Tag Archives: Lynch-Bages

Doubling Down On What’s Been Done Before

Photo taken by self and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under : CC-BY-SA-3.0

Andy Perdue of Wine Press Northwest says it time for Washington State wine producers to “double down” on Cabernet Sauvignon.

The state needs to focus, he says, much like how Oregon did several decades ago with Pinot noir.

Washington has proved it can grow several wine grape varieties very well, and in some ways this has hurt the industry, because the state hasn’t had a focus. Now, we can align ourselves with other Cab regions, including Bordeaux and Napa Valley. — Andy Perdue, 9/13/18

Now why in the hell would we want to do that?

Napa On My Mind — And The Minds Of Most Consumers

Yes, I know that Cab is still king and there is no doubt that Cabernet Sauvignon sales are still going strong. You can’t fault vineyards for planting Cabernet Sauvignon or wineries for producing it.

But what you can fault is the idea that we should start hoarding all our eggs into one Cab basket–especially a basket that is already dominated by one really large hen.

Look at any “Most Popular” list of American wines and you can easily see a stark theme.

Wine & Spirits Top Restaurant Wines of 2018.

I would definitely be impressed seeing a wine list with Woodward Canyon prominently featured.

Cakebread, Caymus, Chateau Montelena, Corison, Duckhorn, Faust, Frank Family, Heitz, Jordan, Justin, Louis M. Martini, Mount Veeder, Rodney Strong, Sequoia Grove, Silver Oak, St. Francis Winery, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Turnbull–all well known California Cabernet producers. Though, yes, Washington State does get a few nods with Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole 41 and Chateau Ste. Michelle (probably for their Riesling).

The Most Searched-For Cabernet Sauvignon on WineSearcher.com in 2017.

Screaming Eagle, Caymus, Scarecrow, Shafer, Dunn, Robert Mondavi and Silver Oak–all Napa Valley staples with only Penfolds 707 from Australia and Concha y Toro Don Melchor from Chile being outside Cabernets that cracked the list.

Vivino’s Top 20 Cabernet Sauvignon for Cab Day (which was apparently September 3rd)

Pretty much the same Napa-dominated list like the ones above with Quebrada De Macul’s Domus Aurea from Chile, Gramercy Cellars’ Lower East from Washington, Thelema Mountain Vineyards’s The Mint and Springfield Estate’s Whole Berry from South Africa sprinkled in for diversity.

This is not to say that Washington State can’t compete with California–in quality or in price. Lord knows we can and often exceedingly over deliver in both. Many years the state usually leads the pack in percentage of wines produced that receive 90+ scores from critics and often command a sizable chunk of year-end “Top 100” lists.

Photo a compilation of creative commons licensed images uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Perhaps the Washington State Wine Commission needs to get Steven Spurrier on the phone.

But to the vast majority of American wine buying consumers (particularly of Cabernet Sauvignon) that hardly makes a dent in their Napa-centric worldview. Pretty much since the 1976 Judgment of Paris, Cabernet Sauvignon in the United States has been synonymous with Napa Valley, California.

Of course, I’m not saying that Washington should stop producing its bounty of delicious and highly acclaimed Cabs but why should we double down on chasing a horse that has already left the stable?

The Lessons Of Oregon

To bolster his case, Perdue points to the example of Oregon which has built its brand (quite successfully) on the quality and notoriety of its Pinot noir. It’s no shock that on that same Wine & Spirits Top Restaurant List that Oregon has a healthy showing with Adelsheim Vineyard, Argyle Winery, Cristom Vineyards, Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Elk Cove Vineyards and King Estate representing the state–doubling the amount of wineries that Washington has featured.

Perdue would, presumably, attribute that success to Oregon’s seemingly singular focus on Pinot noir instead of the jack-of-all-trades approach that Washington State has taken in a modern history that is pretty close to the same age.

But what I don’t think Perdue has really taken into consideration is that Oregon started doubling down on Pinot long before Pinot noir was cool.

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

Pinot noir in early veraison at Cristom Vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills

In his book Oregon Wine Country Stories Kenneth Friedenreich notes that many of Oregon’s early pioneers were thought to be crazy by their neighbors and bankers when they started planting Pinot noir in the Willamette Valley in the 1960s. It wasn’t until the 1980s when French producers like the Drouhin family of Burgundy took notice that the state began getting some attention on the world’s stage.

Even then, Oregon Pinot noir was still a tough sell in the domestic US market.

 

It’s hard to discount the impact that the 2004 film Sideways had on the perception of Pinot noir. As David Adelsheim noted “There were two great grapes of America [Cabernet Sauvignon & Chardonnay], and after ‘Sideways,’ there were three,” with the Oregon wine industry reaping the benefit of sustained sales ever since.

In the game of life, when Oregon wine producers were least expecting it, they rolled a ‘7’. But they could have just as easily crapped out.

Oregon was initially betting on a long shot–not a 2 to 1 favorite like Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s crazy to think that Washington could every get the same kind of payout.

How About Betting On What’s Exciting?

Seriously, if you are not on the Washington Cab Franc train than you are lagging behind my friend!

Earlier this week Sean Sullivan of Seattle Met and Wine Enthusiast published a fantastic list of “The 30 Most Exciting Wines in Washington”.

Now while there are certainly Cabs included on this list–several of which, like Passing Time and Quilceda Creek, I wouldn’t dispute–there are several wines included that are truly, genuinely exciting.

2013 Leonetti Cellar Aglianico Serra Pedace Vineyard Walla Walla Valley

Yes, an Aglianico! From Leonetti!

2015 Spring Valley Vineyard Katherine Corkrum Estate Grown Cabernet Franc Walla Walla Valley

The 2012 vintage of this wine was one of the best wines being poured at the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance tasting in Seattle earlier this year.

