Tag Archives: malolactic fermentation

Geek Notes — The Process of Champagne GuildSomm Podcast

Back in 2013, GuildSomm did a fantastic podcast with Frédéric Panaiotis (39:33) of the Champagne house Ruinart about how Champagne is made. They followed it up with another interview with Panaiotis this year on Champagne (44:54) that also featured Rodolphe Péters of Pierre Péters.

Guildsomm podcast screen

Both shows are chock-full of awesome behind-the-scenes insights about Champagne that are well worth listening to. I’m going to break down the 2013 episode here first and then devote another Geek Notes to the second interview.

But after doing multiple Geek Note reviews of various podcasts (like Grape Radio’s interview with Hubert de Boüard of Ch. Angélus, UK Wine Show episode with Ian D’Agata about Italian wine grapes, Wine For Normal People’s episode on Tuscan wine regions and I’ll Drink To That! interview with Greg Harrington on Washington wine), I realize that I should take a moment to explain the objective of these posts.

Highlighting Learning Tools That I Use

As I mentioned in my post SpitBucket on Social Media, the purpose of my Geek Notes features are to highlight valuable resources for wine students pursuing various certifications.

Wine podcasts are a big focus for me because I think they’re often extremely underutilized. It’s easy for wine students to bury their heads in books and create flash cards. But we shouldn’t discount that nearly a third of individuals are auditory learners. Furthermore, for the 65% who are visual learners, exposing ourselves to audio avenues helps reinforce the material that we’re learning.

However, most people are actually a mix of multiple learning styles so the best approach is to also incorporate kinesthetic (hands-on) learning as well.

This is essentially what I’m doing for myself with these Geek Note reviews of podcasts. I’m primarily a visual learner so I’m always diving into one wine book or another. But when I’m going deep on a topic, I supplement that book learning by listening to related podcasts.

When I come across a podcast with useful information, I go back to listen to it a second time. This time, I take notes. It’s like recording your class lectures back in college. You spend class time actually listening to the instructor and absorbing the material first without distracting scribbling and note taking. But then you solidify the material in your mind by going back to the recorded lecture for notes.

A little bit of a review element.

While I’ll include timestamps, I don’t really intend for these posts to be transcriptions. If I’m doing a review of a podcast, it’s because I feel that it is sincerely worth listening to. There will often be contextual tidbits and stories featured in these episodes that I won’t mention or fully address. You can get more out of these Geek Notes by checking out the podcasts for yourself after reading these posts.

For newer podcasts like my recent reviews of the Decanted podcast and the Weekly Wine Show, I’ll spend more time giving background about the podcast and why I think they’re worth subscribing to.

In many ways, great wine podcasts are like stellar reference books like The Oxford Companion to Wine, The World Atlas of Wine and The Wine Bible. They provide you with an entire library of wine knowledge that you can digest one entry at a time.

In the next Geek Notes, I’ll give a little background about GuildSomm but, right now, let’s dive right into their podcast interview with Frédéric Panaiotis on making Champagne.

Fun Things I Learned From This Podcast

Photo by Petitpeton. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD-self

Statue of Dom Thierry Ruinart (1657-1709) outside the Champagne house Ruinart in Reims.

(0:52) Prior to joining Ruinart, Frédéric Panaiotis also previously worked for Veuve Clicquot, the CIVC as well as the California sparkling wine producer Scharffenberger in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino.

(3:16) Historically, the CIVC used to set one general ban des vendanges for the region. This is the first day that grapes can be legally harvested. Now there are multiple ban des vendanges based not only on the village but also on the individual grape variety. And apparently rootstock in some cases too.

For instance, in the Grand Cru village of Mailly for the 2018 vintage they were allowed to start picking Pinot Meunier on August 25th. However, for Chardonnay and Pinot noir (which the village is most noted for), growers had to wait till August 27th.

I’m curious about the ban des vendanges for other grape varieties–Fromenteau/Pinot gris, Pinot blanc, Petite Meslier and Petite Arbanne. I couldn’t find the answer online but I’ll keep looking.

BTW, August start dates were historically unusual in Champagne but are now becoming much more commonplace. This recent 2018 vintage was the fifth year since 2003 to begin in August.

(5:45) You can get a special allowance from the CIVC to harvest earlier. According to Panaiotis, this may be needed if you are harvesting from a really young vineyard of 3 years or were hit by spring frost which drastically reduced yields. Apparently with less clusters to focus on, the vine will accelerate ripening.

That strikes me a bit curious because wouldn’t the same logic apply to old vines which also produce lower yields. Wouldn’t they also ripen faster? Need to research this more.

