Tag Archives: Ch. Latour

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

After checking out some of the 2017 offers in Margaux, we’re going to head south to Pessac-Léognan to look at the futures offers for the Grand Cru Classé (red) estates of Domaine de Chevalier and Château Smith Haut Lafitte as well as Larrivet Haut-Brion and Les Carmes Haut-Brion.

If you are new to the series, check out our first Bordeaux Futures 2017 post covering the offers of Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge and Haut-Batailley. There you will get caught up on the general approach here at SpitBucket to buying futures for this vintage as we aim for finding value and “cellar defenders”.

You can also check out the links at the bottom of the page for previous posts in this series.

Now onto the offers.

Domaine de Chevalier (Pessac-Léognan)

Some Geekery:

While the origins of the estate dates back to the 1600s, the modern history of Domaine de Chevalier began in 1865 when it was purchased by Arnaud Ricard. The property stayed in his family’s hands for more than a 100 years going through a series of name changes from Chateau Chivaley to Chateau Chevalier and, finally, Domaine de Chevalier.

In 1983, the estate was purchased by the Bernard family whose history in the Bordeaux region dates back over 8 centuries. The Bernards put their young 23 year old son, Olivier, in charge as the new owners began rapidly improving the property and expanding the vineyard holdings.

Vineyard plantings of Domaine de Chevalier.


Notoriously prone to frost damage, Olivier removed several trees bordering the vineyard that would trap cold air around the vines. In other vintages, Domaine de Chevalier would employ the use of wind machines and even helicopters hovering over the vines to circulate warmer air.

The Bernard era also saw a series of replanting that uprooted Cabernet Sauvignon vines in under-performing parcels and replacing them with Merlot. Over the next couple decades, the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the vineyard would drop from 80% to now around 63% in the estate’s 80 hectares (198 acres). All the vineyards are farmed sustainably with some parcels farmed biodynamically.

Today Olivier is joined with his two sons, Hugo and Adrian, and the together the family has pioneered many new techniques in Pessac-Léognan including the use of Diam corks. A hotly debated topic in Burgundy, Diam has been gaining some favor among producers of white Burgundy (such as Domaine Leflaive, Bouchard Pere et Fils, William Fevre and Louis Jadot) as one means of curbing the prevalence of “premox” (premature oxidation). Domaine de Chevalier started using the closures in 2015 for their white wines but by the following vintage all of the estate’s wines were sealed with Diam corks.

In addition to Domaine de Chevalier, the Bernards are also partners in the Sauternes Premier Cru estate Chateau Guiraud. In 2012, they purchase Chateau Haut Caplane in Sauternes which they renamed Clos des Lunes to produces both dry and sweet wine. In Graves, Olivier Bernard also helps manage Chateau Lespault-Martillac and Domaine de la Solitude.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. Around 6,500 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

Tasted no less than four times, the 2017 Domaine de Chevalier is going to be up with the crème de la crème of the vintage. Based on 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot aging in 35% new French oak, its deep purple color is followed by an incredibly classic bouquet of crème de cassis, crushed rock, pipe tobacco, smoked earth, and leafy herbs. Similar in style to the 2008, yet with more generosity and charm, it’s medium to full-bodied, silky, and elegant, with ripe tannin. Give it a few years and enjoy over the following two decades or more. — Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $63
JJ Buckley: $61.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $359.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $64.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K&L: $59.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $78 Average Critic Score: 95 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $85 Average Critic Score: 94
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $60 Average Critic Score: 93
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $60 Average Critic Score: 91

Buy or Pass?

Hugo Bernard pouring the incredibly delicious 2010 vintage at the 2017 Wine Spectator Grand Tour.

Given its history, when news of the late April frosts came out, this was one of the estates that I’d expected to be hard hit. But it looks like with a bit of luck and a lot of (probably expensive) preventive action, Domaine de Chevalier came out relatively unscathed.

Despite the likely higher costs of production this year, I’m pleased that the Bernards are keeping the price of their 2017 release more in line with their 2014 release instead taking the crazy Pomerol-approach of carrying on with price increases as if vintage quality doesn’t matter.

