Tag Archives: Cabernet Franc

Hunting Unicorns in the Stags Leap District

Even if it’s was just a marketing farce of Horace Chase, I still like the story of how Stags’ Leap Winery (and the area) got its name. Jancis Robinson recounts it in her book, American Wine, with the legend of Wappo tribal hunters chasing a stag. The hunt was close until the cunning beast secured its freedom by leaping across a vast chasm among the craggy palisades.

Stags Leap Palisades

The “Leap” of the Stags Leap District behind Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.

Kirk Grace, director of vineyard operations for Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, pointed those fabled peaks out to me when I visited the district on a recent press tour. I thought about those hunters often while tasting through a stellar line-up of Stags Leap District wines.

There’s a lot of great wine here, no doubt. Trophies and treasures abound with a close-knit community of growers and producers. It’s hard to find a bad bottle because they all hold each other accountable for maintaining the area’s reputation.

But even with the bounty of treasures, there is still the urge to hunt.

As I noted in my post, Napa Valley — Boomer or Bust?, there’s a dichotomy brewing in the valley. It’s between what the Boomers (and, to some degree, Gen Xers) want to buy against the boredom that Millennials have with seeing the same ole, same ole everywhere. It’s this boredom that pushes us away from Napa in a hunt for something different.

However, from a business point of view, the current Napa recipe is working spectacularly well right now. Folks are making outstanding Cabs and Chardonnays which Boomers and Gen Xers are gobbling up. Of course, the fact that Cabernet Sauvignon grows really well in Napa Valley helps a lot.

Shafer Cabernets.

You can’t discount how delicious these Cabs can be. They are, indeed, “dialed in.”

As Doug Shafer of Shafer Vineyards noted, the valley has spent the last 40 years or so dialing things in. They have virtually perfected the art of making exquisite Cabernet. I can’t argue against that. The proof was loud and clear in the many sinfully delicious wines that I had on that trip. It has also been solidified over the years by several bottles that I’ve purchased and enjoyed on my own.

But even with all that velvet-glove gluttony, my Millennial heart was still tempted by another sin.

Lust

A craving for something different. Something exciting. Something worth stringing a bow and sharpening arrows for.

While the stag has gotten fat and easy to cull, I was excited to discover other beasts in the Stags Leap District that would have given the Wappos a good fight. These wines are often made in meager quantities and rarely see the light of retail or restaurant wine lists. Instead, these are the gems hidden in the tasting rooms and wine club offerings. But they are absolutely worth hunting down.

Steltzner Sangiovese

The Steltzner Stags Leap District Sangiovese was so good that a member of our tasting party bought another vintage (2015) to take to dinner.

What was even more remarkable–beyond their existence–is that each of these wines was quintessentially Stags Leap. The family resemblance you see in SLD Cabs of bright, juicy fruit with powerful, yet ripe and forgiving tannins echoes fiercely throughout these wines. Likewise, you can see the same care and “dialed in” attention that Stags Leap producers are known for in each bottle.

Of course, with all that care and the SLD banner comes a hefty price tag. With the average price of land in Napa over $300,000 an acre (and hitting over $400,000 an acre in the Stags Leap District), nothing here is going to be cheap.

Undoubtedly, this is always going to be an area where the Millennial Math is a struggle. However, one of the things that enhances value is excitement and uniqueness.

And you can’t get much more exciting and unique than hunting unicorns.

So let me share with you some of the unicorns I discovered in the Stags Leap District.

Again, I’m not trying to downplay the region’s flagship Cabernets. But trumpets have been heralding their triumphs for decades. If you’re like me, sometimes your ears get enchanted by a different tune. I think each of these wines offers notes worth singing about.

Note: the wines tasted below were samples provided on the press tour.

Steltzner Sangiovese ($55)

I’m going to be writing a dedicated piece on Dick Steltzner in the not too distant future. It’s fascinating how someone who is so ingrained into Stags Leap District history would step out of the parade so many times to do his own thing.

Even though Steltzner’s Cabernet Sauvignon has been prominently featured in iconic bottlings like the inaugural vintage of Joseph Phelps’ Insignia and the 1972 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon (of Judgement of Paris fame), he’s never been afraid to try new things.

Steltzner Sangio

The 2016 Steltzner Sangio. Probably my favorite of the two vintages but they were both excellent.

The initial plantings of Steltzner Vineyards in the mid-1960s included Riesling which had been a favorite of Dick Steltzner since he tried Stony Hill’s version. The Riesling didn’t work out, but that didn’t discourage him from experimenting again in the 1980s with adding Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Pinotage and Sangiovese.

Over the years, Dick Steltzner has gradually parcelled and sold off his vineyard–first in 1990 and most recently in 2012 to the PlumpJack Group. However, he’s kept many of his oldest and favorite plantings including the absolutely delicious Sangiovese as well as some Malbec vines which will occasionally be made as a varietal ($55).

Today, the vineyards are managed by Jim Barbour with the wines made by Mike Smith and Robert Pepi.

The Wine and Verdict

Medium-plus intensity nose. A mix of black cherries and plums. Not as herbal as an Italian example. Instead, there is an intense blue floral component.

On the palate, those dark fruits carry through and are quite juicy with medium-plus acidity. Full-Bodied but not overbearing with ripe medium-plus tannins. As with the Stags Leap District Cabs, the texture and mouthfeel are outstanding. The fruit wraps around your tongue, having a tug of war with the mouthwatering acidity. It makes you want to both hold the wine in your mouth to savor and swallow so you can enjoy another sip. Long finish brings back the floral notes and adds a little oak spice.

Like Villa Ragazzi’s Pope Valley/Oakville Sangioveses, you’re not going to mistake this for a Tuscan wine. But this wine has more than enough character to stand on its own compared to similarly priced Brunellos.

Ilsley Seis Primas ($79)

Not long after Nathan Fay pioneered Cabernet Sauvignon in the Stags Leap District, Robert Mondavi suggested to Ernest Ilsley in 1964 that he try his hand at the variety. The Ilsley Vineyard was already selling their Carignan and Zinfandel to Charles Krug winery. When Robert Mondavi opened his winery a couple of years later, a good chunk of the fruit for his very first Cab came from the young Ilsley vines.

The Ilsleys continue to sell fruit to wineries even after starting their own label in 2000–most notably to Shafer Vineyards where David Ilsley is the vineyard manager. David also manages the family vineyard with brother Ernie running operations and sister Janice handling hospitality and sales. Since 2009, Heather Pyle-Lucas has been making the wines after starting at Robert Mondavi Winery.

Ilsley Seis Primas

Such a delicious bottle. I’m kicking myself for not figuring out a way to bring a few bottles back to Paris.