Harvest Brix and Ripeness
Photo by ADT Marne. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Chardonnay grapes harvested in the village of Vertus.

(6:21) Panaiotis notes that the Champenois usually aim to harvest grapes at around 10% potential alcohol which is about 18-19° Brix. Compare this to typical still wine production where producers want to harvest Chardonnay more at 20-23° Brix and Pinot noir around 25-27°. But, keep in mind, the secondary fermentation of Champagne (where sugar and yeast are added) adds more alcohol to the finish wine. Most Champagnes finish with an ABV in the 12-12.5% range.

(8:00) A big distinction that GuildSomm’s Geoff Kruth and Panaiotis note about Champagne is that even at these low brix levels, the grapes are still ripe. Panaiotis gives the example of the 1988 vintage which was picked at many estates at around 9.2% potential alcohol (17.5° Brix) in a year that was a late harvest for Champagne. This vintage is still highly regarded for its richness and longevity. Yet harvesting something at so low of a brix level in most any other wine region would produce wines abundant in green, unripe flavors.

This is a quandary that sparkling wine producers from warmer climates like California and Spain have to deal with because acidity is also at play. Not only is it hard to get desired ripeness with such low brix but you need to harvest your grapes with ample acidity. While improvements in viticulture and planting in cooler vineyard sites have helped, historically producers from warm regions have needed to harvest the grapes at lower ripeness levels in order to have enough acid to make their sparkling wines.

The Controversial 1996 Vintage

(8:55) In contrast to 1988, Panaiotis describes the 1996 as an “unripe” year even though the grapes were harvested at 10.5% potential alcohol (20° Brix). This is intriguing because there is a lot of controversy going on now about the 1996 vintage which Jancis Robinson aptly explains in one of her Financial Times articles.

When the 1996 Champagnes were first released, many Champagne lovers were enthralled. That year was pegged as one of the top vintages of the 20th century. I will admit that, even though I’ve been extremely underwhelmed by their recent offerings, the 1996 Dom Perignon was one of the greatest wines that I’ve tried in my lifetime. But I had that wine soon after release and it seems that as the 1996s across the board have aged, more and more people are re-evaluating how good that vintage really was.

Challenges of Big Houses
Photo by Alberto Vaccaro. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

By law, Champagne grapes have to be harvested whole cluster and by hand.

(9:20) Here Panaiotis talks about the challenges that big houses have versus small growers with harvest–particularly with red grapes like Pinot noir. Because the goal in Champagne most often with Pinot is to make a white wine, time is of the essence as soon as you remove the cluster from the vine. You don’t want any “cold soak” color extraction taking place in the pick bin. With Chardonnay, avoiding oxidation of the juice is also a concern for many houses.

But what do you do when you are a large house whose winery is maybe several miles away from the many vineyards you source from? Well worth listening to see how Ruinart responds to this challenge.

(10:30) Machine harvesting is forbidden in Champagne. Part of the reason is because machine harvesters can only harvest individual berries. They do this by using beater bars to separate the berries from clusters on the vine. If you’re curious, this short (2:18) ad video for a mechanical harvester gives a great inside view into how these harvesters work. Panaiotis thinks that even if someone developed a machine that could somehow harvest grapes whole cluster that it would still probably be outlawed.

Pressing Details
Photo by davitydave. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-2.0

A modern bladder press.

(11:54) Panaiotis estimates that among the various presses used in Champagne, about half are modern bladder presses with the rest being the traditional Coquard basket press. Piper-Heidsieck has a quick 1 minute video of the Coquard press in action with Pinot noir. Note how the juice, even with the whole clusters, is already being tinted with color. And, yes, leaves and other MOG often gets thrown into these large batches.

(12:15) In Panaiotis’ opinion, 70-80% of the resulting quality of the wine comes from the pressing process. This is an interesting departure from the opinion that a lot of the quality of Champagne comes from the blending and time aging on the lees. From here he goes into a great description of the different cuts (cuvée and taille) that are separated in the pressing process. To explain this he uses a comparison that you can do in a vineyard while sampling a single grape berry.

(14:47) At Ruinart, Panaiotis likes using the taille for their non-vintage Champagnes. Here these cuts add roundness and fruitiness but there is a trade-off in decreased aging potential. In contrast, Ruinart’s vintage wines are almost all cuvée juice since the lower phenolics in this first cut is less prone to oxidation.

This makes me curious about the pressing philosophy of Champagne houses that value more oxidative styles like Krug.

