Tag Archives: Judgement of Paris

Geek Notes 8/28/18 — Upcoming Wine Books For September


Let’s take a look at some of the new upcoming wine books that will be hitting the market soon.

Crush: The Triumph of California Wine by John Briscoe (Paperback to be released Sept 1st. Hardcover on Sept 4th)

September is California Wine Month (I know, I know, someone needs to publish a calendar with all these various wine months and days) so the release timing of this 368 page book covering the history of the California wine industry is apt.

Given the breadth of its subject, it will be interesting to see how this book tackles its topic with most books on California’s wine history being more singularly focused like James Conway’s 3 book series on the history of Napa–Napa: The Story of an American Eden, The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley and Napa at Last Light: America’s Eden in an Age of Calamity, Charles Sullivan’s nearly completely California-centric Zinfandel: A History of a Grape and Its Wine or George Taber’s account of the famous Judgement of Paris tasting and its impact of the California wine industry.

It’s also telling of a daunting task that Thomas Pinney, a former professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California, needed more than a 1000 pages and two volumes to document a lot of California’s history in his work A History of Wine in America Volume 1 & Volume 2. Yes, Pinney does include a little bit of history of winemaking from other states–including the early booming industries of Missouri and Ohio–but the vast majority of his work focuses on California and even then you get the impression that he probably could have added a third volume.

Photo by Radicaldreamer29. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

California wine pioneer Martin Ray in the 1960s. Any good book on California history should have him featured.


If you are craving more, I can recommend for any geeks wanting to learn about California wine to check out Larry Bettiga’s Wine Grape Varieties in California which goes beyond the usual suspects of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay to detail more than 50 grape varieties growing throughout the state as well as Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen’s Wines of California, Special Deluxe Edition that takes a little more of an overview approach of the state, focusing on wineries and winemakers. Likewise Jon Bonné’s The New California Wine: A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste also takes an overview approach but focuses on the wineries that Bonné particularly feels are driving the future of the California wine industry.

Literary Libations: What to Drink with What You Read by Amira K. Makansi (To be released Sept 4th)

I love when my passion for wine and literature cross paths which is why I’ve been really looking forward to Jay McInerney’s upcoming November release of Wine Reads: A Literary Anthology of Wine Writing which will include both fictional and non-fictional stories and anecdotes on wine from folks like Rex Pickett (of Sideways fame), Jancis Robinson, Kermit Lynch, New Yorker writer A. J. Liebling as well as McInerney who previously wrote Bacchus and Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar, A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine and The Juice: Vinous Veritas.

Photo 	Screenshot from

Makansi recommends drinking a Bloody Mary while reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
But come on, you’ve got to go with the Hungarian wine Egri Bikavér (Bull’s blood) or a Romanian wine from Transylvania which is a legit wine region with more than 6000 years of viticulture and unique varieties like Fetească Regală (white) and Fetească Neagră.


I suspect that Makansi’s Literary Libations is going to have a more light-hearted and entertainment-focused approach than McInerney’s work–especially since the former is categorized as “Humor Literary Criticism” by Amazon. Still the description of the 224 page Literary Libations notes that it will offer nearly 200 wine, beer and cocktail recommendations for numerous classical works across a number of genres.

I can see this being a fun easy read, especially for something like a long train ride or airline flight.

Flawless: Understanding Faults in Wine by Jamie Goode (To be released September 7th).

Now this is a book to truly get your geek on. A plant biologist by training, Jamie Goode (the Wine Anorak) is an excellent writer who takes a keen scientific approach to all aspects of wine production and tasting, presenting it in both a thought provoking and digestible manner.

If your book shelf doesn’t have at least his The Science of Wine: From Vine to Glass then you are missing out. Likewise his I Taste Red: The Science of Tasting Wine and Authentic Wine: Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking with Master of Wine Sam Harrop are also well worth the read.

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

A plating of Brettanomyces bruxellensis. While mostly considered a fault in the wine world, many brewers are intentionally cultivating this yeast strain to produce sour beers.

With Flawless, Goode turns his attention to faults in wine which can have a myriad of causes in the vineyard and the winery. To add to the complexity of faults, humans have a wide range of sensitivity to them with some, like Brettanomyces, being considered anything from a component of terroir and complexity (see A Spice of Brett) to an incorrigible fault that should be eradicated in winemaking.

