Tag Archives: Fleur-Cardinale

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

After covering the 2017 Bordeaux futures offers of Clos de l’Oratoire, Ch. Monbousquet, Ch. Quinault l’Enclos and Ch. Fonplegade in our first visit to St. Emilion, we return now to look at the offers for the Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’ estates of Ch. Beau-Séjour Bécot, Ch. Canon-la-Gaffelière and Ch. Canon as well as the Grand Cru Classé estate of Ch. La Dominique.

While we are 10 entries deep into this series, first time visitors are always well-advised to check out the the first Bordeaux Futures 2017 post covering the offers of Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge and Haut-Batailley that gives an overview of what we are looking for here at SpitBucket in deciding on whether to Buy or Pass on these 2017 offers.

You can also check out the links at the bottom to see other offers that we have reviewed in this series.

Now onto the offers.

Ch. Beau-Séjour Bécot (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

The Ancient Romans were one of the first to cultivate vines in what is now Beau-Séjour Bécot more than 2000 years ago. During the Middle Ages the property came under the stewardship of the monks of Saint-Martin de Mazerat who also managed what is now Ch. Canon.

The exterior of Beau-Séjour Bécot.


Stephen Brook notes in The Complete Bordeaux that eventually the property came under the ownership of the Lord of Camarsacs. In 1722 when the daughter of one of the lords married into the Carles de Figeac family, the estate was given to the new couple as dowry.

One of their descendants, General Jacques de Carles renamed the property Beauséjour (meaning “good stay”) in 1787. By the early 1800s, Clive Coates describes in Grand Vins that the large estate was ranked highly in prestige in St. Emilion just behind Ch. Belair, Troplong-Mondot, Ch. Canon and Ausone.

In 1869, the estate was split between the heirs of Pierre-Paulin Ducarpe with his son getting the half that is today Beau-Séjour Bécot and his daughter, who married into the Duffau-Lagarosse family, inheriting the part that is now Ch. Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse. In 1955 both estates were classified as Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’.

The Bécot family, who already owned Ch. La Carte, purchased Beau-Séjour in 1969–affixing their name and later expanding it with their holdings at La Carte and acquiring the nearby Trois Moulins vineyard. However, the use of these other vineyard plots in the Grand Vin of Beau-Séjour Bécot was not previously approved by the governing authority of the St. Emilion classification so in 1986 the estate was demoted to Grand Cru Classé.

With the aid of consultant Michel Rolland, the Bécots worked 10 years to improve the vineyard quality of the new parcels and agreed not to use any parcels deemed inferior by the authorities for the Grand Vin. When the 1996 classification was released, Ch. Beau-Séjour Bécot was restored to its Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’ ranking.

The author touring the estate with Caroline Bécot.


Today the property is still in the hands of the Bécot family with Juliette Bécot managing the estate alongside Julien Barthe. In 2018, Michel Rolland left as consultant and was replaced by Thomas Duclos.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Around 6000 cases are produced each year.

Critic Scores:

93-96 Wine Spectator (WS), 93-95 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 93-94 James Suckling (JS), 92-94 Wine Advocate (WA), 91-93 Vinous Media (VM), 93-95 Jeff Leve (JL), 91-94 Jeb Dunnuck (JD)

Sample Review:

Coming from an incredible terroir located on the limestone plateau just outside the village, the 2017 Château Beau-Séjour Bécot is a medium-bodied, refined, incredibly elegant 2017 that offers awesome notes of crème de cassis, crushed violets, earth, and a saline-like minerality. Winemaker Thomas Duclos compares the 2017 to 2012, saying the wines will put on weight in barrel as well in bottle. Their 2017 is a fresh, vibrant wine and has tons of potential. The blend is 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon, with the Merlot brought in from the 14th to the 22nd of September, and the Cabernets on October 28 and 29. The wine will spend 16 months in 65% new French oak, with the balance in stainless steel, amphora, and larger oak. — Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $58
JJ Buckley: $59.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $59.97 (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: $74 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $77 Average Critic Score: 93
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $59 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $57 Average Critic Score: 90

Buy or Pass?

Compared to its peers in the Premier Grand Cru Classé tier, the wines of Beau-Séjour Bécot have always struck me as solid (if not slightly underrated) values.

