Tag Archives: Cabernet Sauvignon

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

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

We head to St. Estephe for the next installment in our series on the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign to look at offers for the 2nd Growth estate of Cos d’Estournel and its second wine, Les Pagodes des Cos, the cru bourgeois Ch. Phélan Ségur and the 3rd Growth Calon-Segur.

Be sure to check out previous posts in our series for more details about the 2017 vintage.

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge, Haut-Batailley

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

Now onto the offers.

Ch. Cos d’Estournel (St. Estephe)

Some Geekery:

Since its founding in 1811 by Louis Gaspard d’Estournel, Cos d’Estournel has always been a little bit of a rule breaker. The chateau was also one of the first in Bordeaux to estate bottle and instead of selling wine through the traditional courtier and negociant system, Gaspard sold his wine directly to clients across the globe–with India being a key market.

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

Vineyards of Cos d’Estournel in St. Estephe

However, this early rebellious streak came to an end in 1852 at the death of Gaspard which was somewhat beneficial as by the time the fame 1855 Classification was drafted, the brokers and negociants who helped crafted the classification had some pricing records to know where to place Cos d’Estournel. With these records, Cos d’Estournel was able to take its place as a 2nd Growth along with Ch. Montrose in St. Estephe.

Compare this to the story of the Haut-Medoc 5th Growth Ch. Cantemerle whose owner bypassed the Bordelais system to sell directly to Dutch merchants. After initially being omitted from the original classification, it took almost a year of lobbying, producing sales and pricing records, by Mme. De Villeneuve-Durfort to convince the Bordeaux Brokers’ Union that Cantemerle merited inclusion.

For a time, Cos d’Estournel was owned by the Charmolue family who also owned neighboring Montrose but by 1917 it came under the care of Fernand Ginestet whose grandson, Bruno Prats, would usher in the modern-era of success for the estate. Eventually the Prats sold Cos d’Estournel to the Merlaut family (owners of Chasse-Spleen, Haut-Bages Libéral, Gruaud-Larose among many others) in 1998 who quickly sold it two years later to Michel Reybier.

To insure continuity, Reybier hired the son of Bruno Prats, Jean-Guillaume, to manage the estate which he did till 2012 when he left to join Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH). During his time, he completely renovated the winery by removing all pumps and making everything gravity fed. To minimize some of the harsh tannins associated with the cooler and more clay dominant soils of St. Estephe, Cos d’Estournel was also an early adopter of completely destemming clusters even during very ripe vintages like 2009. Prats’ replacement, Aymeric de Gironde, lasted 5 years until the 2017 when Reybier himself took over managing the estate.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc.

Critic Scores:

97-100 Wine Advocate (WA), 97-98 James Suckling (JS), 95-97 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 94-96 Vinous Media (VM), 94-96 Jeb Dunnuck (JD), 96-98 Jeff Leve (JL)

Sample Review:

This is exceptional, if a touch below the intensity and harmony of 2016. I love the density that’s displayed in this wine, showcasing luxurious, well-enrobed tannins. The complexity steals up on you little by little, the dark cassis and plum fruit character deepening through the palate with flashes of sage, charcoal, cigar box, graphite and taut tannins. The colour difference is marked between the grand vin and second wine, with the Cos extremely deep damson in colour following a one-month maceration at 30 degrees and clever use of the press. Harvested 12- 30 September. 40% of production went into the grand vin. (94 points) Jane Anson, Decanter

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average $148
JJ Buckley: $154.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: $154 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $899.94 for minimum 6 pack + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $149.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K & L: $144.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Ave. $192 Average Critic Score: 94 points
2015 — Wine Searcher Ave. $190 Average Critic Score: 95
2014 — Wine Searcher Ave. $138 Average Critic Score: 94
2013 — Wine Searcher Ave. $134 Average Critic Score: 91

Buy or Pass?

As I’ve outlined several times in this series, I have no interest in paying 2015/2016 prices for a vintage that I would put more on par with 2014. I understand that with drastically reduced yields, there is going to be some pressure on prices due to limited supply but from everything I’ve read about this vintage, the quality just doesn’t seem to merit paying a premium.

To that extent, I find the pricing of the 2017 Cos d’Estournel at around $148 a bottle to be quite fair and tempting. My only hedge is the changing management style from Prats to de Gironde to now owner Michel Reybier taking a more hands on approach. While I’ve absolutely adored the 2005-2006 and 2008-2010 Cos d’Estournel of Prats, I was a little underwhelmed by the 2014 vintage but I didn’t want to judge too harshly on that vintage at such a young age. While I have no doubt that Reybier is driven by a stellar commitment to quality, I just don’t know if his style is going to match my personal tastes and when I’m looking at wines north of $100, I want to bank on more certainty than glowing critic scores.

So for me, the 2017 Cos d’Estournel is a Pass but it will certainly be a compelling buy for many Bordeaux lovers.

Les Pagodes des Cos (St. Estephe)

Photo by ThomasPusch. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0
Some Geekery:

The second wine of Cos d’Estournel, Les Pagodes des Cos was first produced in 1994. Sourced from young vines and declassified lots, it originally replaced the role of the Prat’s family cru bourgeois estate Château de Marbuzet as a way of increasing the quality of the Grand Vin by being more selective in the vineyard and the winery.

Even though it still contains the fruit of younger vines, the average age of the vines that go into Les Pagodes des Cos is over 35 years. Reflective of the increasing acreage dedicated to Merlot at Cos d’Estournel, the percentage of Merlot in the final blend of Les Pagodes des Cos is usually notably high with some years (like 2015) even being Merlot-dominant.

While the Grand Vin of Cos d’Estournel will see anywhere from 60-80% new French oak, the second wine usually sees around 40%.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot.

Critic Scores:

92-94 WE, 92-93 JS, 90-92 WA, 90-92 VM

Sample Review:

This is the second label of Cos d’Estournel, which accounted for about 55% of production in 2017. A blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot, the 2017 Les Pagodes de Cos has a deep garnet-purple color and exuberant notes of crushed blackberries, red currants and cassis with touches of charcuterie, black soil and garrigue plus a waft of lavender. Medium-bodied and very fine-grained, it has great intensity and vibrancy with a good long, fruity finish. — Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Wine Advocate

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average $41
JJ Buckley: No offers yet
Vinfolio: No offers yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $257.94 for minimum 6 pack + shipping
Total Wine: $44.97
K & L: No offers yet

Previous Vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Ave. $47 Average Critic Score: 91 points
2015 — Wine Searcher Ave. $55 Average Critic Score: 91
2014 — Wine Searcher Ave. $47 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 — Wine Searcher Ave. $44 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

The value of “second wines” is often hotly debated by Bordeaux fans with some folks feeling that they are overpriced for being “second best” while some feel they can offer exceptional bargains.

I tend to fall somewhere in the middle as I do think that Second Wines can offer terrific value and give the consumer a taste of the house-style of a great estate for a fraction of the price of the Grand Vin. However, I would never invest in cases of a second wine–especially if the Grand Vin of another estate is equivalent in value.

In my assessment of the offers for the 2017 Cos d’Estournel, I expressed my reservations on if the changing house style of the estate will still meet my tastes. While I’m not inclined to gamble at $150 a bottle (even if it is likely to be a 100 point wine that will increase in value), I’m perfectly willing to spend $45 a bottle on the second wine to get a window into Reybier’s style and what he did in this vintage. That makes the 2017 Les Pagodes a compelling Buy for me and worth taking a gamble on.

Ch. Phélan Ségur
Some Geekery:

In the 1850s, Bernard Phelan began purchasing vineyards in St. Estephe–including parts that belonged to the historical Segur vineyard and Clos de Garramey–creating what would be the largest estate in St. Estephe at the time. In 1883, his heirs sold the estate to the Delon family who would own the property for over a 100 years as part of a portfolio that grew to include the 2nd Growth Léoville-Las-Cases, Château Nénin in Pomerol and the Medoc estate Ch. Potensac.

Photo from Private post-card collection. Released on Wikimedia Commons under public domain.

Postcard featuring Phélan Ségur in the early 1900s.


The Delons sold Phélan Ségur to Xavier Gardinier, the former head of the Champagne houses Pommery and Lanson, in 1984. When the 1983 vintage was released to poor reviews, Gardinier claimed the used of herbicides in the vineyards tainted the quality of the wine and he recalled all bottles from the marketplace.

The subsequent 1984 and 1985 vintages were likewise sold off in bulk and not released as Gardinier began a project of rehabilitation of the estate in the vineyard and winery. In 2002, he acquired Chateau Houissant next to the 2nd Growth estate Ch. Montrose, adding 25 hectares of prime vineyard land though 22 of those hectares would be eventually sold to Montrose in 2010.

Phélan Ségur stayed in the Gardinier family, under the care of Thierry Gardinier who also managed Chateau Meyney in Saint Estephe and the 5th Growth Chateau Grand-Puy-Ducasse in Pauillac, until 2017 when it was sold to Belgian businessman Philippe Van de Vyvere. Michel Rolland was brought on as a consultant.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Franc. Around 20,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

92-93 WE, 92-93 JS, 90-93 VM, 89-92 Wine Spectator (WS), 89-92 JD

Sample Review:

The deep, saturated purple-colored 2017 Phélan Ségur is a classic, well-made wine in the vintage that has notable depth and density as well as textbook Saint-Estèphe notes of ripe black fruits, leafy herbs/tobacco, and loamy earth. It shows the fresher, cooler-climate style of the vintage yet is far from austere and has loads to love. — Jeb Dunnuck

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average $41
JJ Buckley: $43.94 + shipping
Vinfolio: No offers yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $251.94 for minimum 6 pack + shipping
Total Wine: $42.97
K & L: $42.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Ave. $48 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 — Wine Searcher Ave. $49 Average Critic Score: 91
2014 — Wine Searcher Ave. $45 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 — Wine Searcher Ave. $37 Average Critic Score: 88

Buy or Pass?

Phélan Ségur first landed on my radar with the surprisingly good 2013 and then the much better 2014 vintage. My experience with those two less-than-stellar vintages gave me ample confidence to purchase futures of the 2015 and 2016. But as reflective of my more cautious approach in 2017, I’m going to Pass on this year’s offering even though the $41 average price looks to be a solid value.

Change in the wine world is always inevitable–especially in Bordeaux–but when it comes to my wallet, I prefer to take a wait and see approach when it comes to changing ownership and winemakers. Besides, for a cru bourgeois like Phélan Ségur the risk of the retail price of the 2017 rising dramatically when it finally hits shelves in 2020 is fairly small. It might rise to the $45 average that the 2014 vintage is fetching now but it would probably require a major wine critic “re-evaluating” the bottle sample as a 94+ point wine for it to jump over $50 a bottle.

Ch. Calon-Ségur (St. Estephe)

Some Geekery:

Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under the Public Domain.

While the Marquis de Ségur would own land that would become some of the most famous names in Bordeaux, the estate of Calon-Ségur was reportedly his favorite.


One of the oldest properties in the Medoc, the long history of Calon-Ségur can be traced to the 12th century when it belonged to the Monseigneur de Calon. The profile of the estate rose dramatically in the 18th century when it was owned by Nicolas Alexandre de Ségur, the Prince of Vines.

While the Marquis de Ségur would also go on to own an astonishing stable of estates, including 3 of the 5 First Growths–Lafite, Latour and Mouton–as well as land that is today part of Pontet-Canet, d’Armailhac and Montrose, it was said that his heart was always with his chateau at Calon in St. Estephe. That sentiment is reflected in the heart-shape logo of Calon-Ségur that still graces the label of the 3rd Growth today.