The 2015 Seis Primas is a blend of 62% Malbec, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc with only 183 cases made. The name pays homage to the six girl cousins that make up the 4th generation of the Ilsley family. The wine is sourced from six separate vineyard blocks including a 1996 planting of Malbec that the girls’ grandfather, Ed Ilsley, added to the family estate.

The Wine and Verdict

High-intensity nose. Rich dark blackberry fruit and plum. Lots of blue floral notes of violet and irises. There is also some noticeable oak spice, but it’s not dominating at all.

On the palate, the oak is more noticeable with a chocolate component added to the dark fruit. But still not overwhelming with black pepper spice emerging that compliments the allspice and cinnamon. Full-bodied with high-tannins, the wine is balanced well with medium-plus acidity that keeps the fruit tasting fresh. Long finish lingers on the spices.

I know that I said that it’s hard to find value in the Stags Leap District, but this wine proves me wrong. I’m stunned that this bottle is less than $100. It was easily one of the Top 5 wines that I had that entire week in the Stags Leap District after visiting 15 wineries and trying lots of heavy-hitters.

Honestly, if this wine had the magical “C-word” on the label, it probably could fetch closer to $130. All the Ilsley wines are sold direct-to-consumer. If you want any chance of bagging this trophy, you need to visit this family winery.

Clos du Val Cabernet Franc ($100)
Clos du Val Cab Franc

The 2016 Clos du Val Cabernet Franc. Still young but impressive already.

Even among Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignons, Clos du Val is a unicorn. From founding winemaker Bernard Portet to current winemaker Ted Henry and assistant Mabel Ojeda, tasting a Clos du Val Cab stands out from the pack. While the use of new French oak has steadily increased over the years (100% for their 2015 Hirondelle estate), it’s never been as overt as it is with many of their Napa brethren.

With lively acid and more moderate alcohols, these are always wines that sing in harmony with food. Think Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty’s “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” Yeah, Fleetwood Mac and the Heartbreakers are great–just like a big, bold, luscious Napa Cab is at times. But, damn, if there’s not something magical about tension and style.

These are also wines built for aging. That’s why it wasn’t shocking that when the historic 1976 Judgement of Paris wine tasting was recreated in 1986, it saw the 1972 Clos du Val Cab nab first place.

The Cabernet Franc comes from the estate Hirondelle Vineyard that surrounds the winery. It’s named after the French word for “swallows” and references the birds that build their nests on the northwest side of the winery every spring. The 2016 vintage was 99% Cabernet Franc with 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. Clos du Val’s winemaking team aged the wine 20 months in a mix of 80% new French and Hungarian oak.

The Wine and Verdict
Swallows at Clos du Val

Some of the swallows and nests that give the Hirondelle Vineyard its name.

High-intensity nose. Very floral but also an earthy, leather component. Underneath there is some dark fruit of blueberries and blackberries, but they’re secondary notes in this very evocative bouquet.

On the palate, the fruit makes its presence more known and are amplified by high acidity. Very mouthwatering. The earthy, leathery notes are still here but add a truffle component. It’s not like a Rhone, but it’s almost meaty. Firm, medium-plus tannins have solid structure but are still approachable. Moderate length finish brings backs the floral notes.

This is definitely a completely different Cabernet Franc than anything you would see in the Loire. It’s also not as “Cab Sauv-like” as many new world examples of Cabernet Franc can be (especially in Napa and Washington). The wine is certainly its own beast and is bursting with character. I can only imagine how much more depth and complexity this wine will get with age.

At $100 a bottle, you’re paying top-shelf Cab prices for it. But I guarantee this wine is going to have you scribbling a lot more tasting notes and descriptors than your typical $100+ Napa Cab.

Quixote Malbec ($80)
Quoixote shower

Or step into the shower they have in the visitor’s bathroom at the Quixote tasting room.

Quixote is pretty much the Narnia of Napa Valley. If you want to find unicorns, all you need to do is enter through the Friedensreich Hundertwasser-designed wardrobe and there you are.

Carl Doumani founded Quixote in 1996 not long before he sold Stags’ Leap Winery to Beringer (now Treasury Wine Estates). At Stags’ Leap, Doumani built a reputation for the high quality of his Petite Sirah.  When he sold the property,  he kept many of the choice parcels for his new venture. The current owners, the Chinese private firm Le Melange, which acquired Quixote in 2014, continues to make Petite Sirah a significant focus.

They make three tiers of Petite Sirah. The prices range from the red label Panza ($50) up to their premier black label Helmet of Mambrino ($105-125 depending on the vintage). Quixote also makes a very charming rose of Petite Sirah ($35). All of those are well worth trying. However, the one wine that really knocked my socks off was their Stags Leap Malbec.

Doumani fell in love with the grape after a trip to Argentina in the 2000s. He had a little less than an acre planted with the first vintage released in 2011. Only around 100-150 cases of this wine are produced each year.

The Wine and Verdict
Quixote Malbec

The 2015 Quixote Stags Leap Malbec.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Blackberries clearly dominate the show with some noticeable chocolatey oak undertones. With a little air comes black pepper spice, anise and savory leather notes.

On the palate, this was one of the most quintessential Stags Leap wines I tasted. Totally “iron fist in a velvet glove” all the way. Very full-bodied with ripe, medium-plus tannins. The plush texture is accentuated by the creamy vanilla of the oak. Medium acidity gives enough balance to add juiciness to the blackberries and also highlight a red plum component. Moderate finish brings back the spice notes with the black licorice note lingering the most.

In many ways, I can see regular consumers (as opposed to blind tasters) thinking this was a Napa Cab. There’s the rich dark fruit with noticeable oak. Coupled with the full-bodied structure and mouthfeel, it hits all those hedonistic notes that many consumers seek out in top-shelf Napa wines. But I love what the Malbec-y spice brings to the table. It helps the wine stand apart as a unicorn worth seeking out.

It’s definitely different than Malbecs grown elsewhere in the world (and a lot pricier too). However, this is truly a unique expression of the grape that reflects the Stags Leap District exceedingly well.

Other Stags Leap District Unicorns that I haven’t had yet but am on the hunt for.

In 2014, Decanter magazine noted that the Stags Leap District was planted to 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petite Sirah and 1% other. I honestly don’t think the numbers have changed much in the last five years. If anything, Cab has probably gained more ground and relegated Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah to the One-Percenter Club.

So, yeah, these wines are going to be hard to fine.  But my experiences with the unicorns that I’ve already encountered has me feeling that these are going to be worth the hunt.

Chimney Rock Cabernet Franc ($85)
Author with Elizabeth Vianna.

Yup. Totally fangirl’d.

I fully admit that I’m an Elizabeth Vianna fangirl. I adore her work at Chimney Rock and she also has a great twitter account worth following.  Another upcoming post in the works will see me getting geeky over Chimney Rock’s crazy delicious Elevage Blanc.