The 2011 was very tight in 2016 and is still slowly starting to come out of its shell.
This makes me think that the 2017 is a wine that will probably need a good 10+ years itself.

My esteem for the estate rose even more during my 2016 visit to the region where I was also introduced to Juliette Bécot’s very delicious Joanin Bécot label from her Cotes de Castillon estate. Both the 2012 and 2015 of that label have been screaming good values under $30 that I eagerly seek out at retail stores and on restaurant wine lists.

While the 2017 will be a compelling buy for many Bordeaux fans, my only hitch is that my past experiences with the wines of Beau-Séjour Bécot have taught me that these wines need time in the cellar and rarely deliver much pleasure early in their life. While that is great for “cellar investment” years like 2015/2016, that is not my objective for futures buying with the 2017s.

So I will Pass on this offer even though it is a solid buy. However, I will certainly be buying some of the 2017 Joanin Bécot when it hits retail stores in 2019/2020.

Ch. Canon-la-Gaffelière (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

Canon-la-Gaffelière is a relatively young estate that was previously known as Canon Boitard (after an early 19th century owner) and La Gaffelière-Boitard with La Gaffelière coming from the medieval term for “lepers” and denoting the area’s previous history as part of manor grounds for a hospital that treated leprosy. Eventually the two names were combined in the 19th century to its current incarnation of Ch. Canon-la-Gaffelière.

The modern history of the estate began in 1971 when Count Joseph Hubert von Neipperg purchased the property from Pierre Meyrat, a former mayor of St. Emilion. In 2012, the estate was promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’.

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

Stéphane Derenoncourt, the consultant behind the von Neipperg wines, has a very distinctive style.


Today von Neipperg’s son, Stephan, manages the estate along with fellow Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’ La Mondotte as well as Clos de l’Oratoire, Ch. Peyreau, Ch. d’Aiguilhe in Cotes de Castillon, Clos Marsalette in Pessac-Léognan, the Sauternes Premier Cru Ch. Guiraud, Capaia in South Africa and Bessa Valley in Bulgaria.

Stéphane Derenoncourt is the longtime consultant who early on began Canon-la-Gaffelière’s conversion to organic viticulture with the estate being 100% certified organic in 2014.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Around 5000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

94-95 JS, 91-93 WA, 90-93 WS, 92-95 VM, 93-95 JL, 92-94 JD

Sample Review:

The 2017 Canon La Gaffelière is superb. Compelling in its aromatics and overall balance, the 2017 has so much to offer. All the elements simply fall into place. As is the case with all of Stephan von Neipperg’s wines, the 2017 is wonderfully fresh and nuanced, with less muscle than in the past and noticeably more finesse. Bright floral and mocha notes add lift to the dark red stone fruits. What a gorgeous wine this is. Tasted two times. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $75
JJ Buckley: $79.94 + shipping
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $467.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $78.97
K&L: $79.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $92 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $99 Average Critic Score: 94
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $83 Average Critic Score: 92
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $73 Average Critic Score: 91

Buy or Pass?

If you pay attention to Wine Spectator’s yearly Top 100 list, few names appear more frequently than Canon-la-Gaffelière which has been ranked #7 (2014 vintage, 2017 list), #2 (2010 vintage, 2013 list), #23 (2009 vintage, 2012 list) and #95 (2008 vintage, 2011 list) in the last 7 years. To say that Canon-la-Gaffelière has been on a roll lately is an understatement.

Photo by Dave Minogue. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

When you can buy 3 bottles of Canon-la-Gaffelière for the price of 1 bottle of Opus One and get something of very similar style and quality (if not better), it’s a no-brainer for me.

As I noted in my review of Clos de l’Oratoire’s 2017 futures offer, I find the style of Derenoncourt and von Neipperg to be very “New World-ish” so I always evaluate the pricing of their wines on the scale of equivalent priced Napa wines more so than other Bordeaux.

Compared to wines like Opus One, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Silver Oak, Duckhorn and Caymus, I find that there is virtually no contest in the value that Derenoncourt and von Neipperg’s Bordeaux wines provide in delivering lush, hedonistic power for much more compelling prices.