Fermenting as separate lots or as regional blends

(16:10) When Kruth asks how Champagne producers keep the juice from different villages and vineyards separate, Panaiotis explains some of the logistical problems of that. While it is ideal to keep different villages separate, it may take you several days to receive enough lots from those villages to eventually fill an entire tank. That reality favors blending more regionally–like all the Côte des Blancs villages together.

I suspect this is more of an issue for large Champagne houses who presumably have very large tanks with several thousand liter capacities that need to be filled. Additionally, with so many contract growers there is probably a fair amount of variability in what kind of yield you can expect each year from different villages/vineyards, etc. In contrast, smaller growers who have been tending their own vines for generations probably know more precisely what they are getting and accordingly have smaller tanks that are easier to fill up and keep separate.

Another key point specific to Ruinart is that their house’s style is very reductive. If the tanks aren’t filled quickly, there is a risk of the juice oxidizing before fermentation takes off.

Style Differences

(17:14) At Ruinart, they aim for very clean and neutral flavors in their base wines. Along with wanting to avoid oxidation, they use sulfur on the juice to also knock back wild yeast so that they can inoculate with cultured yeast. Kruth notes that the impact of wild or native ferment produces flavors that get amplified during the secondary fermentation, something Panaiotis wants to avoid at Ruinart.

Lanson champagne

Lanson is another house that has historically avoided malolactic fermentation but has recently been experimenting with MLF on a few lots.

(19:30) Panaiotis likes the round mouthfeel that comes from initiating malolactic fermentation in the Champagnes of Ruinart. This is a stylistic decision relating to different Champagne house styles. Some producers, most notably Gosset, historically avoid malolactic fermentation so they can maintain natural acidity and aging potential. But the trade-off is mouthfeel and softness with even Gosset experimenting with having some batches going through MLF.

(20:24) A very interesting discussion on the different philosophy of using reserve wines in the blends of non-vintage Champagnes. Panaiotis describes the impact of using older versus young reserve wines on the resulting style of Champagne. He notes that Ruinart’s precise style favors using younger reserve wines while houses with a more mature style like Charles Heidsieck prefer using older reserve wines of up to 10 years of age.

Secondary Fermentation Issues

(24:18) Probably my biggest surprise was learning about the issues of calcium tartrates in Champagne. If wineries don’t remove these unstable tartrates via cold stabilization, there will be excessive foaming during disgorgement. Worst, this foaming could happen when the wine is opened by consumers–creating a mess. I always thought it was more about aesthetics with consumers mistaking the tartrate crystals for shards of glass.

(25:47) Another completely new thing I learned was that the actual length of time of the secondary fermentation is about 6 to 8 weeks. I always thought it was much quicker like primary fermentation which usually takes several days to a couple weeks. Panaiotis does note that as soon as 3 days after bottling you can start to see the dead lees collecting in the bottle.

(26:52) Panaiotis reveals that recent studies of the Champagne process is showing that oxygen intake through the crown cap or cork is just as impactful on the resulting flavor of the wine as autolysis is.

Oxidative vs Reductive
Bollinger Grande Annee

Bollinger Champagnes have been traditionally associated with an oxidative style of winemaking.

(28:22) Panaiotis goes into an in-depth discussion of oxidative versus reductive winemaking. He details many of the decisions that he has to make throughout the process to promote Ruinart’s reductive style including the unique technique of jetting. Here winemakers add a little bit of water or nitrogen (and sometimes sulfur) to the wine before corking to promote foaming that pushes out the oxygen. This short video (0:52) is in French but shows the process well.

(31:10) Kruth asks for example of major houses who follow the different styles. Panaiotis notes that along with Ruinart, Laurent Perrier, Mumm, Pierre Gimonnet, Pierre Moncuit and Pierre Peters are on the reductive side while Bollinger, Krug, Jacquesson and Jacques Selosse are on the oxidative side. He also notes that Pinot noir favors the more oxidative style. Interestingly, most of the houses he mentions that favor a reductive style tend to be Chardonnay dominant.

(37:40) Panaiotis notes that the CIVC legally limits how many grapes negociants can buy each year. While he didn’t seem completely certain, he estimates that the limit is a maximum of 30% above the equivalent of your previous year’s sales. I’m guessing the CIVC sets these rules to prevent stockpiling? But there is no law on the amount of land you can own. Another tidbit from Panaiotis, growers can buy up 5% of their grapes and still be considered a grower producer.

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

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

Vineyards of Ch. Gazin in Pomerol.

After striking out completely on our last visit to Pomerol where we explored the 2017 Bordeaux Futures offers for Ch. Clinet, Clos L’Eglise, L’Evangile and Ch. Nenin, we head back there to see if maybe, possibly, somehow there will be anything resembling a decent value in the offers from Vieux Chateau Certan, La Conseillante, La Violette and L’Eglise Clinet.

