Tag Archives: phylloxera

Start-ups and Sangio

Being in love with a techie, you’re never far from the siren song of start-ups. In her long career, my wife is 0 for 3 following that tune. Still, the excitement of building things from the ground up and being part of something innovative keeps luring her back. That’s why we found ourselves uprooting our lives and moving 5000 miles away from her cozy job at Google to a new start-up in France.

Villa Ragazzi Sangiovese

It takes a lot of nerve to set aside the doubts in your head to pursue what ignites your heart. That is a sentiment that Michaela Rodeno of Villa Ragazzi knows very well. As I learned more of Rodeno’s story, I began to understand the fire that drives people like my wife and Michaela. These are folks that don’t want to settle but, instead, want to see what more is possible.

Rather than take the easy road, the easy life, they embrace the challenges that come with forging your own path. Whether it’s building three (!) wineries from scratch or being on the cutting edge of technology, it takes a lot of gumption to do what they do. And that’s certainly worth raising a glass.

From Bubbles to Boardrooms

From Bubbles to Boardrooms book

If you’re in the mood for a fun summer-time read, I highly recommend Michaela Rodeno’s memoir.

From Bubbles to Boardrooms is the title of Rodeno’s book that is part biography and part primer for the fortitude that one needs to make their own opportunities happen. Rodeno gifted us a copy, but I very enthusiastically recommend the book to any wine lover–as well as lovers of books about kick-ass women.

Not only is it a great read full of fun stories about the early days of Domaine Chandon and St. Supéry, but Rodeno sprinkles throughout compelling tidbits about what it means to be a leader and trusting your own abilities.

The First of Many Firsts

A UC-Davis grad, Michaela Kane Rodeno moved to Napa Valley with her husband, Greg, in 1972. A lawyer, Greg followed the advice of friends that there was lots of legal work to be had in the burgeoning valley. Michaela found a job at Beaulieu Vineyard, becoming the first woman to serve as a tour guide at the historic winery.

A short time later, she noticed a newspaper article about a new California project by Moët & Chandon. This was the first significant investment in California by a major French winery and Michaela was intrigued. Armed with nothing but her French language degree and a whole lot of moxie, she drove up to the Mt. Veeder home of John Wright, the man tasked by Moët to head the project, offering her services. That day Michaela Rodeno became employee number two at what would become Domaine Chandon.

Changing the Game At Chandon

Domaine Chandon

The owners of Moët & Chandon were very hands-off in the early years of Domaine Chandon, giving Wright and Rodeno almost free reign to build the brand as they saw fit.

While building Domaine Chandon from the ground-up with John Wright, Rodeno had to tackle many winery start-up problems. Her solutions, which she developed over a 15-year career at Chandon, introduced many innovations to Napa Valley.

Back then, wineries often viewed restaurants and retailers as their main customers. Rodeno and Domaine Chandon steered the focus back to regular consumers with an emphasis on the tasting room experience, a direct-to-consumer newsletter and establishing the first wine club in the US, Club Chandon. To counter the higher excise tax on sparkling wine, Chandon also was the first to introduce tasting fees to winery visitors.

Noticing the lack of fine dining options in the valley, Rodeno worked with the Napa County council to get the zoning and permits to open up Étoile, which many give credit with launching the Napa Valley food-scene. That restaurant would go on to earn Michelin stars and global recognition before closing in 2014.

Taking the Next Step at St. Supéry

The author and Michaela Rodeno

The author with Michaela Rodeno at her Oakville estate.

After rising to the position of Vice-President of Marketing at Domaine Chandon, the Skalli family tapped Michaela Rodeno in 1988 to be the first CEO of their new start-up in Rutherford, St. Supéry. The very first female CEO in Napa Valley, Rodeno would build another winery from scratch during a period of explosive growth in Napa.

In her 20+ yr tenure as CEO, Rodeno help developed the winery’s vineyards in Rutherford and Pope Valley. A little unusual for Napa, St. Supéry focused heavily on Sauvignon blanc as a means of distinguishing itself from its numerous neighbors. She also made education a key component of the consumer experience at St. Supéry–introducing things like ampelography master classes, sensory tastings and blending events featuring all five red Bordeaux varieties.

Rodeno’s efforts help grow St. Supéry into a 150,000 cases-per-year estate winery that was recognized by Wine & Spirits magazine as their Winery of the Year. Rodeno retired in 2009 to focus on her family’s estate winery in Oakville, Villa Ragazzi.

Sangiovese in the Heart of Cab Country

Photo by Anthonysthwd - Own work, Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0

The Pope Valley in the eastern part of Napa Valley.

Inspired by a visit with Piero Antinori in Tuscany, the Rodenos started Villa Ragazzi in 1985, planting a small vineyard in the sandy soils of the Pope Valley. Their planting of Sangiovese is believed to be the first commercial planting of Sangiovese in Napa Valley. The budwood came from an old Sonoma vineyard of mixed varieties that a family friend of the Rodenos introduced them to.

Villa Ragazzi’s wine quickly distinguished itself from other domestic examples of Sangiovese with Jeff Cox describing it in his book, Cellaring Wine, as the “…one notable example [in California] that has the stuffing and structure of an Italian wine.”

At the last State Dinner hosted by the Obamas, the 2012 Villa Ragazzi Sangiovese was served at the event honoring the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, and his wife.

In 1998, phylloxera attacked the Pope Valley vineyard. The Rodenos were able to save some of the original budwood and commenced a long replanting program. They sold the Pope Valley vineyard (under the condition that they could still source fruit from there) in 2010 to focus on their Oakville estate plantings of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Rodeno Clone

Photo taken by of Sangiovese cluster. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under the user name Agne27.

A large-berried Sangiovese cluster from a Chianti clone grown in Washington State. These vines generally produce a higher output than the small-berried and low-yielding Rodeno clone.

The Sangiovese in the Pope Valley and estate vineyard in Oakville adapted to its terroir, developing distinct characteristics. It is now recognized as its own clone with budwood being propagated by UC-Davis.

Among the unique characteristics of the Rodeno clone is its natural propensity for low yields of small clusters with tiny berries. Most vintages, the harvest is around 1 to 2 tons an acre with a typical output being about 50 to 75 cases. Usually winemakers expect 1 to 2 tons of grapes to produce around 63 to 126 cases.