And the wines always seem to be reliably approachable for early consumption. While, on the flip side, I tend to avoid buying Canon-la-Gaffelière and Clos de l’Oratoire in stellar vintages where I’m looking for more classic and age-worthy Bordeaux, these wines fit the bill perfectly for the “cellar defender” role I’m seeking out of vintages like 2017. That makes them an easy Buy, especially when the prices are right.

Ch. Canon (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

This photo was taken in the limestone caves of Beau-Séjour Bécot but through here you can access the caves of Ch. Canon which is only separated by a gated door.

Like neighboring Beau-Séjour Bécot, Ch. Canon was once an ecclesiastical vineyard ran by the monks of Clos St. Martin in the 1700s. It was during this period that much of the extensive limestone caves that still connect Beau-Séjour Bécot, Ch. Canon and Clos Fourtet were quarried out with the limestone used to build many chateaux in the Libournais.

The estate was known as Domaine de Saint-Martin in 1760 when it was purchased by Jacques Kanon, a privateer from Dunkirk who served as a lieutenant in the Royal Marines during the Seven Years’ War and earned his fortune from looting and piracy. However, the name of the domaine did not change to Ch. Canon until 1853 when it was owned by the descendants of Raymond Fontemoing who purchased Domaine de Saint-Martin from Kanon in 1770.

The Fontemoing family already owned the famous Chateau Canon in the Canon-Fronsac area which Clive Coates notes in Grand Vins was fetching the highest wine of any Libournais wine in the late 18th century.

The Fontemoings wanted to avoid confusion between their two properties and kept them separate until the wines of St. Emilion began earning more prominence on the market. By the mid 1850s, the newly rechristened Ch. Canon was ranked among the top 4 estates of St. Emilion alongside Ausone, Belair and Magdelaine.

The modern history of Ch. Canon was kick started in 1996 when the estate was sold by the Fournier family to the Wertheimer brothers, Alan and Gerard, who owned the luxury brand Chanel. Today it is part of a portfolio that includes the Margaux 2nd Growth Rauzan-Ségla, Ch. Berliquet in St. Emilion and St. Supéry in Napa Valley as well as the negociant firm Ulysse Cazabonne.

Under the Chanel Group’s ownership, significant capital was invested into replanting the vineyards and renovating the cellars. John Kolasa was brought on to manage Ch. Canon (as well as the other Bordeaux estates) where he stayed till 2015 when he was succeeded by Nicolas Audebert who formerly managed the LVMH Argentine project of Cheval des Andes. Thomas Duclos was also brought on that year as a consultant.

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

The vineyards of Ch. Canon.

The vineyards of Ch. Canon are smack dab in the heart of St. Emilion’s famous limestone plateau with additional parcels on the slopes neighboring Angelus and Ch. Quintus. In recent years, the owners have acquired Chateau Matras and Chateau Cure Bon with the INAO permitting some of the hectares from Cure Bon to be used in the Grand Vin.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 73% Merlot and 18% Cabernet Franc. Around 6,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

94-96 WA, 93-96 WS, 94-95 JS, 93-95 WE, 92-94 VM, 94-97 JD, 94-96 JL

Sample Review:

Another successful year for Canon; not as voluptuous as in 2016 or 2015, but it has a wonderful salinity and a crisp, fresh curl to the fruit. They aim for crystalline flavours, vibrant fruit and a sense of forward motion, and for me it has that again this year. The flavours of blueberries, blackberries and soft, smoky almonds are drawn out through the palate, and by the time it has finished you are ready to go again. It has an austerity that is overridden by the juice, not quite overriding the vintage, but it’s a delicious wine that again showcases the beauty of limestone. 50% new oak. Thomas Duclos is consultant here, and it really is a great year for the estates that he works with. (94 points) — Jane Anson, Decanter

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $94
JJ Buckley: $95.94 + shipping
Vinfolio: $96.00 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $581.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping
Total Wine: $94.97
K&L: $94.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $153 Average Critic Score: 95 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $271 Average Critic Score: 96
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $91 Average Critic Score: 92
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $66 Average Critic Score: 91

Buy or Pass?