I’ve been a big fan of Domaine de Chevalier for many years, finding their quality level to be high in everything from poor years to outstanding. They are an estate that I have faith in to deliver consistently excellent wines so with a reasonable offer this 2017 is a safe Buy for me.

Larrivet Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan)

Some Geekery:

Under the name “La Rivette” (meaning small stream) and ownership of the Marquis de Canolle, the wines of Larrivet Haut-Brion were highly regarded prior to the French Revolution. Even into the 1800s, the wines of the estate were ranked by André Jullien in his 1816 work Topographie De Tous Les Vignobles Connus as on par with those of fourth and fifth growths in the Medoc.

But the next century plus would see a series of inheritance issues and financial hardship as parcels were sold off to neighboring estates like Ch. Haut-Bailly. By the time that Jacques Guillemaud purchased the property in 1940 it was down to just 3 hectares of mostly untended vines. When the 1955 Graves Classification occurred, Larrivet Haut-Brion was still just a shadow of a domaine that it once was and thus was left out of the classification.

Over this time period, the name of estate changed numerous times from Ch. Brion-Larrivet in 1860 to Chateau Haut-Brion-Larrivet in 1874 to finally in 1949, after a series of lawsuits by Ch. Haut-Brion, its current incarnation of Ch. Larrivet Haut-Brion.

The author with Émilie Gervoson of Larrivet Haut-Brion at the 2017 UGC tasting of the 2014 vintage.


Today the estate is owned by the Gervoson family who purchased the property in 1987. The Gervosons has continued the work started by Guillemaud of restoring Larrivet Haut-Brion to its past prestige with investments in the vineyard and winery. Michel Rolland was brought on to consultant but in recent vintages has been replaced by Stephane Derenoncourt.

The vineyards of Larrivet Haut-Brion cover 61 ha (150 acres) of 55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc with plans to add Malbec and Petit Verdot in the future. Like many Graves property, this ratio shows a decrease in the amount of Cabernet Sauvignon planted over the years. The estate benefits from some enviable terroir with vines planted close to the Grand Cru Classé estates of Haut-Bailly and Smith Haut Lafitte as well as the Lurton property Ch. La Louvière.

Critic Scores:

93-96 VM, 91-93 WE, 90-93 Wine Spectator (WS), 91-92 JS, 89-91 WA

Sample Review:

Pretty sanguine and tea notes lead off here, with silky textured damson plum and blackberry fruit following quickly behind. Lively anise and bramble hints emerge on the finish. This has range and character. — James Molesworth, Wine Spectator

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $37
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $203.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping
Total Wine: $36.97
K&L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $37 Average Critic Score: 90 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $45 Average Critic Score: 92
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $40 Average Critic Score: 90
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $31 Average Critic Score: 87

Buy or Pass?

I’ve been fairly impressed with Larrivet Haut-Brion for delivering consistent value in the sub-$45 range but they always seem to be wines that require patience. I think the comparison to a Medoc 4th/5th growth is very apt. The 2009 was around $40 on release (now it averages $60) and has been drinking outstanding for the last 3 years. It has the stuffing to go on delivering more pleasure easily for another 10 years (sadly I think I’ve drank the last bottle in my cellar) but, man, was this wine tight as nails for the first 3 to 4 years after release.

That’s perfectly fine for “cellar investment” wines but that is not my objective in buying 2017. After stocking my cellar with quite a few 2015/2016 that are going to need time (including Larrivet Haut-Brion), I’m counting on my 2017 purchases to be “cellar defenders”–able to deliver more immediate pleasure and short-term consumption.

My experience with Larrivet Haut-Brion suggests that it is not going to fit that bill though I’m sure many other Bordeaux lovers are going to richly enjoy the value and over-performance of these wines 7 to 10 years down the road. So for me this will be a Pass but it will certainly be a smart buy for other folks.

Les Carmes Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan)

Some Geekery:

The origins of Les Carmes Haut-Brion began as a gift by the Pontac family of Ch. Haut-Brion of a watermill and some land to the local order of white friars (Grand Carmes) in the 16th century. The Carmelites would plant vineyards and manage the property for the next 200 years until the French Revolution when the land was confiscated and sold to the Chantecaille-Furt family.

