Tag Archives: Chateau d’Yquem

Getting Geeky with the 2000 Krug Clos du Mesnil

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about the 2000 Krug Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Champagne from the Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.

Krug Clos du Mesnil

While Le Mesnil-sur-Oger is known for multiple outstanding wines like Salon, Pierre Peters’ Les Chètillons, Jacques Selosses’ Les Carelles, Pertois Moriset, Pierre Moncuit, Robert Moncuit, Gimonnet-Gonet, J. L. Vergnon and others, the Krug Clos du Mesnil stands apart as one of the most iconic bottles of Champagne. It also tends to be among the most expensive.

At the end of this post, I’ll let you know if I think it’s worth the money.

The Background

Krug was founded in 1843 by Johann-Joseph Krug. Tom Stevenson and Essi Avellan note in their Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine that Krug got his start working for Champagne Jacquesson beginning in 1834.

He eventually married the sister-in-law of Adolphe Jacquesson and rose to second in command of the Champagne house. But instead of staying, he ventured out on his own so that he could put into practice his philosophy of winemaking.

In 1969, his descendants sold the house to the French spirits company Remy-Cointreau but still maintained a vested interest in operations. In 1999, Remy-Cointreau sold it to LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) where it is today part of a vast portfolio of wines that includes Moët & Chandon, Dom Pérignon, Ruinart, Veuve Clicquot and Mercier as well as Clos des Lambrays, Château d’Yquem and Château Cheval Blanc.

However, members of the Krug family are still involved in production with 6th generation Olivier Krug being part of the tasting panel that selects the final blends of all the wines.

While Krug only owns around 50 acre of vines (with 70% of their grapes provided by long-term contract growers & co-operatives), the Champagne house has been steadily converting all their estate vineyards (like Clos du Mesnil) to organic viticulture.

Unique Winemaking
Photo by Tomas er. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

The courtyard of Krug’s production facility in Reims with empty oak barrels that have been used for the primary fermentation of their Champagnes.

Krug is notable for conducting the primary fermentation of all its cuvees in 205 liter oak barrels. Tyson Stelzer notes in his Champagne Guide 2018-2019 that Krug buys all of their barrels new and then keeps them for up to 50 years. Sourced from Seguin Moreau and Taransaud, the average age of the house’s 4000+ barrels is around 20 years.

When the new barrels arrive they are “seasoned” for 3 years with the juice from the second and third pressing. This wine never makes it into any Krug Champagne and is instead sold off for distillation. All together the wine spends only a few weeks in oak due to Krug’s preference for warm and fast fermentations that produce richer flavors. The wine is then transferred to stainless steel tanks.

Oxidative Style

Like Alfred Gratien, Charles Heidsieck, Selosse, Bernard Bremont, Vilmart and Bollinger, Krug is known for its oxidative style of winemaking with less SO2 used. This style tends to emphasize a more broader palate with rounder flavors compared to the reductive winemaking style of houses like Salon, Taittinger, Laurent Perrier, Franck Bonville, Ruinart and Dom Perignon.

While common for many oxidative-style Champagnes, malolactic fermentation is never intentionally induced at Krug. However, it is also not actively suppressed either so it will happen in some lots. But, in general, Krug Champagnes tend to have high levels of malic acid and low pH which contributes to the wines’ legendary longevity.

The non-vintage Grande Cuvée comprises the bulk of Krug’s 650,000 bottle production with vintage Champagnes like the Clos du Mesnil, Clos du Ambonnay and Brut Vintage making up only around 10% of the house’s Champagnes. This scarcity is a big reason for the Champagnes’ high price tags.

The Production Team

Since 1998, the chef de cave of Krug has been Eric Lebel. He was previously the winemaker at De Venoge where he made the notable 1996 Louis XV Tête de Cuvée. His assistant and heir apparent, Julie Cavil, now personally oversees the production of Clos du Mesnil. She has been with Krug since 2006, joining after previously working harvests at Moët & Chandon.

Krug Champagne display box

The display box that the Clos du Mesnil comes package in.

The 2000 vintage of the Clos du Mesnil spent more than 11 years aging on its lees. Krug only produces the wine in exceptional vintages with around 10,000 to 12,000 bottles made. I could not find the exact dosage for this wine but the house style of Krug tends to be on the lower side with an average of 6 g/l. Another trademark of Krug is to use reserves of the same base wine as part of the finished Champagne’s dosage.

