the curtain and see the work that happens in the vineyard and winery. As beautiful of a resource that books and classes are, there is no substitute for first-hand experience.

So have fun and keep exploring!

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