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

The chateau of Les Carmes Haut Brion.

Les Carmes Haut-Brion stayed under the stewardship of this one family for over another 200 years until Didier Furt sold the property in 2010 to real estate mogul Patrice Pichet for a then record of 3.8 million euros/hectare. This astonishing price was reach after Pichet came ahead in a bidding war for the property with the Dillon family, owners of Ch. Haut-Brion who desperately wanted to reacquire the prime terroir that was once part of their estate.

Soon after finalizing the purchase, Pichet began working to increase the production by acquiring neighboring vineyards. The next year, Pichet brokered a deal with Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte to acquire Chateau Le Thil with the parcels of vines being split among the two estates. In 2013, he added 17 acres of vines by purchasing Chateau Haut-Nouchet.

Today the estate covers 25.5 ha (63 acres) of vines planted to a ratio of 41% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Franc and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Following each vineyard addition, many of the under-performing plots are uprooted and replaced with new plantings (often Cabernet Franc) that initially go into the second wine, Le Clos de Carmes Haut Brion, until they prove their quality for inclusion in the Grand Vin. The eventual goal is to have Cabernet Franc account for around 50% of vineyard plantings.

At the time of the sale, Stéphane Derenoncourt was the consulting winemaker with Thierry Rustmann, the former owner of Ch. Talbot and current owner of the Pomerol estate Château Beau-Soleil, assisting. But soon Pichet brought in Guillaume Pouthier, a former protege of the Rhone superstar Michel Chapoutier, as winemaking director.

Among some of the unique techniques that Pouthier practices at Les Carmes Haut-Brion is the frequent use of whole cluster fermentation (often around 45%). The estate is also experimenting with the use of clay amphoras for aging–have as much as 5% of the year’s production aged in terra cotta instead of barrels.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 41% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot and 29% Cabernet Sauvignon. Around 2,700 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

93-96 VM, 94-95 JS, 91-93 WA, 89-92 WS, 94-96 JL, 92-94 JD

Sample Review:

The 2017 Les Carmes Haut-Brion is subtle and understated, but it’s all there. Lifted aromatics, bright, red-toned fruit and silky tannins add to the wine’s brilliant, chiseled personality. I find the 2017 more precise and nuanced than in the recent past, with less overt power. It’s hard to know exactly if the style of the 2017 is a result of the growing conditions of the year, or the result of an evolution in winemaking that includes the introduction of terra cotta, among other things. I certainly get the sense Guillaume Pouthier reined the wine back a bit in 2017. No matter. The end result is all that counts, and in 2017 Les Carmes Haut-Brion is positively stellar. As always, the high percentage of Cabernet Franc and a healthy dollop of whole clusters give Les Carmes an explosive bouquet and plenty of saline-infused energy. A closing flourish of sweet red berry fruit, mint, rose petal and mocha leaves a lasting impression. The 2017 is not an obvious wine, but it sure is gorgeous. Don’t miss it! Tasted two times. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $80
JJ Buckley: $79.94 + shipping
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $79.97
K&L: $79.94 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $88 Average Critic Score: 94 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $85 Average Critic Score: 93
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $60 Average Critic Score: 92
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $60 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

The 1998 Les Carmes even surpassed the 2005 Latour and 2000 Lynch-Bages. It was that good.


This is a battle between head and heart as I absolutely adore Les Carmes Haut-Brion. Both the 1998 (Ave $90) and 2010 vintages (Ave $70) rank up there as some of the most pleasurable and character driven Bordeaux wines that I’ve ever tasted.

You can taste in these wines how special the terroir is and why it provoked such a passionate bidding war–especially with Haut-Brion involved. As one of the few Cabernet Franc dominated Bordeaux (even more of a rarity on the Left Bank), Les Carmes Haut-Brion stood out in tastings and commanded attention. Yet it was always under the radar, often with many Bordeaux lovers not even knowing the estate existed–much less knowing how exceptional the quality was. But sadly that has been steadily changing as the prices and acclaim are starting to catch up.