The story of the 1999 Clos du Mesnil is an interesting one. Initially set for release after 12 years of aging on the lees, complete with labels printed, the production team of Krug decided at the last minute not to release the wine at all. Instead the wine was uncorked, the bottles destroyed, and the 1999 Clos du Mesnil blended away into other wines.

The Vineyard

Clos du Mesnil is a tiny 1.84 ha (4.55 acre) vineyard located in the heart of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. A true clos, the vineyard is surrounded by walls that were erected in 1698. An inscription in the clos notes that vines were first planted around this time as well.

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

The Clos du Mesnil vineyard is located practically in the middle of the Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.

In the late 19th century, the plot was owned by Clos Tarin whose winemaker was Marcel Guillaume, brother-in-law to Eugène-Aimé Salon. Intrigued by the Champagne business, Salon joined his brother-in-law at Clos Tarin. As he worked the vines of Clos du Mesnil with Guillaume, Salon was inspired to start his own house.

Krug purchased the Clos du Mesnil vineyard in 1971 with the fruit originally destined for use in the Grande Cuvée. The quality of the 1979 vintage inspired the house to do a dedicated bottling that year which was released in 1986. Peter Liem notes in his book Champagne that Krug’s foray into vineyard-designated Champagne was a game-charger for an industry that has historically focused on blending from multiple sites.

The vineyard is divided into 5 to 6 parcels. With varying vine ages and exposures, harvest usually takes place over multiple days with some vintages taking up to 10 days to complete. In the winery, the lots are further subdivided into around 19 different fermentation. The wine is constantly tasted during the aging process with some lots declassified into different bottlings of Krug or wines destined for other LVMH Champagnes.

Behind the Scenes at Clos du Mesnil

Krug’s YouTube channel has several “behind the scenes” videos including this one published in 2014 about Clos du Mesnil. Featuring enologist Julie Cavil, you get a great feel for the vineyard and how much it is like a tiny garden in the middle of the village. It is believed that the site’s urban location adds to the ripeness of Chardonnay in Clos du Mesnil with heat radiating off the nearby buildings onto the vines.

The short (less than 2 minutes) video below also gives some great insights about the 2000 vintage  as well. That year saw hail storms devastate Le Mesnil-sur-Oger though Clos du Mesnil was spared.

The Wine

High intensity nose. This wine smells like freshly harvested raw honeycomb. There is also a spicy ginger element along with a subtle smokiness. It reminds me of an aged botrytized wine like Sauternes. But not quite as sweet smelling. As the Champagne warmed up a bit in the glass, grilled pear notes emerged.

Photo by Merdal at Turkish Wikipedia. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

The raw honeycomb note of this Champagne is very intriguing.

On the palate, the ginger and pear notes carry through and bring a citrus tang as well. The raw honeycomb is also present but takes on more of a baked element like honey shortbread cookies. Racy vibrant acidity makes this Champagne feel very youthful and contributes a streak of salty minerality. Very silky and creamy mousse. Long finish lingers on the smokey, spicy botrytized notes.

The Verdict — Is it worth the money?

Right now the 2000 Krug Clos du Mesnil averages around $994 a bottle with some vintages, like the 1996, topping over $1800.

I had the opportunity to try this bottle as part of the Archetype Tasting series conducted by Medium Plus. Founded by Seattle sommelier Nick Davis, this tasting group allows participants (usually 8 to 10 people) to split the cost of an iconic wine. For this event, attendees contributed $100 each towards the cost of the Krug Clos du Mesnil as well as bringing another fun bottle of Champagne to analyze in an educational setting.

The event was well worth the $100 ($200 with my wife attending) and the add-on bottles to taste the 2000 Krug Clos du Mesnil along with the 2006 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, 2006 Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque, Frederic Savart ‘l’Ouverture’, Suenen Oiry Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, Paul Bara and others Champagnes featured.

But would I spend around a $1000 to get another bottle or splurge for an older vintage?

Nope.

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne

The person who brought this Champagne got a screaming good deal getting this for around $100.

Now I will confess that I was recovering from a cold this evening so my tasting impressions were probably a little skewed. But even at less than 100% I found myself much more wowed by how delicious the 2006 Taittinger Comtes (WS Ave $136) was. While the 2004 Comtes Rosé I had earlier this year was a tad disappointing, this 2006 Blanc de Blancs from Taittinger was lively and intense with a long minerally finish that I can still taste.

Sure, I will put the 2000 Krug Clos du Mesnil ahead of it in terms of depth and complexity but I wouldn’t put it nearly 10x ahead. Likewise, the Savart L’Ouverture (WS Ave $47) was an absolutely scrumptious bottle just oozing with character.