2017 L’Ecole No. 41 Old Vines Chenin blanc Columbia Valley

I’m no stranger to hollering into the void about the charms and deliciousness of Washington Chenin blanc. I love that L’Ecole is highlighting “Old Vines” on this bottle. It shows that their faith in this wonderful variety isn’t a fly-by-night fancy.

2015 Two Vintners Cinsault Make Haste Yakima Valley

Cinsault has been on my radar since attending the Hospice du Rhone seminar highlighting South African Cinsault. Obviously Washington doesn’t have anywhere close the vine age or experience but Morgan Lee of Two Vintners is an incredibly talented winemaker so it will be fun to see what he could do with the grape.

2016 Savage Grace Côt Malbec Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley

Michael Savage makes some of my favorite Cabernet Francs from the Two Blondes Vineyard and Copeland Vineyard. The Boushey Vineyard is one of the grand crus of Washington. All perfect ingredients for what is likely a very kick ass wine.

2017 Syncline Winery Picpoul Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley

If you’re not drinking Picpoul, is it really worth drinking anything?

2012 MTR Productions Memory Found Syrah Walla Walla Valley

This Syrah, made by Matt Reynvaan (of Reynvaan Family Vineyards fame),  is practically treated like a Brunello di Montalcino. It sees two years of oak aging followed by 3 years of bottle aging before release. A fascinating project.

2015 Sleight of Hand Cellars Psychedelic Syrah Stoney Vine Vineyard Walla Walla Valley

Yeah, yeah the Rocks District is technically Oregon. But since the wine consuming public is too myopically focused on Oregon Pinot noir,  Washingtonians can take credit for the insane depth and character that comes out of wines from this area. At the Taste Washington “Washington vs The World Seminar” this was the run away winner at an event that featured heavy hitters like Joseph Phelps Insignia, Lynch-Bages, Sadie Family, Amon-Ra and Duckhorn Merlot.

Lessons of Oregon part II

Another lesson from Oregon that’s often overlooked is the lack of attention given to other grapes grown in the state. This was a takeaway I had from Friedenreich’s Oregon Wine Country Stories that I noted in my review with the fascinating possibilities of the Southern Oregon AVAs like the Umpqua, Rogue and Applegate Valleys or the shared Columbia Gorge AVA up north with Washington.

There are over 50 grape varieties grown in Oregon–yet we really only hear about 1 to 3 of them. Sure the producers in prime Pinot country with blessed vineyards on Jory and Willakenzie soils, have a good gig right now. But the countless small wineries in other areas of the state trying to promote and sell their non-Pinot wines are facing an uphill battle.

Now What?

Does Washington State really want to  be associated with just one grape variety? With more than 70 different grape varieties, why limit ourselves?

As a Washington wine lover that adores the bounty and bevy of fantastic wines like Viognier that can compete with great Condrieu, geeky Siegerrebe and Pinot noir from the Puget Sound, Counoise rosé that echoes the grape’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape heritage and robust Malbecs that gets your mouth watering with their savory, spicy complexity, I vote no.

If are going to double down on anything then we should double down on what makes Washington, Washington.

We’re the Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis of the American wine industry. We can do it all and we can do it very, very well.

Subscribe to Spitbucket

New posts sent to your email!

Birth Year Wine Myopics

Wine Enthusiast recently published a great article highlighting what wines from the recent 2015, 2016 and 2017 vintages are worth laying down in the cellar for 20+ years. They titled this article “A Guide to Finding Ageworthy Birth Year Wines”.

But for the moms and dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles who want to set aside a thoughtful birth year bottle to share with someone on their 21st birthday, you’re better off ignoring 97% of the advice Roger Morris gives you in this Wine Enthusiast article.

A well structured Bordeaux from Pauillac or Margaux?

A nutty, toasty vintage Champagne?

A savory, spicy Hermitage or Côtes-Rotie?

A big, robust Napa Cabernet Sauvignon?

A brooding and mouthwatering Barolo?

A complex and nuanced Burgundy?

Those are all great wines, no doubt, and examples from the 2015 & 2016 vintages in particular will be giving wine lovers pleasure for the next 2 plus decades. But before you plunk down some serious cash and invest in the proper storage conditions to take care of these wines, ask yourself one very important question.

Do you think the person that you are saving this wine for is really going to appreciate and enjoy this wine when they turn 21?

Let me re-phrase that question for you from another perspective.

What were you drinking when you turned 21?

Unless your last name is Moueix, Bezos or Gates, I’d probably call BS on you sipping Petrus at 21.

Petrus?
Giscours?
Opus One?
Silver Oak?
Jordan?
Quilceda Creek?
Beaucastel?
Domaine du Pégau?
Cristal?
Romanée-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru?
Joly Coulée de Serrant?

If you were then my hat’s off to you but I’ll be honest and admit that 21 year old me was drinking Boone’s Farm, Arbor Mist Blackberry Merlot and St. James Winery’s Velvet Red and Pink Catawba. And that was after 16 to 20 year old me had graduated from drinking Bud Light and whatever alcohol made its way to the various jello shots at the parties I attended as a kid. Oh and I guess growing up in the church I had my fair share of Mogen David and Manischewitz Concord wine as well.

Being a gambling woman (only somewhat reformed), I would wager that the vast majority of you had similar early drinking experiences and palates that I did.

What reason is there for us to think that the next generation of 21 year olds are going to be any different?

Is it Better for the Giver or the Receiver?

Even when I turned 30, I don’t know if I had the palate to fully appreciated this birth year wine.

The problem with articles like the Wine Enthusiast guide is that they are almost completely driven by the perspective and palate of the person giving the wine. Yeah,folks like us are going to absolutely adore what a 2016 Lynch Bages, Gaja Sperss, Guigal La Mouline or Chappellet Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon will taste like in 2037. At that point these wines are going to have evocative bouquets of savory tobacco spice, dried herbs and other tertiary flavors with long, lingering and mouthwatering finishes.