It will be fascinating to see Goode’s take on this so you better believe that this book will soon be on my shelf.

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

Photo by davitydave. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0We are in the home stretch of our series on the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign with only a few more offers left to review.

Today we’re making our second to last stop in Margaux to review the offers of the 3rd Growths Ch. Kirwan, d’Issan and Giscours as well as the 2nd Growth Brane-Cantenac.

In our previous visits to the commune we explored the offers of Marquis d’Alesme, Malescot-St.-Exupéry, Prieuré-Lichine, Lascombes and Cantenac-Brown as well as that of Ch. Palmer.

You can check out the links at the bottom to see other offers from across Bordeaux which we have reviewed so far in this series.

Ch. Kirwan (Margaux)
Some Geekery:

The origins of Kirwan date back to the 17th century when the land belonged to the noble de Lassalle family. In 1710, the Bordeaux negociant Sir John Collingwood bought the property which eventually passed as a dowry to his daughter when she married an Irishman from Galway named Mark Kirwan.

In 1780, Thomas Jefferson visited the estate on his tour of Bordeaux and ranked the wines of Kirwan as a “2nd Growth” behind his ranking of First Growths Latour, Lafite, Margaux and Haut-Brion.

Photo by Gilbert LE MOIGNE. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Label of Chateau Kirwan featuring the Chateau and the portraits of Armand and Jean-Henri Schÿler

After Mark Kirwan passed away in the early 19th century, the estate went through a succession of owners until it family came into the hands of Camille Godard, the mayor of Bordeaux. In 1882, Godard bequeathed the estate to the City of Bordeaux who contracted the negociant firm Schröder & Schÿler to manage the property.

By 1925, the Schÿler family had purchased Ch. Kirwan outright. The property is still in the hands of family today with Nathalie Schÿler managing.

In 1991, the Schÿlers brought Michel Rolland in to consult. Prior to this, Rolland had worked almost exclusively with clients on the Right Bank making Kirwan his first foray into the Haut-Medoc. He quickly made several substantial changes, insisting on lower yields and more strict selections with the creation of a second wine, Les Charmes de Kirwan, to help limit the fruit that would go into the Grand Vin. Since 2002, all the fermentation have been done via native wild ferments.

Ch. Kirwan is unique among the classified growths with virtually all of its 40 ha (99 acres) vineyards being the same as they were during the 1855 classifications with only slight changes in the cépage assortment. Today the vineyards are planted to 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot and a little bit of experimental Carménère.

Over the years the amount of Cabernet Franc has decreased (and replaced with Cabernet Sauvignon) but Kirwan still has one of the highest percentages of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot planted in the Medoc. Most of the Cabernet varieties are found on the deep gravelly-sand soils of the Cantenac plateau while the Merlot thrives on the more clay and limestone-based soils on the western side of the Margaux commune near Arsac.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Around 16,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

93-95 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 90-92 Wine Advocate (WA), 89-92 Wine Spectator (WS), 89-91 Vinous Media (VM), 89-90 James Suckling (JS), 90-92 Jeb Dunnuck (JD), 88-89 Jeff Leve (JL)

Sample Review:

This is well extracted, with dark berry fruits, attractive tobacco leaf and charcoal notes. It has that same savoury frame that so many from Margaux have this year, and the fruit character is not bursting with generosity but is still expressive and lyrical. It really does offer something for those looking for a more sculpted wine. Medium term drinking. (91 points) — Jane Anson, Decanter

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $45
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $45.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K&L: $46.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $47 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $56 Average Critic Score: 92
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $46 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $43 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

Photo by Ryan O'Connell. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Merlot berries being sorted at Ch. Kirwan during the 2010 harvest.

Kirwan has been charming the pants off of me since the 2009 vintage (WS Ave $79). Both the 2012 (WS Ave $55) and 2014 vintage were released in the mid $40s and offered stellar value for the quality they delivered. Even the troublesome 2011 (WA Ave $54) and 2013 vintages of Kirwan drank way above their similarly priced peers with the former starting to see a steady price bump as more folks have catched on.

That personal track record of producing a savory, yet elegant style which hits my pleasure spots as well as pricing which fits perfectly in line with the 2014 vintage makes this a Buy for me.