Or maybe I will just end up buying more 2014s? Though that vintage has been more hit or miss for me in Pomerol than it has been in St. Emilion and on the Left Bank.

While I did pick up some Pomerols during the 2015/2016 campaigns, rising prices and difficulties in finding good, consistent values has lead to this appellation taking up an ever shrinking amount of space in my cellars.

But, hey, it never hurts to keep exploring. So let’s see what we’ve got here.

First time visitors are encouraged to check out the first Bordeaux Futures 2017 post in the now 13 article series that covered the offers of Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge and Haut-Batailley and laid out the groundwork for our approach with buying 2017 Bordeaux Futures.

So far we’ve reviewed the 2017 offers of more than 50 Bordeaux estates and compared them to the current retail pricing over previous vintages. You can check these out and more via the links at the bottom of the page.

Now onto the offers.

Vieux Chateau Certan (Pomerol)
Some Geekery:

Clive Coates notes in Grand Vins that the name “Certan” was originally spelled Sertan and likely derived from an old Portuguese word for “desert”. It was reported that when Portuguese settlers were traveling through the area in the 12th century that they found the soils to be so poor and arid that they thought little could grow successfully there.

Vines were planted by at least the 18th century when the property came under the ownership of the De May family who were merchants of Scottish origins. The De Mays also owned neighboring Ch. Nenin until 1782 when it was sold so that the family could focus all its attention on Vieux Chateau Certan.

After the French Revolution, the property was split among the heirs with one part becoming what is now Ch. Certan de May. The other part that remained Vieux Chateau Certan would stay in the De May family until 1858 when it sold to a Parisian businessman, Charles de Bousquet. Unfortunately soon after the acquisition, the ravages of phylloxera hit and the estate entered a period of several decades of financial hardships.

The tower of Troplong-Mondot in St. Emilion which Georges Thienpont sold to focus on Vieux Chateau Certan.


The modern history of Vieux Chateau Certan began when it was sold to a Belgian wine merchant, Georges Thienpont, who also owned the St. Emilion estate Troplong Mondot. It was Thienpoint who had the idea of using bright pink capsules so that he could easily spot bottles of Vieux Chateau Certan in his clients’ cellars.

While financial difficulties in the 1930s would cause the Thienponts to sell Troplong Mondot, the family still retains ownership of Vieux Chateau Certan today with Georges’ grandson, Alexandre, managing the estate.

In 1978, when the Loubie family was selling Ch. Le Pin, Alexandre’s father Léon was looking to buy the property and absorb its 2 hectares of vines into those of Vieux Chateau Certan. But when the pricing couldn’t be worked out, Thienpont convinced his nephew, Jacques, to purchase the estate that has now go on to achieve cult status in Bordeaux.

The 14 ha (35 acres) of vines at Vieux Chateau Certan covers 3 distinct soil types with different grape varieties planted on each type. The parcels located next to Ch. Petrus and sharing some of its famous blue clay are planted to Merlot. Here there are some plots that have been planted in 1932 and 1948, making them some of the oldest vines in Pomerol.

On the soils that are a mixture of clay and gravel, Cabernet Franc is planted and accounts for around 30% of all Vieux Chateau Certan vines. In the winery, Thienpont treats the Cabernet Franc differently than other producers by fermenting the wine at high temperatures (30C/86F) and having malolactic fermentation take place in stainless steel tanks instead of in the barrel. The amount of Cabernet Franc used in the final blend varies depending on vintage with some years like 2003 being 80% Cabernet Franc.

The parcels on red gravel are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon which account for around 5% of all the vines. All the vineyards are farmed sustainably.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 81% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Around 4000 to 5000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

97-98 James Suckling (JS), 96-98 Wine Advocate (WA), 95-97 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 94-96 Vinous Media (VM), 96-98 Jeff Leve (JL),

Sample Review:

The 2017 Vieux Château Certan is a rapturously beautiful wine. Dark, sumptuous and seamless in the glass, the 2017 is going to tempt readers early. This is the first vintage that includes a bit of young vine Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 2012 to complement the old-vine Merlot and Franc that are the core of Vieux Certan. A wine of exceptional balance and purity, the 2017 dazzles from start to finish. There is an element of tension in the 2017 that is incredibly appealing. “We are back to Bordeaux,” adds Alexandre Thienpont in reference to the personality of the year as compared to both 2016 and 2015. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $231
JJ Buckley: $239.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $239.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K&L: $239.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $281 Average Critic Score: 95 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $330 Average Critic Score: 96
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $190 Average Critic Score: 95
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $156 Average Critic Score: 91

Buy or Pass?