But you know who is probably not going to like those wines at all?

My niece Elise.

At best, she would smile politely and acknowledge the gift. I’m sure at dinner she would take a sip or two, trying not to gag at the bitterness and acidity. I could see her swirling the wine a little in the glass, trying to imitate what the other adults at the table are doing, hoping that maybe somehow the air would magically transform the wine into a strawberry margarita.

I’m not going to put her through that dog and pony show. But I’m definitely still squirreling away special wines to share with her and my other nieces and nephews when they turn 21.

However, its not Barolos, Napa Cabs or other age-worthy red wines.

No, I’m squirreling away Sauternes, Tokaji, German Rieslings, Vouvray Demi-Secs, vintage Ports and Madeira.

The Overlooked Majesty of Age-worthy Sweet Wines

To Roger Morris and Wine Enthusiast‘s credit, they do name drop a couple of these Birth Year worthy sweet wines in the article noting the quality of the 2016 vintage for German Rieslings and quoting Joe Campanale, owner/beverage director at Fausto in New York City on the potential of 2017 for vintage Port and Madeira. But the fact that these tremendous wines got lip service at best (with others like Sauternes not even mentioned) is sadly reflective of the “Rodney Dangerfield-status” of sweet wines in general.

It’s a shame that cheap mass-market Moscato give the category such a bad rap because well made Moscato d’Asti from high-quality producers like Mauro Sebaste are delicious wines.


In an age of Moscato Mania, Stella Rosa’s rapid ascent and the Capriccio Craze, the idea of enjoying sweet wines often gets a negative reaction from “wine people”.

This snobbish aversion to anything sweet still persists even with many of the best selling “dry” red wines being laden with residual sugar via the additions of Mega Purple or, in the case of wines like Meiomi Pinot noir, sneaking in sweet white grapes like Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

Yet there is a reason why some of the most legendary wines throughout history have been sweet dessert wines.

They’re freaking delicious!

Plus, the presence of all that sugar coupled with acidity (Rieslings and Vouvray), fortification (Ports and Madeira) and Noble Rot (Sauternes, Tokaji and some German & Alsatian wines) gives these wines amazing aging potential. The evolution of Sauternes, in particular, is a remarkable journey to follow as the fresh, youthful exuberance of tropical fruit give way to richer notes of honey, spice, caramel and crème brûlée.

The Beauty Of It All

When you look at the pros and cons of saving sweet dessert wines for future 21 year olds versus the typical roll call of great red wines and dry Champagnes, there is no contest.

These dessert wines are wines that in 20 + years will not only have the complexity and nuance to appeal to seasoned wine drinkers but for newly christened 21 year olds these wines will be sweet and approachable with identifiable flavors of fruit, candy and honey.

I have one nephew and one niece born in 2008 but I bought a couple extra bottles of this Rieussec so I could crack into it a bit earlier. Purely for educational and research purposes, of course.


Sure, they may not “get” all the concepts of terroir, Botrytis, aging and vintage variation behind these wines. For them, each sip will probably taste the same while you’re likely going to see each sip unfurling another layer of flavor that has spent decades developing.

But you’re both going to still really enjoy those sips and are far more likely to share a celebratory moment that’s worth treasuring for many years to come.

Subscribe to Spitbucket

New posts sent to your email!

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

Subscribe to Spitbucket

New posts sent to your email!

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

Photo by Anonymous circa 1900-1920 from private postcard collection. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD OldWe are heading back to Pauillac to look at the offers for Carruades de Lafite–the second wine of Ch. Lafite-Rothschild–the 5th Growth Ch. Pedesclaux, the 2nd Growth Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande and their wine second wine–Reserve de la Comtesse de Lalande.

In our previous forays to this highly regarded Left Bank commune we looked at the 2017 Bordeaux Futures offers for Lynch-Bages, d’Armailhac, Clerc-Milon and Duhart-Milon as well as that of the 5th Growth Ch. Haut-Batailley in the very first post of this continuing series covering the 2017 campaign.

You can check out the links at the bottom of the page to see more offers that we’ve explored.

Carruades de Lafite (Pauillac)

Some Geekery:

Carruades de Lafite is the second wine of the legendary First Growth, Ch. Lafite-Rothschild. First introduced in the 1850s during the period of “the Vandelberghe Mystery” ownership, Lafite helped pioneered the practice of producing a second cuvée to compliment the Grand Vin.

However, in practice the designation was used sparingly for the next 100 years till the Rothschild family reintroduced the wine in the 1960s as Moulin de Carruades–named after a parcel of vineyards on the Carruades plateau that was first acquired by the estate in 1845. Located near the chateau, most of the fruit from these prime plantings actually end up in the Grand Vin instead of their namesake wine.

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

Château Lafite-Rothschild

Instead, Carruades de Lafite (renamed in the 1980s) gets its fruit from selected parcels designated for Carruades as well as some younger vines from the 112 ha (277 acre) vineyards of Lafite since vines less than 20 years of age are never used for the Grand Vin of Lafite. All the vineyards of Lafite are farmed organically and sustainably with some parcels farmed biodynamically.

Since 2016, Eric Kohler has overseen the winemaking of Lafite and its second wine. Prior to taking over as technical director, Kohler was in charge of the Domaines Barons de Rothschild estate of Domaine d’Aussieres in Languedoc as well as their South American properties–Vina Los Vascos in Chile and Bodegas Caro, their joint-venture project with the Catena family in Argentina.

In 2017, Jean Guillaume Prats (of Cos d’Estournel and LVMH fame) was named president of Domaines Baron Rothschild with Saskia de Rothschild, daughter of Baron Eric de Rothschild, joining as chairwoman in 2018.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Around 20,000 cases of the second wine are made each year.