In 1894, the estate was purchased by negociant Charles Hanappier and Georges Gasqueton with Gasqueton’s descendants owning Calon-Ségur until 2012 when it was sold to a consortium that included the French insurance company Suravenir and Jean-Pierre Moueix, owner of Ch. Petrus. Flushed with capital, extensive renovations at the estate took place which included new tanks for parcel by parcel vinifications and the introduction of gravity-flow techniques. Vincent Millet, who previously was at Ch. Margaux, was kept as technical director.

In the vineyard, vine density was increased and under-performing parcels were uprooted with a goal of increasing the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the cépage. While today the vineyard is planted to around 53% Cabernet Sauvignon 38% Merlot 7% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot, eventually the owners of Calon-Ségur would like to see the amount of Merlot account for only 20% of plantings.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. Around 20,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

Inky core with black-cherry rim. Ripe, dark and with a fine mineral cast to the cassis fruit, which is ripe but not sweet. Paper-fine tannins in many layers. Great ageing potential but also accessible. Deceptively accessible, suggesting lack of ageing ability, but I don’t think that is the case. Cool, fresh, serious, fine cassis fruit. The finesse comes from the lack of sweetness but there’s no lack of fruit. Dry, firm and very St-Estèphe, with tannin structure. But the structure is filled molecule by molecule with the fruit. It’s so finely balanced. There’s more firmness than in Cos but there’s still excellent harmony. Opens to a hint of violets. Super-moreish and juicy even with the structure of the terroir. (17.5 out of 20) Julia Harding, JancisRobinson.com

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average $85
JJ Buckley: $87.94 + shipping
Vinfolio: $88 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet
Total Wine: $84.97
K & L: $89.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Ave. $118 Average Critic Score: 95 points
2015 — Wine Searcher Ave. $106 Average Critic Score: 93
2014 — Wine Searcher Ave. $101 Average Critic Score: 94
2013 — Wine Searcher Ave. $101 Average Critic Score: 92

Buy or Pass?

I was very surprised to have the 2003 Calon Segur be one of my Top 10 wines from the 2017 Wine Spectator Grand Tour.
But even at nearly 14 years of age, this “heat wave” Bordeaux was showing beautifully.


I’ve adored numerous vintages of Calon-Ségur from the still lively 1996 (ave price $138), surprisingly complex 2003 (ave $128), undoubtedly excellent 2009 (ave $130) and the very promising 2012 (ave $105) and 2014.

While I’ve not yet purchased any futures from the estate, my experience particularly with the later two vintages has given me enough assurance in the stewardship of the new ownership team that this will likely continue being a style of wine that I enjoy. Plus with the value of Calon-Ségur rising north of $100 even in sub-par vintages like 2013, makes nabbing bottles of the 2017 at $85 an extremely compelling value and a definite Buy.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

*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

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

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

For our next installment on the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign, we go to St. Emilion to look for values from the sister properties of the Premier Grand Cru Classe estates Ch. Canon-la-Gaffeliere and Ch. Cheval Blanc as well as the Grand Cru Classe estates of Ch. Monbousquet and Ch. Fonplegade.

To see some of the our previous posts on the 2017 campaign check out:

Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge, Haut-Batailley

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

Now onto the offers.

Clos de l’Oratoire (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

The history of Clos de l’Oratoire dates back to the 1800s when it was part of the large estate of Château Peyreau on the northeast slope of the St. Emilion plateau. In 1874, Edouard Féret ranked the Peyreau estate as one of “second growth quality.”

When the vineyards of St. Emilion were classified in 1955, the best sections of Peyreau were splintered off and became Clos de l’Oratoire. This new estate was ranked as a Grand Cru Classé while Ch. Peyreau would be bottled under the St. Emilion Grand Cru AOC.

Image by Leonhard Dorst von Schatzberg. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under Public Domain usage.

The label of Clos de l’Oratoire and many other wines in the portfolio of Vignobles Comtes von Neipperg prominently feature the family’s coat of arms that date back to the early 1700s.

In the 1970s, both Peyreau and Clos de l’Oratoire where purchased by the von Neipperg family with the estates joining a portfolio that now includes the Premiers Grands Cru Classé ‘B’ estates of Ch. Canon-La-Gaffeliere and La Mondotte, Ch. d’Aiguilhe in Cotes de Castillon, Clos Marsalette in Pessac-Léognan (jointly owned with Didier Miqueu), the Sauternes Premier Cru Ch. Guiraud, Capaia in the New Philadelphia region of South Africa and Bessa Valley in Bulgaria.

All the vineyards are farmed sustainably with some parcels biodynamically managed.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc.

Critic Scores:

93-94 James Suckling (JS), 90-92 Wine Advocate (WA), 89-92 Wine Spectator (WS), 90-93 Vinous Media (VM), 90-92 Jeb Dunnuck (JD), 90-92 Jeff Leve (JL)

Sample Review:

The 2017 Clos de l’Oratoire is pliant and supple, with striking balance of fruit and tannin. In some recent vintages, Clos de l’Oratoire has been more massive, but I have to say, the balance of the 2017 is really quite compelling. A rush of red cherry, plum, blood orange, pomegranate and mint builds into the racy, pliant finish. This is a gorgeous vintage for Clos de l’Oratoire. Sadly, yields are down by 60% because of frost on the lower parts of the vineyard. As a result, only hillside parcels were used. Tasted two times. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $35
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $39.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K & L: $37.99 +shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Ave. $43 Average Critic Score: NA
2015 — Wine Searcher Ave. $50 Average Critic Score: 91 points
2014 — Wine Searcher Ave. $40 Average Critic Score: 90
2013 — Wine Searcher Ave. $32 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

Clos de l’Oratoire benefits from the same winemaking and viticultural teams as the blockbuster estates of Canon-La-Gaffeliere (Wine Searcher Ave $95) and La Mondotte (Wine Searcher Ave $252). While Clos de l’Oratoire will never reach the depths and pure hedonistic pleasures of those wines, I’ve always found it be a solid “baby brother” and good value.

Photo by Steve Ryan. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

While I certainly do enjoy nice Napa wines, getting a lush but elegant “New World-ish” Bordeaux like Clos de l’Oratoire for almost half the price is a stellar value.


In general, I find the wines of von Neipperg and his consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt to be very “New Worldish” and Napa-like meant for more short-term consumption. For a vintage like 2017 which I’m not planning on cellaring long that makes Clos de l’Oratoire a compelling buy–especially when I compare it to Napa wines in similar price points. I would put the quality of Clos de l’Oratoire on par with Napa Cabs like Silver Oak and Duckhorn or Merlots like Pride and Barnett Vineyards which all easily fetch far more than $40 a bottle. That makes this wine an easy Buy for me.

Ch. Monbousquet (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

First owned by François de Lescours in 1540, Monbousquet spent almost 150 years under the stewardship of the notable De Carles family who also owned Château de Carles in Fronsac and were very prominent in Bordeaux politics from the 15th to 17th centuries.

The modern history of Monbousquet began in 1993 when the estate was purchased by Gerard Perse who brought in Michel Rolland as a consultant. While Perse would go on to acquire the Premier Grand Cru Classe ‘A’ Ch. Pavie, Grand Cru Classé Ch. Pavie Decesse and St. Emilion Grand Cru Chateau Bellevue Mondotte as well as Clos Lunelles in the Cotes de Castillon, the chateau of Monbousquet would be the Perse family’s personal home until 2013 when it was sold to a French pension fund.

Photo by Private post-card collection. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under the Public Domain.

Ch. Monbousquet in the early 1900s.

Since 2006 the estate has been ranked as Grand Cru Classé with around 6000 cases a year produced. During the years of Perse’s ownership the percentage of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon was steadily increased in the more gravel and sand portions of the vineyards and today the estate is planted to around 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Critic Scores:

92-94 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 92-93 JS, 89-92 WS, 89-91 WA, 90-91 JL, 90-92 JD

Sample Review:

Incense, red cherries, thyme and smoke open the wine. On the palate, the wine is medium-bodied, full, velvety, polished and forward. The fruit is bright and you sense true freshness. The percentage of new oak has dropped to 50%, placing the fruit center stage. — Jeff Leve, The Wine Cellar Insider

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $52
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $311.94 for minimum 6 pack + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $54.97
K & L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Ave. $54 Average Critic Score: 89 points
2015 — Wine Searcher Ave. $60 Average Critic Score: 91
2014 — Wine Searcher Ave. $50 Average Critic Score: 90
2013 — Wine Searcher Ave. $44 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

While the 2012 Monbousquet is still a terrific value, I’ve been far more impressed with the efforts of many other St. Emilion estates (like Fleur Cardinale) in 2014 and 2015 for similar price points. That experience is encouraging me to take a “wait and see” approach to future Monbousquet releases.

I used to adore Monbousquet and have been avidly consuming vintages since 2005. While I’m still buying and getting a lot of pleasure from the 2012 vintage (Wine Searcher Average $55), I must confess that both the 2014 and 2015 underwhelmed me–especially for their price points.

While the 2012 was undoubtedly blended and bottled under the new winemaking team following the 2013 sale, I’m still a bit skeptical that Monbousquet is going to continue to be the reliable pleasure producer that it was for so many years under the Perse family’s stewardship. For a vintage like 2017 that skepticism is enough to merit a Pass for me.

Ch. Quinault l’Enclos (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

Historically part of the satellite region Sables St. Emilion that surrounded the city of Libourne, Quinault l’Enclos was often overlooked until 1997 when it was purchased by Alain Raynaud.

Raynaud renovated the cellars and replanted many under-performing parcels by the time he sold the estate in 2008 to Bernard Arnault and Albert Frere, the owners of the legendary Cheval Blanc. Today the vineyards and winemaking of the Grand Cru Classé is managed by Pierre Lurton with the same team used at Cheval Blanc. Since 2009 all vineyard parcels have been farmed organically.

Under Lurton and the Cheval Blanc team the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc used in the final blend has steadily increased with the 2017 vintage being a blend of 62% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Cabernet Franc. Around 7500 cases are made yearly.

Critic Scores:

92-93 JS, 90-92 WE, 89-91 VM, 89-91 WA, 88-90 JL

Sample Review:

The Cheval Blanc team changed everything when they started working there 10 years ago. Replanting with good clones etc and more Cabernet Sauvignon because there is a lot of gravel. Now also a new cellar, concrete for fermentation. Experimenting with foudres and bigger 500-litre barrels to reduce the oak impact but all new.
Deep crimson. Delicately herbaceous and slightly dusty aroma. Smells of stone dust. Or is it the concrete in the cellar? Under that, light cassis. Strange mix of herbaceous flavours and sweet chocolate. Sweet/sour at the moment. Smooth tannins, chocolate texture. Gentle but fresh.(16 out of 20) — Julia Harding, JancisRobinson.com

Offers:

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

Being managed by the same viticultural and winemaking team as the illustrious Cheval Blanc (pictured) makes Quinault L’Enclos a compelling value for under $35 a bottle.


Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $31
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $33.97
K & L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Ave. $ 36 Average Critic Score: NA
2015 — Wine Searcher Ave. $ 44 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2014 — Wine Searcher Ave. $ 35 Average Critic Score: 90
2013 — Wine Searcher Ave. $ NA Average Critic Score: NA

Buy or Pass?

Quinault L’Enclos first caught my attention with its savory and elegant 2010 vintage. While that vintage today averages around $50 (which is still a good value for its quality), it was a raging steal of a deal a few years back when it was around $35-40. The estate continued to impressed me with very solid offerings in the troublesome vintages of 2011 and 2012 and has been drinking fantastic for a young 2015.

Even though it has been under the Cheval Blanc teams stewardship for almost 10 years, this estate is still vastly underrated and is truly a gem worth discovering. As you can tell by the dearth of retail offers, this is a tough wine to get in the US (though I’ve noticed an uptick in savvy sommeliers putting this on restaurant wine lists), it’s worth finding and nabbing a few bottles if you can–especially the 2015 that is out in the market now.