I’ve never been very impressed with John Kolsa’s style at Ch. Canon (or Rauzan-Ségla for that matter) so this is an estate that is usually not on my radar. I will say that the 2014 Canon was intriguing at the 2017 UGC Bordeaux tasting though. Given that that year’s wine was finished and bottled by Audebert and Duclos, I may have reason to give Canon another look.

But 2017 is not a vintage I’m using for revisiting or taking flyers on new estates and winemaking teams. Looking at the price history of the last 4 vintages of Canon, I won’t deny that there is clearly value here in the 2017 pricing and I can see this being a very compelling offer for other Bordeaux fans. I’m just more incline to be cautious which is leading me to Pass on buying this as a future.

Ch. La Dominique (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

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

Ch. La Dominique

Ch. La Dominique is named after the Caribbean island of Dominica where the estate’s 18th century owners also had property.

The modern history of the estate began in 1933 when it was purchased by the de Bailliencourt family who own Ch. Gazin in Pomerol. The de Bailliencourts sold La Dominique in 1969 to billionaire Clément Fayat who made his fortune in the construction industry. Today it is part of a portfolio that includes Ch. Clément-Pichon in Haut-Médoc and Ch. Fayat in Pomerol.

In 2007, Fayat brought in Jean-Luc Thunevin (of Château Valandraud fame) to consult. He also purchased nearby Ch. Vieux Fortin, merging their 5 hectares of vines into La Dominique’s holding. The estate is experimenting with biodynamic viticulture.

Located in the western end of St. Emilion on the border with Pomerol, La Dominique has exceptional terroir neighboring Cheval Blanc and Ch. Figeac in St. Emilion as well as La Conseillante and L’Evangile across the way into Pomerol. From the rooftop of their restaurant, La Terrasse Rouge located among their vineyards, you can see the vineyards of Ch. Petrus as well.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Around 7000 cases a year are produced but with significant frost damage experienced in 2017, production this year is likely closer to 3500 cases.

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

70% frosted so they had more Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) and Cabernet Franc (20%) in 2017. This is 50% of production. Inky dark with purple rim. Dark, rocky/mineral fragrance. Juicy and scented on the palate, with some red as well as black fruit. Super-polished tannins that are a fine framework for the fruit. Refined, not over-oaked. Long. (17/20 points) — Julia Harding, JancisRobinson.com

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $57
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $59.97
K&L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $62 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $58 Average Critic Score: 92
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $51 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $41 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

The restaurant also had a killer collection of vintage Armagnacs.


Visiting the vineyards of La Dominique and their La Terrasse Rouge restaurant was one of the highlights of my 2016 Bordeaux trip. This site truly has remarkable potential but not a single one of their wines really left any kind of impression.

While I adore Thunevin’s work at his own personal estate of Valandraud and his consulting work at Fleur Cardinale, I have a hankering suspicion that the business goals of La Dominique are more geared towards tourism than necessarily raising the quality of their wines above other Grand Cru Classé. And with pricing closer to 2015/2016 levels than 2014 this is an easy 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 — 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 — 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 — 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

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 — 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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Event Review — Washington vs The World Seminar

Every year as part of Taste Washington weekend, the Washington Wine Commission host several education seminars to highlight the unique terroir, wines and personalities of the Washington wine industry.

This year I participated in the Washington vs the World: Old World, New World, Our World seminar that was moderated by Doug Charles of Compass Wines. The event was presented as a blind tasting of 5 flights–each pairing a Washington wine with a counterpart from elsewhere in the world.

Featuring a panel of winemakers including Casey McClellan of Seven Hills Winery, Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen of WT Vintners, Keith Johnson of Sleight of Hand and Anna Schafer Cohen of àMaurice Cellars as well as Damon Huard of Passing Time Winery and Sean Sullivan of Wine Enthusiast and The Washington Wine Report, the one and half hour event was a terrific opportunity to learn insights from the panel while honing your blind tasting skills with some world class wines.

Below are my notes from each of the flights followed by the reveal of what the wines were.