Critic Scores:

92-93 James Suckling (JS), 91-93 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 90-93 Vinous Media (VM), 90-92 Wine Advocate (WA), 89-90 Jeff Leve (JL)

Sample Review:

The 2017 Carruades de Lafite is quite deep and fleshy at the outset. Black cherry, plum, lavender and rose petal are pushed forward in this dark, racy second wine from Lafite-Rothschild. Deep, textured and beautifully resonant, the 2017 has a lot to recommend it. This is a strong showing. Like many of his colleagues, Technical Director Eric Kolher opted for gentle extractions and incorporated a relatively high amount of press wine (14%) into the blend. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $225
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $189.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K&L: $229.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $275 Average Critic Score: 91 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $323 Average Critic Score: 91
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $329 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $322 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

Photo from anonymous postcard collection. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under Pd-Old

The vineyards of Ch. Lafite circa 1900-1920.


Since I haven’t had the opportunity to taste any previous vintages of Carruades de Lafite or Lafite-Rothschild, my instinct in a vintage like 2017 is to pass in favor of buying wines that I have a personal track record with.

But damn is this 2017 offer tempting–especially with Total Wine’s offer that is more than $30 less than the Wine Searcher average and only requires a payment of 50% ($104.87) upfront. I had to triple check it just to make sure that I had the price right.

While I don’t personally buy Bordeaux futures as investments, there is no doubt that the price of this wine is going to continue to rise. Besides 2016, you have to go back to 1984 (WS Ave $243) to find a vintage of Carruades de Lafite that is averaging less than $300 a bottle with several vintages (2005, 1992, 1991) averaging over $400 a bottle.

This is another head vs heart battle except it’s my heart telling me to stick with the 2017 wines that I know I will personally enjoy drinking while my head is telling me to look at these hard numbers and go with what looks like a very solid buy. I’m going to have to ponder this a bit more but right now I’m leaning towards Buy for maybe a bottle or two.

Ch. Pedesclaux (Pauillac)

Some Geekery:

Ch. Pedesclaux is a relatively young estate that was founded in the early 19th century by Pierre Urbain Pedesclaux who purchased land near Ch. Grand-Puy-Lacoste and d’Armailhac.

A well-connected negociant family (Edmond Pedesclaux was one of the brokers who helped craft the original 1855 classification), the Pedesclauxs owned the estate until 1891 when it was sold to the Comte de Gastebois. The next several decades saw years of neglect until Lucien Jugla of Ch. Colombier-Monpelou purchased the property in 1950. Jugla and his heirs carried out extensive replanting in the vineyards and it was during this time that the vineyards of Pedesclaux became very Merlot-dominant.

In 2009, the Jugla family sold Pedesclaux to Jacky Lorenzetti who owned the St. Estephe Cru Bourgeois of Lillian Ladouys and in 2013 acquired a 50% interest in the Margaux 3rd Growth Ch. d’Issan.

Photo by Clément Bucco-Lechat. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

In addition to his Bordeaux estates, Jacky Lorenzetti is also president of the Rugby club Racing Métro 92 based in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

Under Lorenzetti, optical sorting was introduced and Vincent Bache-Gabrielsen was brought on to manage the property. The amount of Cabernet Sauvignon in the vineyards have steadily increased as additional parcels next to Ch. Lafite and Mouton-Rothschild have been acquired to go with other plots of enviable terroir close to Lynch-Bages

The estate still has significant amount of Merlot planted with 48 ha (119 acre) estate planted to 48% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc. However, most of the Merlot is used in the estate’s second wine, Fleur de Pedesclaux, with many vintages of that wine being 90% Merlot and the 2012 vintage being 100% Merlot.

The 2017 vintage of Ch. Pedesclaux is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. Around 9000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

93-95 WE, 93-94 JS, 90-92 VM, 89-91 WA, 88-91 Wine Spectator (WS), 90-92 JL

Sample Review:

The nose pops with black currant, tobacco leaf, licorice, cedar and forestry aromatics. On the palate, the wine displays freshness in the fruits and cream on the tannins. Medium/full bodied with a lot of black and red fruits, which carry through to the endnotes, this has both charm and age ability. The higher percentage of Cabernet adds complexity and character to the wine. — Jeff Leve, The Wine Cellar Insider

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $42
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $44.97
K&L: $41.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $48 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $50 Average Critic Score: 91
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $44 Average Critic Score: 90
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $37 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

I’ve only had a couple opportunities to taste Pedesclaux–all from vintages during the Lorenzetti era–but I haven’t been terribly impressed. The wines weren’t offensive at all, but I was hard-pressed to justify their price versus the value being delivered by their sister estate of Lillian Ladouys from the same vintages in the $25-35 range.

The potential of the terroir is undoubted so this estate is certainly worth keeping an eye on and revisiting. But for the same price I’m more incline to revisit the 2014 and Pass on buying futures of the 2017. I will, however, likely pick up some bottles of the 2017 Lillian Ladouys (WS Ave $20) when they hit retail shelves in 2020.

Pichon Lalande (Pauillac)

Some Geekery:

What is now Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande and its neighboring estate, Ch. Pichon Longueville Baron, were first planted in the 1680s by Pierre de Mazure de Rauzan who also owned the large Rauzan estate in Margaux.

His daughter, Thérèse, married the Baron Pichon de Longueville in 1694 and received the property as part of her dowry. Clive Coates notes in Grand Vins that during the early 18th century, the quality of the Pichon Longueville estate was of high repute, second only to that of Latour in the commune.

Upon the death of Baron Joseph de Pichon Longueville in 1850, the property was divided between his 5 children with his two sons receiving the portion that would become Ch. Pichon Baron and his three daughters– including Virginie, the Comtesse de Lalande–inheriting what would become Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande.

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

Ch. Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

The property would stay in the hands of the sisters and their heirs until 1925 when it was sold to Edouard and Louis Miailhe. The Miailhe brothers expanded the vineyard holdings of the estate and planted significant acreage of Merlot. Edouard’s daughter, May-Eliane de Lencquesaing inherited the property in 1978 and would go on to take Pichon Lalande to high levels of success and recognition.