Eventually folks are going to catch on and the prices will rise to match the quality but for under $50 this is a no-brainer Buy for me.

Ch. Fonplegade (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

Home to ancient Roman ruins that date back to AD 400, Fonplegade is one of the oldest and most historical properties in Bordeaux. The Roman settlement of St. Emilion likely took advantage of the fountain that still sits among the vines in the vineyard. The name “Fonplegade” itself roughly translates to “flowing fountain” or “fountain of plenty”.

The chateau was built in the 1850s and by 1863 the estate came under the ownership of Napoleon III’s step-brother, Charles de Morny the Duke of Morny. In 1953, the Moueix family (of Petrus fame) purchased Fonplegade. The property stayed in the family for several decades until 2004 when Armand Moueix sold it to Americans Denise and Stephen Adams.

The fountain in the vineyards of Fonplegade.


The Adams hired Michel Rolland as a consultant and began converting the vineyards over to organic and biodynamic (a similar path they took with the Pomerol estate they purchased in 2006, Ch. L’Enclos). By 2013, Fonplegade was certified organic with aims of being fully certified biodynamic by 2020. In 2015 Stephane Derenoncourt was hired to replace Rolland as consulting winemaker working with Corinne Comme the wife of Pontet-Canet’s Jean-Michel Comme.

In 2010, all the Cabernet Sauvignon vines were removed and replaced with Cabernet Franc. Sensing the potential of the variety in their clay and limestone dominant soils, the Adams have a goal of eventually 20% of the vineyard being planted to the grape.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Around 4000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

93-95 WA, 92-94 VM, 92-93 JS, 90-93 WS, 93-95 JL, 90-92 JD

Sample Review:

The deep garnet-purple colored 2017 Fonplegade has quite a spicy nose sporting notes of anise, cloves, fenugreek and black pepper over a core of warm black plums and blackberries plus a waft of potpourri. Medium-bodied with a rock-solid frame of grainy tannins and wonderful freshness, it features bags of vibrant black fruits and a long, spicy finish. — Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Wine Advocate

Offers:

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

Ch. Fonplegade in 2011 before work to reconstruct the right tower that was damaged in World War II began.

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $34
JJ Buckley: $35.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $34.97
K & L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Ave. $ 38 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 — Wine Searcher Ave. $ 50 Average Critic Score: 91
2014 — Wine Searcher Ave. $40 Average Critic Score: 89
2013 — Wine Searcher Ave. $35 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

Fonplegade in 2016 after the right tower was restored. Beginning with the 2015 vintage you can see the two towers illustrated on the wine’s label.


Visiting the estate of Ch. Fonplegade was one of the highlights of my 2016 trip to Bordeaux and it is clear that the Adams family are dedicated to raising the profile and quality level of the property. Touring the vineyards and their immaculate winery you could tell that no expense was being spared in their quest. Along with Ch. Fleur Cardinale, Fonplegade is one of the Grand Cru Classé that I can see eventually being promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’.

I am intrigued with the change from Rolland to Derenoncourt as I tend to prefer the later’s style a bit more. I’m also quite pleased at the very reasonable pricing for the futures being noticeably less than the current market prices for the 2014 and 2015. With value seeking being a primarily driver in my approach to the 2017 vintage this puts Fonplegade as a solid Buy for me.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

For previous installments of our series check out:

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

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

Langoa-Barton (St. Julien)

Some geekery:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Critic scores:

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

Sample review:

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

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

Previous Vintages:

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

Buy or Pass?

Photo By Murgh - Self-photographed, Public Domain,

In contrast to Leoville-Barton, the labels of Langoa Barton have no chateau image.


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

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

La Lagune (Haut-Medoc)

Some geekery:

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

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

Ch. La Lagune


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

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

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

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

Photo by BerndB; GNU free licence;

A 1961 bottle of Ch. La Lagune.


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

Critic scores:

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

Sample review:

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

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

Previous Vintages:

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

Buy or Pass?

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

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

Barde-Haut (St. Emilion)

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

Vineyards in St. Emilion.


Some geekery:

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

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

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

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

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

Critic scores:

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

Sample review:

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

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

Previous Vintages:

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

Buy or Pass?

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

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

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

Ch. Branaire-Ducru

Branaire-Ducru (St. Julien)

Some geekery:

This fourth growth estate has a long history dating back to 1600s when it was originally part of the large Beychevelle estate. When the owner of that large estate passed in 1680, parcels of the estate were broken up and sold with Jean-Baptiste Braneyre buying the parcels that was to become Branaire-Ducru. The “Ducru” part of the name was added in 1875 when Gustave Ducru purchased the estate and appended his name to it.

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

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

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

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

Critic scores:

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

Sample review:

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

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

Previous Vintages:

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

Buy or Pass?

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

With this wine priced in line with 2014 and the estate looking like it is still rolling out the home runs, this was a no-brainer purchase for me.

More 2017 Bordeaux Futures Posts

*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

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

Photo by Kassander der Minoer. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0-migrated

Continuing our series on the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign, I’m taking a look at offers featuring the Pessac-Léognan estates of Ch. Pape Clément and Malartic-Lagraviere, the St. Estephe Cru Bourgeois Ormes de Pez and the 3rd Growth Margaux estate Marquis d’Alesme.

For my general approach to buying futures for the 2017 vintage and my thoughts on earlier offers, check out my post Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge, Haut-Batailley.

Pape Clément (Pessac-Léognan)

Brief winery geekery:

One of the oldest estates in Bordeaux with a history dating back to the 13th century. In 1305, the Archbishop of Bordeaux, Bertrand de Goth was elected pope (taking the name Clement V) and was gifted the property in Pessac-Léognan. The property remained in the hands of the Archbishops of Bordeaux until the end of the 18th century when many ecclesiastical properties were confiscated by the French government.

In 1980 Bernard Magrez, an entrepreneur who worked as a negociant for the Cordier group, acquired sole control of the estate from the two families who shared ownership (which included his wife). In 1993, he brought in Michel Rolland as a consultant. The style of Pape Clément during this period has been distinguished by its use of 100% new French oak.

The estate is located very close to the city of Bordeaux with the First Growth estate Ch. Haut-Brion being the closest vineyard neighbor. Both red and white grapes are planted with the vineyard spread of red varieties being 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. Around 7,500 cases a year of the red Grand Vin are produced.

Photo by Kassander der Minoer. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0-migrated

Ch. Pape-Clement


The 2017 vintage is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Merlot.

Critic scores:

94-97 Antonio Galloni (AG), 95-96 James Suckling (JS), 92-94 Wine Advocate (WA), 91-94 Wine Spectator (WS), 90-92 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 94-96 Jeb Dunnuck (JD), 95-97 Jeff Leve (JL)

Sample review:

The 2017 Pape Clément is fabulous. One of the rare 2017s with a real sense of structure, Pape Clément possesses dazzling intensity from start to finish. A rush of dark cherry, plum, chocolate and grilled herb notes hits the palate as this majestic, towering wine shows off its personality. Time in the glass brings out a brighter and more floral set of flavors. The 2017 is the first vintage made with a portion of whole clusters, an inspiration Bernard Magrez takes from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where he recently bought a small property. Quite simply, the 2017 Pape Clément is a magnificent wine by any measure. Don’t miss it. The only problem with the 2017 is that yields are down 40% because of frost. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous

2017 Wine Searcher Average Price: $88
JJ Buckley: $89.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland, CA location)
Vinfolio: $95 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $87.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $89.97 (no shipping/sent to local store)
K&L: $94.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:

2016 — Wine Searcher Average $ 99 Average Critic Score: 92 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $ 116 Average Critic Score: 94 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $ 96 Average Critic Score: 93 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $ 89 Average Critic Score: 91 pts

Buy or Pass?

To my taste, the style of Pape Clément is very New World-ish which has me comparing its value more to high-end Napa Valley than necessarily to its Bordelais peers. That said, I usually find the wine delivering ample hedonistic pleasure that I would put on par with Napa wines in the $150+ range. This is never a wine that I buy more than a couple bottles of as I’m skeptical about the long term aging potential with this lush, velvety style.

Still, I’m impressed that the average futures price is more inline with the sub-par 2013 vintage–even with the drastically reduced case production. As I noted in my last 2017 Bordeaux Futures post, my objective this campaign is to look for value and “cellar defenders”. To that extent the Pape Clément is compelling enough to be a Buy for me.

Ormes de Pez (St. Estephe)

Brief winery geekery:

The author and her wife with Jean-Michel Cazes.

Cru Bourgeois estate founded in the 16th century in the northwestern part of St. Estephe near Ch. de Pez and Ch. Château Beau-Site Haut-Vignoble. Since 1940, the estate has been owned by the Cazes family who also own the 5th Growth Pauillac estate Ch. Lynch-Bages with the same viticulture and winemaking teams used at both estates.

The vineyard soils are a mix of gravel with high percentages of clay and sand. To optimize the terroir, the Cazes family has been steadily increasing the amount of Merlot planted on the clay dominant parcels with the estate being planted to around 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. Around 18,000 cases a year are produced.

The 2017 vintage is 51% Merlot dominant, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot.

Critic scores:

92-93 JS, 91-93 AG, 88-91 WS, 91 -93 WE, 89-91 JD, 88-90 JL

Sample review:

Ormes has managed another good vintage after a run of them. This is a lovely wine and a buy for me. Succulent, bristling and charming, it has juicy brambled fruit extraction and tension. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, just asking to be loved. The fruit spectrum is rich with blueberries and damsons, with integrity and a swirl of vanilla bean oak. Includes 6% Cabernet Franc in the blend. No need to wait too long for this. 45% new oak. (92 pts) — Jane Anson, Decanter

2017 Wine Searcher Average Price: $28
JJ Buckley: No offers yet
Vinfolio: No offers yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $179.94 minimum 6 bottle purchase + shipping.
Total Wine: $29.97
K&L: $29.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 — Wine Searcher Average $ 34 Average Critic Score: 91 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $ 35 Average Critic Score: 90 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $ 34 Average Critic Score: 90 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $ 27 Average Critic Score: 88 pts

Buy or Pass?

I was impressed with how well the 2011 Ormes de Pez was showing despite that vintage being much more promblematic than 2017. That gives me a lot of optimism about the quality level that the Cazes family will deliver.

At around $30 a bottle, this looks like the quintessential “Cellar Defender” that will offer short term pleasure and guilt-free enjoyment which will help me keep my paws off of my 2015/16 Bordeaux. This is a good Buy for me, even with a 6 bottle minimum purchase.

Photo from unknown author's private postcard collection. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-PD-Mark

Old postcard featuring the exterior of Ch. Marquis d’Alesme circa 1900-1920.

Marquis d’Alesme (Margaux)

Brief winery geekery:

Third Growth Margaux estates founded in 1585 in the northern part of the commune near Ch. Margaux, Ch. Malescot St. Exupéry and Ch. Ferrière.

In 2006, the property was sold by the Zuger family (who own Malescot St. Exupery) to Hubert Perrodo who also owned the Cru Bourgeois Margaux estate Ch. Labegorce. Following Hubert’s death after a skiing accident, both estates have been ran by his daughter Nathalie Perrodo.

The estate owns three parcels of vineyards, including a significant section close to the D2 road on silica and gravel soils. In recent years, plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc have been increased with the current vineyard mix being around 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc. About 7000 cases a year are produced.

The 2017 vintage of Marquis d’Alesme is a blend of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot.