The 2009 Vieux Château Certan rocked my world and my mouth drools at the thought of how delicious the 2003 Cabernet Franc-dominated VCC must be tasting today. But, alas, the trend of 2017 pricing that we saw in our last foray into Pomerol is still holding true here with an average price well above the comparable 2014 vintage that is still on the market.

While I have no doubt that this will probably be a tasty wine, there just isn’t the compelling value to make this a worthwhile futures purchase. Pass.

Ch. La Conseillante (Pomerol)

Some Geekery:

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

A bottle of 1940 La Conseillante with the distinctive purple capsule still visible.

La Conseillante is one of the oldest estates in Pomerol being founded in the 1730s by Catherine Conseillan, a Libournais businesswoman who was known as a dame de fer for her work in the metal industry where she sold ploughshares and wires for vine training.

For the first couple decades the vineyards were managed via a métayage system of sharecropping until 1756 when Madame Conseillan took full control of the property and built a chateau. She managed the estate until her death in 1777 when the property passed to her niece and then a succession of owners until it was purchased by the Nicolas family in 1871.

A well connected negociant family who owned Nicolas Freres, it was the Nicolas family who began using the distinctive purple capsules on the bottle. When they purchased the estate the vineyards of La Conseillante was planted to around a third Malbec, a third Merlot and a third of Cabernet vines split between Sauvignon and Franc.

The property is still owned by the Nicolas Family today. In the early 2000s, Jean-Michel Laporte was brought on as winemaker with Gilles Pauquet as a consultant. By 2013, Michel Rolland replaced Pauquet as consultant and, in 2015, Laporte left La Conseillante and was succeeded by Marielle Cazaux who used to direct the winemaking at Ch. Petit Village.

The 12 ha (30 acres) of vines are now planted to 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc with plans to increase the percentage of Cabernet Franc up to 30%. Nearly two-thirds of the vines are close to Vieux Chateau Certan and Petrus. Other parcels are close to Ch. Beauregard, L’Evangile, Petit Village and the St. Emilion border with Cheval Blanc. Many of the parcels are farmed organically.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc. Around 4,500 cases a year are produced though with the frost damage of 2017, production will be lower for this year.

Critic Scores:

95-97 WA, 95-97 WE, 94-95 JS, 93-95 VM, 95-97 JL, 94-96 Jeb Dunnuck (JD)

Sample Review:

With 15% lost to frost (just 1.5ha entirely lost), the final yield was 34hl/ha, with no second generation fruit in the wine. It’s an excellent take on the vintage, the austerity coming through on the attack before it opens to a wonderfully smoky mid-palate with loganberry and blackberry fruit, showing real fullness and volume. This has texture, structure and good aromatics, with a great sense of energy and persistency. The plot affected by the frost was a Duo parcel, so they will make a small amount of second wine but not as much as usual, and the overall production will be 85% grand vin. In organic conversion. 70% new oak. (94 points) — Jane Anson, Decanter

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $165
JJ Buckley: $169.94 + shipping
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $1,019.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $169.97
K&L: $169.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $213 Average Critic Score: 95 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $192 Average Critic Score: 94
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $106 Average Critic Score: 93
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $93 Average Critic Score: 91

Buy or Pass?

My only experience with La Conseillante has been with their very delicious 2014 release. While I would certainly like to explore more of their bottlings, at the prices being asked for their 2017 futures I’m going going to Pass and look into stocking up on more of the 2014.

Ch. La Violette (Pomerol)

Some Geekery:

Ch. La Violette is a relatively young estate that was founded in the late 1800s by a cooper, Ulysse Belivier. Despite a very enviable location on the plateau of Pomerol flanking Ch. Trotanoy and what is now Le Pin, the wines of La Violette were marred in obscurity until 2006 when it was purchased by Catherine Péré Vergé.

Péré Vergé, who also owned Chateau Le Gay and Chateau Montviel in Pomerol, Ch. La Graviere in Lalande-de-Pomerol and Bodega Monteviejo in Argentina, brought in her longtime consultant Michel Rolland. Over the next several vintages, the winery was renovated and all Cabernet Franc vines uprooted and replaced with Merlot.

Very labor-intensive viticulture practices were put in place with each individual vine in the tiny 1.68 ha (4 acres) estate being “manicured” by hand throughout the growing season with individual green and unripe berries removed during several passes in the vineyard after veraison. After harvest, instead of using a machine, the grapes are destemmed by hand with a very selective triage and sorting. Coupled with severe pruning in the winter months, this produces incredibly low yields that can be as low as 18 to 20 hl/ha (a little over 1 ton/acre).