Even though it looks like most critics have been poo-pooing this years release, this is a case where I’m going to go with my gut and past experience instead of numerical scores.

Ch. d’Issan (Margaux)
Some Geekery:

Engraved above the door in the entryway to Ch. d’Issan is the estate’s Latin motto–Regum Mensis Arisque Deorum “For the tables of kings and the altars of the gods”–which pays tribute to the property’s long history and presence on the tables of royal families throughout Europe.

Legend has it that wine from the vineyards of d’Issan were served at the wedding banquet of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henri II in 1152.

Clive Coates notes in Grand Vins that following their defeat at the Battle of Castillon in 1453, the English Army made their last stand at d’Issan. At the conclusion of the Hundred Years War, the property was granted as a reward by King Charles VII to the Comte de Foix for his service is fighting the English.

Centuries later the wines of d’Issan were well stocked in the cellars of the Prince of Wales (later George II) along with those of Latour, Lafite, Margaux and Pontac (Haut-Brion). While serving as the Ambassador to France, future US President Jefferson ranked the estate (then known as Ch. Candale) as a “3rd Growth” following his tour of the wineries of Bordeaux. In the 19th century, the favorite claret of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria was reportedly Ch. d’Issan.

Image from The U.S. Diplomacy Center exhibition page which states All materials in this exhibition are in the public domain and can be reproduced without permission.

When Thomas Jefferson visited the estate in 1780, he ranked the wines Ch. Candale (named after its then owners) as a 3rd Growth–a ranking that would later be affirmed in the official 1855 Classification done by the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce.

The estate gets its name from its time under the ownership of the 17th century French knight Pierre d’Essenault who acquired the estate as a dowry with his descendants running it till 1760.

The modern history of the estate began after World War II when it was purchased by the Cruse family who also owned the 2nd Growth Ch. Rauzan-Ségla. The Cruses eventually sold Rauzan-Ségla in 1956 to focus completely on d’Issan.

The estate is still managed today by the Cruse family however, in 2013, Jacky Lorenzetti acquired a 50% stake in the ownership of d’Issan to go along with his holdings of Ch. Lilian Ladouys in St. Estephe and Ch. Pedesclaux in Pauillac.

When the estate was officially classified as a 3rd Growth in 1855, the vineyards were planted almost entirely to the obscure variety Tarney Coulant (also known as Mancin). Today the 44 ha (109 acres) of d’Issan vineyards are planted to 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot with the percentage of Merlot increasing in recent years.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot. Around 6000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

93-94 JS, 90-92 WA, 89-92 VM, 92-94 JL, 89-91 JD

Sample Review:

The 2017 d’Issan is plump, juicy and forward. There is lovely depth and texture to the 2017, but without the explosive energy that has characterized some recent vintages, including the 2015 and 2016. Plush fruit, silky and soft tannins all add to the wine’s considerable appeal. I expect the 2017 will drink well with minimal cellaring. In 2017, d’Issan is a wine of finesse, persistence and nuance rather than power. The blend is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot. Harvest started on September 18, the earliest since 2003. Quite unusually, there was no break in between the picking of the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Indeed, some of the younger vine Cabernet came in before all the Merlots were in. Tasted four times. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $60
JJ Buckley: $61.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $59.97
K&L: $59.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $71 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $76 Average Critic Score: 93
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $63 Average Critic Score: 92
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $51 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

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

The castle looking chateau of d’Issan.

The history geek in me absolutely adores the story of d’Issan. But I’ve only have had tasting experiences with a couple of vintages of d’Issan–both stellar years (2005 WS Ave $119 and 2009 WS Ave $95). While its relatively easy to make good wines in vintages like those, I find that the mettle of an estate shines in the more average to sub-par vintage.

So while I love the story, without having a bearing on what the d’Issan team can do in vintages like 2017 or poorer, I’m not inclined to gamble on their 2017 offer. Pass.

Ch. Brane-Cantenac (Margaux)
Some Geekery:

Founded in the 18th century as Domaine Guilhem Hosten and later known as Chateau Gorce-Guy, Brane-Cantenac received its current name when it was purchased in 1833 by Baron Hector de Brane, known as “the Napoléon of the Vineyards”. To finance the sale, Brane sold his Pauillac estate Brane-Mouton (later known as Mouton-Rothschild). The “Cantenac” comes from the plateau that the estate’s 75 ha (185 acres) are located on.