Critic scores:

92-94 WA, 92-94 AG, 90-93 WS, 91-92 JS, 91-93 JL

Sample review:

The wine quickly shows off its floral essence with black cherry and spice box notes. Sweet and fresh, the wine is full bodied, soft, refined and displays its freshness and ripe cherries with a bit of cocoa just as you approach the endnote. The wine reached 13.5% alcohol. — Jeff Leve, The Wine Cellar Insider

2017 Wine Searcher Average Price: $39
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet
Total Wine: $41.97
K&L: $40.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 — Wine Searcher Average $ 42 Average Critic Score: 91 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $ 49 Average Critic Score: 92 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $ 43 Average Critic Score: 91 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $ 36 Average Critic Score: 89 pts

Buy or Pass?

Compared to the 2014 (and even 2016) vintage, this does look like a decent value. But I must confess that I’ve never been terribly wowed by Marquis d’Alesme in the past. While in vintages like 2015/16, I’d be more willing to give an estate a flyer or another look, for 2017 I’m leaning more towards estates that I have a track record of enjoying.

Truthfully, I’ve founded the Perrodo’s Cru Bourgeois estate Ch. Labegorce to be a much better value in the $29-33 range. I’m more incline to investigate JJ Buckley, Spectrum, Total Wine and K & L’s offers on that wine and Pass on the Marquis d’Alesme.

The calm before the storm at the UGC tasting for the 2014 vintage in Miami, FL.


Malartic-Lagraviere (Pessac-Léognan)

Brief winery geekery:

This Graves estate was originally known as Domaine de Lagraviere until the Malartic family changed the name in 1850 to honor Comte Anne-Joseph-Hippolyte Maures de Malartic who was a notable Admiral in the French Navy. The boat featured on the wine label also pays tribute to this heritage. In 1990, the estate was purchased by the Champagne house Laurent-Perrier who later sold it to the Bonnie family in 1997.

The Bonnies have modernize the facilitaties and introduced sustainable farming to the vineyards. The terroir of their 53 hectares (located near Domaine de Chevalier and Ch. de Fieuzel) includes deep gravelly soils that can be as deep as 8 meters in the parcels near the Chateau. The vineyards are planted to 45% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc

Critic scores:

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

Sample review:

Deep crimson. Dark, nicely dusty cassis. Dark chocolate and graphite finesse. Dry, fine tannins with the graphite freshness marked on the finish. Elegant, if not charming at the moment. Attractive restraint. (16.5 out of 20)– Julia Harding, Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages

2017 Wine Searcher Average Price: $47
JJ Buckley: $49.94 + shipping
Vinfolio: No offers yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet
Total Wine: $49.97
K&L: $49.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 — Wine Searcher Average $ 59 Average Critic Score: 91 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $ 61 Average Critic Score: 94 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $ 51 Average Critic Score: 92 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $ 41 Average Critic Score: 90 pts

Overall I was fairly impressed with the 2013 and 2014 from Pessac-Leognan at the UGC tastings but for 2017 I’m more incline to buy in for estates like Domaine de Chevalier (pictured) .


Buy or Pass?

This is another estate that looks to be offering decent value but is one that I just don’t have a strong personal track record with. My most recent tastings of Malartic-Lagraviere were at Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux events for the 2014 and 2013 vintages and while I found the wines well-made, there was nothing spectacular about them either. My notes for the 2014, in particular, highlighted how tight the 2014 was and that it would need far more time than what I typically anticipate for a “Cellar Defender”.

As a futures offering, I’m going to Pass on the Malartic-Lagraviere but would certainly be open to tasting it in the bottle at a future UGC tasting and perhaps buying in then if the prices still remain compelling as a good value.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

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

*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

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Cinsault — The Black Prince of South Africa

As promised in my summary post about the 2018 Hospice du Rhône Weekend, I’ll tackle each of the four seminars with their own posts beginning with the first seminar on Friday — South Africa’s Cinsault Renaissance.

I’m hard-pressed to narrow down which of the four seminars were my absolute favorite but, without a doubt, this seminar was the most eye-opening. In my Quick Take on Day 1, I commented how neither Cinsault nor South Africa tends to be on the radar of most US consumers. The trade organization WOSA (Wines of South Africa) reported in 2016 that the US receives only 3% of the wine exported from South Africa. In 2014, when US sales of wine (both domestic and exported) were around 370 million cases, wines from South Africa accounted for less than 0.33% of those sales.

But after attending this seminar moderated by Lauren Buzzeo of Wine Enthusiast and reading about my friend Adrienne’s wine adventures drinking South African wines in Nambia, it’s clear that South Africa is a wine producer worth paying attention to—not the least of which for the country’s treasure trove of old vine Cinsault.

The seminar featured 9 Cinsaults and Cinsault-dominant blends from 7 producers with winemakers Tremayne Smith (The Blacksmith Wines), Andrea Mullineux (Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines), Danie Steytler (Kaapzicht Wine Estate) and Ryan Mostert (Silwervis) on the panel.

I will get into my tasting notes on the individual wines in the moment but first some geeking about Cinsault.

Cinsault: The Mediterranean “Pinot noir”?

Jancis Robinson notes in Wine Grapes that the earliest recorded mention of Cinsault was under the synonym ‘Marroquin’ in 1600 by the French writer Olivier de Serres. The modern spelling ‘Cinsault’ emerged in the 1880s as a likely derivative from ‘Sinsâou’ that was used in the Hérault department along the Mediterranean coast as early as 1829.

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

Cinsault growing in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

DNA analysis suggest this area is the probable birthplace of Cinsault due to its close genetic relationship to the Piquepoul varieties and the potential parent-offspring relationship with Rivairenc (Aspiran), the very old Languedoc grape.

Today some of the oldest vines of Cinsault in the Languedoc date back to 1900. While Cinsault suffered the same post-WW II image problem here it did in South Africa, it is also benefiting from renewed interest in the variety with even acclaimed Burgundian producers like Anne Gros (of the notable Vosne-Romanée family) and her husband Jean-Paul Tollot tending to 50+ year old vines in Minervois.

Outside of France, the grape is found in the Puglia region of Italy where it is known as Ottavianello and must make up a minimum of 85% of the red blends in the Ostuni DOC. In Morocco it is the most widely planted grape variety but that is largely because Cinsault is also a popular table grape variety.

Chateau Musar has long championed the grape variety in Lebanon, frequently blending it with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

In Washington State, Paul Gregutt describes wines made from Cinsault as like a “good Beaujolais” and notes in Washington Wines that it can be found in Walla Walla in the Morrison Lane and Minnick Vineyards as well as in the Horse Heaven Hills at Alder Ridge.

Cinsault in South Africa

Tim James in Wines of the New South Africa notes that Cinsault was introduced to South Africa in the 1880s and quickly became a popular planting. By 1909, it was the most widely planted red grape variety and the third most popular grape after Greengrape (Semillon) and Muscat.

Originally known as “Hermitage” until the mid-1930s, Cinsault would eventually account for as much as a third of all vineyard plantings in South Africa and was used to make everything from dry reds to sweet fortified wines to even brandy. The rise in popularity of Chenin blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon after World War II would eventually signal the grape’s decline throughout rest of the 20th century but even as its popularity wane it was still frequently used as a blending grape to add perfume and acidity to some of the country’s top Cabernet Sauvignon.

By 2008, Cinsault accounted for around a tenth of all vineyards in South Africa with notable plantings in Paarl, Breedekloof and the ward of Malmesbury in Swartland. Roughly translated to “The Black Land” in reference to the renosterbos (“rhino bush”) shrubs that dot the landscape, it is somewhat poetic that old vine vineyards of the Black Prince in Swartland would be the source of some of the most delicious Cinsault at the seminar.

Seminar Wines

Most of these wines are limited releases and hard to find in the United States. But they are well worth the hunt if you can get them.

Color of the The Blacksmith Barebones. Note how you can read through the core to see the text underneath.


2017 The Blacksmith Barebones, W.O. Paarl (Wine Searcher Average $24)
Medium intensity nose with black cherry and fresh uncured tobacco.

On the palate, those black cherry notes come through and are quite juicy and fresh with medium-plus acidity. Medium tannins and medium body contribute to the “Beaujolais” quality of the wine making it very pleasant and enjoyable with a moderate finish.

2017 The Blacksmith Prince of Bones, W.O. Swartland (No WS listing. At the seminar, Lauren Buzzeo priced it at $45)
Medium-plus intensity nose with lots of blue floral notes to go with the black cherry and tobacco notes exhibited by the Barebones.

On the palate, those fresh uncured tobacco notes from the nose change to more cured tobacco spice–not that dissimilar from Bordeaux wines. Medium-plus acidity maintains the juiciness of the cherry fruit with medium-plus tannins contributing to the medium-plus body of the wine. Long finish ends on the spicy note and mouthwatering fruit. Outstanding wine and probably my favorite of the tasting.

2017 Sadie Family Pofadder, W.O. Swartland (WS Average for 2016 vintage $42)
Medium-minus intensity nose. Light raspberry and some herbal notes. With some air a slight watermelon note (both flesh and rind) come out which is intriguing.

On the palate, the fruit flavors are similarly light. High acidity and chalky medium-plus tannins contribute to a thin and skeletal feel of the wine. Very short finish brings an earthy element that is hard to make out.

2017 Craven Wines Cinsault, W.O. Stellenbosch (WS Average $14 but I’m skeptical as Buzzeo listed the price at $55)
Medium intensity nose with red cherry, rose petals and fresh forest earthiness.

On the palate, the earthy element becomes a little more herbal but also brings a savory black pepper spice note. High acidity and medium-plus tannins are balanced a bit better with the fruit than the Sadie Pofadder so the wine feels more firm and structured rather than thin and skeletal. Seems young but promising.

The Badenhorst Ramnasgras from Swartland was fantastic.


2016 A.A. Badenhorst Cinsault Ramnasgras, W.O. Swartland (WS Average $38)
Medium-plus intensity with black cherry notes and lots of spice and meatiness. A mix of Burgundian and Rhone notes on the nose that had my mouth watering before even taking a sip.

On the palate, the cherry and spice carries through with the mouthwatering continuing with the medium-plus acidity. High tannins hold up the full-bodied fruit of the wine really well and contribute to this wine feeling like a meal in itself. Another favorite.

2016 Kaapzicht Cinsault 1952, W.O. Stellenbosch (NO WS listing though one merchant offering it for $31)
Medium intensity nose with an intriguing mix of cherry pie spices and leather.

The Kaapzicht 1952. Note how much darker this wine is in the core.


On the palate, those cherry pie notes come through with a toasty graham cracker crust character as well. Juicy medium-plus and ripe medium-plus tannins gives the wine great structure and mouthfeel. Long finish keeps with the cherry pie note with some cured tobacco spice joining the party. Very delicious.

2015 Kaapzicht Cinsault Skuinberg, W.O. Stellenbosch (NO WS listing though one merchant offering it for $79)
Medium-minus intensity nose. A mix of minty menthol and coffee espresso with some undefined red fruits.

On the palate, the red fruits become more defined as cherry and raspberry but the menthol and espresso dominant. Like the 1952, the medium-plus acidity and tannins give the wine exceptional balance and structure. I just don’t know if I’m a fan of this flavor profile as much.

2015 Leeu Passant Old Vine Cinsault, W.O. Franschhoek (NO WS listing though one merchant offering it for $103)
Medium-plus intensity nose with black raspberry and blackberry notes. There is also a minty element here but it smells more like fresh mint leaves rather than menthol.

The black fruits carry through on the palate with the minty notes being more subdued. In their place some of that Bordeaux-style tobacco spice emerges which gives the wine a savory element with the medium-plus acidity. Medium-plus tannins balances out the full bodied weight of the fruit. Long finish lingers on the spice. Really well made wine.

2015 Silwervis Cinsault, W.O. Swartland (WS Average $26 but I’m skeptical as Buzzeo listed the price at $50)
Medium intensity nose with coffee and cherry notes. With some air, a little floral mint and fresh tobacco leaf comes out.