From a solely Stags Leap perspective, this Cabernet Franc from their estate vineyard intrigues me. Even though Chimney Rock’s vineyards essentially encircles Clos du Val’s Hirondelle vineyard, I suspect that this will be a very different expression of Cabernet Franc. That’s partly why it would be so cool to try.

Chimney Rock also occasionally releases a rose of Cabernet Franc as well as a varietal Sauvignon gris– when the latter is not being used up in their Elevage blanc.

Update: Oh and there’s now this to look forward to!

Yes! A Stags Leap District Fiano!

Pine Ridge Petit Verdot ($75)
Pine Ridge map

While founded and based in the Stags Leap District, Pine Ridge sources fruit from many places and has estate vineyards in Carneros, Howell Mountain, Rutherford and Oakville.

Founded by Gary Andrus in 1978 and now owned by the Crimson Wine Group, Pine Ridge was also a big player in getting the Stags Leap District established as an AVA. While the winery is well-known for its Chenin blanc-Viognier blend (sourced mostly from the Clarksburg AVA in Sacramento, Solano and Yolo counties), the bread and butter of Pine Ridge’s Stags Leap estate is, of course, their Cab.

That’s what makes trying this Petit Verdot so intriguing even though a small amount comes from their Oakville property. Petit Verdot is a late-ripening variety that is seeing increased interest across the globe. It’s being planted more to help offset the toll that climate change is having on overripe Cab & Merlot. Of course, it can be a finicky grape to make as a varietal. However, when it’s done well, it’s a spicy delight!

Regusci Zinfandel ($60)
Screenshot of The Taste podcast

If you want to listen to a great podcast, check out Doug Shafer’s interview with Jim Regusci.

The Regusci family has a tremendous history in Napa Valley beginning with the site of the very first dedicated winery built in the Stags Leap District. The stone building, constructed by Terrill Grigsby in 1878, was known as the Occidental Winery for many years.

In 1932, Gaetano Regusci acquired the property and planted Zinfandel with many of those vines still producing fruit today. The family would sell grapes and maintain a dairy ranch on the property for several decades. In 1996, Gaetano’s son and grandson, Angelo and Jim Regusci, started the Regusci Winery.

While Zinfandel has a long history in Napa, its numbers are slowly dwindling. That’s a shame because Zinfandel is the “Craft Beer” of American Wine and a grape that is poised to capture Millennials’ attention. I don’t think anyone else in the Stags Leap District is still growing the grape which certainly makes this a fun unicorn to find.

Stags’ Leap Winery Ne Cede Malis ($150)

I became fascinated with this wine when I attended a winemaker’s dinner last year with Stags’ Leap Winery’s winemaker Joanne Wing.

Stags’ Leap Winery Winemaker Joanne Wing.

Sourced from a tiny Prohibition-era block of vines, Ne Cede Malis is a field blend.  Mostly Petite Sirah with up to 15 other different grapes including Sauvignon blanc, an unknown Muscat variety, Carignane, Mourvedre, Grenache, Peloursin, Cinsault, Malbec and Syrah. The grapes are all harvested together and co-fermented.

Coming from the Latin family motto of Horace Chase, Ne Cede Malis means “Don’t give in to misfortune.” But with the last vintage of Ne Cede Malis on Wine-Searcher being 2015 (Ave price $86), I do fret that maybe these old vines came into some misfortune. If any of my readers know differently, do leave a comment. (UPDATE BELOW)

Of course, that is the risk that comes with all unicorns. One day they may simply cease to exist. But that is also part of the thrill of the hunt.

Sometimes you bag your prize. Other times you’re standing on the edge of a cliff watching it leap away.

UPDATE: The Ne Cede Malis lives on! I was very excited to get an email from Stags’ Leap Winery letting me know that these old vines are still going strong with the 2016 vintage slated to be released in the fall for a suggested retail of $150.  Only around 500 cases were produced so this is still a unicorn worth hunting!

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Top Instagram Accounts to Follow for Bordeaux En Primeur

The 2018 Bordeaux en primeur tastings are going on right now. The event brings hundreds of journalists, critics and buyers to the Bordeaux region to taste barrel samples of the nascent vintage. The reviews and assessments written during this period help set the tone of the 2018 futures campaign that will be kicking off in the next few weeks.

2015 Ch. Margaux

My all-time favorite Bordeaux futures score.

As anyone that follows this blog knows, I’m an avid buyer of futures each year. I’ve been keeping tabs on the en primeur posts from several of my favorite writers on Twitter and Instagram. But this year I’ve discovered a few new accounts worth following as well.

Below I’ve created a list of the best accounts that I’ve enjoyed following during en primeur so far.

My criteria

What I look for in an Instagram account worth following is content beyond just bottle porn. I want to learn something about the estates, people and vintage that I can’t easily get from a wine book or magazine.

Yes, tasting note and impressions of a wine can be compelling but these wines are going to change dramatically by the time I can get a chance to try them. Beyond just someone’s tasting notes, I want to get a feel of the place and these spectacular events they’re attending.

Artistic picture quality can help. There are a few of the “new discoveries” that made this list on the merits of having some eye-catching photography. But, mostly, I compiled this list based on the content of the posts and how much edification I get from following them.

Old Favorites

Jane Anson (jane.anson)

Anson is the chief Bordeaux critic for Decanter and, in my opinion, is one of the best in the business. Her reviews are must-reads for anyone looking to purchase Bordeaux futures. They give you so much more than just a tasting note and score–often painting a bigger picture of the year and the estate’s efforts. She is also one of my top Women in Wine Twitter accounts to follow.

My favorite En Primeur insta so far: This photo of a swag gift of vine prunings from Ch. Phélan Ségur. Bonus points for the cat.

Lisa Perrotti-Brown (lisapbmw)

A Master of Wine, Perrotti-Brown is the editor-in-chief of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and it’s head Bordeaux critic. She is most certainly one of the tastemakers of Bordeaux but what I really respect is how down to earth her posts feel. Like Anson, she is one of my top Women in Wine Twitter accounts to follow.

My favorite En Primeur insta so far: This photo of some of the strangest amphorae that I’ve ever seen at Ch. Les Carmes Haut-Brion.

Jeff Leve (jeff_leve)
Jeff Leve's IG

Screen shot of Jeff Leve’s Instagram page.

Whether you are Bordeaux newbie or a connoisseur, Jeff Leve’s The Wine Cellar Insider should absolutely be one of your bookmarks. The amount of free content and details about nearly every single Bordeaux estate that is on that site is superb. I don’t think a single one of my 2017 Bordeaux futures posts last year failed to include some great insight or quote from Leve.

My favorite En Primeur insta so far: This photo from Ch. Latour Martillac that follows Leve’s style of giving compelling background on an estate’s effort in 2018 along with his tasting notes. Bonus points for the expression on the chocolate lab’s face.