In 1866, Brane-Cantenac came under the ownership of the Roy family who also owned neighboring d’Issan. Under the Roys the estate would fetch among the highest prices of all the classified 2nd growths with some vintages being on par with the pricing of the First Growths.

The modern history of Brane-Cantenac began in 1920 when it was purchased by the consortium behind the Societe des Grands Crus de France that also owned Ch. Margaux and Ch. Giscours as well as Chateau Lagrange in St. Julien. Among the shareholders were Léonce Recapet and his son-in-law, François Lurton. After dissolution of the consortium in 1925, Recapet and Lurton purchased Brane-Cantenac with the estate later passing to François’ son, Lucien.

Lucien Lurton would go on to acquire several estates that he turned over into the care of his 10 children in the 1990s. His son, Henri Lurton, took control of Brane-Cantenac in 1992.

While mostly traditional in style, Brane-Cantenac was one of the first in Bordeaux to adopt the use of the use of an optical sorter during harvest and in some vintages will make use of a reverse osmosis machine–mostly in rainy vintages to remove excess water that has swelled the grapes.

The author and Henri Lurton at the 2016 UGC tasting featuring the wines of the 2013 vintage.

Around 25% of Brane Cantenac is farmed organically with only ploughing and organic manure used throughout all the vineyards. Additionally 12 ha (20 acres) are farmed bioydnamically.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot with this vintage being the first vintage to include Petit Verdot in the final blend. Around 11,000 cases a year are produced. In 2017, most of that year’s frost hit the portion of vineyards usually allocated towards production of the estate’s second wine, Baron de Brane.

Critic Scores:

94-96 WE, 92-93 JS, 91-93 VM, 88-91 WS, 89-92 JD, 91-94 JL

Sample Review:

The 2017 Brane-Cantenac was picked from 14 September to 2 October at 31.2hl/ha after frost destroyed 35% of the vines in April. It is matured in 75% new oak and 25% one-year old and it has 13% alcohol. It has a tightly wound bouquet with broody black fruit, tar and a touch of graphite, very Pauillac in style as usual. The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannin, very linear and precise, not a deep Margaux and unashamedly classic in style with dry, slightly brusque tannin. The finish is dominated by tobacco and pencil lead notes with healthy pinch of pepper on the aftertaste. Classic Brane-Cantenac through and through. Tasted on three occasions. — Neal Martin, Vinous

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $64
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $413.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $69.97
K&L: $66.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $75 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $80 Average Critic Score: 94
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $60 Average Critic Score: 92
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $56 Average Critic Score: 90

Buy or Pass?

Describing Brane-Cantenac as the “Pauillac of Margaux” is a spot-on description. Outside of the top estates of Ch. Margaux and Ch. Palmer, no one else in the communes makes a more structured and age-worthy Margaux than Brane-Cantenac. Compared to its 2nd Growth peers and even the highly esteemed Pauillac 5th Growths Lynch-Bages and Pontet-Canet, Brane-Cantenac is often vastly underpriced for its quality level.

However, it is that highly structured and exceptionally age-worthy style which causes me to avoid Brane-Cantenac in vintages like 2017 when I’m looking for more shorter term “cellar defender” wines. While the estate is a stellar buy in cellar-worthy vintages like 2009/2010 and 2015/2017, it doesn’t fit the bill on what I’m looking right now so Pass.

Ch. Giscours (Margaux)
Some Geekery:

While the origins of Giscours goes back to the 14th century, the first documentation of winemaking at the property dates to 1552. In the 18th century, the estate was owned by the Marquis de St. Simon whose family saw the government confiscate Giscours during the French Revolution.

The property was sold in 1793 to two Americans, John Gray and Jonathan Davis. Eventually Giscours was acquired in 1845 by a Parisian banker, the Comte de Pescatore, who hired Pierre Skawinski to manage the property.

Photo by Ken Case. Released into the public domain and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons.

The exterior of Ch. Giscours.


Over the next 50 years, Skawinski would go on to develop many innovations in the vineyard and winery including the design of a new plow as well as the use of sulfur spray to combat powdery mildew. He also developed techniques of gravity flow winemaking at Giscours that his sons would later take to other notable Bordeaux estates like Léoville-Las Cases, Lynch-Bages and Pontet-Canet.