On the palate, the coffee notes dominant with fruit present but struggling to emerge. Medium acidity and medium-plus tannins have firm edges to them. Even though this one of the oldest wines at the tastings, it felt really young. Intriguing though.

Takeaways

Cinsault’s diversity is a joy for food pairing but a nightmare for blind tasting.

As I reviewed my notes I saw some patterns emerging (cherry and tobacco) but many of those notes overlap with styles familiar to Burgundy, Beaujolais and lighter Bordeaux. A few examples even hit some of those savory meaty notes of a Rhone. Still, this diversity is exciting because here we have a wine that can be anything from a great picnic & BBQ sipper to something savory and complex that can hold up to robust dishes.

While two of my favorites (The Blacksmith’s Prince of Bones and A.A. Badenhorst’s Ramnagras) were from the Swartland–along with the intriguing but young tasting Silwervis–it was hard to pinpoint terroir characteristics. Considering how much I’ve liked other wines from these producers, I wonder how much of it is more producer style verses the region?

But a big takeaway, and one that the moderator and panelists frequently referred to, was the importance of older vines for Cinsault. The vine lends itself easily to overproduction and with its thin skins can be prone to producing thin flavors. While that may work for bulk rosé, it’s not ideal for making character driven wines.

With over 1600 acres of Cinsault vines over 20 years old (and many of the wines featured in this tasting coming from 40+ year old vineyards), South Africa does have a good bounty of older vines to work with. The really lovely Leeu Passant Old Vine Cinsault from Franschhoek was sourced from South Africa’s 2nd oldest red wine vineyard from vines that are 91+ years old. You can taste the added complexity and concentration from these older vines.

Remarkable stuff that is, again, well worth the hunt to find.

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Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge, Haut-Batailley

Photo by Berndt Fernow. Released on Wikimedia Commons under GNU-FDLOffers for the 2017 Bordeaux futures campaign are starting to come in. Today I’m going to look at four offers and share my thought process on whether I’m going to buy in on these wines or pass.

But first, let me explain my general approach to the 2017 vintage.

Value & Cellar Defenders

Personally, I don’t approach buying Bordeaux futures as a financial investment where I hopefully “buy low and sell high”. I’m not trying to make money off of these deals. While I may do some wine locker trading with friends down the road, in general, I approach these campaigns with the mindset of buying wines that I expect to drink myself.

Despite the positive spin that merchants and the Bordelais themselves are trying cast on 2017, I’m not convinced that it’s a great year. I think it is certainly better than 2011 and 2013 but this is not a vintage that I’m going to invest heavily in or pay a premium for. Instead, I’m going to be looking for value with prices less than 2016/2015 and more in the range of the 2014 vintage which I feel is the most apt comparison to 2017.

I bought fairly heavily in Bordeaux during the 2015 and 2016 campaigns so I will have a decent amount of great Bordeaux in my cellar that I won’t want to touch for another 10-15 years. As I learned the hard way with many of my 2009/2010 (and even 2005s), the temptation to open these bottles can be very seductive only to have my momentary pleasure give way to pangs of guilt as the wines reveal only a shadow of how good they could have been if only I had given them more time.

Therefore I place value in making sure I have wines that I call “Cellar Defenders”. These are wines from less highly acclaimed vintages that generally reach their peak drinking window earlier than wines from outstanding vintages. Plus with these wines usually having better price points, I can open up these “sacrificial lambs” with far less guilt even if they aren’t quite at their peak.

Photo by Raphael Reynier of Onewineproduction. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Wine critics tasting at one of the 2017 en primeur events in Bordeaux.


A Note About Scores

In my breakdown of the wines below I will include the barrel scores from several notable critics as well the Wine Searcher Average of critic scores for previous vintages. As I describe in my post on my own personal approach to scoring, I prefer to rate wines with my wallet and whether or not I think they deliver enough pleasure to merit the cost.

But I’m not going to get a chance to taste these wines anytime soon so I still see some value in using the opinions of professional critics as tools in my decision making on whether I want to invest in buying these wines. I don’t take any one critic’s opinion as gospel truth but rather look for a pattern to see where their opinions tend to overlap.

Ch. Palmer (Margaux)

Brief winery geekery: Third Growth estate owned by 22 shareholders, including the owners of the negociant firms BorieManoux and Sichel. Since 2004, Thomas Duroux has been the winemaker. Their second wine, Alter Ego de Palmer has been produced since 1998 with some critics (like The Wine Cellar Insider’s Jeff Leve) feeling the wine performs at the level of a 4th Growth. In 2017, the vineyards of Palmer were certified 100% Biodynamic. The 2017 is a blend of 54% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot making it a Merlot dominant Left Bank wine. Between 8,000 to 10,000 cases are produced each vintage.

Critic scores: 97-98 JS (James Suckling), 96-98 WA (Wine Advocate), 94-96 WE (Wine Enthusiast), 92-95 WS (Wine Spectator), 92-95 JD (Jeb Dunnuck), 96 JL (Jeff Leve)

Sample review:

… very deep purple-black in color and leaps from the glass with freshly macerated blue and black fruits: wild blueberries, blackberries and black cherries plus hints of licorice, rose hips, tilled soil and oolong tea with a waft of truffles. Medium-bodied, very finely crafted with exquisitely ripe and smooth yet firm tannins and sporting great mid-palate intensity and wonderful freshness, it finishes long and minerally. — Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Wine Advocate

2017 Wine Searcher Average $273
JJ Buckley $284.95 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio $279 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions $274.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up in Tustin, CA)
Total Wine $284.99 (no shipping with all wines sent to a local store and only 50% down upfront)
K & L $279.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at K & L locations in California)

Previous vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Average $339 Average critic score: 94 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $359 Average critic score: 96 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $253 Average critic score: 94 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $257 Average critic score: 92 pts

Buy or Pass?

This one is tempting but ultimately it will be a pass for me. I actually find myself more interested in finding bottles of the 2014 Palmer as I see that vintage performing a similar “cellar defender” role at a little better price point.

This 2011 Valandraud I tasted when I visited the estate back in 2016 was drinking fantastic for something from such an underwhelming vintage like 2011.
This give me optimism that in a much better vintage like 2017 that Valandraud will produce a winner.

Ch. Valandraud (St. Emilion)

Brief winery geekery: Premier Grand Cru Classe founded in 1989 by Jean-Luc Thunevin as one of the first “garage wines”. Vineyards planted to 70 % Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon with the remaining 5% split between Malbec and Carmenere–making Valandraud one of the few St. Emilion estates to use 5 red Bordeaux grape varieties. Around 3,400 cases produced each vintage.

Critic scores: 95-97 WE, 94-97 JD, 93-96 WS, 94-95 JS, 93-95 WA, 94 JL

Sample review:

Lots of beautiful blueberry and blackberry fruits here. Medium to full body, round and very polished tannins and a flavorful finish. Wet-earth undertones. Velvety mouthfeel at the end. — James Suckling

Wine Searcher Average $141
JJ Buckley $159.94 + shipping
Vinfolio — No offer yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions $144.99 + shipping
Total Wine $149.97
K & L $149.99 + shipping

Previous vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Average $179 Average critic score: 93 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $167 Average critic score: 94 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $141 Average critic score: 93 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $141 Average critic score: 92 pts

Buy or Pass?

While I’m not going to go crazy, this is a buy for me. Valandraud is one of my favorite Bordeaux estates, regularly producing wines that I would put on par with $200+ Napa Valley wines. It’s worth having a couple bottles in the cellar when I’m craving something bold and luscious but with enough complexity to still remind me it is a Bordeaux.

Ch. Fombrauge (St. Emilion)

Brief winery geekery: Grand Cru Classe that is one of the largest and oldest vineyards in St. Emilion with parcels neighboring Ch. Pavie. Since 1999, has been owned by Bernard Magrez who also owns Ch. Pape-Clement with Michel Rolland as a consultant. 2017 vintage is a blend of 93% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Franc. Around 14,000 cases produced each vintage.

Critic scores: 93-95 WE, 92-94 WA, 90-93 WS, 91-92 JS, 90 JL

Sample review:

Offers nice flesh, with a mix of black currant and plum fruit inlaid with subtle black tea, graphite and anise notes. Reveals a tobacco edge on the finish. Well done. — James Molesworth, Wine Spectator

Wine Searcher Average $25
JJ Buckley — No offer yet
Vinfolio — No offer yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions — 6 bottle minimum $149.94 + shipping
Total Wine $28.97
K & L — No offer yet

Previous vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Average $28 Average critic score: 89 points
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $33 Average critic score: 90 points
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $35 Average critic score: 90 points
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $29 Average critic score: 88 points

Buy or Pass?

This is a definite buy for me and pretty much exemplifies the value that I’m looking for in 2017. The Magrez/Rolland style tends to favor early drinkability with “New World-ish” fleshy fruit. These are wines that I expect to be drinking fine 5-10 years from vintage date, making them perfect cellar defenders to help protect my 2015/2016 from being opened too soon.

Photo by Christian Haase. Released on Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0
Ch. Haut-Batailley (Pauillac)

Brief winery geekery: 5th growth estate that was previously owned by the Borie family of Ducru Beaucaillou fame and managed by Francois Xavier Borie (who also owns Grand Puy Lacoste). In 2017, the estate was sold to the Cazes family (of Lynch-Bages fame). The vineyard is currently planted to 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc with the Cazes family planning on decreasing the amount of Cabernet planted and increasing the amount of Merlot. Vineyards divided among two parcels with one neighboring Ch. Latour and the other Lynch-Bages. Around 9000 cases a year produced.

Critic scores: 94-95 JS, 89-92 WS, 94 JL

Sample review:

With a good depth of color, the wine shows a nice purity of juicy cassis while a leafy olive and pepper component keeps you interested throughout this full bodied, crunchy and classic experience. The tannins are a bit uncompromising right now but give the wine time, and it will prove to be worth the wait. This is the debut vintage from the new owners, the Cazes family. — Jeff Leve The Wine Cellar Insider

Wine Searcher Average $61
JJ Buckley — No offer yet
Vinfolio — No offer yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions $64.99 + shipping
Total Wine $64.97
K & L — No offer yet

Previous vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Average $57 Average critic score: NA
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $51 Average critic score: 92 points
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $44 Average critic score: 91 points
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $41 Average critic score: 89 points

Buy or Pass?

This is going to be a pass for me. Definitely not a compelling value compared to previous vintages. While I’m a huge fan of the Cazes family and can anticipate exciting things in the future for Haut-Batailley, I think it will be a few years before we really see their influence in the wine. I don’t see a reason to pay a premium over the $51 average that the 2015 vintage has just on the potential of the Cazes family’s involvement.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

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

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

*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

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Hospice du Rhône Weekend 2018

The BBQ prep for the closing dinner.

Just got back home from a wonderful weekend down in Paso Robles attending the 2018 Hospice du Rhône. This was my first time attending the event and I can tell you that my wife and I are already making plans to attend the 2020 event April 23rd-25th.

To be honest, we are even thinking about attending the 2019 event in the Rhône Valley.

We purchased two weekend passes at $995 each which got us:

4 seminars featuring 9-11 wines each including many wines with limited releases and very small production.
Two lunches (a Rosé lunch on Day 1 and Live Auction lunch on Day 2)
An Opening and Closing Tasting featuring hundreds of wines with each tasting having a different theme (older vintages for Day 1 and newer vintages for Day 2) so each day had different wines to try.
Farewell dinner and BBQ

As you can probably garner from the first paragraph, my wife and I left the event feeling that the cost of the weekend pass was more than worth it for the experience we got. So I’ll share some of my favorite geeky moments, top wines and the two slight negatives that put a damper on an otherwise stellar event.