Over the years, other winemakers and wineries have experimented with the Rodeno (also spelled Rodino) clone including Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon, Silverado Vineyards at their Soda Creek Ranch vineyard, Araujo, Long Meadow Ranch, Krupp Brothers, Fess Parker, Foxen and Gargiulo Vineyard.

Villa Ragazzi’s Oakville Estate

Villa Ragazzi’s 22 acres of sustainably farmed grapes is in an envious spot in Oakville. Just east of Opus One, their next-door neighbors are Groth and Saddleback. A stone’s throw away is the vines of Swanson, Flora Springs and O’Shaughnessy.

Coming full circle from the Rodenos’ original inspiration, Villa Ragazzi’s wines are made at Piero Antinori’s Atlas Peak property, Antica.

Villa Ragazzi rosé of Sangiovese.

You don’t see many rosés made from Oakville fruit. But this one is worth every penny.

The current winemaker is the legendary Robert Pepi who follows an excellent list of predecessors including Charles Thomas (Opus One, Cardinale, Rudd, Lokoya), Celia Welch (Scarecrow, Staglin, Corra), Nate Weiss (Antica, Silver Oak) and Melissa Apter (Antica, Metzker).

The Wines

Note: These wines were received as samples.

2018 Rosato di Sangiovese, Oakville (47 cases made) Suggested Retail $28

High-intensity nose. Fresh strawberries and red floral notes with a little blood orange citrus aromatics.

On the palate, the strawberries and blood orange notes carry through with mouthwatering medium-plus acidity. Bone-dry with medium body fruit. Very well-balanced given its low 11.4% alcohol. The moderate finish lingers on the strawberries but also introduces a subtle floral herbal note like rosemary. Very scrumptious and the best rosé that I’ve had so far this year.

2014 Sangiovese, Napa Valley (195 cases) Suggested Retail $42

Medium intensity nose. A mix of red fruits (cherries and cranberries) with savory herbal and spice notes.

On the palate, the high acidity amplifies the red fruit and defines the herbs and spice as being clove and thyme. The full-bodied weight is more significant than what I usually associate with Tuscan Sangiovese, but the balance of acidity keeps it from being jammy. Medium-plus tannins have a velvet edge that contributes to the balance. The long finish is mouthwatering with the fruit and adds some pepper spice. Would go exceptionally well with a lot of different food dishes.

2014 Faraona, Napa Valley (55 cases) Suggested Retail $54. A blend of 75% Sangiovese and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon

Medium-plus intensity nose. Lots of dark fruits–black currants and black plums. Moderate oak notes like vanilla and cedar. Overall this smells very Cab-like.

On the palate, those full-bodied Cab-dominant fruits carry through, but a little cherry emerges. Firm, high tannins give this wine a lot of grip and, with the medium-plus acidity, suggest that it has a fair amount of aging still ahead. Long finish plays up the Cab notes with some tobacco joining the black fruits.

2015 Faraona, Napa Valley (42 cases) Suggested Retail $54. A blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon

Medium-plus intensity nose. Much more red fruit character than the 2014 Faraona–cherries and red plums. A subtle smokiness adds a savory element to the herbal notes–like roasted thyme and rosemary.

On the palate, the youthful red fruit take center stage. Medium-plus acidity and ripe, medium-plus tannins hold the full-bodied weight of the fruit very well. Some oak flavors of vanilla and allspice emerge but are less pronounced than the 2014. Moderate finish is lip-smacking with savory herbs returning — definitely my favorite of the two vintages of Faraona.

The Verdict

Villa Ragazzi super tuscan Faraona.

While the 2015 Faraona had a lot of character now, this wine is only going to get more complex and layered with age.

In many ways, Villa Ragazzi feels like an “Insider’s Wine” that is actually attainable in price. With their minuscule production of fewer than 300 cases a year, so few people will get a chance to try these wines. Even less get a chance to try these wines at their peak.

Some of that scarcity does play into the pricing. In the US, it is easy to walk into any decent wine shop and find tons of Italian Sangiovese and Super Tuscan blends for less. But let’s put this into context.

It wouldn’t be fair to compare Villa Ragazzi’s wines to massed produced Chiantis like Ruffino’s Ducale Oro ($41 with 32,500 cases made) or Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva ($22 with 13,900 cases made).

A fairer comparison would be wines made in a more age-worthy style like Isole e Olena’s Cepparello ($90 with 3700 cases made), Felsina’s Fontalloro ($65 with 2500 cases made), Tenuta Sette Ponti’s Crognolo ($40 with 7500 cases made) and Terrabianca’s Campaccio ($36 with 8000 cases made).

Some of these wines are less in price than Villa Ragazzi’s Sangiovese and Faraona. However, none of these come close to such a tiny production. You are also not finding them coming from Napa’s pricey terroir. With their prime Oakville real estate, the Rodenos could turn their entire property over to Cabernet Sauvignon that would certainly fetch much higher prices–especially for a 300 case micro-cuvee.

The fact that they don’t is a testament to Michaela Rodeno’s long history of forging her own path.

The Rodenos could have taken the easy way, selling their land or cranking out more $100+ Napa Cabs. Instead, they followed their passions to innovate and do something different.

It’s that same passion that leads so many people, like my wife, to leave the comforts of a cozy job to dive headfirst into the uncertain, but exciting, world of start-ups. It is also the passion that makes the best stories in wine.

As well as in life.

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Getting Geeky with Zweifel Zürcher Stadtwein Räuschling

I am going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about Zweifel’s 2014 Zürcher Stadtwein Räuschling from the Chillesteig vineyard in Höngg-Zurich.

Zweifel Swiss Rauchling wine

The Background

The Zweifel family founded their eponymous company in Höngg in 1898. Previously, the family were viticulturists who were growing vines since at least 1440. But hard economic times, as well as the devastation of phylloxera, encouraged Emil and Paul Zweifel to move into the wine and fruit juice trade.

In the 1960s, the family returned to viticulture with the planting of several vineyards. Today, in addition to selling wine from across the globe at their various wine shops, Zweifel makes private-label Swiss wine. The fruit for these wines is sourced from vineyards throughout northeast Switzerland–including several urban sites in Zurich.