Catherine Péré Vergé passed away in 2013 and today the estate is managed by her son, Henri Parent, who has also added the Pomerol estates of Ch. Tristan and Feytit-Lagrave to the family’s holdings. Michel Rolland still consults with Marcelo Pelleriti managing the winemaking.

The 2017 vintage is 100% Merlot. Only around 250 cases a year a produced.

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

The 2017 La Violette is another silky, elegant effort that has a Burgundian flare. Black cherries, blueberries, violets, white flowers, and spice characteristics all emerge from this seamless 2017 that is as classy, silky and pure as they come. Total class and up with the crème de la crème of the vintage. — Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $249
JJ Buckley: No offers yet
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $254.97
K&L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $263 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $336 Average Critic Score: 94
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $273 Average Critic Score: 92
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $205 Average Critic Score: 91

Buy or Pass?

Throughout the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign, I’ve been pretty disciplined in only going with wines from estates that I have a track record of previously tasting and enjoying. In more stellar vintages like 2015/2016, I’m far more adventurous and open to trying new estates but in more average years like 2017 I prefer to be conservative.

I’ve bent that rule already for the 2017 Carruades de Lafite and I think I’m going to have bend this one again for the La Violette. For one, the price is compelling being under both the 2016 and 2014 vintage. But, truthfully, my prime motivator is how much of a unicorn La Violette is and this maybe one of the few opportunities I will ever get a chance to try this wine.

Beyond just how scarcely limited it is, the only time that I’ve ever seen La Violette has been on restaurant wine lists topping over $800 a bottle. That is far more riskier of a venture for me to try a new estate versus buying a bottle as a future.

More ideally, I would want to spend the $9-14 extra to get the better 2016 vintage but I didn’t see any future offers for this last year so I would have to do some investigating to see how many of the offers for the 2016 on Wine Searcher are legit. But right now I’m inclined to go with the sure thing and Buy the 2017 just so I can bag this unicorn.

Photo by cassandros@cityweb.de. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0-migrated

A bottle of 1961 L’Eglise Clinet made by Pierre Lasserre of Clos Rene.

Ch. L’Eglise Clinet (Pomerol)

Some Geekery:

The origins of L’Eglise Clinet date back to 1803 when Jean Rouchut first purchased some lands near the church (église) and cemetery for a vineyard. 1882, his descendants purchased vineyards belonging to the Constant family of Ch. Clinet and entered into a joint venture that would be known as L’Eglise Clinet.

In the early 20th century, the owners took a very hands off approach to winemaking–first by entering a leasing agreement in 1914 with a negociant firm to make the wine and then formulating a sharecropping arrangement with Pierre Lasserre of Clos Rene in 1942 that would last for more than 40 years.

In 1983, Denis Durantou took over his family’s estate and today still manages L’Eglise Clinet along with Saintayme in St. Emilion, Ch. Montlandrie in Cotes de Castillon and Ch. Cruzelles and Ch. Chenade in Lalande-de-Pomerol.

Much of L’Eglise Clinet’s 4.4 ha (11 acres) of vines escaped the devastating 1956 frost which means that L’Eglise has some of the oldest vines in Pomerol with more than a quarter being over 75 years of age. Two parcels of old vine Cabernet Franc located near the cemetery were planted in the early 1930s.

The current ratio of planting is 85% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec, however, all of the Malbec is actually part of a field blend interspersed with the old vines and is gradually being replaced by massale selection of Cabernet Franc. Many of the parcels are farmed organically.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Around 1000 to 1500 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

Black core with purple crimson rim. A hint of oak char on the nose but underneath that is pure black fruit and a creamy character. Smooth and rounded on the palate, the fruit and the oak already well melded. The finish is darker and more savoury, the oak char closing the circle. But the harmony is very good. Not as charming as La Petite Église but longer-term in potential. (17 out of 20) — Julia Harding, JancisRobinson.com

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $231
JJ Buckley: $239.94 + shipping
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $239.97
K&L: $249.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $313 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $290 Average Critic Score: 95
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $211 Average Critic Score: 94
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $177 Average Critic Score: 92

Buy or Pass?

L’Eglise Clinet is another Pomerol estate that I have no previous track record with so that is one strike against this offer for me. But, unlike La Violette, the pricing for the 2017 compared to other vintages is not compelling enough to come close to enticing me to bite here. 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 — 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 — Montrose, La Dame de Montrose, Cantemerle, d’Aiguilhe

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

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

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60 Second Wine Review — Gosset Petite Douceur Rose

A few quick thoughts on the non-vintage Gosset Petite Douceur Extra Dry Rosé Champagne.