I’ll save my reviews of the 4 seminars (South Africa’s Cinsault Renaissance, A 6th Generation Crusade in the Barossa Valley, Lost and Found: Old Vine Rhônes Across California, The Majesty of Guigal) for their own individual posts because there was a lot of great stuff from each to unpack.

Top 3 Geek Moments

Meeting two Masters of Wine in Billo Naravane of Rasa Vineyards and Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co. I got a chance to talk to Billo about the possibilities of Walla Walla hosting a future Hospice du Rhone (would be incredibly exciting!) and with Morgan it was hard not to be charmed with his unabashed geekiness for old vine vineyards in California.

John Alban, Morgan Twain-Peterson and Tegan Passalacqua at the old vine seminar.

Which along those lines….

Having the light bulb flick on about the treasure of old vine field blends. Some of the most exciting wines at the event were old vine field blends featuring a hodge podge of grapes like Mataro (Mourvedre), Syrah, Peloursin, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Trousseau noir, Grenache, Mondeuse, Alicante Bouchet and the like inter-planted and fermented together. In an industry dominated by monoculture and mono-varietal wines, the character of these field blends like Carlisle’s Two Acres and Bedrock’s Gibson Ranch are off the charts.

And no one is intentionally planting field blends right now. This truly is a treasure of the past when farmers, rather than viticulturists, just kind of did their thing and let what would grow, grow. That kind of proposition is way too risky today but that only heightens the importance of saving these old vineyards and supporting the wineries who source fruit from them.

As a Millennial, the character and stories behind field blend plantings is the perfect antidote to the mind-numbing boredom of the “same old, same old”. Millennials are changing the wine industry with their craving for new experiences and new things as well as authenticity–which an old vine field blend delivers in spades. It’s why I’m skeptical that Cabernet Sauvignon will continue it dominance and why I don’t think Merlot’s downturn is just because of a movie.

Potek Winery’s Mormann Vineyard Syrah from the Santa Rita Hills.
Great wine but Potek’s labels are WAAAAAAY too busy. Admittedly in a wine shop I wouldn’t even give them a second look because they’re so hard to read.

Though speaking of that movie…

Screw Pinot. Let’s start drinking Santa Barbara County Rhônes. I mentioned this in my quick take on Day 1 and day 2 only reaffirmed how special these cool climate Rhônes are. I’ll also add the Russian River Valley of Sonoma because not only can you find Carlisle’s Two Acre gem there but I was also thoroughly impressed with the wines from MacLaren.

Top 10 (non-seminar) Wines of the Event

When you have wines like a 2005 Guigal La Turque being poured at the seminars, it would be easy to fill up this list with nothing but seminar wines. But there were a lot of fantastic wines poured at the Opening and Closing tastings so here are 10 of my favorites in no particular order.

2016 Jada Hell’s Kitchen Paso Robles — It was actually hard to narrow down just one of the Jada wines to put on this list because every single one of them were stellar. This one was very full bodied and hedonistic with rich dark fruit, velvety smooth mouthfeel and a long finish with dark chocolate notes.

2016 Louis Cheze Condrieu Pagus Luminis — Crisp but mouthfilling. Lots of fresh tree fruit notes–apricots and peaches–with some stony minerality.

2016 CR Greybehl The Grenachista Alder Springs Grenache Mendocino County — I guess I could add this to my cool-climate Rhône discoveries. Like Jada, this was a hard one to narrow down because I loved everything from this producer. The Alder Springs had a particular vivacious mouthfeel of juicy blackberries with some spice and floral notes.

While I enjoyed the opportunity to try Saxum, I’m actually far more excited about the wines being made by their assistant, Don Burns, with his wife Claudia at their Turtle Rock Winery.

2012 Turtle Rock Willow’s Cuvee Paso Robles — Made by the assistant winemaker of Saxum. Truthfully, I liked these better than the Saxum wines I tried. Very floral with a mix of red and dark fruit. One of the best noses of the night.

2012 Dos Cabezas Wineworks El Campo Sonoita Arizona — One of the surprises of the event. A Tempranillo-Mourvedre blend from Arizona that tasted like a spicy Ribera del Duero and juicy Jumilla had a baby. Very impressive.

2008 Kunin Alisos Vineyard Syrah Santa Barbara County — Winners across the board from Kunin. Great mix of dark fruit and earthy forest floor. Very long finish. These were wines I wished I had more time to savor.

2012 Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape — This hit my perfect catnip style of savory, meaty undertones wrapped around a core of juicy, mouthwatering fruit. Such a treat to have and I suspect that the 2015 will be even better with a few more years.

2007 Carlisle James Berry Syrah Paso Robles — All in all, Carlisle probably made my favorite wines of the entire event. I can still taste the 2016 Two Acres from the old vine seminar but this James Berry was a close second. Still very lively with dark fruit, mouthwatering medium-plus acid and some spicy minerality on the finish.

A 100% Cinsault pet-nat was not only geeky good but also a palate savior.
Would really love to see more sparkling wines like this at future Hospice du Rhone events.


2017 The Blacksmith The Bloodline Cinsault Pet-Nat Darling W.O. South Africa — This was much needed salvation for the palate (see below) but it would have been a treat to try under any circumstance. Super geeky Cinsault pet-nat, this wine had a huge nose of orange blossoms and cherries that jumped out of the glass.

2005 Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage — This wine wasn’t part of any featured tasting and was certainly an unexpected treat that someone brought to the Live Auction lunch on Day 2. This was my first Chave and my lord! Still quite young and powerful for its age with layers of red fruit, savory Asian spices and a long finish of smokey BBQ notes.

Palate Fatigue and a little clicky culture

While overall the event was fantastic, there were two things that stuck out as minor negatives. One was the absence of sparkling wines which are the guardian angels of the palate at tastings like these. As readers of my flashback review of the 2017 Taste Washington know, periodically taking a break from big, heavy reds with some palate cleansing bubbles is a must if you’re going to maximize your tasting experience.

There were a few producers pouring some roses and crisp white wines which helped but it was disappointing not to see more sparkling examples. I know that the Rhône is not particularly well known for bubbles but there is the Clairette de Die and Saint-Péray AOCs producing sparkling wine and Australia has a good tradition of making sparkling Shiraz. I’m sure there are also examples from New World producers experimenting with sparkling Viognier and other varieties. It would be great to give these wines more visibility and they would be absolute god sends during the big tastings.

While some of the “clickiness” at lunch was disheartening, the gracious couple who shared this wine from their table gave me an amazing thrill that was a joy to try.


The second negative was how “clicky” the culture among the attendees were–especially at the lunches. It’s wonderful that the Hospice du Rhône is in its 22nd year and it’s clear that there are many people who have been attending this event regularly. But for a “newbie”, it felt hard at times to break into the crowd.

Again, this was most felt at the lunches where several times seats and entire tables were reserved not by official organizers but other attendees who didn’t seem to have any interest in interacting with people who weren’t part of their local scene.

But there were certainly more than enough gracious attendees who were welcoming and approachable (as well as the organizers themselves like John and Lorraine Alban, Vicki Carroll and Faith Wells) to make the event exceedingly enjoyable and well worth attending again.

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Event Review — Stags’ Leap Winery Dinner

Daniel’s Broiler in Bellevue, Washington is one of my wife and I’s favorite restaurants to visit. Each year they host a Champagne Gala that we love going to. Even when we’re not thrilled with the wines selected, we nonetheless always enjoy the exquisite food crafted by Executive Chef Kevin Rohr and a chance to try interesting food pairings.

Recently I got to attend a dinner featuring the wines of Stags’ Leap Winery with Assistant Winemaker Joanne “Jo” Wing.

The Background

I geeked out about some of the backstory of Stags’ Leap Winery in my 60 Second Review of their 2013 Napa Valley Merlot. With a long history dating back to the late 19th century, the winery is one of Napa’s most historic properties.

In California’s Great Cabernets, James Laube notes that the rise of the modern-era of Stags’ Leap Winery under Carl Doumani went hand in hand with the “Cabernet boom” of the 1970s that saw the notable Cabs of Burgess, Cakebread, Caymus, Clos du Val, Mount Eden, Mt. Veeder, Silver Oak and Joseph Phelps hit the scene. It also saw the birth of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and decades-long legal intrigue.

The War of the Apostrophe” soon took off with Warren Winiarski of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (and winner of the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris) suing Doumani–who promptly counter-sued.

The two men eventually settled their differences in the mid-1980s and released a special collaborative bottling between the two estates called Accord from the 1985 vintage to commemorate. The agreement was that Winiarski’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars would have the apostrophe to the left of the ‘s’ while Doumani’s Stags’ Leap Winery would have it to the right.

You could tell that the Treasury Wine Estate rep at the dinner wasn’t too happy about the apostrophe typo on the menu.

Around this time, the two wineries faced another challenge with other wineries in the area like Gary Andrus’ Pine Ridge Winery, Steltzner Vineyards, Shafer Vineyards and more wanting to use the Stags Leap name and petitioning for American Viticultural Area (AVA) approval under that name for the region. After more legal challenges, a compromise was struck for the name of the new AVA to be the Stags Leap District (SLD) sans apostrophe.

Today the winery is owned by Treasury Wine Estates where it is part of a vast portfolio that includes 19 Crimes, The Walking Dead wines, Beaulieu Vineyards, Beringer, Ch. St Jean, Penfolds, Provenance, Hewitt Vineyard and more.

The current winemaker is Christophe Paubert who succeeded Robert Brittan when the later left Napa to make wine in Oregon at his own Brittan Vineyards and consult for wineries such as Winderlea.

A Bordeaux trained winemaker, Paubert has extensive experience working at such illustrious estates as the 2nd Growth St. Julien estate of Ch. Gruaud-Larose and the First Growth Sauternes estate of Chateau d’Yquem. Prior to joining Stags’ Leap in 2009, Paubert was the head winemaker for 4 years at Canoe Ridge Vineyards in Washington State.

Assistant Winemaker Joanne Wing is a New Zealand native who started out at Indevin, one of New Zealand’s largest wine producers. She gained experience working harvest across the globe from Saintsbury in Napa to Mount Pleasant Winery in the Hunter Valley of Australia as well as in Bordeaux before accepting a position at Stags’ Leap as a harvest enologist and working her way up to Asst. Winemaker.

Gorgeous Viognier that is well worth seeking out.


Passed hors d’oeuvres paired with 2016 Stags’ Leap Winery Napa Valley Viognier
Smoked sablefish with soft scrambled farm egg, ikura, chives and Chevre crostini with watermelon beet, grilled apricot, chili spice

I’m not a big beet person so I let my wife try the Chevre Crostini while I had the smoked sablefish with the ikura roe caviar. Both were smashing pairings with the Stags’ Leap Viognier with the wine being a particular revelation.

Sourced primarily from cooler climate vineyards in the Carneros AVA and Oak Knoll District, the Viognier had medium-plus intensity nose of orange blossoms and white peach notes.

On the palate, those white peach tree fruits carried through but also brought some tropical notes of passion-fruit and papaya. However this Viognier never came close to the tutti-fruity “Fruit Loop Cereal” style that unfortunately befalls many domestic Viogniers–especially those fermented and aged only in stainless steel. To avoid that pratfall, Paubert and Wing fermented the wine in neutral French oak barrels with weekly batonnage for 4 months. This very “Condrieu-style” approach produced a Viognier with textural weight and depth but with enough medium-plus acidity to keep it from being flabby or overly creamy.

The acidity also matched perfectly with the hors d’oeuvres, cutting through the “fishiness” of the sablefish and roe. My wife was particularly impressed at how well the acidity matched with the Chevre–the tangy goat cheese that often calls for high acid whites like Sauvignon blanc.

At $22-27, this is an outstanding Viognier with loads of personality and complexity that I would put on par with the àMaurice Viognier from Washington State as one of the stellar domestic examples of this variety.