In one such vineyard, Lattenberg along Lake Zurich, Zweifel help pioneer the plantings of Syrah and Sauvignon blanc in Switzerland.

Other varieties of Swiss wine that Zweifel produces include Pinot noir, Regent, Maréchal Foch, Léon Millot, Johanniter, Malbec, Cabernet Cubin, Scheurebe, Chardonnay, Garanoir and Riesling.

An Urban Vineyard in Zurich
Photo by Roland zh. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

A vineyard in Höngg snuck between housing development and the local church overlooking the Limmat river.

The Höngg quarter in the 10th district of Zurich has had a long history of viticulture with vines planted during the time of the Reformation. The most renown vineyard was Chillesteig planted on a sloping hillside along the Limmat river.

In the 1880s, problems took their toll on viticulture in the area with downy mildew and phylloxera devasting the vines. Aided by the industrialization and urban growth of Zurich, the last vines were grubbed up in 1942.

In 1968, Heinrich Zweifel, whose family has been in Höngg since the 14th century, started replanting the Chillesteig vineyard. His goal was to produce wine for his family’s wine shop. Today the 3.2 ha (8 acres) vineyard is planted to several varieties including Pinot noir/Clevner, Pinot gris, Cabernet Dorsa (a Cabernet Sauvignon x Dornfelder crossing), Prior, Riesling x Silvaner (Müller-Thurgau) and Räuschling.

Zweifel farms the vineyard sustainably under Suisse-Garantie ecological performance certification (ÖLN). Nando Oberli tends to the vines while Paul Gasser makes the wines at Zweifel’s Ellikon an der Thur winery in the Winterthur District.

The Grape

Photo from www.antiquariat-kunsthandel.de. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-PD-Mark

The 1546 edition of Bock’s Kreutterbuch was one of the first documents to mention the cultivation of Räuschling.

Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz note in Wine Grapes that the origins of Räuschling date back to at least the Middle Ages.

Likely originating in the Rhine Valley, the first mention of the grape (under the synonym Drutsch) was in Hieronymus Bock‘s 1546 edition of Kreutterbuch (“plant book”). Here Bock describes it growing in the town of Landau in Rhineland-Palatinate.

By 1614, it was in the Franken region under the name of Reuschling. Local records in the area showed that producers were pulling up vines of Gouais blanc (Weißer Heunisch) in favor of Reuschling and another variety, Elbling.

The modern spelling of Räuschling emerges in the mid-18th century along with the synonym Zürirebe, meaning “grape of Zurich.” Over the next couple of centuries, plantings of Räuschling would gradually become more centralized around Zurich as vines disappeared from Germany and Alsace. Even in its stronghold of Northern Switzerland, the grape fell out of favor in the 20th century as more productive varieties like Müller-Thurgau took over.

By 2009, there was only 23 ha (57 acres) of Räuschling growing in Switzerland.  Most of these plantings are in the canton of Zurich.

Parentage and relationship to other grapes
Photo by Dr. Joachim Schmid, FG RZ, FA Geisenheim. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Gouais blanc is a parent vine of many varieties including Räuschling.

DNA analysis has suggested that Räuschling is a natural cross of Gouais blanc and Savagnin (Traminer). This would make it a full sibling of Aubin blanc and Petit Meslier as well as a half-sibling to Chardonnay, Gamay, Auxerrois, Sauvignon blanc, Riesling, Elbling, Aligoté, Chenin blanc, Colombard, Grüner Veltliner, Blaufränkisch, Melon de Bourgogne, Knipperlé and Sacy.

Two of these half-siblings, Riesling and Knipperlé, are vines that plantings of Räuschling is sometimes confused for in old vineyards in Germany and Alsace.

The Wine

Note: This tasting note is from my June 2017 visit to Zurich.

Photo by Debra Roby - originally posted to Flickr as Meyer Lemon, CC BY 2.0,

Lots of citrus Meyer lemon notes in this wine.

Medium intensity nose. Meyer lemons with some white floral notes that aren’t very defined.

On the palate, those citrus lemon notes come through and are amplified by the high acidity. The medium body of the fruit helps balance the acid, keeping the wine tasting dry and crisp. There is a phenolic texture to the mouthfeel that reminds me a bit of a Muscadet from Melon de Bourgogne. However, there are no aromatic signs of lees contact. Nor is there any trace of oak. Moderate finish continues with the mouthwatering lemony notes.

The Verdict

This wine tasted like what you would get if a Muscadet and lighter French Sauvignon blanc (like a Saint-Bris) had a baby. The texture and mouthfeel make me think of Muscadet but the citrus and high acidity remind me of Sauvignon blanc.

However, it doesn’t have the minerality of a good Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine or a Loire Sauvignon blanc. But I can see this pairing with a lot of the same dishes (particularly shellfish). I can also see it being a nice change of pace from New Zealand Sauvignon blanc. It would especially appeal to folks who want less green notes or pungent tropical fruit.

For around $18-23 USD, I would still be quite interested in trying a new vintage of the Zweifel Räuschling. You are paying a bit of a premium for the novelty of the grape variety and small urban production. But you are paying a premium on virtually every wine in Zurich.

Still, if you happen to be in the area and want a taste of local flavor, it’s well worth exploring.

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60 Second Wine Review — Carlisle Bedrock Mourvèdre

A few quick thoughts on the 2016 Carlisle Mourvèdre from Bedrock Vineyard in the Sonoma Valley.

The Geekery
Carlisle Bedrock Mourvedre

Mike Officer started Carlisle in 1998 with his wife, Kendall, after years of home-winemaking. Quickly growing to over 1000 cases, they hired Jay Maddox to assist as winemaker.

Specializing in old vine and field blend vineyards, Officer helped establish the Historic Vineyard Society with Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock, Tegan Passalacqua of Turley, David Gates of Ridge Vineyards and Robert Biale.

The Bedrock Vineyard was initially planted just before the Civil War in 1854 by future generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Joe Hooker. But those vines were lost to phylloxera in the 1880s with Senator George Hearst, the father William Randolph Hearst, replanting the site in 1888.

The blocks of 1888 Mourvèdre used by Carlisle and Bedrock Wine Co. for their Ode to Lulu Rosé are some of the oldest plantings of the variety in California.