In 2007, she sold the property to the Rouzaud family of the Champagne house Louis Roederer where it is today part of a portfolio that includes the Bordeaux estates of Chateau de Pez and Ch. Haut Beausejour in St. Estephe as well as Chateau Reaut la Graviere in Lalande-de-Pomerol as well as managing interest in many other properties across the globe.

Since 2012, Nicolas Glumineau (formerly of Ch. Montrose) has been in charge of winemaking with Jacques Boissenot and Hubert de Boüard (of Ch. Angelus fame) as consultants.

Located on the Gironde side of the D2 highway, most of Pichon Lalande’s 89 ha (220 acres) are located next to Ch. Latour and Pichon Baron with some parcels close to Lynch-Bages. The estate also owns 11 ha of vineyard land in St. Julien that neighbor the vineyards of Léoville-Poyferré and Léoville-Las-Cases. Because these vines were historically used in the wines Ch. Pichon-Lalande before the 1855 classification, they are still permitted to be used in the Grand Vin or second wine of the estate.

All the vines are farmed sustainably with several hectares being farmed 100% organic. Since 2014, Pichon Lalande has been experimenting with biodynamics with Vincent Masson consulting.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. Around 15,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

95-97 WE, 95-96 JS, 94-96 WA, 93-95 VM, 92-95 WS, 96-98 JL, 93-95 JD

Sample Review:

If you just taste the big name Pauillacs, you would be hard-pressed to understand that 2017 has been a challenging year. This is one of my wines of the vintage, no question. It’s from 21ha, biodynamically farmed, with Vincent Masson as consultant. Just a few plots further away from the river were affected by frost. The slight austerity of 2017 is evident, with a savoury quality to the fruit, but this is exceptionally good, with plenty of stunning fruit and well defined tannins. The aromatics are very refined, and the intense cassis fruit doesn’t sacrifice any intensity or power. It demonstrates the energy that Comtesse has displayed so consistently in recent vintages, with gorgeous finesse and structure to the tannins. The new cellar has raised the level of Cabernet from 65% to 70+%, with 12% press wine. This is going to age extremely well. (94 points) — Jane Anson, Decanter

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $125
JJ Buckley: $129.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: $129.00 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $749.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $124.97
K&L: $126.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $189 Average Critic Score: 95 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $172 Average Critic Score: 95
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $119 Average Critic Score: 94
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $114 Average Critic Score: 91

Buy or Pass?

Pichon Lalande is one of my favorite estates and virtually an automatic buy every year. While the prices have been steadily raising, I always believe that the quality and value they deliver out performs many “Super Seconds”.

Unquestionably age-worthy, I appreciate the versatility in the estate’s style to deliver approachable pleasure in its youth in both stellar (2005, 2010) and rougher vintages (2011, 2013). While I may end up keeping this bottle longer than my ideal “cellar defender” role of 5 to 7 years, I see little reason to not think that this consistency will continue.

With prices in line with the very delicious 2014, this is a definite Buy for me.

Reserve de la Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac)

Some Geekery:

Photo from private post card collection. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD-Old

Château Pichon-Longueville-Lalande circa 1900-1920.

Ch. Pichon Lalande produced its first second wine to compliment their Grand Vin in 1874. However, like Lafite and their second wine, the designation was only used sparingly until Reserve de la Comtesse de Lalande was introduced for the 1973 vintage.

While it can include fruit from any of Pichon Lalande’s holdings (including their St. Julien vines), a consistent component of the Reserve de la Comtesse de Lalande has been parcels located in the commune of Ste. Anne near the 5th Growth Ch. Batailley.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. Around 6,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

The second wine of Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, the 2017 Réserve de la Comtesse is a final blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Still aging in roughly 40% new French oak, it has a medium-bodied, rounded, moderately concentrated profile to go with classic Pauillac lead pencil, tobacco leaf, and assorted earth dark fruits. It’s balanced, charming and already approachable. — Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $42
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $251.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping
Total Wine: $42.97
K&L: $42.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $48 Average Critic Score: 90 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $49 Average Critic Score: 91
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $42 Average Critic Score: 89
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $40 Average Critic Score: 88

Buy or Pass?

While I adore the Grand Vin of Pichon Lalande, and am usually quite pleased with the value of most seconds wines, I will confess that the Réserve de la Comtesse has never really wowed me. For whatever reason, this is one second wine that has always felt decidedly “second best”.

It’s likely that as Pichon Lalande has been steadily increasing the amount of Cabernet Sauvignon in their vineyard, the fruit of these young vines have been making their way to this second wine–and that may contribute to the harshness and hollowness that often characterize my notes of the Réserve de la Comtesse. There are plenty of other more compelling buys in the same price range that makes this a Pass for me.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

Why I Buy Bordeaux Futures

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — 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 — 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

Subscribe to Spitbucket

New posts sent to your email!

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

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

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

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

Now onto the offers.

Domaine de Chevalier (Pessac-Léognan)

Some Geekery:

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

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

Vineyard plantings of Domaine de Chevalier.


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

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

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

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

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

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

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

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

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

Buy or Pass?

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

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

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

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

Larrivet Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan)

Some Geekery:

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

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

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

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


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

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

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

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

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

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

Buy or Pass?

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

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

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

Les Carmes Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan)

Some Geekery:

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

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

The chateau of Les Carmes Haut Brion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

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

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

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

Buy or Pass?

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


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

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

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

Smith Haut Lafitte (Pessac-Léognan)

Some Geekery:

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

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

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

Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte

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

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

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

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

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

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

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

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

Buy or Pass?

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

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

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

Why I Buy Bordeaux Futures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subscribe to Spitbucket

New posts sent to your email!

Oh dear heaven — the woeful ‘7s’

Recently I came across a tweet that made me chuckle.