The preserved kumquat vinaigrette on the salad were quite a treat.


First Course paired with 2016 Stags’ Leap Napa Valley Chardonnay
Spring Salad with Belgian endive, baby kale, avocado, marcona almonds, preserved kumquat vinaigrette

Sourced from the Carneros and Oak Knoll District, this Napa Chardonnay counters the stereotype of over-the-top, oaky, buttery Chardonnays. With 25% fermented and aged in new French oak, 50% in “seasoned” French oak and the rest in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation, this Chardonnay aimed for an elegant and food-friendly style.

The wine had a medium intensity nose with apple and citrus lime notes. A little subtle baking spice from the oak rims around the edge.

On the palate, the citrus notes came through the most and played off the baby kale and avocado very well. Medium-plus acidity maintained freshness and balanced the moderate creaminess in the wine. The clove oak spice and an almost marzipan nuttiness lingered on the moderate finish.

Overall, this was a very drinkable and pleasant Chardonnay that did hit the target for food-pairing. But, admittedly, at $25-30 it didn’t jump out as anything wow-worthy–especially following in the footsteps of the scrumptious Viognier. It’s a very well made California Chard but it is still one of hundreds of similar well-made and similarly priced California Chards.

The star of the night. I can still taste the braised short ribs and that delectable sauce.

Second Course paired with 2014 Stags’ Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Braised short ribs with seared sea scallops, morel mushrooms, chervil

From a food perspective, this was the winning course of the night. The braised short ribs melted in the mouth and had you dearly wishing you had more than just the bite. The scallops were perfectly cooked and while I was skeptical with pairing them with a big Cab, the morel and au jus sauce from the short ribs offered just enough weight to carry the pairing.

As with other wines in the white label Napa Valley series, the Stags’ Leap Cabernet Sauvignon includes some estate fruit but is mostly sourced from vineyards throughout Napa Valley. Joanne Wing noted that while Paubert likes the flexibility of having some fruit from warm climate sites like Calistoga, he’s far more excited about the fruit from the cooler southern reaches of Napa like Coombsville, Oak Knoll and Yountville.

Medium-plus intensity with rich dark fruit–black currants, black plums, blackberries. This screams Napa Cab from the nose but it is not as overtly oak-driven as the norm with a little tobacco spice element.

On the palate those dark fruits carry through but there is a little earthy forest-floor element that emerges that adds some intrigue. Medium acidity adds juiciness to the fruit but not enough to be mouthwatering. The oak is a little more pronounced but is more spice driven than vanilla. The medium-plus tannins are still quite firm and young but are more tight than biting. Moderate length finish ends on the fruit which testifies to the youth of this wine.

Stags’ Leap Winery Assistant Winemaker Joanne Wing.

At $45-50, this is priced in lined with many of its Napa peers as a sort of “entry-level” Napa Cab. It’s hard to say it is a compelling value compared to what you can get for equivalent pricing from other regions like Washington and Paso Robles. Like the Chardonnay, I feel like this Cab is certainly well made but not blow-your-socks-off-you-must-find-it good partly because of the premium you are paying for the Napa name (and the winery’s history).

However, I do suspect that this wine could kick it up a couple notches with a few more years of bottle age that potentially could make it far more compelling.

Third Course paired with 2014 Stags’ Leap “The Investor” Red Blend
Piedmontese New York Steak with herb polenta, spring vegetables, blackberry demiglace

Admittedly, this was one of the few times I’ve been disappointed with a Daniel’s steak. Perhaps it was just this cut but I found it was in the weird position of being both too fatty and too dry and lacking flavor. The polenta and blackberry demi-glace were excellent though. But I found myself again wishing that the braised short ribs were the main course.

A unique blend of Merlot, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, The Investor pays homage to former owner Horace Chase who made his fortune investing in gold and silver mines during the Gold Rush days of California. The Merlot and majority of the Petite Sirah come from estate fruit in the Stags Leap District and Oakville while the Cabernet and Malbec are sourced from vineyards throughout Napa Valley.

The medium-plus acidity and savory, herbal element of The Investor red blend definitely helped interject some much needed flavor into the Piedmontese New York steak.

Medium-plus nose with a mix of red and dark fruits–plums and currants. There is more overt oak vanilla on the nose of this wine than with the Cab but it doesn’t seem overwhelming. Underneath there is also a blue floral element that is not defined.

On the palate, the mix of fruits carry through with mouthwatering medium-plus acidity tilting the favor towards the red fruit. Some savory herbal and smokey notes join the party that dearly helps the food-pairing with the flavorless Piedmontese New York steak. The vanilla oak notes add a layer of velvety softness to the high tannins that still have a fair amount of gripe. Like the Cab, the moderate length finish ends on the youthful fruit.

At $50-60, The Investor intrigues me a lot more than the Napa Cabernet (and the Napa Merlot) because of the savory, smokey element and mouthwatering acidity. It’s still young and has some “baby fat” of oak that needs to be shed but this is a unique blend that could turn into something exceptionally good.

Dessert paired with 2014 Stags’ Leap Napa Valley Petite Sirah
Chocolate torte with Devonshire cream, coconut crisp

While the chocolate torte was amazing and sinfully delicious and the wine outstanding, this was not a winning pairing. The wine was nowhere near sweet enough to balance with the torte.

While delicious on their own, the pairing of the chocolate torte with the Stags’ Leap Petite Sirah just didn’t do it for me.

Still, it was somewhat fitting to end the Stags’ Leap Winery dinner with the wine that truly epitomizes the estate. While the name “Stags Leap” is synonymous with Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags’ Leap Winery was always a vanguard in cultivating and promoting Petite Sirah.

High intensity nose that started jumping out of the glass as soon as the waiter poured it. Blackberries and boysenberries with some peppery spice and violets.

On the palate, the first thing that hits you is the weight and richness of the wine with the full brunt of the dark fruits and high tannins. But there is an elegance with the juicy medium-plus acidity and fine balance that keeps the wine from being overbearing. On the moderate finish, there is some subtle dark chocolate notes that come out but not enough to make the food-pairing work. This was definitely a wine to savor on its own.

At $32-40, this is a more premium-priced Petite Sirah but it is well worth not only its price but also its reputation as the winery’s flagship. During this course, Jo told us about the Ne Cede Malis block of Prohibition-era vines that is a field blend of majority Petite Sirah with Muscat, Malbec, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan and up to 9 other varieties. The grapes are harvested together and co-fermented to produce a limited release bottling. I have to admit that if Stags’ Leap Winery’s mobile ordering website wasn’t so buggy and difficult to navigate, I would have purchased a bottle of the Ne Cede Malis Petite Sirah (as well as several bottles of the Viognier) right then.

Overall Impressions

Attending this dinner left me wondering if Stags’ Leap Winery is a victim of its own name and location in Napa Valley. While the winery absolutely shined with its Viognier and Petite Sirah, their more typical Napa offerings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay were just “ho-hum”.

I do appreciate that Treasury Wine Estates has let Paubert, Wing and Co. continue producing their more obscure bottlings but I have no doubt that the health of the winery’s bottom line depends on the case sales of the bread and butter Cab, Chardonnay and Merlot. It’s where the money is–especially in Napa–and that is what they’re out to sell.

Yet after tasting their outstanding Viognier, scrumptious Petite Sirah and very character-driven Investor blend, its hard not to think about what more the winery could do with their talented winemaking team and unique approach if they didn’t have to live up to the name Stags’ Leap.

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Getting Geeky about Malbec

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

What’s In a Name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malbec in Bordeaux

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

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

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

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

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

Malbec in Argentina

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

Malbec vines growing in Argentina.

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

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

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

Malbec in the United States

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

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

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

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

Red Willow Vineyard in Washington State.


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

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

Want More Malbec?

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

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Product Review — SommSelect Blind Six

Master Sommelier Ian Cauble (of the movie Somm fame) has a unique subscription program designed to teach people how to blind taste better–the SommSelect Blind Six.

Each month for $199 you receive 6 bottles (3 whites and 3 reds) that are individually wrapped in black tissue paper. I decided to give the subscription a go. Below is my experience with my first month’s box (Spoiler alert if you haven’t done April’s wines) and my thoughts on if the subscription (and wines) are worth the cost.

What You Get

In the box, you’ll find 6 individually wrapped bottles numbered 1-6 as well as an envelop containing both instructions and an answer packet to reference after you’ve tasted the wines. The first thing I noticed when I opened the box was that they didn’t indicate on each bottle if they were red or white nor was there any info in the Blind Tasting Instruction Packet. The numbered stickers on each bottle are different colors but not with a consistent pattern to distinguish white versus red. I took a wager on the most logical set up being trying the 3 whites first so I went with trying bottles #1-3 which, happily, were all white.

In the instruction packet, Cauble gives tips on what to look for in each stage of the evaluation as well as what common “clues” often mean. These tips range from things that are fairly well known–like under Sight the tips about looking at the meniscus and how the color varies from the intensity of the core to the rim is a sign of age–to more interesting observations like his note under Nose & Palate that the aroma of dry bay leaf is common in Cabernet Sauvignon from moderately warm climate regions like Napa. While the former can often be found in discussions about blind tasting, the later is the kind of insight you usually only get first hand from someone with experience in blind tasting.

Likewise, the answer packet (which I’ll discuss below) also gives numerous precise details about things to look for in evaluating color and structure that you don’t readily find from other resources.

Tasting the White Flight

Using the Coravin on the white wine flight.

Cauble recommends having a neutral third party person open the wines and pour them into a decanter. While I clearly see the benefit of this approach–not the least of which is that splash decanting is probably the most underutilized tool in wine appreciation–I went a different route for three reasons.

1.) Neither my wife nor I wanted to miss out on the fun so we didn’t have a “neutral third party”
2.) I didn’t want to open up and waste 3 bottles of wine. [Note: Cauble does recommend doing the tastings as part of a multi-course dinner and with friends]
3.) I didn’t have 3 decanters of the same size and shape–which does make a difference
3.5) I also didn’t want to clean 3 decanters along with 6 wine glasses to be brutally honest

So we decided to break out the foil cutter and as carefully as possible use scissors to cut off the tip of the black tissue paper and remove the top of the capsule without seeing any identifying markings. Wine #3 was a screwcap so I just closed my eyes and twist. It felt like I was kid back at home trying to get something out of my parent’s closet while deliberately avoiding the corner where they kept the presents. Then we Coravin each bottle to pour out 2 samples of the cork-sealed wines.

Now other people might take the approach of just blind tasting one bottle a night and enjoying the wine with dinner or what not. It’s certainly an easier and less wasteful approach. However, we really wanted to compare the 3 together because we felt that it allowed us to go back and forth with contrasting color and aroma. It is also more conducive to the blind tasting format of formal examinations. The beauty of the Coravin is that it allows us to only pour two samples of each without pulling the cork and wasting the wine.

Wine #1

The most noticeable thing about this wine was the “onion peel” color with pink hues.

Medium intensity nose with apple and citrus notes along with a white floral element that wasn’t very defined. There was also a subtle doughy element that made me think of raw pastry dough as opposed to something toasty like oak or Champagne.

On the palate the apple fruits came through much more than the citrus with a lot of weight and depth for a medium-plus bodied white wine. This wine had texture that filled the mouth which started my brain going towards Oregon Pinot gris. Medium acidity was enough to keep it fresh but not racy or citrusy like I associate with Italian Pinot grigio. No signs of new oak but that doughy element from the nose could have been from partial neutral oak. Moderate length finish ends with the lingering white flower notes that I still couldn’t quite pin point.

My guess: An Oregon Pinot gris in the $18-20 range. At this point in my practice I’m not going to focus on guessing age.
Turned out to be: 2016 Scarbolo Pinot grigio, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy (Wine Searcher Ave: $14)

Wine #1 — Should have paid more attention to the color.