The 2016 vintage is a blend of 96% Mourvèdre and 4% Syrah with the wine aged in 25% new French oak barrels. Only 109 cases were produced.

The Wine

Photo by Nick Sarro nicksarr1. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-Zero

The juicy blackberries pair well with the savory notes in this wine.

High-intensity nose. Lots of dark fruit–blackberries and cherries–with a subtle smokey quality. Like someone tossed them in a roasting pan on a grill. Black pepper and star anise spice as well.

On the palate, the full-bodied weight of the fruit carries through. The medium-plus acidity amplifies the juiciness of the fruit and accentuates the savory smokey flavors. It also brings out some herbal notes like thyme and bay leaf. The medium-plus tannins are very ripe and mouth-filling. Long finish lingers on smoke and spice.

The Verdict

I bought this from the Carlisle mailing list at $38 and am kicking myself for not buying more. It could be in the $50-60 range and would still be a steal.

This is an immensely complex and delicious wine that is in a great spot now. But it’s only going to get better as more tertiary flavors develop. Should have bought more.

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Geek Notes — New Wine Books For February

January and February are the doldrums of winter. They don’t feature the festivities of December–only snow, freezing cold and dark gray days. It just plain sucks. But eventually March and spring will be on the horizon.

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

One of the trademark clues of Gruner Veltliner in a blind tasting is the presence of white pepper. This comes from the compound rotundone that forms naturally in the grapes.

While we’re popping vitamin D supplements and counting down the days till pitchers and catchers report, let’s take a look at a few new and upcoming wine books.

The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting, Third Edition by Neel Burton (Paperback release February 3rd, 2019)

I own the original 2014 edition of Burton’s book that he did with James Flewellen. It is handy but, in all honesty, I’m not sure it’s correctly named.

What I had initially hoped for was a book that would teach you some of the tips and tricks to blind tasting. Like for instance, if you detect black or white pepper in a wine, you should know that is caused by the compound rotundone.

There are only a handful of grape varieties that contain this compound–most notably Syrah, Grüner Veltliner, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah and Schioppettino. Detecting this during a blind tasting flight is a huge clue. Furthermore, anecdotal and some scientific analysis has shown that cooler climates and vintages increase the concentration of rotundone and “pepperiness” of the wine. This can be another clue in nailing down wine region and vintage.

That was the kind of insight and details that I was hoping for with Burton and Flewellen’s book. You get a little but not quite to the extent I was looking for in a book marketing itself as a blind tasting guide. Instead, The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting tilts more to the “Guide to Wine” side offering a (very well done) overview of the major regions and wines of the world.

Chapter 4 does walk you through the blind tasting process and the Appendix gives a “crib sheet” of common flavors and structure which is very useful. But that’s about it.

However, I’m still buying this new edition
blind tasting crib sheets from Burton's book

Example of the blind tasting “crib sheets” in the appendix of the first edition of The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting.

That’s because it’s an excellent guide to wine that is similar to Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay’s The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste: A Field Guide to the Great Wines of Europe. Burton’s book doesn’t list benchmark producers like Parr’s book does but they both highlight the distinction of terroir that shows up in the wines from various regions. They’re a bit like condensed versions (362 and 352 pages, respectively) of Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible (1008 pages) with a bit more focus on the taste profiles and terroir of each region.

I’ve gotten plenty of good use out of the first edition of The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting to make the new version a worthwhile investment. Plus, it is possible that this updated version will go more into those blind tasting details that I crave.

The Chinese Wine Renaissance: A Wine Lover’s Companion by Janet Z. Wang (Hardcover released on January 24th, 2019)

Back in November, I highlighted Loren Mayshark’s Inside the Chinese Wine Industry which has been a great read. As I noted in that edition of Geek Notes, China is a significant player on the global wine market. While the interest of the industry has been mostly on their buying power, the large size and diverse terroir of mainland China offer exciting potential for production.

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

A bronze Gu, or ceremonial wine vessel, from the Shang Dynasty dating to the 12th or 11th century.

It is in the best interest of any wine student to start exploring Chinese wine. I recently got geeky with Grace Vineyard Tasya’s Reserve Shiraz and can’t wait to find more examples. In addition to Mayshark’s book, Suzanne Mustacich’s Thirsty Dragon: China’s Lust for Bordeaux and the Threat to the World’s Best Wines has been highly informative as well.

But both of those were written by non-native writers. That is what make’s Janet Z. Wang’s Chinese Wine Renaissance intriguing. Wang spent her childhood in China before moving to the United Kingdom as a teenager. There she studied Chinese history and culture before developing an interest in wine while at Cambridge.

Now she runs her blog, Winepeek, and contributes to Decanter China. In between her writings, she teaches masterclasses on Chinese wine.

On her blog, she has a slideshow with wine tasting suggestions that gives a sneak peek into what her book covers. With a foreword and endorsement from Oz Clarke, I have a feeling that Wang’s book is going to become the benchmark reference for Chinese wine.

Decoding Spanish Wine: A Beginner’s Guide to the High Value, World Class Wines of Spain by Andrew Cullen and Ryan McNally (Paperback released on January 24th, 2019)

Kirkland brand Champagne

Now granted, Costco doesn’t sell many Cremants. This might explain why the Costco Wine Blog folks were so blown away by this $20 Champagne. But compared to many Cremant de Bourgogne and Alsace in the $15-20 range, it was fairly ho-hum.

Andrew Cullen is the founder of CostcoWineBlog.com that has been reviewing wines found at Costco stores for years. While I don’t always agree with their reviews (like my contrarian take on the Kirkland Champagne) I still find the site to be an enjoyable read.

Beyond the blog, Cullen has co-authored quick (around 100 pages or so) beginner wine guides to French, Italian and now Spanish wines. He also wrote the even quicker read Around the Wine World in 40 Pages: An Exploration Guide for the Beginning Wine Enthusiast.

While these books aren’t going to be helpful for Diploma students, they are great resources for folks taking WSET Level 1 and Level 2 as well as Certified Specialist of Wine exams. I particularly liked how Decoding Italian Wine went beyond just the big name Italian wine regions such as Chianti, Brunello and Barolo to get into under-the-radar areas like Carmignano, Gavi and Sagrantino di Montefalco.

Plus for $9-10, the books are super cheap as well.