I absolutely adore Lynch-Bages but I’m not sure that this is the best marketing approach for Duclot. While I get the point of this tweet, I fret that the 2017 Bordeaux vintage may have a bit more in common with the other “7 vintages” than the legendary 1947 and it’s probably not wise to remind folks of this woeful trend.

2007The quintessential “Cellar Defender” vintage. A wet and rainy summer saved by a warm September that produced wines that are exceptionally light on fruit and alcohol but have enough charm for short term consumption–especially when paired with food. While it certainly wasn’t a vintage for wine drinkers who favor big “New World-ish” style wines of Napa, it’s a vintage that still holds some positives for fans of “classic clarets”.

Especially compared to their 2008 & 2006 counterparts, the value of many 2007s right now are terrific.


If you have a 2007 in your cellar as well as some 2009/2010, this is the bottle you pull tonight for dinner–even if it is just pizza or a burger. Several of these wines–such as the 2007 Léoville Poyferré I reviewed–will certainly deliver more than enough pleasure to merit their price.

1997Rainy vintage that diluted flavors and brought mildew problems. However, this vintage like 2007 (and 2017) is a beneficiary of increased knowledge and technology that has tempered the impact of troublesome vintages. Good wineries, especially those who can afford to be highly selective in the vineyard and final blend, will still make good (albeit not great) wine–just in much smaller quantity. Ian d’Agata notes that this vintage (as well as 2007, 1994, 1999 and 2002) is one that shouldn’t be written off.

1987A cool year that favored the early ripening Merlot grape on the Right Bank and the warmer soils of the Graves. Until 2017, this was probably considered the best “7 vintage” since 1947. The biggest problem for 1987 was that it followed a string of gorgeous vintages in the early 1980s which artificially inflated the prices for the quality. Though I have to admit that I would have been tempted by a $75 Chateau Lafite.

Following the very successful 2015/2016 vintages and with quite a bit of 2009/2010 still on the market, you have to wonder if 2017 will follow the same fate?

1977“Worst vintage of the Decade” says Jeff Leve of The Wine Cellar Insider. Ouch. Severe frost from late March into April particularly ravaged the early budding Merlot vines on the Right Bank. However, for 1977 birth year babies it was fantastic for vintage Port in the Douro.

1967A cool spring followed by a hot July/August only to be capped by a cold September and then a rainy harvest month of October. Particularly rough for the Medoc.

1957Another rainy, wet vintage marked by a very cold summer. If you have a 1957 Bordeaux still lying around, you better hope that it is a Sauternes.

Subscribe to Spitbucket

New posts sent to your email!

Wine Geek Notes 4/9 — Organic Wine, 2017 Bordeaux and Component Wines

Photo by Hudson C. S. de Souza. Released on Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-4.0

Here is what I’m reading today in the world of wine.

Isabelle Legeron MW: why it matters what wine we drink and food we eat by Alistair Morrell for The Buyer (@TheBuyer11)

I recently finished reading Clark Smith’s Postmodern Winemaking: Rethinking the Modern Science of an Ancient Craft where he advocates for a balance between winemakers using all the tools at their disposal (like reverse osmosis, cross-flow filtration, etc) but not lose sight of “soulful winemaking” and letting the wine tell the story of where it came from. It’s almost a contradictory position that is the vino-equivalent of the Kobayashi Maru.

Throughout the entire book, Smith advocates for, above all, more transparency in winemaking. A winemaker shouldn’t use any tool or additive that he or she would not feel comfortable openly talking about. In that regard, he and Master of Wine Isabelle Legeron would be kindred spirits.

In her interview with Alistair Morrell, Legeron draws the connection between consumers’ concerns over sourcing and knowing what’s exactly in their food and how that is changing the wine they are drinking. However, as I discovered in researching for my article about Vegan wines, the wine industry has a bit of a halo effect that has long been given a free pass in most consumers’ minds because—it’s just grapes, right? Well….not exactly.

Like Smith, I don’t think winemakers should be demonized for using technology but I also find sympathy with Legeron’s view that consumers should know what kind of chemicals are being used in the vineyards, what additives like Mega-Purple or oak chips do and what in the world was done to make a wine like Apothic Brew exist.

The article also touches on some of the issues that “natural producers” dealt with in the troublesome vintage 2017 which brings me to my next article of interest.

Photo by Benjamin Zingg, Switzerland. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.5

Ch. Rauzan-Ségla in Margaux

The 2017 Bordeaux Barrels Diary: A View from the Top at Château Canon by James Molesworth (@JMolesworth1) for Wine Spectator (@WineSpectator)

As the 2018 en primeur tastings wrap up, we’re getting ready for the start of the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign. I’m buckling down into my research as I plot my own personal strategy and purchases. I bought very heavily in the 2015 and 2016 campaigns so I naturally expect to buy much less in 2017.

But I’ll still buy something. My initial instinct is that 2017 could serve as a fair “cellar defender” vintage meant to be open for more short term consumption. I use the term “cellar defender” because my cellar will now have a nice stash of 2015/2016 that I will need to fight off the temptation to open too soon–a fate that has unfortunately befallen many of my 2009/2010 gems. If I want to get the full value of my pleasure investment in these potentially great 2015/2016 wine, I will need to have a few good “sacrificial lambs” to help keep my grubby paws off the good stuff.

The key will be in sorting through the hype and fluff to find the real value. I don’t want to pay filet mignon prices for my mutton.

The Chanel Group’s holding of Ch. Canon, Ch. Rauzan-Ségla and now Ch. Berliquet intrigue me because the first two have undoubtedly been on the upswing and reaping the benefit of investments in the vineyards and winery. Rauzan-Ségla has particularly impressed me with delivering quality results in the troublesome 2012 and 2013 vintages. While I would not want to go into the $100+ range, if the 2017 is priced in the $75-80 range like those 2012/2013s then I might be intrigued.