Chris Kissack (chris_kissack)

Kissack is a longtime fixture on the blogosphere who first launched his Wine Doctor site back in 2000. Back in my early Wikipedia wine writing days, his site was one of my favorite resources to check facts on. But, admittedly, I haven’t been following him much outside of social media since he took his site behind a paywall.

My favorite En Primeur insta so far: This photo of some of the frost prevention equipment used in Bordeaux vineyards.

New Discoveries

Will Lyons (mrwill_lyons)

Lyons writes for The Sunday Times and has been previously featured in the Wall Street Journal.

My favorite En Primeur insta so far: This photo from La Conseillante of winemaker Marielle Cazaux next to one of the estate’s amphorae–which is apparently the en vogue thing right now in Bordeaux.

Magnus Ericsson (ericssonmagnus)

Ericsson is an editor and writer for the Swedish wine website Winefinder.
.
My favorite En Primeur insta so far: This photo and background tidbits about the Vignobles Comtes von Neipperg’s wine Le Blanc d’Aiguilhe. Very intriguing!

Magnus Olsson (bythebotti)

Olsson is a winebuyer for Winefinder.

My favorite En Primeur insta so far: This collage of some his favorite right bank estates in 2018 and the intriguing tidbit about the role that Cabernet Franc is playing in this year’s wines. Given my great love for Cab Franc (especially on the Right Bank at places like Angelus), that news made my heart soar.

Dunell’s Wines (dunellswines)
Dunell's IG

Screenshot of Dunell’s Wines’ Instagram page.

Dunell’s is a family-run wine merchant in Jersey.

My favorite En Primeur insta so far: This photo of bud break in Sauternes and the charming comparison of Ch. Sigalas-Rabaud’s Le 5 to Lillet Blanc.

Wine Owners (wineowners1)

Wine Owners is a management and trading platform for wine collectors that features over 16,000 users in 19 countries.

My favorite En Primeur insta so far: The horses of Ch. Pontet-Canet and some interesting commentary on the potential motivation of PC’s glowing review of the vintage.

Courtier du Vin (courtierduvin)

Courtier du Vin is a private wine management firm based in France. While there is some interesting content here, their inclusion was mainly driven by some of the lovely and artistic photos on their feed.

My favorite En Primeur insta so far: The perspective and lighting in this pic of the flowers at Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou brightened my entire IG feed and has been my absolute favorite of the week so far.

Any Favorites That I Missed?

Post them down in the comments below. I’m always looking for great content and accounts to follow.

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Getting Geeky with Grace Vineyard Tasya’s Reserve Shiraz

I am going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out over my first ever Chinese wine–the 2012 Grace Vineyard Tasya’s Reserve Shiraz from the Shanxi province.

The Background

Mr. Chun-Keung Chan founded Grace Vineyards in 1997 with the help of his friend Sylvain Janvier, a native of Burgundy. Suzanne Mustacich notes in Thirsty Dragon: China’s Lust for Bordeaux and the Threat to the World’s Best Wines that Chan and Janvier met during the former’s business dealings in France. At the time, Chan worked for the Chinese mineral trading and manufacturing firm Eastern Century.

When he sold his shares of Eastern Century in 1994, Chan inquired about purchasing a chateau in Bordeaux. But Janvier convinced him to explore the potential of viticulture in his home country. The two men hired French enologist Denis Boubals to scout for locations. Known as the “Apostle of Cabernet Sauvignon,” Boubals was famous for encouraging Languedoc wine producers to modernize. He promoted uprooting native cultivars in favor of the more fashionable varieties of Cab, Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc and Merlot.

The Vineyard

Map by Shannon1. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

The Yellow River Basin with provinces noted.

Boubals identified 100 ha (247 acres) in the Yellow River Basin of Taigu County in the Shanxi Province as a potential vineyard site. Located on an arid loess plateau 2600 feet above sea level, the sandy loam soils near Jinzhong City provided good drainage. This allowed room for roots to burrow deep into the earth with ample tillage to bury the vines during harsh winters.

Shanxi’s inland location (nearly 600 km/373 miles from the coast) has a continental climate with cold winters and warm summers. Vineyards here experience a wide diurnal temperature variation between daytime highs and nighttime lows. This can help maintain acidity during heat spikes in the summer.

They planted 69 ha (171 acres) of eleven different grape varieties–including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling and Chenin blanc. Boubals sourced all the cuttings from France. The partners named their estate Yi Yuan in Chinese and Grace Vineyard in English.

By the estate’s 20th anniversary in 2017, Grace Vineyard had expanded to 200 ha (494 acres) of vines in Shanxi as well as additional parcels in neighboring Ningxia and Shaanxi provinces. The winery also works with several contract growers.

A Family-Owned Winery and a Growing Reputation

Photo by Nick Chan. Uplaoded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-3.0

The exterior of the Grace Vineyard estate.

At the time of Grace Vineyard’s founding, the majority of commercial wineries in China were government-owned entities or co-operatives. The large corporation Changyu based in the Shandong region dominated private enterprise.

In 2002, Chan passed the management of Grace Vineyard to his daughter, Judy, a 24-year-old recent graduate of the University of Michigan. She embarked on an ambitious business-plan that sidestepped the corporation controlled distribution networks in favor of direct-to-consumer sales to the growing Chinese middle class. Chan opened up several wine bars and boutique wine shops in major metropolitan areas that prominently featured Grace Vineyard wine.

Mustacich noted that Chan observed the reticence of Chinese consumers to ask questions that could potentially display ignorance. To combat these fears, she organized the wine bars and retail shops to emphasize education. Chan tailored these sites to be more intimate settings where consumers could freely explore.

As the reputation of Grace Vineyard wines grew domestically, they caught the attention of international critics such as Master of Wine Jancis Robinson. Soon major hotel groups like Peninsula and Shangri-La were featuring their wines. Cathay Pacific Airways, the flag carrier of Hong Kong, also began to promote Grace Vineyard wines on their flights.

Today, Grace Vineyard is considered the “role model” for Chinese boutique wineries as China grows in prominence on the world’s wine stage.

The Winemaking

Map by Pancrat. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Significant areas of grapevine production in China in the early 2000s. Grace Vineyard is in the Shanxi province, northeast of Ningxia, neighboring Hebei.

When the vines were nearing their first harvest, Chan and Janvier hired a Bordeaux winemaker, Gérard Colin. Before joining Grace Vineyard in 2000, Colin worked more than a decade for Chateau Teyssier in Saint-Emilion (before it bought by Jonathan Maltus in 1994). He then spent time at the Haut-Medoc estate of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, Château Clarke.