French Wines and Vineyards: And the Way to Find Them (Classic Reprint) by Cyrus Redding (Hardcover released on January 18th, 2019)

This is for my fellow hardcore geeks.

I am a sucker for reprints of classical texts. I especially adore ones featured in the bibliographies of seemingly every great wine history book. Such is the esteem that the British journalist Cyrus Redding holds among Masters of Wines like Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson and Clive Coates.

Cartoon from Punch, September 6, 1890, page 110 Artwork by Edward Linley Sambourne (January 4, 1844–August 3, 1910). Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD Old

Redding passed in 1870 so he didn’t get a chance to witness the full scale of devastation on French vineyards caused by phylloxera.
This cartoon is from an 1890 magazine that describes the pest as “A True Gourmet” that targetted the best vineyards.

First published in 1860, French Wines and Vineyards gives a snapshot of the French wine industry in the mid 19th-century. Written just after the 1855 Bordeaux classification and only a few years before phylloxera would make its appearance in the Languedoc in 1863, Redding documents a hugely influential time in the history of French wines.

Pairing this book with a reading of the 19th-century chapters in Hugh Johnson’s Vintage and Rod Phillips’ French Wine: A History would be a fabulous idea for wine students wanting to understand this key period.

One additional tip. Hardcover editions of classic texts look nice on the shelf. But if you’re a frequent annotator like me then you probably want to go paperback. Forgotten Books released a paperback version of Redding’s work back in 2017 that you can get a new copy of for less than $12 right now.

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Geek Notes — New Wine Books for January

I’ve spent the last few days doing my civic obligation of jury duty, so I haven’t been able to post as much. Then, of course, there has been travel and the holidays. But as 2018 crawls to an end, I’ve found time to explore a few intriguing new titles.

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

Grapes drying to produce the Lombardy DOCG wine of Moscato di Scanzo.

Now I know that at the start of the year, some folks like to dabble with “Drynuary.”  Advocates view it as an opportunity to “dry out” after the bacchanal of the holidays. I’ve never been a participant, but I respect those who give it a go. After all, they do say “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

However, I tend to favor the English author Thomas Fuller’s spin on that phrase.

“Absence sharpens love; presence strengthens it.”

So even if you’re cutting back on wine to start the year, you can still resolve to strengthen your geekiness in 2019 with some fun wine books.

Into Italian Wine, Fourth Edition by Jack and Geralyn Brostrom. (Released in paperback Dec 24, 2018)

I was shocked to see the updated (226 pages) study guide for the Italian Wine Professional (IWP) course available for purchase by itself. Usually, you have to sign up for the course to get your hands on this text. Of course, that includes online/classroom study and exams. The price and timing will vary depending on the provider. For example, the Napa Valley Wine Academy is offering an 8-week online course for $795.

screen shot on chablis from WSG Burgundy course.

A screenshot from the Wine Scholar Guild’s Burgundy Master Level course conducted by Don Kinnan.

The benefits of taking these types of specialist courses (there is also the Wine Scholar Guild that offers many certifications) is mixed. I’ve taken a few of the WSG offerings (Bordeaux & Burgundy) and learned a lot. I’ve founded them to be well-designed and highly immersive. For someone that wants to dive deep into a topic (and are okay with the cost), they’re well worth it.

But for industry professionals looking to buff up a resume? I’m more skeptical. Especially compared to credentials like the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and Court of Master Sommeliers, I don’t think these certifications hold much “sway.” If you’re going to spend upwards of $1000 for something that will pay dividends on a resume, you are far better off looking at things like the Level 2 Certified Sommelier Examination and the WSET Level 2 or even Level 3 Advance.

The Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and Certified Wine Educator (CWE) from the Society of Wine Educators can offer some resume benefits. But as a CSW, I can tell you that I’ve gotten far more credibility and job prospects from my WSET certifications. My winemaking and wine marketing & sales certificates from the Northwest Wine Academy have also helped but those cost me a bit more than $1000.

However, I don’t want to discount the value of the knowledge you can get from these courses.
Map provided by Benanti Winery. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Sicily is becoming one of the hottest wine regions in the world with wines from the Etna DOC, in particular, gaining attention. It probably won’t be long before this area gets promoted to a DOCG.
Wine students are well served becoming familiar with these wines.

As I noted above, there is a lot of good stuff here. That is why picking up essentially the textbook for the IWP at $49 is appealing.

I borrowed a copy of the 3rd Edition from a friend who paid for the full course. I was super impressed with how in-depth it covered nearly all of the 74 DOCG and most of the 300+ DOCs of Italy, including many of the intricacies of their various wine laws and regulations.

It’s far more scholarly than many wine books covering Italy. The closest would be the slightly outdated Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy (2005) by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch. But even though the later has over 544 pages, I found that the IWP study guide included more precise details about the wine laws for many of the DOC/Gs.

The Cultivation Of The Native Grape, And Manufacture Of American Wines by George Husmann. (Released on paperback Dec. 18, 2018)

This historical encyclopedia of native American and hybrid grape varieties is 188 pages of pure geeky candy. Candy that I was super excited to see available for less than $7! It’s also a book that has a soft spot in this Missouri girl’s heart.

George Husmann was a 19th-century viticulturist who is considered the “Father of the Missouri Grape Industry.” Many people don’t realize how vibrant the Missouri wine industry was before Prohibition.

German settlers were reminded of their homeland when they stumbled upon the Missouri Rhineland in the 1830s. They planted vines in what eventually became the American Viticultural Areas of Hermann and Augusta. More than a century later, Augusta would beat out Napa Valley for the distinction of being the very first AVA created.

Photo by W.C. Persons. Released on Wikimedia Commons under PD-Art (PD-1923)

The American Wine Company of St. Louis was also a significant wine producer up until World War II. They created Cook’s Imperial sparkling wine before the brand moved to California after Prohibition.
Here workers in 1916 are bottling and corking wines at the Cass Avenue winery.

After Missouri entomologist Charles V. Riley discovered phylloxera as the cause of the epidemic that was devasting wine regions across Europe, it was rootstock cuttings of Missouri vines that helped saved the European wine industry.

By the start of the 20th century, Missouri was the second largest grape producer in the country–second only to California. Stone Hill Winery in Missouri, founded in 1847, was the 3rd largest winery in the world. Each year it would produce more than a million gallons of wine.