In hindsight, I should have paid more attention to the color that comes from a practice of skin contact that is far more common in Italy than Oregon. I let the stereotype of “light, citrusy” supermarket Italian Pinot grigio sway me into thinking that this wine was too good and too weighty to come from Italy. Granted, living in the Pacific Northwest I’m naturally bias due to my greater familiarity with Oregon Pinot gris.

Also, (thanks to Cauble’s notes in the Answer Packet) I realized that I should have paid more attention to that “subtle doughy element” from the nose. In Cauble’s notes he describes “hints of peanut shells, stale beer” which plays along those lines of what I was picking up. It wasn’t Champagne biscuity or Muscadet leesy but there was something there that I now know I should look out for–particularly in higher end Italian Pinot grigio from regions like Friuli.

Wine #2

Light yellow color, almost watery with some green specks.

High intensity nose. Wow! This wine is screaming out the glass with lemon citrus (both fruit and zest) and the smell of concrete after rain.

On the palate, those citrus notes comes through but so does the stoniness. This wine is screaming minerality–like liquid stones in your mouth. There is also a sense of salinity in the wine that amplifies the minerality. Clearly I’m thinking Old World here but which grape? Medium-plus acid tilts me away from thinking Sauvignon blanc/Sancerre and more to Chardonnay/Chablis. Medium body with a long finish that lingers on those stoney notes. Very fantastic wine and my favorite of the flight.

Crazy good Petit Chablis. Minerality for days.


My guess: A village-level Chablis in the $25-30 range.
Turned out to be: 2016 Agnes et Didier Dauvissat Petit Chablis, Burgundy, France (Wine Searcher Ave $17)

Outstanding wine and a scorcher of a deal for a Petit Chablis. I was even tempted into thinking this could be a Premier Cru instead of a village-level Chablis because of how vibrant it was. Ultimately I defaulted back to village level because, while it did jump out of the glass, my notes on the wine were still rather short. You expect more layers and complexity with a higher level Chablis. But still, an outstanding bottle and way above what a Petit Chablis typically delivers.

Wine #3

Moderate yellow. Definitely darker than #2 but not golden or anything that would hint at oak.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Spiced d’Anjou pear with LOTS of white pepper. I tried really hard not to jump to conclusions but this was screaming Gruner Veltliner right from the get-go.

On the palate the spiced pear carries through and is joined by some ripe apple notes. The ripeness of the apple and the pear had me wondering if this was maybe a warmer climate Gruner like from California or (Northwest bias again) Oregon. Medium-plus acidity and a sense of stoney river rocks ultimately brought me back to Old World and Austria. No signs of oak. Light bodied with a moderate finish that lingers on the white pepper spice.

My guess: An Austrian Gruner Veltliner in the $14-17 range.
Turned out to be: 2016 Weingut Bauerl Gruner Veltliner Federspiel, Wachau, Austria (Wine Searcher Average $9)

Another crazy good value. Would be a killer glass pour at a restaurant.


While not “New Zealand Sauv. blanc easy”, this was definitely the easiest one in the entire Blind Six. Cauble promises to pick classic examples of each wine style and I don’t think he could have picked a more classic Gruner Veltliner than this.

Tasting the Red Flight

I had a bit of a ego boost with the white flight getting 3/3 grape varieties right and 1.5/3 with the regions–going to do a half point for that way over-performing Petit Chablis. However with the red flight my ego got thoroughly deflated.

My wife and I did the red flight tasting before a meal and decided to make a game of it. After we sampled and evaluated the wines, we compared each to our meal to see what was the best pairing. The “winning bottle” got the cork pulled to be finished with the rest of the meal. We really liked this game and think we’ll make it a staple moving forward with doing the Blind Six.

Wine #4

Light ruby color. Can read through it. Some fuschia hues.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Very ripe Rainier cherries, cranberries with herbal notes–mint and fennel.

Those red fruits and herbal notes carry through but the cherries taste more richer on the palate than they smelled on the nose. Almost candied even. High acidity balances that richness and still keeps the fruit more red than black. Medium tannins and medium body contribute to the wine feeling a little thin. Rather short finish ends on some spice notes that aren’t very defined though hint at being in the baking spice family (cinnamon, clove) suggesting partial new oak? Definitely thinking Old World Pinot with this.

Should have paid more attention to the fuschia hues and candied cherry notes.

My guess: A basic Bourgogne rouge (maybe Cote de Beaune-Villages?) in the $25-30 range.
Turned out to be: Jean-Paul Brun Domaine des Terres Dorees Morgon, Beaujolais, France (Wine Searcher Ave $18)

My wife briefly suggested Gamay as a possibility but we dismissed it because the acids were too high–though in his notes Cauble rates the acidity of this wine as medium-plus. In hindsight, the “candied cherry” and the fuschia hues should have registered more.

Yeah, this was a total miss for me.

Wine #5

Moderate ruby. Can still read through it but much darker than #1. Slight blue hues.

Medium intensity nose. Noticeable oak spice and vanilla. Black cherries and black berries.

On the palate, the oak still dominate with the dark fruit. Medium-plus acidity keeps it from being syrupy with medium tannins holding the structure well. Moderate length finish ends on the oak. This is screaming California Pinot.

While you probably wouldn’t suspect Syrah being blended in, it would be hard not to peg this as anything but a Cali Pinot.


My guess: A California Pinot noir in the $33-38 range.
Turned out to be: 2016 Tyler Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, USA (Wine Searcher Ave $36)

This was, by far, the easiest one of the red flight and I was seriously close to taking a stab that it was Central Coast as well. It was very oak driven and didn’t have any of the elegance I associate with Sonoma Coast, Russian River or Carneros Pinot noir. It wasn’t bad at all (and it certainly not a huge Kosta Browne wannabe) but it definitely was as stereotypical “Post-Sideway Cali Pinot” as you can get.

Wine #6

Medium garnet with some rim variation that has an orange huge. Can’t read through the core.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Lots of dried roses and tarry tobacco spice. Some red fruits–cherries, pomegranate and cranberries. Also a little animal earthiness.

The red fruits carry through but aren’t as defined on the palate as they were on the nose. It’s the tarry tobacco and high tannins that dominate. Still just medium-plus body though with the alcohol weight. High acidity makes your mouth water and highlights tobacco spice notes and helps keep the floral rose petals from the nose alive. The animal earthiness become more defined and linger on the moderate finish.

This isn’t your “modernist” style Gaja, Antinori, Renieri or Banfi style Brunello. Tasting this made me realize that I need to look into more “old school” style producers.


My guess: A basic Barolo in the $40-45 range.
Turned out to be: 2012 Padelletti Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy (Wine Searcher Ave $48)

Once again my wife had the suggestion that maybe this was Sangiovese–which we evaluated more critically this time. The orange hue and the cherry notes played along. But ultimately we thought that the high tannins and high acidity fit the profile of Nebbiolo/Barolo much more than Sangiovese. Turns out, our scale of “high” is apparently Ian Cauble’s medium-plus.

In hindsight, and after reading Cauble’s notes, I realize that I have vastly more experience with “modern” style Brunello producers than I do with some of the classic, old school style of Brunello that Cauble describes in the Padelletti. A big takeaway from this experience is that I need to branch out more in this area.

For dinner we were having Italian sausage with penne and red sauce so this was the “winning bottle” from a food pairing point of view though the Morgon with the fennel notes was a close second.

Ian’s Notes — aka Where You Went Wrong

It’s incredibly enlightening (and humbling) to read a Master Sommelier’s notes on a wine you just tasted. For each wine there are numerous “clues” in color, aroma and structure that Cauble points out that make perfect sense when you go back and revisit the wine.

Like how did I miss the crushed raspberries with the Morgon Beaujolais–one of the tell tale signs of Gamay? How did I not notice the fennel and orange peel from the Brunello?

Tasting a Pinot grigio and Gruner in a flight together really highlighted the similarities and differences between the two.

While there are going to be subjective differences (like the high/medium-plus ratings), overall there is immense insight to be gained in reviewing Cauble’s notes. Beyond just laying out all the clues that you may or may not have gotten, Cauble chimes in with tips about other “lateral wines” that blind tasters often confuse with each other.

For instance, Pinot grigio, Albarino and Gruner Veltliner are part of a trio of “neutral bitter varieties” that often trouble blind tasters. Cauble encourages you to look for a subtle sensation of “over-steeped green tea” at the back of the palate and front of the lips and then try to differentiate from there. Gruner will have the distinctive white pepper (and apparently daikon-raddish which I need to look for) while Albarino will have more canned peaches and Pinot grigio will have that “stale beer” and “peanut shell” element that I also need to start looking more for.

With the Morgon Beaujolais that I completely whiffed on, Cauble goes into brief detail about how different Cru Beaujolais are from the popular associations with Gamay and describes how they are commonly confused for Northern Rhone Syrahs and Loire Cabernet Franc from Chinon. While I, personally, didn’t confuse the Morgon for either of those two–I have a motivation now to actively compare good quality Cru Beaujolais with each.

In fact this is a suggestion that Cauble makes repeatedly throughout the tasting packet–if you have trouble with something then do comparison tastings (non-blind) with what you tasted and what you thought it was. This is another area where the Coravin becomes a valuable tool. The next night after we did the red flight, my wife and I grabbed a Beaune Montrevenots (a tad higher than Cote de Beaune-Village level) and compared it side by side to the Morgon. That was immensely educational (the candied cherry of the Beaujolais was even more pronounced compared to the tart cherry of the Beaune) and we plan to do the same with getting a Barolo to compare side by side with an old school Brunello.

Is it Worth it?

Depends.

If you are looking at it from a straight dollar value of the wine, then maybe not. At $199 for 6 bottles you expect an average wine value of around $33 a bottle. I don’t know how close this month’s box is to the norm but going off of Wine Searcher’s average prices (which is based on retail and not the wholesale that SommSelect is likely getting), I received $142 worth of wine for an average of $24 a bottle. Assuming that SommSelect is already making a healthy retail mark up, it’s fair to see how some subscribers might chaff at the hard numbers.

That said, these were exceptionally well curated wines that in nearly each case drank at a higher price point. If I went with the upper end of my price ranges for each wine (which, like how I score wines with my 60 Second Reviews, is mostly based on what price I feel would be a good value for this wine) that would be $180 for an average of $30 a bottle. Not ideal but not feeling like I’m getting ripped off either.

But the bigger value in the SommSelect Blind Six is truly with Cauble’s notes. For students seeking higher level certifications with WSET and the Court of Master Sommeliers, there is a dearth of material out there when it comes to learning more about blind tasting. There are some online resources (and great podcasts) from GuildSomm and each program includes some material when you pay for courses. When it comes to wine books, Neel Burton’s The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting is pretty much the only game in town.

Truthfully, for the most part, budding wine geeks are on their own in this arena.

If you are serious about wanting to be a good blind taster and are already investing thousands into seeking higher level certifications–this will probably be well worth it to you.


The benefit of the SommSelect Blind Six is that you can easily structure your own self-study program for blind tasting with essentially a Master Sommelier as your personal tutor. The examples that Cauble pick are truly classic and while you might disagree with some of his assessments, you can’t fault the logic and soundness of his conclusions.

But, most importantly, along with the individual wines you taste in the Blind Six, Cauble’s notes helps you pinpoint the strengths and weakness in your approach. With his suggestions of other things to taste and insight into his own personal approach, you can craft a game plan to tackle those weaknesses so you can become a better blind taster.

After one round of the Blind Six, I feel that, yes, it is undoubtedly worth it. Maybe not for the casual wine drinker but most definitely for the wine geek or ambitious wine professional who truly wants to get better at blind tasting.

I’ll continue to review each month’s box to not only track my own progress in blind tasting but to also see how the value/price per bottle ratio trends.

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