In 1875, Giscours was purchased by the Cruse family who had their hand in the ownership of several Bordeaux properties. They sold the estate in 1913. By 1952, Giscours came under the ownership of an Algerian vigneron, Nicolas Tari. In 1976, Tari’s son, Pierre, was one of the judges at the famous “Judgement of Paris” wine tasting in 1976.

Today Giscours is owned by Eric Albada Jelgersma who also owns the 5th Growth Margaux estate Chateau du Tertre, the Haut-Medoc estates Ch. Duthil and Ch. Houringe as well as the Tuscan estate of Caiarossa.

In 1995, Alexander van Beek was brought in to manage the estate and is credited with taking Giscours (as well as du Tertre) to new heights of success.

All the vineyards are sustainably managed with 20% farmed biodynamically.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. Around 25,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

An up and coming Margaux estate, the 2017 Château Giscours offers a complex bouquet of sandalwood, damp flowers, sous bois, and spicy red fruits. It’s slightly stretched and firm on the palate, with medium-bodied richness. I’d like to see more fat and texture here, but I suspect it will put on more weight with time in barrel and bottle. It should drink nicely for a decade. — Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $59
JJ Buckley: $60.94
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $365.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping
Total Wine: $59.97
K&L: $59.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $68 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $72 Average Critic Score: 93
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $67 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $52 Average Critic Score: 90

Buy or Pass?

The 2005 Giscours is such a beauty but even in sub-par vintages Giscours has been producing winners that over deliver for the price of a 3rd Growth.


Probably one of the best buys in Bordeaux is the 2005 Giscours (WS Ave $102). This is a wine that is drinking at its peak now and is easily outshining wines almost twice its price. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy this wine several times with a few bottles still left in the cellar.

Likewise the 2012 (WS Ave $75) and 2014 are still punching above their weight though both were closer to $55 when they were released. It’s been clear for sometime that Giscours has been an estate on the ascent but, sadly for our wallets, the prices are starting to catch up with its stellar quality level.

That makes seeing a 2017 future offer below 2014 levels quite surprising. While I doubt the price of the 2017 will reach into the $70s, it’s far more likely that the wine will be closer to 2014 by the time this wine hits the shelf in 2020. It’s worth it to Buy now and lock in the futures price.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

Why I Buy Bordeaux Futures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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60 Second Wine Review — 2005 Giscours

Some quick thoughts on the 2005 Chateau Giscours from Margaux.

The Geekery

According to Stephen Brook’s The Complete Bordeaux, vineyards have been planted in this area of southern Margaux since the 16th century. The estate was classified as a 3rd growth in 1855 and earned acclaim in the 19th century under the management of Pierre Skawinski.

Skawinski not only pioneered the use of sulfur spray in the vineyard to combat powdery mildew but also developed techniques of gravity flow winemaking at Giscours that his sons would later take to other notable Bordeaux estates like Léoville-Las Cases, Lynch-Bages and Pontet-Canet.

In the mid 20th century, the estate came under the ownership of the Tari family which included Pierre Tari who was one of the judges at the famous “Judgement of Paris” wine tasting in 1976.

Today the estate is owned by Eric Albada Jelgersma who also owns the 5th Growth Margaux estate Chateau du Tertre and the Tuscan estate of Caiarossa.

The 2005 vintage of Ch. Giscours is a blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon and 38% Merlot with 20,830 cases made. The estate produces a second wine called Sirène de Giscours that is made from younger vines.

The Wine

Pop and pour medium plus intensity nose. A mix of dark fruits (black currants and plums) with some tobacco spice. After an hour in the decanter some earthy truffle and dark floral notes appear knocking the nose up to high intensity. Very evocative.

On the palate, the dark fruits and spice carry through with silky medium tannins and juicy medium plus acidity. The spice lingers on the long finish with the truffle notes reappearing.

By Mortazavifar - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, on Wikimedia Commons

Beautiful black truffle notes on the long finish add to the layers of complexity in this wine.


The Verdict

Gorgeous. Simply gorgeous. This 2005 Giscours is in its peak now with velvety tannins but the still fresh acidity can probably carry it through for another 7+ years.

I think I have another bottle in the cellar but at around $100-110, I’m going to make every effort I can to secure a couple more. This is a fantastic steal for a top-notch Bordeaux from the 2005 vintage.

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