I’m also a bit concerned with the flurry of vineyard expansion. While it’s a nice story that the new owners are taking a “wait and see” approach with the new vines, adding different parcels and different terroir ultimately always ends up making a different wine. It may still end up being a very good wine but with the 2017 pricing being much closer to the 2015/2016 range than the 2014s, I’m going to have to take my own “wait and see” approach and Pass for now.

Smith Haut Lafitte (Pessac-Léognan)

Some Geekery:

A very old estate, the Du Boscq family started planting vines on the hill of Lafitte in 1365. The “Smith” in the name came courtesy of a Scotsman, George Smith, who purchased the property in 1720.

Smith Haut Lafitte would go through a succession of owners over the next couple centuries, including a period in the mid-19th century when was owned by the mayor of Bordeaux as well as the president of the Chamber of Commerce during the time of the 1855 classification. For most of the 20th century it was owned by the Bordeaux négocient firm of Louis Eschenauer but it wasn’t until Daniel and Florence Cathiard acquired the estate in 1991 that a serious investment in quality wine production would begin.

Photo by Elfabriciodelamancha. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte

Under the Cathiards, the use of mechanical harvesting was eliminated with workers harvesting the grapes into a custom-designed trough that Daniel Cathiard crafted based on hods used by Himalayan Sherpas.

In 1995, they invested in building their own cooperage with more than 70% of the barrels used at Smith Haut Lafitte being produced in-house. The estate was also one of the early adopter of utilizing optical sorting tables as well as satellite imagery over the vineyards to determine optimal harvest times.

Michel Rolland and Stephane Derenoncourt serve as consultants with Fabien Teitgen as technical director. In the vineyard, Smith Haut Lafitte has been undergoing a steady conversion to biodynamics.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. Around 10,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

This sits a long way above the second wines this year, and here they are very close to recent successes, with excellent juice running right through the cassis, bilberry, liquorice, dark chocolate and charcoal notes. It’s an extremely classical, sculpted vintage with a lovely grilled edge that gives a gourmet, confident feel. It has a velvety texture and finely-placed, flexible tannins that are clearly going to age well. This is a real success, and a testament to their attention to detail – for example, they had 105 pickers in 2016 but 160 pickers in 2017, because with the September rain they wanted to go more quickly. Half of the vineyard is now farmed biodynamically, with full conversion expected for 2020. 60% new oak. (94 points) — Jane Anson, Decanter

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $98
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $587.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping
Total Wine: $94.97
K&L: $99.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $110 Average Critic Score: 95 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $100 Average Critic Score: 95
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $90 Average Critic Score: 94
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $78 Average Critic Score: 90

Buy or Pass?

The days of Smith Haut Lafitte being a screaming value are long since gone but they are an estate that can be reliably counted on to produce very good wine even in less than stellar vintages. They can also be counted on to increase in value as folks who bought futures of the estate in the mid to late 2000s can attest.

But while I have no doubt that the 2017 is going to be a top notch wine, at an average of $98, I have little reason to want to bite when I could get the 2014 at a better price or even 2015 for just a couple dollars more. For my wallet and purchasing objectives, this is a Pass.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

Why I Buy Bordeaux Futures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Berndt Fernow. Released on Wikimedia Commons under GNU-FDL

Email offers for the 2017 Bordeaux Futures are starting to flood my inbox so we are going to begin a series examine many of these offers. I’ll start by looking at four offers and sharing 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.

Now let’s look at some offers.

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

Why I Buy Bordeaux Futures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Getting Geeky with Bunnell Malbec

Update: If you want even more Malbec Geekery, check out my post for this year’s Malbec World Day.

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about this 2009 Bunnell Family Cellars Malbec from the Northridge Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope.

The Background

Bunnell Family Cellars was started in 2004 by Ron and Susan Bunnell. A botanist by training, Ron’s interest in wine led him to UC-Davis to study for a masters in viticulture.

From Davis, Bunnell went to work at some of California’s oldest wineries such as Charles Krug and then Beringer where he was mentored by Patrick Leon (of Mouton Rothschild and Opus One fame) and Jean-Louis Mandrau (of Ch. Latour fame) who were consultants for Beringer along with emeritus winemaker Ed Sbragia.