Flight 1

Wine 1: Opaque ruby with more red than blue hues. Medium-minus intensity nose–floral roses with red berries. Some oak spice.
On the palate–red cherry and currant. High acidity, medium-plus tannins. Little skeletal and thin. Short finish but the floral notes come back and seem promising. Feels like a young Cab that needs some time to flesh out. No minerality so likely New World. Cool climate Washington–Yakima/Walla Walla?

Wine 2: Very opaque purple. Much darker than #1. Little hazy so likely unfiltered. Medium-minus intensity–dark fruit but also a noticeable green note. Vanilla.

The sediment from wine #2. There was no sign of age so clearly this wine wasn’t filtered.

On the palate, the noticeable oak vanilla comes to the forefront but the green leafy notes are also there. Dark fruits but still not very defined, especially with the oak. Medium-plus acidity and high tannins that have a chalky grittiness to them. Some clove spice from the oak. Likely a Cab like wine #1 and it feels like a New World Napa with dark fruit and all the oak but the green notes are throwing me off. Napa Mountain AVAs? 2014 Walla Walla?

Flight 2

Wine 3: Opaque with more red than blue hues. Medium intensity nose. Chocolate covered cherries and spice.

On the palate, chocolate cover cherries still with blue floral notes (Cab Franc?) and a mix of oak baking spice and Asian cooking spice. A lot of layers to evolve. High acidity–very juicy cherries. Medium-plus tannins, very velvet. Some pencil graphite minerality on the long finish (Cab Franc x2?) Kinda Old Worldish but the chocolate covered cherries seem New World or a very modern Right Bank Bordeaux? Very lovely.

Wine 4: Opaque ruby with a little fuchsia hues. Pretty similar color depth to #3, just slightly different shades. Medium intensity nose with some floral and perfume nose. Vanilla blossoms. Smells like a Macy department store. Some blue fruits.

On the palate, the blue fruits–plums and blueberries–carry through and has noticeable oak. Medium-plus acidity and high grippy tannins. Seems very Cab-like with that big structure. No minerality and really short finish. Like wine #1 this seems a bit skeletal and young but I don’t think this one is as promising as #1. Washington BDX blend?

Flight 3

Wine 5: Opaque ruby with noticeable blue hues. High intensity nose. Smokey tobacco and meatiness but also an earthy forest element. It smells like you’re hiking through the forest to get to a brisket BBQ.

On the palate, lots of dark fruit–black currant, black raspberry–but lots of smokey, meatiness too. Some leather. High acidity, high tannins. Big wine! Long finish with cigar notes. Taste like a Left Bank Bordeaux and Cote Rotie had a baby. Fantastic wine but I can’t think of a WA producer doing this.

Wine 6: Opaque ruby with noticeable blue hues. A tad darker than #5. Medium-plus intensity nose. Dark fruits. Chocolate covered acai berries. Lovely blue floral notes.

On the palate, rich black fruits–black plums, black currants. Noticeable oak vanilla. Juicy medium-plus acidity and medium-plus tannins. Very well balanced. Long finish. Taste like a high-end Napa so high-end WA? Both of these are outstanding.

Flight 4

Wine 7: Opaque ruby with some blue hues. High intensity nose with leather and smoked meat. More intense than Wine #5! A little green olive tapenade on toasted bread. Grilled rosemary skews. Floral violets. Roasted coffee. Lots and lots of layers!

On the palate, blackberries and bacon. The roasted coffee notes come through as well as most of the bouquet. Medium-plus acidity and medium-plus tannins. Little back end heat. Long finish. Very Northern Rhone-like. Really delicious wine that I want more time with.

The panel for the seminar. (Left to Right)
Doug Charles, moderator
Casey McClellan, Seven Hills
Jeff-Lindsay-Thorsen, WT Vintners
Keith Johnson, Sleight of Hand
Damon Huard, Passing Time
Anna Schafer Cohen, àMaurice
Sean Sullivan, Wine Enthusiast


Wine 8: Very opaque purple. Much darker than #7. Medium-intensity nose. Almost shy compare to #7. Black fruits. Citrus-lime zest? (WA Syrah?) Medium acidity and medium tannins. High pH. Little rocky minerality on moderate finish. Warm climate New World. Seems like a Red Mountain Syrah. Reminds me a little of the Betz La Cote Rousse.