Colin would make the first several vintages of Grace Vineyard, helping to pioneer serious viticulture in China. He eventually left in 2006 to join the new project of Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) in the Shandong peninsula, CITIC-Lafite.

Colin was succeeded by Australian winemaker Ken Murchison who ushered in a period of exploration. He encouraged the plantings of unique varieties in China such as Aglianico, Marselan, Saperavi, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Sauvignon blanc, Pinot noir and Syrah. He also helped Grace launch a sparkling wine project. A native of Victoria, with his own family vineyard in the Macedon Ranges, Murchison split time between working the northern hemisphere harvest at Grace and the southern hemisphere harvest in Australia.

When Murchison retired in 2016, he was succeeded by his assistant winemaker, Lee Yean Yean. Before joining Grace as a cellar hand in 2006, Yean worked in Australia at the Victoria wineries of Curly Flat and Brown Brothers.

The Tasya’s Reserve Shiraz

Photo by Hahn Family Wines. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Syrah grapes growing in the central coast region of California.

Launched as an experimental batch in 2012 (along with an Aglianico and Marselan), the Tasya’s Reserve Shiraz was Grace Vineyard’s first significant departure from Bordeaux varieties. The series’ name comes from the founder’s first granddaughter, Anastasya.

The wine was aged for around one year in second-use oak barrels. Grace Vineyard’s initial release of the experimental wines was limited to 3000 bottles of each variety. Only a few dozen cases were exported.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Black pepper and red fruit like cherry and plums. There is a little noticeable oak spice such as cinnamon coupled with an undefined herbal element.

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

The black pepper spice, along with its juicy red fruits, is a defining feature of this Chinese Shiraz.

On the palate, the red-fruits carry through– mainly the cherries. Mouthwatering medium-plus acidity and soft, medium tannins balance the medium-bodied weight of the fruit. If it wasn’t for the black pepper and darker color, I could see myself wondering if this was actually a Pinot in a blind tasting. Moderate finish lingers on the mouthwatering red fruit.

The Verdict

For $25-35, you are paying a tad for the novelty of a Chinese wine. But taken on its own as a cool-climate Syrah, it does have enough character to make the price feel reasonable.

I would describe it as if a Syrah from a cool area (like the Russian River Valley or Santa Barbara County) and a regional Bourgogne Pinot noir had a baby. You can pick up some of the Syrah qualities. But the acidity and structure would lend me to treating it more like a Burgundy Pinot noir. Its best place to shine is on the table with food.

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60 Second Wine Review — Réserve des Vignerons Saumur-Champigny

In honor of Cabernet Franc Day, here are a few quick thoughts on the 2015 Réserve des Vignerons Saumur-Champigny from the Loire Valley.

The Geekery
Réserve des Vignerons Saumur-Champigny Cabernet Franc from the Loire

Réserve des Vignerons is made by the co-operative Cave de Saumur that was founded in 1956 with 40 growers. Today it features 160 growers who tend to plantings around the village of Saumur. All members of the co-op must adhere to sustainable viticulture principles.

In 2000, construction was finished on a new modern winemaking facility. Master of Wine Sam Harrop was brought in to consult on a special “Cabernet Franc project”. Harrop’s project has not only increased the quality of the co-op’s wines but has also improved how Cabernet Franc is made throughout the Loire.

Additionally, the co-op produces sparkling Cremant de Loire under their Deligeroy label–including a Brut featuring Cabernet Franc in the blend.

The Saumur-Champigny is 100% Cabernet Franc that saw extended post-fermentation skin contact for 10 extra days. This is a technique more common with Cabernet Franc prior to fermentation (“cold soak”) when temperatures can be keep low and only color is extracted. In contrast, post-fermentation maceration extracts tannins (especially seed tannin) with no color benefit.

The Wine

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

The savory fennel seed notes adds complexity to this wine.

Medium-intensity nose. A mix of red fruits–cherries and raspberries. Around the edges is a little bit of spicy tobacco.

On the palate, those red fruits carry through and are quite fresh and juicy tasting with medium-plus acidity. Medium tannins are present but not biting and are balanced well by the medium bodied fruit. The moderate finish brings back the tobacco spice as well as savory fennel notes.

The Verdict

At $12-15, this is a pretty classic Loire Cabernet Franc–though it is not as herbal as other examples can be. However, it is quite different compared to the more fruit-forward, floral and full-bodied Cabernet Francs from Washington & California.

While I’ve made my love of domestic Cabernet Franc well known, this is a nice change of pace and a solid food-pairing wine.

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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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Exploring the Cascade Valley at WBC18

As I was looking back at my notes and photos from the 2018 Wine Bloggers Conference, I realized that I had a serious Day 2 omission. That Friday was a jam pack day. Between the panel on Wine Blogging vs Influencing, Lewis Perdue’s keynote speech and the mystery dinner excursion, I totally forgot to note all the fun discoveries at the lunch sponsored by Cascade Valley Wine Country.

Which is a downright shame on my part because this area is a hot bed for great family wineries. It was also the source of one of the best wines I had at the entire conference.

Some Geekery

Located in north-central Washington State, Cascade Valley Wine Country includes the winemaking hubs of Lake Chelan, Wenatchee and Leavenworth. The area is home to over 50 wineries and many more satellite tasting rooms.

In some ways, the Cascade Valley Wine Country is more geography–rather than terroir–oriented. Just like Woodinville Wine Country, the vast majority of wines made in the area comes from fruit sourced elsewhere in the state like Red Mountain, Wahluke Slope, Horse Heavens and Walla Walla.

However, that dynamic is changing. Several of the wines I tried at the Wine Bloggers Conference (like Hard Roe to Hoe’s Lake Chelan Pinot, Tipsy Canyon’s Viognier and Stemilt Creek’s red blend) came from fruit grown in the valley. With the establishment of Lake Chelan’s own AVA in 2009 and the potential for Wenatchee to get one, the growth potential in this area is immense.

It’s particularly intriguing for an industry grappling with the impact of climate change. While eastern Washington is a lot warmer than many people give credit for, the higher elevation sites around Wenatchee and Leavenworth and the moderate lake effect of Chelan does offer a more temperate climate compared to the very hot AVAs of Red Mountain and Wahluke Slope.

The Ancient Lakes region south of Wenatchee was designated as an AVA and has already shown an affinity for producing outstanding cool-climate wines.

It’s very likely that the future of the Washington wine industry is emerging here in the Cascade Valley.

Wines I Tried

In addition to the lunch sponsored by Cascade Valley Wine Country, I also got a chance to try some of the region’s wines at the speed blogging events on day 2 and day 3.

Hard Row to Hoe 2016 Pinot noir from Lake Chelan

Outside of maybe Otis Kenyon, this winery has the best backstory in Washington. Let’s just say the ladies of Moulin Rouge would be proud. If you are in Manson, it’s well worth the visit to the Phelps family winery just to experience it and hear more of this place’s fascinating history.