For folks who want to geek out more, the first volume of Thomas Pinney’s History of Wine in America (especially chapter 7) gives great insight into the long forgotten glory days and impact of the Missouri wine industry.

A Time Capsule of Geekiness
Photo by Don Kasak. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-2.0

The native Norton grape, member of the Vitis aestivalis family, has long been an important grape of the Missouri wine industry.

Husmann’s 1866 The Cultivation Of The Native Grape is a time capsule about what the world of American wine was like in the mid-19th century. Many modern sources of American wine history (like Pinney) frequently cite this and other Husmann works such as The Muscadine Grapes, An Article on Pest Resistant Vines and Grape Investigations in the Vinifera Regions of the United States in their bibliographies.

Wine students don’t necessarily need to read these historical books to pass exams. But they do color in the portrait of American wine history in ways that many modern wine books can’t match. However, I don’t suggest paying a premium for these old books. But when you find them on the cheap, take a flier and broaden your perspective.

Dancing Somm: Life of the Napa and Sonoma Wine Sherpa by Sandrew Montgomery. (Released on paperback Dec. 16, 2018)

Sandrew Montgomery is a long time Napa fixture. He has worked at or been intimately involved with many of the region’s most iconic wineries. These include Far Niente, Chateau Montelena, Shafer, Caymus, Dominus and Opus One among many others. He’s also spent a significant time of his career in Sonoma. Here he has worked with legendary figures like Merry Edwards, Mike Benziger, Jeff Kunde, Sam Sebastiani and Jess Jackson.

Dancing Somm is a memoir of his long career and the developments he’s seen in the two valleys. As a wine historian and educator, he’s had a front row seat to many changes and events.

Compared to the scholarly and journalistic approach taken by James Conway in Far Side Of Eden and Napa at Last Light, I expect Montgomery’s memoir to offer a more personal and joie de vivre perspective. It’s another angle wine students can use to understand Napa and Sonoma’s remarkable growth over the last 40 years.

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Getting Geeky with Conundrum Rose

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about the 2016 Conundrum Rosé.

The Background

Conundrum is made by the Wagner family who founded Caymus Vineyards in Napa Valley in 1971.

Along with Caymus and Conundrum, the Wagners have developed a portfolio of wine brands made by Chuck Wagner and his kids, Charlie and Jenny, including Mer Soleil, Old Cannery Row, Red Schooner, 1858 Wines and Emmolo.

Chuck’s other son, Joe Wagner, also makes several wines with Copper Cane Wine & Provisions including Belle Glos, Elouan, Tuli, Beran, Torial, Carne Humana, The Willametter, Napa Quilt and BÖEN.

With the Caymus Special Selection, the Wagners hold the distinction of being the only winery to produce a wine that has twice been named the number one wine on Wine Spectator’s yearly Top 100 list for the 1984 and 1990 vintages.

The Conundrum series of wines were introduced in 1989. That first wine was a white blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Sémillon, Viognier and Muscat Canelli/Moscato. Over the years the brand has expanded to include a red blend (primarily Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon), a sparkling wine (Pinot gris, Viognier, Muscat Canelli and Chenin blanc) and, since 2016, a rosé.

Vineyards and Production

The fruit for Conundrum are sourced throughout California. Vineyard sources over the years have included the North Coast wine regions of Napa and Solano County, the central coast areas of Monterey, San Benito and Santa Barbara County as well as the inland vineyards of Tulare County south of Fresno.

My Conundrum hat autographed by Chuck Wagner.

The wines are made in Monterey County by Chuck’s son Charlie with Jon Bolta assisting and overseeing the white wine production.

The 2016 Conundrum rosé is made from the Valdiguié grape sourced from Paso Robles.

It is not widely published how many cases of the rosé are produced but previous vintages of the Conundrum Red have topped 120,000 cases and nearly 90,000 cases for the white.

The Grape

The Valdiguié grape originated in Southwest France, likely in either the Tarn-et-Garonne or Lot-et-Garonne departments. Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz note in Wine Grapes that the first documented mention of the grape, under the name of Valdiguier, appeared only in 1884 which leads to a few theories about Valdiguié’s origins.

One theory involves a landowner from the late 18th century in the village of Puylaroque in the Tarn-et-Garonne named Valdéguier who propagated different grape varieties in his courtyard garden. Another theory centers around a grower named Jean-Baptiste Valdiguié. In 1845, he had a vineyard in the hamlet of Tressens near Puylaroque where he may have propagated the grape.

Around this same time, in the neighboring department of Lot-et-Garonne, there was a vineyard worker named Guillaume Valdiguier who may have propagated Valdiguié from an abandon vineyard once owned by the Templiers monastery in Aujols.

Map created by קרלוס הגדול . Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

The Garonne river (highlighted in box) flows through Southwest France and eventually meets up with the Gironde estuary in Bordeaux. It is likely that the Valdiguié grape originated somewhere in this area.

A parent-offspring relationship between Valdiguié and the nearly extinct Fronton grape Mérille of the Lot-et-Garonne has been suggested by ampelographers but so far has not been confirmed by DNA analysis. Prevalent in Southwest France in the 19th century until phylloxera, Mérille was once one of the minor blending grapes of Bordeaux.

In the early 20th century, Valdiguié’s tolerance to powdery mildew and reliable yields saw its plantings greatly expand. It reached a peak of 4,908 ha (12,128 acres) in 1958. But the grape eventually lost ground to other more popular plantings. By 2008, there were only 145 ha (358 acres) planted in Southwest France, Provence and the Languedoc.

Valdiguié in California

In California, growers misidentified Valdiguié as the Gamay grape of Beaujolais (Gamay noir). It’s productivity help the grape became a popular planting in the decades following Prohibition. Over 6000 acres of “Napa Gamay”  was planted by 1977. The grape was often fermented using the carbonic maceration method commonly used for Beaujolais Nouveau to produce fruity, easy drinking wines with moderate alcohol.

Photo taken by self and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons as User:Agne27 under CC-BY-SA-3.0

While Valdiguié is grown in several places in California, the fruit for the 2016 vintage of the Conundrum rosé was sourced from Paso Robles. Pictured is a Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard from the region.