He was working at Kendall-Jackson with Randy Ullom when he got the opportunity to move to Washington State to take over the red winemaking program for Chateau Ste. Michelle in 1999. In this position he followed in the footsteps of Mike Januik and Charlie Hoppes who left to work on their own projects. Here Bunnell worked closely with Renzo Cotarella of Antinori for Col Solare.

Leaving Chateau Ste Michelle in 2005, the inaugural 2004 vintage release of Bunnell Family Cellars was quick to earn accolades in the Washington wine industry.

Apart from Bunnell’s great wines, every Washington wine insider knows that if you are in wine county in Eastern Washington, one absolute must-stop is always Susan Bunnell’s Wine O’Clock Wine Bar and Bistro in Prosser. Fabulous food, wine and ambiance that I would put against any bistro in Seattle, Walla Walla or the Bay Area. Truly a gem.

In addition to their Bunnell Family Cellars (BFC) line, the Bunnells also produce a dedicated label for their Wine O’Clock bistro, a RiverAerie line named after their homestead overlooking the Yakima River and the wines for Newhouse Family Vineyards which is done in partnership with Steve Newhouse, owner of Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain.

The Vineyard

Photo by Williamborg. Released on Wikimedia Commons under PD-self

The Saddle Mountains of the Wahluke Slope.

This 2009 Northridge Malbec is from the Bunnell’s Vins de l’endroit series or “wines of a place” aiming to highlight some of the unique terroirs of Washington–in this case the Northridge Vineyard owned by the Milbrandt family.

Located on the western edge of the Saddle Mountains in the very warm Wahluke Slope AVA, the vineyard was first planted by Butch and Jerry Milbrandt in 2003. Situated above the flood plain, the shallow soils of Northridge are a very old mix of sedimentary caliche and basalt. The high elevation promotes a wide diurnal temperature variation of 40-50 degrees from daytime highs in the summer to nighttime lows. This allows the grapes to maintain acidity and freshness as they develop ripe tannins and dark fruit flavors.

Below is a very cool video (3:16) from the Milbrandt’s YouTube channel that features a tour of the Northridge Vineyard with their viticulturist Lacey Lybeck and Milbrandt’s winemaker Josh Maloney.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose with a mix of black fruits–blackberries and black cherries–with red fruits like pomegranate. Surrounding the fruit is savory black pepper spice and bacon fat that gets your mouth watering before you even take a sip. Underneath there are some tertiary tobacco spice notes wanting to peak out but, overall, this is still a primary fruit driven bouquet for an 8+ year old wine.

On the palate, the richer darker fruits carry through but still taste quite fresh with the medium-plus acidity. The black cherries in particular have that ripe, plucked-off-the-bush juiciness to them. Again, surprisingly young tasting for a Washington Malbec–a style of wine that I often find starts to taste faded after 6-7 years. The maturity of the wine reveals itself with medium tannins that are very velvety at this point and quite hedonistic with how they wrap around your tongue. Once you get past the textural hedonism, the intellectual hedonism kicks in on the long finish that carries the savory bacon note with just a tinge of smoke.

Around 166 cases of the 2009 Bunnell Northridge Malbec were made.

The Verdict

Photo by Sgt Earnest J. Barnes. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD US Military

The savory bacon notes coupled with the lush dark fruit in this Bunnell Malbec make this wine a real treat to enjoy!

What is most remarkable with this 2009 Bunnell Northridge Malbec is that it taste like a Washington Bordeaux blend blend had a baby with Rhone Syrah from Côte-Rôtie. A very delicious combination of rich fruit, mouthwatering structure and savory complexity.

I usually feel that wine drinkers pay a premium for Washington Malbec because of their novelty and that rarely do they exceed the value you get from Argentina. That is definitely not the case with this 2009 Bunnell Malbec. At around $35-40, it is worth every penny and well worth the hunt to find.

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Getting Geeky with 2008 Sarget de Gruaud-Larose

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

The Backstory

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

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

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

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

The author at Gruaud-Larose.


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

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

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

The Estate

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

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

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

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

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

Wine Stats

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

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

The Wine

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

A lot of cedar cigar box notes in this wine.

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

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