Pinot noir is a tough grape to market in Washington. As I noted in my review of Whidbey Island’s Pinot noir from Puget Sound, few Washington Pinots have impressed me. But I do see a lot of potential in this Lake Chelan Pinot noir. It had bright acidity, good balance with oak and nice juicy fruit. It just didn’t quite deliver the depth and layers that you can find from Oregon for the same $40 mark. I strongly suspect that vine age will play an important role because the climate and terroir of Lake Chelan seems, on paper, to be ideal for Pinot.

Succession 2017 Viognier from the Columbia Valley

Owned by Brock and Erica Lindsay, Succession Wines was named this year by Wine Press Northwest as the 2018 Washington Winery to Watch.

Their tiny production of 138 cases of Viognier definitely demonstrates the very fruity, tropical side of the grape. At around $26, I can see these appealing to fans of Pinot gris. I couldn’t find any technical notes but I suspect this wine has a touch of residual sugar which amplifies the fruitiness.

Tipsy Canyon 2017 Viognier from the Columbia Valley

Owned by the Garvin family, this Viognier is sourced from the Antoine Creek Vineyard north of Lake Chelan. That vineyard is also the source of an outstanding sparkling Viognier made by Cairdeas Winery as well.

I will admit that this Tipsy Canyon Viognier was more of my personal style than the Succession one. It tasted noticeably drier with crisp medium-plus acidity and a little stoney minerality. You wouldn’t confuse it for a Condrieu but it is a bottle that you could empty very easily in one sitting.

Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have much of a website or web presence so I couldn’t find out what this Viognier costs. For myself, I would rank this just slightly behind àMaurice’s sinfully delicious Viognier that runs $28-35. If this Tipsy Canyon falls into the $23-28 range, I would have no problem buying multiple bottles of it.

Stemilt Creek 2014 Boss Lady Red from the Columbia Valley

Founded in 2001 by Kyle and Jan Mathison in Wenatchee, Stemilt Creek sources primarily from their own estate vineyard that they farm sustainably. The 2014 Boss Lady is a blend of 46% Syrah, 30% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot.

I am a huge fan of the “Hermitage’d” Bordeaux-style wines that add Syrah to the traditional Bordeaux blend. It takes the structure and dark fruit you typically associate with Cab-Merlot and adds gorgeous spiciness. At $24, this Boss Lady Red from Stemilt Creek is a killer value that should probably be priced more in the $30-35 range.

Baroness Cellars 2016 Riesling from Red Mountain.

Founded by Danielle Clements, Baroness Cellars is based in Leavenworth where Clements makes food-friendly European style wines.

While details on this 2016 Red Mountain Riesling is scare, I’m incredibly fascinated with how well she succeeded here. Though off-dry in style, this wine still had crackling acidity that reminded me a lively German Kabinett. Really surprising to see this came from the very warm Red Mountain AVA.

Put Chateau Faire Le Pont on your radars

By far one of the most impressive wines at the entire conference was the 2014 Chateau Faire Le Pont Sangiovese from the Wahluke Slope.

Making good quality Sangiovese (especially domestically) is tough. Despite the proliferation of Chiantis, Brunellos and other Tuscan wines, the grape is actually rather finicky to grow outside of its native Italian homeland. The Antinori family invested millions into their Atlas Peak Antica project–feeling that was the ideal spot for Sangiovese–only to have to admit defeat and move many of those parcels over to Cabernet Sauvignon. For a family with 26 generations of winemaking experience, that’s a tough pill to swallow.

Can Washington do better? Leonetti has been making a tasty Sangiovese sourced from vineyards in Walla Walla but that bottle is usually $80+. For rosé, it has shown great promise such as this delicious example from Davenport Cellars sourced from Ciel du Cheval fruit on Red Mountain. Kaella Winery in Woodinville also used to make a great Sangio rosé from the same vineyard before an ownership change altered its style.

Wine Notes

The 2014 Chateau Faire Le Pont Sangiovese had a terrific medium-plus bouquet with a mix of bright red cherries and savory spice notes. Ripe medium-plus tannins gave it great structure and held up the full-body fruit of the wine well. The medium-plus acidity enhanced the savory spices and contributed a mouthwatering quality which lingered on the long finish. Sangiovese’s best role is usually on the table and this was certainly a winner at lunch with several bloggers going from table to table to find more bottles to finish off.

Again, details are unfortunately scarce outside of noting it was sourced from the Wahluke Slope and that it runs for around $40. Well worth that price.

Other Cascade Valley wineries I’ve enjoyed in the past

Ancestry Cellars (Manson)

Full disclosure, I went to winemaking school with Jason Morin so I’ve had many opportunities to try his great food friendly wines. His 2017 Pinot gris, in particular, hits it out of the park and shows that not all Northwest Pinot gris have to been on the fruity, slightly sweet side.

Cairdeas Winery (Chelan)

Another disclosure, Charlie Lybecker is also a Northwest Wine Academy alum and I’ve been a big fan of his wines for a while. His Rhones are outstanding and the 2014 Caislén an Pápa Chateauneuf-du-Pape style blend was one my top wines from the 2017 Taste Washington Grand Tasting.

Karma Vineyards (Chelan)

By far, some of the best domestic sparklers in the US. I may only rank Schramsberg in California above them but, honestly, the separation is not much at all. Their wines featured at this year’s Taste Washington The New Vintage made dealing with that hellish cattle-call almost worth it.

Seriously, if you love bubbles. Check them out.

Boudreaux Cellars (Leavenworth)

Rob Newsom is one of the most interesting figures in Washington wine. A trained musician, tasting a bottle of Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon while passing through Walla Walla turned his life around. He learned a lot about winemaking from the Figgins family of Leonetti which he’s used to produce very big, almost Napa-like wines in Washington. I’ve yet to have a bottle of Boudreaux that didn’t beg to be paired with a juicy prime rib. If you like big, bold wines then you need to seek out Boudreaux.

Recommendations for Cascade Valley Wineries

By far, one of the biggest barriers to success for the Cascade Valley wineries is getting their message and branding out.

I would definitely advise them to by looking at what message their websites are sending out. While tasting room traffic and one-on-one dialogue is great, in today’s digital age there will be a lot of customers who are first introduced to a brand via their online presence–including social media.

As much as I enjoyed the wines from this region, I have to admit that writing this post was incredibly difficult. I had a heck of a time trying to find more info about the wineries and wines featured. As a geek, I acknowledge that I sometimes have to play detective and sleuth out details from a variety of sources but 99.9% of wine consumers aren’t going to put in that same effort. You have to make it easy for them to find you and learn more about your wines.