In 1980, the French ampelographer Pierre Galet noted that Napa Gamay was actually Valdiguié.  Napa Gamay is still officially recognized as a synonym for the variety. However, most producers today label their wines as Valdiguié.

As in France, acreage of Valdiguié began steadily dropping as other varieties earned greater focus and market share. As of 2017 there was 251 acres of the grape. Significant plantings can be found in Napa Valley, Suisan Valley, Solano County, Lodi, Redwood Valley, Paso Robles, Mendocino County, Monterey and the Madera AVA.

In the Calistoga AVA of Napa, the Frediani vineyard has old vine Valdiguié that were planted as early as 1935.

Beyond Conundrum, other notable producers of Valdiguié include Forlorn Hope and Driscoll Wine Co.’s vineyard designated wines from Frediani Vineyard, J. Lohr and the pétillant naturel (Pet-Nat) Valdiguié made by Cruse Wine Co. and Broc Cellars.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. A mix of cantaloupe fruit and subtle rind-like earthiness. There is also red fruit that isn’t as defined or dominant as that melon and rind note.

On the palate, the cantaloupe comes through with medium-plus acidity adding freshness. It is actually quite vibrant for a 2 year old rosé. The rind notes also carry through with a pithy, phenolic texture. Those phenols adds medium-minus bodied weight to this dry rosé but doesn’t stray to bitterness. The red fruit becomes a little more pronounced as strawberries but fades quickly with the finish.

The Verdict

At $18-22, you are paying a tad bit of a premium for the geeky variety. But it is not that out of line for the uniqueness and quality of the wine. I was expecting this wine to follow suit with the Conundrum White and Red and have noticeable residual sugar. Instead this rosé was distinctly dry and well made.

While many mass-produced rosés decline in quality after a year in bottle, the Conundrum rosé still has freshness and vibrancy. However, the short finish and nondescript red fruit does give away its age. If you have a bottle, I would recommend drinking it soon or look for a newer vintage.

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Getting Geeky with Otis Kenyon Roussanne

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about the 2013 Otis Kenyon Roussanne from Lawrence Vineyards in the Columbia Valley AVA.

The Background

Otis Kenyon was founded in 2004 by Steve Kenyon who still runs the winery today with his daughter, Muriel.

The winery’s name comes four generations of Otis Kenyons with the original John Otis Kenyon, a dentist by training, being a notorious figure in Walla Walla for burning down a competitor’s office when the later starting stealing half of Kenyon’s clients.

The labels of Otis Kenyon wines pay tribute to this family history in a playful manner with a silhouette of the original Otis Kenyon with singed edges as well as a red wine blend, Matchless, featuring an open matchbook on the label. The winery’s “business cards” are also matchbooks filled with actual matches.

Along with sourcing fruit from throughout the Columbia Valley, Otis Kenyon has an estate vineyard, Stellar Vineyard, located in the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater on the Oregon side of Walla Walla.

The wines are made by Dave Stephenson, who founded his eponymous Stephenson Cellars in 2001. Prior to working at Otis Kenyon, Stephenson started his career at Waterbrook and today consults for several boutique wineries.

Around 247 cases of the 2013 Otis Kenyon Roussanne were made.

The Vineyard

Sourced page https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/babe8d_812edf6fe37b403ebaa7687e2760dd66.pdf

Map showing the proposed Royal Slope AVA (in yellow) where Lawrence Vineyards are located. Prepared by Richard Rupp of Palouse Geospatial.

The Lawrence Vineyards are located on the Frenchman Hills of the Royal Slope of the Columbia Valley basin and includes six named sites–Corfu Crossing (first planted in 2003), Scarline (2003), La Reyna Blanca (2010), Laura Lee (2008), Solaksen (2013) and Thunderstone (2015). The Lawrence family also manages the nearby Boneyard Vineyard that includes five acres of Syrah. All the Lawrence Vineyards are sustainably farmed.

While managing 330+ acres of plantings the Lawrence family also own Gård Vintners which produces around 6000 cases a year sourced from their estate grown fruit and made by Aryn Morell. Together with Morell they also produce Morell-Lawrence Wines (M & L).

The Roussanne used by Otis Kenyon cames from 2007 plantings of the Tablas Creek clone in Corfu Crossing which sits on a south facing slope at an elevation that ranges from 1,365-1,675 ft. The soils here are a mixture of silt and sandy loam on a bedrock of fractured basalt.

Photo by  Peter Ellis. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.5

Riesling sourced from Lawrence Vineyards has been used in some of the state’s most highly acclaimed Riesling wines.

In addition to Otis Kenyon, M & L and Gård, other wineries that source fruit from Lawrence includes Latta Wines, Southard Winery, Cairdeas, Armstrong Family, Matthews Winery, Pend d’Oreille as well as Chateau Ste. Michelle for their top-end Riesling Eroica.

Other varieties that the Lawrence Vineyards farm include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Mouvedre, Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Pinot gris, Sauvignon blanc and Viognier.

The (future) AVA of the Royal Slope

The proposed Royal Slope AVA was formerly delineated and submitted for AVA approval in early 2017. It includes the south facing slopes around Royal City located between the established AVAS of the Ancient Lakes and Wahluke Slope. Within the AVA is a sub-region of the Frenchmen Hills. The lead petitioner for the AVA was geologist Alan Busacca, former professor at Washington State University and Walla Walla Community College who also wrote the successful petitions for the Wahluke Slope, Lake Chelan and Lewis-Clark Valley AVAs.

The topography can range from relatively gentle to fairly steeper slopes of up to 22 degrees in the Frenchmen Hills region. The soils are fairly uniformed in their mixture of sandy and silty loam river deposits covering layers of fractured basalt left over from a period of intense volcanic activity during the Miocene Epoch. These soils are very high in calcium carbonate which may contribute to the strong minerality that wines from the Royal Slope tend to exhibit.

Throughout the growing season the region sees heat units (growing degree days or GDD) ranging from 2700 GDD to over 3000 GDD making it one of the warmest wine regions in the state. However the areas bordering the Ancient Lakes AVA to the northeast can be considerably cooler.

Charles Smith’s highly acclaimed K Vintners Royal City Syrah is sourced from the Stoneridge Vineyard in the proposed Royal Slope AVA.