The Geekery

Founded in 1584 by Pierre Gosset in the village of Aÿ, long before sparkling wine was produced in Champagne, Gosset is the oldest winery in the region. Since 1994, the négociant house has belonged to the Renaud-Cointreau group, owners of the Cognac house Frapin. Gosset makes around 100,000 cases a year.

According to Peter Liem in Champagne: The Essential Guide, Gosset is one of the few major houses (along with Lanson, Alfred Gratien and Vilmart & Cie) that ardently avoids having their base wines go through malolactic fermentation which is usually employed to soften the naturally high acidity of Champagnes, making the wines more approachable in their youth. Historically, Krug and Salon have kept a policy of not encouraging MLF but they don’t take steps to avoid it like Gosset and the other aforementioned houses with the use of temperature control, barrel hygiene, pH and sulfur adjustments.

The Petite Douceur Rosé is a blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot noir with 7% of Pinot being red wine added for color. The fruit was sourced from the Grand Cru Villages of Ambonnay, Avize, Bouzy and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and the Premier Cru village of Cumières located in the Vallée de la Marne. The Champagne was aged 3 years on the lees before being bottled with a 17 g/l dosage.

The Wine

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

Fresh raspberry and vibrant acidity characterize this Champagne.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Mix of red fruits–strawberry and raspberry–and floral notes. Also a little orange peel.

The red fruits carry through the palate but what is most remarkable is how well balance it is for a sweet Extra Dry with 17 g/l dosage. The acidity is fresh and vibrant, perfectly matching the weight of the fruit and dosage. Smooth mouthfeel and long finish with some spice notes emerging.

The Verdict

At around $90-100, this is an exceptionally well made Champagne.

It tastes drier and more balanced than many Bruts north of the $100 mark and is a considerable jump in complexity from many $50-80 rose Champagnes.

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Don’t Be a Jackass and Blindly Listen to Bloggers

A very well loved and well-used tome.

Including yours truly.

Because frankly there is a lot of silly stuff everywhere. Case in point: Champagne Masters and their Bull Shit.

However, that doesn’t mean you should hide in a cave, clinging to your old worn out and marked up copy of The Oxford Companion to Wine. As with trying new wines, its always worth exploring different opinions and voices. But remember, just like with wine, you don’t have to swallow everything.

Sometimes it’s good to spit, like with some of the advice that Barri Segal is giving in their Cheat Sheet article titled “Things You Should Never Say at a Wine Tasting.”

The article starts with some good advice about using wine tasting events as a chance to try new things. It also includes helpful tidbits about not assuming that only women drink rosés, not chastising people for using spit buckets or trying to pour your own servings. Some of Segal’s advice is indeed worth swallowing. But there is also a lot worth spitting out.

So let’s grab a spit bucket and take a gander at Segal’s most “spittable advice.” I’m going to be using Segal’s numbering which gets a little weird with multiple #7s and #10s.

2. “Which type of barrel was this wine aged in?”

For this entry, Segal is referencing Kris Chislett’s post on Blog Your Wine titled Pretentious Things to Say at a Wine Tasting, Should You Want to , written as satire under the “Funny” category. But Segal takes the idea that you shouldn’t ask what kind of barrel is used to make wine because all that matters is if the wine tastes good.

Bull shit.

By Gerard Prins - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,on Wikimedia Commons

Now if you start asking which particular forest the barrel wood came from…

The point of wine tasting is to learn what you like. One thing that is helpful is noticing patterns.

You may notice that you like wines with sweet vanilla and coconut flavors. Chances are those are wines were aged in American oak barrels.

You may see that you like more subtle baking spices like cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. Most likely those were wines aged in French oak barrels.

You may end up liking something that has only a little bit of those oak flavors. For you, knowing that the winemaker is just aging part of their wines in new oak (which gives the most intense flavors) and part in neutral oak barrels (barrels that have been used 3 or more times) is helpful knowledge.

And that is not even talking about wines aged in whiskey barrels which have very distinctive taste characteristics.

So ask away! Anyone representing a winery at these events should have this information available.

3. “What percentage malo is this wine?”

This entry was a segue from the last “faux pas” with the notation that it is “A totally idiotic question.”

Bull shit.

Segal also took this one from Chislett’s piece where Chislett notes:

“If someone at a wine tasting asks me “What percentage malo did this wine go through?”, I’ll normally respond with “Can’t you tell by tasting it?”

What?

Again, I know Chislett’s piece is satire but this is like hearing a song on the radio and asking who sings it only to be told: “Can’t you tell by hearing it?”

No, Karen. I can’t. At least not yet.