Flight 5

Wine 9: Clear ruby with red hues. First wine that I can see through. Medium-plus intensity nose. Roasted chicken herbs–thyme and sage. Some blue floral notes.

On the palate, a mix of red and dark fruits–cherries and berries–with the herbal and floral notes. High acidity. Medium-plus tannins. Little minerality on the moderate finish. Seems like a cool climate New World or Old World Rhone.

Wine 10: Clear pale ruby. Lighter than #9 but darker than a Pinot noir. High intensity aromatics with earthy notes and red fruits. Some bacon fat smokiness.

On the palate, all red fruits–cherries and tart cranberries. The smokey bacon fat also comes through (Syrah?). High acidity and medium-plus tannins but way more biting. Not as well balanced as #9 and coming across as more thin and skeletal. Short finish. Seems young.

The Reveal
My favorite for each flight is highlighted with ***

Wine 1: 2012 àMaurice Cellars Artist Series Ivey Blend Columbia Valley (Wine Searcher Ave $43)***
Wine 2: 2013 Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia Napa Valley (Wine Searcher Ave $213) Update: Sean Sullivan informed me that this was poured from a magnum which likely highlighted how young tasting and underwhelming this wine was.

Wine 3: 2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (Wine Searcher Ave $47)***
Wine 4: 2014 Seven Hills Winery Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (Wine Searcher Ave $45)

Wine 5: 2012 Château Lynch Bages Pauillac (Wine Searcher Ave $114)***
Wine 6: 2015 Passing Time Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills (Winery price $80)

Wine 7: 2015 Sleight of Hand Cellars Psychedelic Syrah Stoney Vine Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (Wine Searcher Ave $61)***
Wine 8: 2015 Glaetzer Wines Amon-Ra Shiraz Barossa Valley (Wine Searcher Ave $75)

Wine 9: 2015 WT Vintners Rhone Blend Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley (Winery price $40)***
Wine 10: 2014 Sadie Family Columella Coastal Region (Wine Searcher Ave $107)

My Top 3 Wines of the Event

2015 Sleight of Hand Cellars Psychedelic Syrah Stoney Vine Vineyard — WOW! This wine was so funky and character driven that I can still memorably taste it over 4 days later. I’m usually not that blown away by Sleight of Hand wines–finding them well made but often jammy and fading quickly–and while I don’t think this wine is necessarily built for the cellar, it certainly built to deliver loads of pleasure and layers of complexity over the next few years.

The Sleight of Hand Psychedelic Syrah from the Stoney Vine Vineyard was my Wine of the Event.


2012 Château Lynch Bages Pauillac — I don’t know what kind of decanting this wine saw before the event but this wine was tasting exceptional for a young Pauillac–more so for a young Lynch Bages! I suspect it was opened earlier in the morning with the somm team pouring the glasses at least an hour before the event started–which is still a relatively brief amount of time for a top shelf Bordeaux. Update: I learned from Nick Davis of Medium Plus and the somm team at the seminar that the 2012 Lynch Bages was opened only 40 minutes before the event and poured 20 minutes prior to the tasting beginning. That only adds to how impressive the wine was showing.

The 2012 vintage in Bordeaux is not getting a lot of attention being bookend between the stellar 2009/10 and 2015/16 vintages. Like 2014, you hear Bordeaux lovers note that 2012 is much better than 2011 and 2013 but that almost seems like damning with faint praise. It’s clear that there is a lot of great value to be had in this vintage–compare the Wine Searcher Ave for 2010 Lynch Bages ($190) & 2015 ($142) to the $114 average for 2012–and if it is starting to deliver pleasure at a little over 5 years of age then it’s worth investing in as a “cellar defender” to enjoy while waiting for your 2009/10 and 2015/16 wines to age.

2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley — I was not expecting this result. During the blind tasting I was very intrigued by this wine and ultimately pegged it as a Right Bank Bordeaux made in a style along the veins of Valandraud, Fleur Cardinale, Monbousquet or Canon-la-Gaffelière. Never would have pegged it as a Napa Merlot! In hindsight the chocolate covered cherries should have been my clue but they were so well balanced by the acidity and minerality that it didn’t come across as “Napa sweet”. Well done Duckhorn!