I’ll be honest, when we had an opportunity to revisit the Champagnes later in the night, including more of the Clos du Mesnil, I let my wife (who really loved the Clos) get my extra pour so I could enjoy more of the Taittinger and Savart. Since I was the one driving home, I had to prioritize what wines I was going to savor and those were my picks.

If the Krug Clos du Mesnil was more in the $300-400 range, I could see myself wanting to give it another shot. It’s not a disappointing wine at all. But it’s hard to justify the cost especially when there are other wines even in the Krug stable (like their super solid Grande Cuvée at around $200) that can give me just as much pleasure for a better price.

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

Photo by Florian Pépellin. Released on Wikimedia Commons under GFDL CC-BY-SAWe are heading to Margaux as we continue our exploration of the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign.

After hitting a rough patch in Pomerol for our last post, we are hoping to find more values in the offers from the 3rd Growth estates of Ch. Malescot-St.-Exupéry and Cantenac-Brown, 4th Growth Ch. Prieuré-Lichine and the 2nd Growth Ch. Lascombes.

If you are new to the series, a great place to start is with our first Bordeaux Futures 2017 post covering the offers of Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge and Haut-Batailley that lays out the general outline for our approach to buying futures in this vintage and the use of critic scores. You can also check out the links at the bottom of the page for previous posts in this series.

Now onto the offers.

Ch. Malescot-St.-Exupéry (Margaux)

Some Geekery:

Since its founding in 1616, Malescot-St.-Exupéry has been owned by several well-connected Bordeaux families beginning with the Escousses family who were notaries for the Bourbon kings of France. In 1697, Simon Malescot, the attorney general of King Louis XIV, purchased the estate and affixed his name to the property.

The second-half of the patronymic came in 1825 when Comte Saint-Exupery acquired Chateau Malescot and added the vineyard holdings of Chateau Loyac and Chateau La Colonie that he received from his wife’s dowry. When Saint-Exupery died in 1853, Malescot-St.-Exupéry was sold to the Fourcade family who added the motto Semper Ad Altum, meaning “Always reach higher”, to the labels that is still prominently featured on bottles of Malescot-St.-Exupéry today.

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

The chateau of Malescot-St.-Exupéry

Not long after the estate was classified as a 3rd Growth in the 1855 Classification, the owners purchased fellow 3rd Growth Château Dubignon, absorbing all its vineyard holdings and shuttering the cellar.

The modern history of Malescot-St.-Exupéry began in 1955 when it was purchased by the Zuger family, former owners of Marquis d’Alesme. The estate is still owned by the family today with Michel Rolland consulting.

Located on the right side of the D2 highway, the vineyards of Malescot-St.-Exupéry neighbor those of Ch. Margaux and the 2nd Growth Rauzan Segla.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Merlot. Usually around 9000 cases a year are produced but in 2017 Malescot St. Exupéry lost nearly 20% of its plantings to frost damage.

Critic Scores:

95-96 James Suckling (JS), 91-93 Wine Advocate (WA), 91-93 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 91-93 Vinous Media (VM), 90-93 Wine Spectator (WS), 93-95 Jeff Leve (JL)

Sample Review:

The 2017 Malescot St. Exupéry has a simpler bouquet than recent vintages with high-toned red cherry and raspberry fruit, quite ‘warm’ compared to its peers and it would benefit from a little more delineation. The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannin. It is not a complex Malescot St. Exupéry but I admire the balance and focus. There is plenty of tightly wound red berry fruit laced with cedar and smoke, quite finessed towards the finish with a long spicy aftertaste. I would just like the aromatics to step up to the grade of the palate, so let’s see how this shows once in bottle. — Neal Martin, Vinous

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $55
JJ Buckley: $53.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $317.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $53.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K&L: $52.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $63 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $70 Average Critic Score: 93
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $51 Average Critic Score: 92
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $51 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

I was really optimistic about the 2014 Malescot-St.-Exupéry but even at $45 it didn’t strike me as a stellar value.

Malescot-St.-Exupéry has been very hit or miss for me. While I’ve enjoyed their work in stellar vintages like 2005 and 2009/10, I’ve been fairly underwhelmed in more average years like 2012 & 2014. Those experiences always tilt me more to a “wait and see” approach with potentially later purchases when the wine hits retail shelves.

With an average price of $55, it’s not that far out of line with 2014 right now though I can see it potentially inching up towards $60 on release if the barrel scores hold true. Glowing critic scores aside, I’m still going to err on my own personal experience and Pass on this offer.