By U.S. Navy photo by Chief Warrant Officer 4 Seth Rossman. - http://www.news.navy.mil/view_single.asp?id=9384, Public Domain, on Wikimedia Commons

It’s Britney, bitch!
No, wait…I mean it’s 2/3 malo aged in new French oak with 1/3 kept apart in stainless steel.
Bitch.

The point of asking is to learn and just as you may eventually catch on and recognize a particular singer’s voice, you can also learn to taste malo in wine. While even Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers probably can’t nail exact percentages of malolactic fermentation used in various buttery Chardonnays, after enough tasting you can start to get a sense if a wine was made fully malo or just partially.

It all comes back to finding patterns and learning about what you like. To do that, you need to ask questions and it is ridiculous when bloggers shame people into thinking that their questions are idiotic.

5. “I can taste the terroir in this wine.”

Alright, I’ll concede that this statement can come across in certain circumstances as pompous. But so is shaming people who may have just learned about the term terroir and are excited to explore how it relates to wine.

One of the most exhilarating moments in many people’s wine journey is that light bulb “Aha!” when you taste the differences between wines made from the same grape, by the same winemaker, in the same vintage but from two different vineyards.

On the surface, it seems like there is no logical reason why these two wines taste different but they do! And that difference is terroir! Having that light bulb go off often ignites a passion in wine lovers that encourages them to keep exploring, keep looking under the surface to figure out why these wines they adore taste the way they do.

It’s why Burgundy exists and why vineyard designated wines are often a winery’s top cuvee.

This “faux pas” also comes from Chrislett who I suspect is not being as satirical when he says:

Personally I believe that terrior plays a major role in the overall flavor of the grapes once they reach the winery, but from that point on it’s all in the hands of the winemaker. For that reason, you could also say: “…mmm, you can really taste the wine-maker in this wine!”

To which I would say, “Yes, Karen. I can. In the oak barrels they use and the amount of malo.”

7. “I’ll buy the bottle with the cool label” (or rather 7c)

Submitted without comment or judgment.

I know this chafes a lot of sommeliers and retailers to hear but, for me, as long as it doesn’t include the word “only” then I’m cool.

Let’s face it, standing in front of a literal wall of wine at a store is intimidating. There are so many choices. While you would hope that there is a knowledgeable wine steward nearby that could guide a consumer to a great bottle, sometimes there isn’t.

I would much rather have someone have a label catch their eye than nothing. It at least gives them a reason to try it rather than fall back to just drinking their same ole, same ole. If they take it home and it sucks (like, admittedly, many gimmicky labeled wines often do), then lesson learned. There is no reason to buy that wine again. They can move on to something new. If the wine shop they’re buying from is decent, they may be able to take that sucky wine back and exchange it for something else that catches their eye.

Bottom line, if you are always trying new things–regardless of the reason why the bottle interests you–then you are on the right path. I’m not going to shame you or make you feel bad for liking a cool label. But I will always encourage you to be open to trying things with sucky labels. Sometimes those are the best wines.

8. “What is Robert Parker’s rating for this wine?”

This is another thing that, admittedly, does make wine professionals inwardly (and sometimes outwardly) roll their eyes. That is because the number one mantra in the wine industry is that taste is personal. Just because a wine critic loves or loathes something doesn’t mean it’s going to match your opinion. And, really, in the end, all that matters is your opinion because you are the one who is putting it in your mouth.

Photo by Vinnie4568 . Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0

The Wine-Twitteracy in still life.

But what these eye-rolling wine pros often forget is that Robert Parker, like Jamie Goode, is a tool–especially for newbie wine drinkers who are still learning what their taste is. It’s helpful to hear an expert’s opinion on a wine. But the key is to make sure that the newbie drinker knows that it is perfectly fine to disagree with the experts.

The ideal approach for those newbies is to notice how their tastes calibrate with the experts with certain wines. They may find that they jive with Parker’s opinions on Rhone-style wines but find his views on Napa Cabs completely off from theirs. That’s fantastic and it sharpens the effectiveness of using that tool.

But just as our tool boxes at home aren’t limited to only a single screwdriver, so too, should we be open to the usefulness of having a variety of tools and opinions at our disposal. You might find that Jancis Robinson’s ideas on Napa Cabernets fit your taste more. Even better, you might find the tastes of your local wine shop employee and yours go hand in hand.

Indeed the best advice that any wine lover can take to heart is to keep tasting and to keep asking questions. There are no rules or right way or wrong way to go about it. It’s your time, your money, your mouth. So own that and take your own path.

But you are entirely welcome to spit all that I just said right into the bucket. In fact, I couldn’t be more proud if you did.

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