An honorable mention goes to the 2015 Passing Time Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon. I was very impressed with how how Napa-like it has become. I was already a fan of the winery and tried this 2015 as a barrel sample at last year’s release party where its potential was evident. Still, I wasn’t expecting it to be this good, this quickly. It was rather unfair to compare the Passing Time to the 2012 Lynch Bages which was so different and so fantastic in its own right. A better pairing would have been with the Joseph Phelps Insignia or any other high end Napa like Silver Oak, Caymus, Frank Family, Cakebread, etc and I have no doubt that the Passing Time would have came out on top for most tasters.

Things I Learned About Blind Tasting

Admittedly I was a tad concerned finding myself consistently liking the first wine in each tasting flight but I can’t think of any systematic reason that would lead to that result. The wines were all poured in advance and I cleared my palate with crackers and water between each so I have to chalk it all up to coincidence.

For the most part, the varietal character and identity of each flight stood out and I was fairly accurate in identifying them. The main outlier was the Merlot flight (#2) featuring the Duckhorn and Seven Hills Merlots. The Duckhorn was tripping some of my Cab Franc notes while the Seven Hills was exceptionally Cabernet Sauvignon-like so that led me to deduce Right Bank Bordeaux blend which was wrong but at least in the ballpark.

The more difficult task was trying to nail down the region and which was the Washington example versus the World example. Here I felt like I only solidly hit 2 of the 5 flights (Flight #1 and Flight #3–Cab and Cab-dominant blends) but that was mostly just by 50/50 luck–especially in Flight #1.

The WT Vintners Rhone blend from Boushey Vineyards in the Yakima Valley is a tough wine to pin down in blind tasting because of its mix of Old/New World characteristics.

I was often tripped up by how “Old Worldish” many of the Washington wines were–especially the Sleight of Hand Cellars Psychedelic Syrah from the Stoney Vine Vineyard in the Rocks District. In hindsight, this should have screamed “ROCKS!” to me much sooner. While technically Oregon, this sub-AVA of Walla Walla produces some of the most complex and interesting Syrahs being made in Washington. I commented from the audience that putting this Syrah in a blind tasting is a little evil because of how Old World and Cote Rotie-ish it is.

Another thing that makes Washington a bit difficult to peg down is how frequently “cool climate notes” like red fruit, juicy medium-plus acidity, bright floral perfumes and subtle herbal notes appear in wines that are actually grown in rather warm climates (especially compared to Old World regions like Bordeaux). This is largely because of the significant diurnal temperature variation in Eastern Washington that can swing as much as 40℉ from the high heat of the daytime to cool low temperatures of night. This allows Washington grapes to get fully ripe and develop some of those dark fruit notes but, especially in cooler areas like Boushey and Red Willow Vineyard in Yakima and parts of Walla Walla, also maintain ample acidity and some of those cool climate characteristics.

From a blind tasting perspective, I need to solidify in my mind that getting a wine with that mix of warm/cool climate characteristics should be a tip off that I’m dealing with a Washington wine.

Is it Worth it?

Hell yeah. While I wasn’t impressed at all with attending The New Vintage, I will certainly make an effort to attend future seminars at Taste Washington.

At $85 a ticket, this was one of the more expensive seminars with others being as low as $45 a ticket, but the experience (and tasting over $800 worth of wine) delivers more than enough value to merit the cost.

A lot of great wine to taste through.


The only slight criticism is the rush between tasting each wine and getting the panel and audience to start commenting on them. Especially being a blind tasting, I wanted more than just a minute or two to critically taste and evaluate the wine before I start hearing other people’s comments that may sway my assessment.

Granted, I’m sure I’m in the minority here as I could tell that for many other participants in the audience, tasting the wines and being able to ask questions of the panel was a bigger draw than getting a chance to sharpen their blind tasting skills. When you have 10 wines being presented over 90 minutes–and allotting time for questions about vineyards, grape varieties, winemaking style, etc–something got to give so I understand why the tasting time got the short shrift.

Still, it was an exceedingly worthwhile experience that I highly recommend for Washington wine lovers and wine geeks alike.

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A Bordeaux palette

By Danyghi - Own work, Public Domain,

Quick question: What is the point of blending?