However, having the Chanel team now at Ch. Berliquet (which is priced in the $35-40 range) could be some very enticing mutton

Making Varietal Wines in Bordeaux by Vicki Denig (@vicki_denig‏) for Seven Fifty Daily (@SevenFiftyDaily). Brought to my dash via John Corcoran (@jncorcoran1).

Going along with my Bordeaux mood, I got very excited reading about this new project with Michael H. Kennedy II of Component Wine Company in Napa (a protege of Aldo Sohm) and Château Lynch-Bages to come up with a special series of varietal wines from some of the Cazes family’s holdings in the Left Bank.

While blending is always going to be intimately connected with Bordeaux, the chance to try the individual components in isolation (from such a high quality producer) is worth geeking out over. Of course it will depend on if the price is crazy or not. While I expect to pay $100+ for Ch. Lynch-Bages, I’m not sure a varietal Cabernet Franc from them at that price is going to entice me. My optimistic hope is that these Component wines will be priced more in the $35-45 range.

I signed up for Component Wine Company’s mailing list to keep an eye on this project and will post any updates.

What’s On Deck for SpitBucket

In addition to getting knee deep in readings about the 2017 Bordeaux vintage and Futures campaign, I’m also prepping for my upcoming trip to Paso Robles for Hospice du Rhone at the end of this month and a trip to Burgundy at the end of May. So expect to see a few more posts geeking out about Rhone varietals and a couple more installments in my “Keeping up with the Joneses in Burgundy” series.

My top wine at the 2017 Wine Spectator Grand Tasting was this Adobe Road Cabernet Sauvignon from the Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III in Rutherford.

In the middle, I’ll also be attending the Wine Spectator Grand Tour Tasting in Las Vegas. You can check out the first part of my three part series from last year’s Grand Tour Tasting here.

While my blog postings won’t be as frequent during my travels, I will still be posting regularly to Instagram and Twitter so feel free to follow me on those platforms as well.

Cheers!

Subscribe to Spitbucket

New posts sent to your email!

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.

Subscribe to Spitbucket

New posts sent to your email!

Flashback — Taste Washington 2017

The 2018 Taste Washington Event is nearing so I thought I would do a throwback post to some of the gems from last year’s Grand Tasting. I’ll also share my thoughts on if the cost of the tickets are worth it and tips on how to get the most out of your experience.

The Background

Taste Washington is the largest event in the state highlighting the food and wine of Washington. Now in its 21st year, the event will feature over 225 wineries and 65 restaurants as well as seminars and culinary exhibitions. It looks like VIP tickets are sold out at this point so the 2 Day Pass for General Admission (2-5:30pm) to the Taste Washington Grand Tasting is $145 while individual days are $95 a piece.

In addition to the Grand Tasting that will be Saturday & Sunday, March 24-25 from 1pm(VIP)/2pm-5:30pm at Century Link Field, Taste Washington will also feature:

Red & White Party at AQUA by El Gaucho–Thursday, March 22nd 7-10pm ($175)

Dinner and tasting featuring 91+ rated wines from àMaurice Cellars, Lauren Ashton Cellars, Fidélitas Wines, Leonetti Cellar, Guardian Cellars, Obelisco Estate Winery, L’Ecole No 41, Quilceda Creek, Passing Time Winery, Doubleback, Woodward Canyon Winery and more.

Taste Washington on the Farm–Friday, March 23rd 10am-3pm ($85-185)

Three different farm to table experiences with lunch and farm tours that people can choose from places like Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle, Heyday Farm on Bainbridge Island and Finnriver Farm & Cidery in Chimacum, WA with featured wineries such as Matthews, Rolling Bay and Doubleback.


The New Vintage at Fisher Pavillon–Friday, March 23rd 7-10pm ($80)

Small bites by celebrity chefs, a Rosé Lounge, live music and dancing featuring the wines of Alexandria Nicole Cellars, Boudreaux Cellars, Browne Family Vineyards, DeLille Cellars, Hedges Family Estate, Mullan Road Cellars, Sinclair Estate Vineyards, TruthTeller Winery and more.

Taste and Savor Tour of Pike Place Market –Saturday, March 24th 9am ($80)

An early morning food tour through the historic Pike Place Market operated in conjunction with Savor Seattle.

Wine Seminars at Four Seasons Hotel Seattle Saturday & Sunday, March 24-25 10:30 to 12pm ($45-85)

Six seminars featuring writers, winemakers, growers, educators as well as Master Sommeliers (Chris Tanghe, Rebecca Fineman, Jackson Rohrbaugh, Greg Harrington) and Masters of Wine (Bob Betz, Mary Ewing-Mulligan) covering a variety of topics from blind tasting, single vineyard Syrahs, Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge, Washington vs the World and more.

Each seminar features a tasting of 6 to 12 wines from producers like Savage Grace, Andrew Will, Gorman‘s Ashan Cellars, Avennia and Two Vintners as well as non-Washington comparative tastings from Mollydooker, Lynch-Bages, Joseph Phelps’ Insignia, Duckhorn and Glaetzer Wines’ Amon-Ra.

Sunday Brunch at Quality Athletics — Sunday, March 25th 10am-12:30pm ($75)

Music and two celebrities chefs host a brunch featuring bloody mary’s and brunch cocktails.


My Top 5 Wines from the 2017 Grand Tasting

Even with some hard core dedication, and using the extra hour VIP ticket, I was able to hit, at most, around 60 of the 600+ wines available for tasting. This is why trying to minimize the stress of the crowds and maximize the experience (see my tips below) is so important. You’re paying a decent chunk of change to attend the Grand Tasting and you want to leave the event with some great memories and new wine discoveries.