Ch. Prieuré-Lichine (Margaux)

Some Geekery:

The “Prieuré” in Prieuré-Lichine pays homage to the estate’s early history in the 17th century as a vineyard for the Benedictine monks at the Priory of Cantenac. Clive Coates notes in Grands Vins: The Finest Châteaux of Bordeaux and Their Wines that the monks also owned neighboring Ch. Pouget and Ch. Boyd-Cantenac. However, during the French Revolution these ecclesiastical properties were confiscated by the government with the vineyards of Prieuré sold off in pieces to several other estates.

The next century and a half saw several changes in ownership and names until finally in 1951 when Alexis Lichine, the notable Russian writer and French wine expert who wrote Alexis Lichine’s Guide to the Wines and Vineyards of France and his New Encyclopedia of Wines & Spirits, headed a consortium of buyers that purchased the property.

Changing the name to Prieuré-Lichine and benefiting from an influx of capital from Count Lur Saluces, the owner of Chateau d’Yquem, Lichine set about reacquiring old parcels and adding new ones throughout Margaux from neighboring estates like Boyd-Cantenac, Brane-Cantenac, Durfort-Vivens, Ferrière, Giscours, d’Issan, Kirwan and Palmer. Lichine also pioneered promoting tourism in the region, erecting a sign on the D2 highway advertising tasting and cellar door wine purchases available at Ch. Prieuré-Lichine.

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

The exterior of Prieuré-Lichine.


The estate stayed in the Lichine family until 1999 when it was sold to the negociant Groupe Ballande. The new owners hired Stephane Derenoncourt as consultant and, in 2013, added 7.5 more hectares of vines from a purchase of Ch. Pontet Chappaz–bring the estate’s total to 77.5 hectares (191.5 acres). All the vineyard parcels, scattered throughout various soils types in Margaux, are farmed sustainably. Around 25,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

93-94 JS, 92-93 WE, 91-94 VM, 89-92 WS, 88-90 WA

Sample Review:

This is the definition of a wine to buy in an off-vintage. It has the signature of the last few years, but in an early-drinking package. It’s a little oaky and smoky for sure, but handles it well and delivers punch and personality without overstating the case. Ripe damson fruits help to deliver impact, even if the fruit is generally a touch below the exuberance of the last two years. Planted in the vineyard to 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. (95 points) — Jane Anson, Decanter

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $43
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $239.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $41.97
K&L: $39.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $45 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $56 Average Critic Score: 92
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $51 Average Critic Score: 92
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $48 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

Despite its lackluster reputation and extreme difficulties, I still regularly make it a habit to try examples from the 2013 vintage whenever I get a chance–either at tastings like the 2016 Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGC) US Tour or even at restaurants if the bottle price is right.

I make that effort because there is so much you can learn about the mettle of the terroir and winemaking team by tasting the products of troublesome vintages. In great vintages, it’s easy to make great wine but if a wine from a rough vintage makes you raise an eyebrow then take note. That was the case for me at the 2016 UCG tasting where the 2013 Prieuré-Lichine stood out from the pack for its balance and charm in what a difficult year to find either.

The follow up year in 2014 proved even better as that vintage certainly gave the winemakers more to work with and I eagerly purchased futures of the 2015 and (especially) 2016 as the prices remained reasonable. Now seeing the 2017 priced even more attractively (even less than the 2013) makes this an easy Buy for me.

Ch. Lascombes (Margaux)

Some Geekery:

Originally founded by the Durfort de Duras family (of Durfort-Vivens fame), the estate was named after Antoine, Chevalier de Lascombes, who inherited the estate in the mid-17th century. Records from the regisseur (trustee) of Ch. Margaux noted that feudal dues of Lascombes was paid in the form of two barrels of wine each year which the owners of Ch. Margaux would use to top up their barrels with.

In 1925, Lascombes was purchased by the Ginestet family who owned Ch. Margaux and at one point were involved with Cos d’Estournel in St. Estephe, Clos-Fourtet in St. Emilion, Ch. Petit-Village in Pomerol and Durfort-Vivens. During World War II, Allied Forces used the chateau as an army headquarters.

Shortly after purchasing what would become Prieuré-Lichine, Alexis Lichine headed a group of investors that included American banker David Rockefeller to purchase Lascombes in 1952. Lichine actively promoted and tripled production before the estate was sold in 1971 to British brewer Bass Charrington.