The tried and true “wine geek” response would usually go off into one or two directions. You can talk about the history of Bordeaux (and other European wine regions) where planting a variety of grapes that bud and ripen at different points was a type of insurance policy against the pratfalls of nature that varies from vintage to vintage. The more poetic direction will talk of an artist painting a picture with each grape variety being a different color on their palette. Instead of just dealing with one color (one grape variety), the winemaker seeks to paint a more vividly engaging portrait of a wine with more colors at his or her disposal.

Now let me ask you: What is a “Bordeaux blend”?

If you’re quick with Google and quicker with a cork screw then you are probably mentally rattling off in your head a list of red and white grape varieties that are typically used to make wine in Bordeaux.

It’s right but it’s also wrong.

One of my most eye-opening experience during my travels to Bordeaux was the realization of how far-reaching the concept of blending is in Bordeaux. It is so much more than just blending grape varieties. Let me give you the example of Chateau Haut-Bages-Liberal, a 5th growth estate in Pauillac. On the 30 hectares of the estate scattered around the villages of Bages and Pauillac, they grow just two grape varieties–Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. So the blend each year should be pretty simple right? Grab a few beakers and graduated cylinders and see which ratio of Cab to Merlot works the best.

Not quite.

I'm sure the plot of Haut-Bages-Liberal that stands in the shadow of the tower of neighboring Chateau Latour gets LOTS of special attention

I’m sure the plot of Haut-Bages-Liberal that stands in the shadow of the tower of neighboring Chateau Latour gets LOTS of special attention

You see much like the Burgundians, the Bordelais invest deeply into knowing each individual plot of soil–it’s strengths, weakness and quirks. This is knowledge that is acquired over decades, if not hundreds of years. For an estate like Ch. Haut-Bages-Liberal that has been around since the mid 18th century, this accumulation of knowledge and experience has led them to subdivide their vineyards into 42 different plots.

While we are on a steep learning curve here in New World wine regions like Washington and California, we have gotten to the point where we are also seeing different personalities emerge from different blocks. When identified, these blocks may be farmed and harvested differently than the rest of the vineyard. On wine labels, we see heralded blocks like Sheridan’s Block One Cabernet, Schweiger Vineyards’ Legacy Block, Rochioli West Block Pinot noir, etc.

At the Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe estate of Fleur-Cardinale, they give each plot a name that captures the "personality" of that plot.

At the Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe estate of Fleur-Cardinale, they give each plot a name that captures the “personality” of that plot.

But at most estates in Bordeaux, each and every one of those plots are treated as a “heralded block” and given its own unique attention. They will be fermented separately. Some in cement. Some in stainless steel. Some in big oak vats. Some in small oak barrels. Some plots will be split into a couple different types of vessels. In several estates I visited, I was taken back at how many custom made cement tanks I saw with odd (but precise) volume sizes like 21.6 hL, 23.9 hL, 58.2 hL, 61.9 hL, etc. It eventually dawned on me that each of these tanks were designed and made for a specific plot.

The plots are still kept separate even after fermentation when they are transferred to barrel with most estates using the product of 4 to 9 different coopers. Each barrel adds it own “coloring” to the palate–some add more creaminess, some add more spice, others heighten the attack of the wine up front while another barrel may push it more to the mid palate.

An assortment of the unique fermentation vessels used at various Bordeaux estates.

An assortment of the unique fermentation vessels used at various Bordeaux estates.

All this means is that when the time comes to make the final blend of the Grand Vin (and subsequent second and even 3rd wine) the winemaker is not dealing with a color palette of just “the five grapes of the Bordeaux blend” but rather a palette with a kaleidoscope of color from as many as a hundred (or more) different lots that have each taken their own unique path from vineyard to the bottle.

It is an art form in the most literal sense. While there are many outstanding New World producers of “Bordeaux-style” blends, I really have not come across a producer who takes the concept of blending to quite the degree of the Bordelais. It is so much more than just blending grape varieties. It truly is about expanding the palette to include not only more colors but more shades of those different colors.

It’s all part of the tricks of the trade that have seen the Bordelais dazzle the palates of wine drinkers for centuries.

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