Still, out of those 60 or so wines, I tasted a lot of great juice. Here are five wines from last year’s tasting that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Aquilini 2014 Red Mountain blend — Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend made by Napa Valley rockstar Philippe Melka. I most certainly did not spit this one out. It was the run away Wine of the Event for me and got me to sign up for their mailing list. Tremendous structure, velvety fruit, fresh acidity and long finish. I would put this toe to toe with virtually any $100+ Napa wine. Unfortunately they don’t look to be pouring at this year’s event.

Cairdeas Winery 2014 Caislén an Pápa–a Chateauneuf du Pape style blend from Meek Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. Beautiful balance of rich fruit and savory, spicy complexity. They will be pouring the 2015 vintage of this wine at this year’s event.


Andrew Will 2014 Malbec — a known winery but you hardly ever see a varietal Malbec from them and this was scrumptious! Reminded me of a spicy Cabernet Franc. It doesn’t look like they will be pouring a Malbec this year though.

Cloudlift Cellars 2015 Lucy rosé of Cabernet Franc — In my tip section below I talk about making a point to periodically refresh your palate with bubbles, dry Rieslings and rosés. There are so many delicious reds that will wear you down and start tasting the same if you don’t give your palate a frequent jolt of crispness and acidity. It was this strategy that led me to discovering this beautiful rosé. Gorgeous nose and lively fruit. Best rosé at the event. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look they will be pouring a rosé this year. Update: In the comments below, Tom Stangeland of Cloudlift Cellars note that he will be pouring the new vintage of Lucy.

W.T. Vintners 2013 Les Collines Syrah — Seeing that Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen of W.T. Vintners was going to be on the panel of the Washington vs the World Sunday Seminar, with his Boushey Vineyard Rhone blend being poured, pretty much sold me on attending that event. This Les Collines Syrah was spectacular and demonstrated everything that is knee-bendingly delicious about Washington Syrah–beautiful balance of rich yet mouthwatering fruit, high intensity and inviting aromatics with a long memorable finish. Looks like they will be pouring the 2014 vintage of this wine.

Is it Worth it?

General Admission, yes. VIP upcharge, no.

While I can’t speak for the seminars and other events, I’ve gone to the Grand Tasting six times and each time I had a blast attending. If it wasn’t for some scheduling conflicts, I would be attending the Grand Tasting again this year but, instead, I’m going to attend one of the seminars and the New Vintage party to see how those are.

The extensive list of wineries and restaurants that you can experience in one setting is a wine geek and foodie’s dream. But that said, it can be very frustrating with how crowded it quickly gets. I’ve sprung for the VIP (which was $210 for the 2-day pass/$165 per day) and even that first hour got aggravatingly crowded about 20 minutes in. The VIP is really not worth the extra $70–especially when you can get the two day General Admission pass ($145) for less than a single day VIP admission ($165).

Even the $95 for a single day General Admission which gives you 3 and half hours of the Grand Tasting is still a good deal with everything that you have a chance to taste and experience–especially if you follow some of my tips below.

Grand Tasting Tips

1.) Uber/Lyft or find a hotel close by. Believe me, even if you are extremely diligent about spitting (which is hard with the people crowding the tables and blocking the spit buckets) you will much prefer having someone else do the driving or walking back to your hotel after the tasting. For the spitters, bringing along a red solo cup is also not a bad idea.

2.) No wine is worth waiting in line for! Seriously, there are so many great wineries and new wines waiting to be discovered that it is pointless to wait around a crowded table to get a pour. You only have around 3-4 hours and you will find yourself getting irritated at the crowds. Tables like DeLille, Col Solare, Mark Ryan, Figgins, K Vintners, Long Shadows, Pepper Bridge, Upchurch and the like always draw crowds–and they certainly are outstanding wines–but they’re not worth stressing over.

Yes, the big name tables deserve the attention but sometimes your Wine of The Event is hidden away on a table everyone is passing by.


Periodically swing by and check the table but if its crowded, go somewhere else. Ditto with the food–which is why I’ve never bothered with the AQUA by El Gaucho oyster bar. There is always going to be some table, somewhere that doesn’t have a line. Check them out and you may end up discovering your new favorite wine or restaurant to try. The Aquilini I mentioned above as my Wine of the Event was just this scenario. No one was at this table and it was probably the best damn wine being poured.

3.) Along those lines above, make it a point to visit wineries you’ve never heard of. With more than 900 wineries, even the 200+ at Taste Washington is only a tiny slice of what the state has to offer. Sure, you have your favorites but they’re your favorites because you’ve already had them. Why spend $95 to $200+ to taste them again? When I attend, I aim for a 1 to 2 ratio–for every 1 known winery I taste at, I visit the tables of 2 new ones.

4.) Visit the sparkling wine producers periodically to help refresh your palate. This year Karma Vineyards, Townshend Cellar, Treveri Cellars, Domaine Ste. Michelle and maybe Patterson Cellars will be pouring bubbles. Aim to visit one of these every 45 minutes or so to wake up your palate and keep it from getting fatigued. Likewise, producers of dry Rieslings and rosé are also great tables to visit frequently. A few names I spot from the winery list that look to be pouring these kinds of wines include Ancestry Cellars, Randolph Cellars, WIT Cellars, Balboa Winery, Locus Wines, Tunnel Hill Winery and Gard Vintners.

5.) Check out the featured vineyards and AVA tables. These tables are rarely crowded and offer fantastic opportunities to geek out and compare different wines made from similar terroirs.

6.) Enjoy the food! Yes, as wine geeks it’s tempting to think of the wine as always the star of the show but, truthfully, most years I feel like the food was the best part of the entire experience. It’s very fun to hit up a food table, grab some tasty bite and see what random, nearby wine table has a wine that may pair well with it. I can’t count how many amazing discoveries of food & wine pairing bliss I’ve encountered with this method. It truly completes the package of the Taste Washington Grand Tasting experience. Plus the food helps quite a bit with dealing with the alcohol.

Most importantly, have fun and stay safe!

Subscribe to Spitbucket

New posts sent to your email!