While there are certainly great websites from Cascade Valley wineries (check out Cairdeas and Hard Row to Hoe in particular), most of the sites had very little information or were difficult to navigate. At the very least, tech notes of current and past vintages with details on vineyards and farming practice would go a long way towards filling in the blanks. Beyond that, it would be fantastic to hear more about the stories of the wineries and what make this region so unique and dynamic.

The future looks bright for Cascade Valley Wine Country, folks just need a little help to find these hidden gems of Washington wines.

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Geek Notes — Grape Radio Episode 391 Interview with Hubert de Boüard of Ch. Angélus

I’m getting ready to teach a class on Bordeaux so I’ve been getting my geek on with Bordeaux-themed podcasts. I found lots of great material from this 2015 episode of Grape Radio (44:43) featuring interviews with Hubert de Boüard of Château Angélus in Saint-Emilion and Angus Smith, Grand Maitre of the US chapter of the Commanderie de Bordeaux.

I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to do Geek Notes write up on them but Levi Dalton’s I’ll Drink To That! had two more great Bordeaux episodes that I really enjoyed. Check them out!

Episode 388 with Decanter’s Jane Anson. REALLY good stuff that’s worth listening to two or three times because of all the great info. Anson is one of my favorite wine writers and her writings are worth the subscription to Decanter’s premium content alone.

Episode 350 with Alexandre Thienpont of Vieux Château Certan and François Thienpont of Le Pin in Pomerol. The difference in their approach is fascinating. Also Erin Scala gives a great overview of the lasting impact of the 1956 frost in St. Emilion.

Some Background

Angélus is my absolute favorite Bordeaux estate. While I obviously can’t afford to drink it everyday, I do make sure that I nab at least one bottle as a future each year to enjoy at a special dinner down the road. Even though vintages average around $300-400, I actually think Angélus is relatively undervalued compared to other top growths in Bordeaux like the First Growths of the Medoc, Cheval Blanc and Petrus.

While I enjoyed my evening with Petrus, I would take 6 to 7 bottles of Angélus over a second bottle in a heart beat.

I haven’t done a full geek-out post on Angélus yet (oh but its coming) so I will direct folks to Jeff Leve’s awesome write up of the property on his The Wine Cellar Insider site as well as this geeky little blurb from the Grape Radio episode page:

The estate has been owned by the Boüard de Laforest family since the Domaine de Mazaret was bequeathed to Comte Maurice de Boüard de Laforest in 1909, and expanded by the acquisition of Clos de L’Angélus in 1926 and a plot from Château Beau-Séjour Bécot in 1969. The name refers to the three Angelus bells audible from the vineyards. — Grape Radio, June 9th 2015

While the terroir is top notch, I do think a lot of Angélus success is because of Hubert de Boüard’s viticulture and winemaking style. Which means if you are looking for better price points, some of his other properties like Château La Fleur de Boüard in Lalande de Pomerol (Ave $35), Chateau Bellevue in Saint Emilion (Ave $56), Chateau de Francs in Cotes de Bordeaux (Ave $14) and consulting clients are good places to look.

Among his consulting clients, a few of my favorites are:

I would put the quality of Ch. Lanessan on par with many 4th and 5th growths.

Ch. Grand Corbin in St. Emilion (Ave $33)
Ch. de Ferrand in St. Emilion (Ave $45)
Ch. Vieux Château Palon in Montagne-Saint-Emilion (Ave $30)
Ch. La Pointe in Pomerol (Ave $47)
Ch. de Chantegrive in Graves (Ave $28)
Ch. Fieuzal in Pessac-Léognan (Ave $48)
Ch. Grand Puy Ducasse in Pauillac (Ave $51)
Ch. Lanessan in Haut-Medoc (Ave $24)

The 2015 vintages for several of these (the Vieux Château Palon, Chategrive and Lanessan in particular) are exceptional values for the money and well worth stocking up on.

There is also a second and third wine for Angélus, Le Carillon de l’Angelus (Ave $103) and Number 3 d’Angelus (Ave $52), but I haven’t had an opportunity to try either.

Some Fun Things I Learned From This Podcast

(2:11) Hubert de Boüard talks the signature role that Cabernet Franc plays in the wines of Angélus. While the estate has less Cab Franc than Cheval Blanc, it still accounts for 47% of plantings. In most years the grape makes up around 40-50% of the blend. Side note: Really interesting to compare de Boüard’s view of Cab Franc to the Thienponts who don’t seem as enthralled with the variety.

(2:55) He goes further into how this high proportion of Cab Franc differentiates Angélus from other Merlot-dominant St. Emilion wines. While it also plays a prominent role in Cheval Blanc, the sandy gravel soils of that property give it a different personality than the clay-limestone soils of Angélus.

(6:00) The second wine, Le Carillon, is made from both dedicated blocks and declassified Angélus fruit.

(7:26) Brian Clark asks how the style of Angélus has evolved over the years. Hubert de Boüard talks about the influence of his university studies and Émile Peynaud on adding a more scientific approach to winemaking.

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

It often seems like Cabernet Franc is the forgotten “third wheel” of the Bordeaux blend behind Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Even Petit Verdot is starting to get more attention.

(9:20) Jay Selman brings the topic back to Cabernet Franc and notes how some people love the variety and some hate it. (Put me on the love side) Hubert de Boüard highlights the importance of ripeness and good soil which allows the grape to show its spicy and velvet side.

(10:27) Cab Franc is not favored on the Left Bank because it tends to be more green when grown in their gravelly soils. It often ends up in the second labels of Medoc and Grave producers.

(10:54) Really fascinating description of the “crescent” (or croissant?) of ideal soils for Cabernet Franc that begin with Ch. Lafleur next to Petrus in Pomerol then Certan (Vieux Château Certan? Certan de May? Certan Giraud?) into St. Emilion with Cheval Blanc, Angélus and Ausone. The key is clay but too much is too much because the soils will be too cold. The clay needs to be balanced with a warmer top soil of limestone, gravel or sand. To de Boüard, Cabernet Franc is very Pinot noir-like in needing the right balance of conditions to shine.

(12:18) Cab Franc vines need at least 20 years of age and low crop yield to perform best.

(13:20) At Angélus around 17% of the Cabernet Franc vines are at least 70 years of age.

(14:30) Hubert de Boüard talks about the classification of St. Emilion which is VERY interesting to listen to in light of recent news. One interesting note he does make is the importance of evaluating the land in St. Emilion’s classification versus just the winery’s brand with the 1855 classification.

(18:50) Eric Anderson asks about what would happen if a winery gets demoted in the St. Emilion classification. Surprisingly, instead of answering “hire lawyers” de Boüard gives the example of Beau Séjour Bécot and how the Becot family responded to their 1986 demotion.

I know de Boüard thinks the 2001 is better but man was this 2000 Angélus a sexy, sexy wine.