In 2001, Lascombes was sold again. This time to an American finance company, Colony Capital, who invested more than $47 million dollars renovating the cellars and building a four story gravity-fed production facility. Alain Raynaud and Michel Rolland were brought in to consult with Yves Vatelot of Chateau Reignac. By the time the estate was sold in 2011 to French insurer La Mutuelle, Rolland was the primary consultant who is still working with the estate today.

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

Chateau Lascombes.

With 117 hectares (289 acres), Lascombes is one of the largest properties in Margaux and is notable for being dominated by Merlot plantings, accounting for around 50% of the vineyards with 45% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. Around 20,000 cases a year are produced.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot.

Critic Scores:

92-95 WA, 91-94 VM, 90-92 WE, 90-91 JS, 88-91 WS, 90-92 JL, 90-92 Jeb Dunnuck (JD)

Sample Review:

A bit of a drag queen with its fruity character and outgoing nature, the wine is round and flashy. The fruit is ripe and sweet, damp with warm earth, tobacco and licorice. This is the first vintage in recent times made from a Cabernet dominated blend. The wine is aging in 50% new, French oak barrels, which is a choice I hope they stick with, as the wines in the past often suffered from too much oak. — Jeff Leve, The Wine Cellar Insider

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $72
JJ Buckley: $73.94 + shipping
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $71.97
K&L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $82 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $92 Average Critic Score: 92
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $70 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $64 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

A guilty pleasure, perhaps, but few things could top the combination of silkiness and depth that the 2010 Lascombes had.


Lascombes tends to be a very “modernist”, fruit-forward Bordeaux that features lavish oak and can often provoke some of the lush, hedonistic pleasures of a Napa Cab. While it doesn’t always knock me off my socks, I absolutely adored the 2010 vintage that was one my Top 10 wines at the 2017 Wine Spectator Grand Tour tasting. The estate also did very well with their 2013 and 2014 offerings.

When it’s good, Lascombes is very good but it’s rarely ever screams value. This, coupled with the change in style for this vintage to a Cab-dominant blend, makes it more of a gamble than I’m willing to take for a 2017 so I will Pass.

Ch. Cantenac-Brown (Margaux)

Some Geekery:

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

The Tudor style architecture of the chateau at Cantenac-Brown standsout among its peers.


A relatively young estate, Ch. Cantenac was purchased in the early 1800s by the grandfather of Scottish painter John Lewis Brown. A merchant who moved to Bordeaux after the French Revolution, Brown also owned neighboring Boyd-Cantenac and the Pessac-Leognan estate Château Barrière (now Chateau Brown). It was Brown who commissioned the construction of the chateau in its unique Tudor style.

By 1860 it was under the ownership of Armand Lalande, owner of Léoville Poyferré, and would change hands several more times over the next 146 years until it was purchased by the Halabi family in 2006. After acquiring the property from the AXA insurance group, the Halabis hired Jose Sanfins to manage the winemaking and continue the improvements made by Jean-Michel Cazes, Daniel Llose and Christian Seely under AXA.

With 48 hectares (118.6 acres) spread across the commune, the estate includes several parcels that are over 60 years of age. All the vineyards of Cantenac-Brown are farmed sustainably.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon and 33% Merlot. Around 11,000 cases a year are produced though the final total in 2017 is likely to be lower due to frost damage.

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

The vineyard received a bit of frost in 2017 with yields finishing at 35 hectoliters per hectare, whereas normally yields are around 42 hectoliters per hectare. With a larger proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon this year, the blend is 67% Cabernet Sauvignon and 33% Merlot. Deep garnet-purple in color, the 2017 Cantenac Brown leaps from the glass with exuberant notes of cassis, warm plums and black forest cake with touches of violets, dark chocolate, cloves and cigar box plus a waft of lavender. The palate is medium-bodied and firm with fine-grained tannins and tons of freshness, finishing with plenty of black fruit and perfumed layers. — Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Wine Advocate

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $52
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $49.97
K&L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $57 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $65 Average Critic Score: 92
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $47 Average Critic Score: 92
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $43 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

Cantenac-Brown was another estate that impressed me during the 2016 UGC tasting of the 2013 vintage–and that was my first ever tasting opportunity for them. I didn’t end up buy any of their 2013s and I must confess that I haven’t had an opportunity to revisit them or taste other vintages.

If the price was more compelling I may have been tempted but with an average north of their 2014 and 2013 still out on the market this will be a Pass for me.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

Why I Buy Bordeaux Futures

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — 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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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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