(19:50) Brian Clark asks about top vintages in Bordeaux. I got a chuckle out of Hubert de Boüard’s response “The best one is the one we didn’t sell.” Wondering if he’s thinking about the Woeful ‘7s’? More seriously, de Boüard notes how the reputation of a vintage on the Left Bank sometimes overshadows how the year was on the Right Bank. He gives the example of the 2000 vintage which was great on the Left Bank but overshadows the more superior Right Bank vintage of 2001.

(21:30) It’s unfortunate that consumers get obsessed with the “expensive vintages” de Boüard says. He highlights years like 2001 and 2006 as years that consumers can get great value. With this interview taking place in mid-2015, I wonder if de Boüard would include years like 2012 & 2014 in those “great buy” vintages once they reach the age of 2001/2006.

Interview with Angus Smith of Commanderie de Bordeaux

(27:29) Here the interview switches to a description of the dinners of the Commanderie de Bordeaux and details about the organization. Essentially this is a not-so-secret society of wine lovers dedicated to advocating Bordeaux wines across the globe.

Historically, the Commanderie had been open to just men and their spouses. Thankfully, that looks to be changing with some chapters, like the Chicago chapter, opening up their membership to women. The DC chapter even had a women hold the title of chapter head, or Madame Le Maitre, with Bette A. Alberts.

When this episode first aired in 2015, I emailed the head of the Seattle chapter and got no response. So I don’t know if women are allowed in this chapter. Frankly, I think it is ridiculous to even let this be a chapter by chapter decision. I understand the nature of private clubs and the privilege they have in deciding their membership. But its 2018 and having gender-based restrictions on wine clubs is beyond silly.

(36:56) Jay Selman asks about decanting with a good discussion that follows. Smith and de Boüard seem to be fans of a few hours and double decanting. At Brian Clark’s chapter of the Commanderie they tend to do a blanket 3 hour decant on all wines–outside of very old vintages.

(39:43) Smith and de Boüard argue against putting the cork back into the bottle after double decanting. With this the cork is often put in upside down with the wine stained side facing out. This means that the side that was exposed to dirt and dust is now inside the bottle and potentially contaminating the wine. But beyond that, de Boüard sees little need to recork the wine at all after decanting.

(40:31) A shout-out to decanting white wines. This is something that I don’t do myself but I can see the benefit–especially with whites seals with screw-caps which can be very reductive on opening.

(40:56) A discussion about what is it about older wines that are appealing to wine drinkers. One good point I like from this discussion is how people’s definition of “older wines” varies from person to person.

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The Wine Industry’s Reckoning With Millennials

Wine Industry Insight has a great chart showing the growth of spirits among Millennial drinkers. Beer is still doing pretty well.

http://wineindustryinsight.com/?p=93406

From Wine Industry Insights, October 5th 2018

But look at that little straggler there towards the end. The one holding the tiny 18% preference of Millennial drinkers–after declining 4% from 2017.

We see you wine. We see you.

Though apparently we aren’t drinking you–as the “share of throat” (basically share of the beverage market) for wine is barely a fifth of what Millennials consume.

This is something that the wine industry is going to have to deal with.

Right now Baby Boomers and Generation X still spend a lot on wine but eventually the wine industry’s success is going to depend on Millennials choosing wine over other drinks.

Wineries are going to have figure out how not to bore Millennials to tears with their offerings and marketing.

This is why I harp on the foolishness of producers and wine regions focusing on “the old guard” varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc.

These things have been done before, ad infinitum and ad nauseam.

I get it. Those grapes certainly rule the market right now. But it’s incredibly easy to get bored of them and have your wine get lost in the crowd. Once you’ve had one Cab, it often feels like you’ve had them all.

Millennials seek variety and excitement.

And we haven’t even gotten to the Mezcal boom yet.

The diversity of the craft beer movement with all its different styles struck a great cord with millennials that likely won’t wane. Spirits are offering a world of new cocktails to explore. Even categories like whiskey up the excitement factor with different mash bills, aging regiments and cask finishing.

To catch up, the wine world is resorting to gimmicks like blue wine, bourbon & tequila barrel aging, coffee wine, silly augmented reality labels, etc.

It’s basically putting lipstick on a pig. Yeah, that will work a time or two but even the best liquid matte fades.

Yet we already have the answer to the “boredom factor” right in front of us and scattered across the globe. How about highlighting the beautiful wealth of interesting grape varieties, terroir and unique people with stories to tell?

Vermentino! Picpoul! Cabernet Franc! Chenin blanc! Valdiguié! Roussanne! Mourvèdre! Sangiovese! Pinot Gouges! Siegerrebe! Malbec! Cinsault! Counoise! Grenache!

I could go on. The point is that we don’t have to fall back on the same ole, same ole. Instead of looking back at the old guards and standbys of yesterday, we should be moving forward and exploring the promising potential of tomorrow’s wines.

Otherwise, the wine industry is going to keep losing shares of a lot throats.

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60 Second Wine Review — 2011 Lynch-Bages

A few quick thoughts on the 2011 Lynch-Bages from Pauillac.

The Geekery

For more in-depth Geekery about Lynch-Bages see my write up for their the 2017 future offer.

Compared to the near perfect vintages of 2009 and 2010, the 2011 vintage started off well with a dry and warm spring. A wet, rainy July threw a curve ball with things not quite getting back on track till September when harvest saw dry weather and warm temperatures. At Lynch-Bages, only around 66% of the harvest (from 90 ha/222.4 acres) made its way to the Grand Vin.

The 2011 vintage is a blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot.

The wine was aged for 15 months in 65% new French oak.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Dark fruits with blackberry and blackcurrants. With air some cured tobacco spice pops out but overall this wine is rather quiet.

Photo from The U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD US FDA

The black licorice spice adds some complexity to this wine.

On the palate the flavors get a little richer but nothing close to jammy or dense. The high tannins and medium-plus acidity hold the medium-plus fruit well but contributes to a thin taste. The tobacco spice from the nose gets more pronounced and brings black licorice and espresso coffee character as well. Moderate length finish ends on the dark fruit and testifies to its youth.

The Verdict

I suspect that this 2011 Lynch-Bages is still at least 2-3 years from hitting its stride but the thinness of the mouthfeel makes me wonder how much it will still improve. The firm tannins will soften but the fruit is going to fade rather than grow in prominence. However, seeing the spice notes from the nose developing and becoming more complex on the palate is always a good sign.

Right now the 2011 average $124 a bottle. Compared to 2010 ($224) and 2009 ($198) there is some value here but nothing worth beating down the door to get.

Personally, I would be looking more to the 2012 ($119) and 2014 ($121) for value or the vastly superior 2015 vintage ($143) for the better wine at just a little bit more.

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