Elevations range from 900 feet to upwards of 1700 feet with the higher elevation sites seeing much more diurnal temperature variation from the daytime highs to very cool temperatures at night which maintains acidity and keeps the vine from shutting down due to heat stress.

The proposed AVA contains 156,389 acres of which around 1400 have already been planted. Other notable vineyards in this proposed AVA includes Novelty Hill Winery’s estate vineyard Stillwater Creek, Frenchmen Hills Vineyard and Stoneridge

The Grape

Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz note in Wine Grapes that the first recorded documentation of Roussanne occurred in 1781 describing its use in the white wines of Hermitage. The name Roussanne is believed to be derived from the French term roux and could refer to the russet golden-red color of the grapes’ skins after veraison.

DNA analysis shows that there is a likely parent-offspring relationship with Marsanne but it is not yet known which variety is the parent and which is the offspring.

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

The reddish bronze hue that Roussanne grapes get after veraison likely contributes to the grape’s name.


In the northern Rhône regions of St. Joseph, Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage, Roussanne adds acidity, richness and minerality when paired with Marsanne. It can also be used in the sparkling Northern Rhone wines of St. Peray. As a varietal it can have a characteristic floral and herbal verbena tea note.

Unlike Marsanne and Viognier, Roussanne is a permitted white grape variety in the red and white wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape where today it makes up around 6% of the commune’s plantings as the third most popular white grape behind Grenache blanc and Clairette.

From a low point of 54 ha (133 acres) in 1968 plantings of Roussanne steadily grew throughout the late 20th century to 1074 ha (2654 acres) by 2006. Outside of the Rhone, the grape can be found in the Savoie region where it is known as Bergeron and is the sole variety in the wines of Chignin-Bergeron. In the Languedoc-Roussillon it is often blended with Chardonnay, Bourboulenc and Vermentino as well as Grenache blanc and Marsanne.

Roussanne is a late-ripening variety that is very prone to powdery mildew, botrytis and shutting down from excessive heat stress towards the end of the growing season.

Even in ideal conditions, Roussanne can be a troublesome producer in the vineyard with uneven yields often caused by coulure (also known as “shattering”) when the embryonic grape clusters don’t properly pollinate during fruit set after flowering. A significant cause of this is poor management by the vine of its carbohydrate reserves which the vine begins storing for the next year after the harvest of the previous vintage. Other factors at play can include nutrient deficiencies in the soil–particularly of boron and zinc with the later often being exacerbated in high pH soils.

Photo by Mark Smith of  Stefano Lubiana Wines Granton Vineyard Tasmania. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

During fruit set (shown here with Merlot), flowers that weren’t pollinated will “shatter” and not develop into full berries. This creates uneven yields with clusters having a mix of fully formed and “shot” berries. Roussanne is particularly susceptible to this condition.

Other varieties that are similarly susceptible to coulure include Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Muscat Ottonel and Gewürztraminer.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Prior to phylloxera, Roussanne was relatively well-established in California in the 19th century with plantings in Napa, Sonoma and Santa Clara where it was often blended with Petite Sirah. However, following phylloxera and Prohibition in the 20th century, most all Roussanne vineyards were uprooted.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, producers in California began experimenting again with the variety. In 1994, Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards in Napa purchased 6400 Roussanne vines for his Mer Soleil project. The vines he purchased came from Sonoma Grapevines owned by the Kunde family who originally sourced their cuttings from a vineyard owned by Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon (who did not know that Kunde was going to commercially propagate them). The Bonny Doon cuttings came from a visiting Châteauneuf-du-Pape winemaker.

Photo taken by self and uploaded to Wikimedia commons as user:Agne27 under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

Many plantings of Roussanne in California in the 1980s and 1990s turned out to be Viognier (pictured).

Four years later a visiting viticulturalist identified the plantings in the Mer Soleil vineyard not as Roussanne but rather as Viognier–an identification that was later confirmed by DNA testing at UC-Davis. The discovery unleashed a cascading effect of lawsuits and countersuits from various parties involved as well as a hunt for true Roussanne plantings in California.

Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles began importing their Roussanne cuttings directly from their sister-property, Château de Beaucastel, in Châteauneuf-du-Pape in 1989. Additionally, John Alban began sourcing authentic Roussanne cuttings in 1991 with nearly all of the 323 acres of Roussanne vines in California (as of 2017) now being descendant from the Tablas and Alban vines.

Roussanne in Washington

Paul Gregutt notes in Washington Wines and Wineries that Roussanne in Washington “… can taste like a real fruit salad mix, everything from apples, citrus and lime to peaches, honey and cream.”

The grape was pioneered in Washington by Doug McCrea, the state’s original Rhone Ranger, of McCrea Cellars and Cameron Fries of White Heron Cellars in the 1990s. While varietal examples can be found, the grape is mostly used as a blending component in Rhone-style blends with Grenache blanc, Viognier and Marsanne.

Along with Doug McCrea of McCrea Cellars, Cameron Fries of White Heron Cellars (pictured) helped pioneer Roussanne in Washington State.


By 2017, there were 71 acres of Roussanne planted in Washington.

In addition to the plantings of Lawrence Vineyard, there are notable acreages of Roussanne on Red Mountain at Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, Stillwater Creek, Boushey Vineyard in the Yakima Valley and at Alder Ridge, Destiny Ridge and Wallula Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose–tree fruits like spiced pear and apricot with a citrus grassy component that could be verbena.

On the palate the wine is very full-bodied and weighty with almost an oily texture. The spiced pear notes definitely come through with that herbal citrus tinge. Medium-plus acidity is still giving the wine freshness and balancing the weight. The moderate length finish ends on the pear and herbal notes.

The Verdict

I’m usually skeptical about how well many domestic white wines age but this 2013 Otis Kenyon Roussanne is holding on quite well for a 4+ year old white. The acidity seems to be the key and is a helpful balance to the full-bodied fruit.

The big weight and texture of this wine is reminiscent of a lightly oak Chardonnay with no malolactic and would serve as a good change of a pace for not only a Chardonnay drinker but also a red wine fan who is craving something very food friendly to go with heavier cream sauces, pork and poultry dishes.

At $25-30, this wine offers a fair amount of complexity and is definitely worth trying.

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

We head back to St. Emilion to look at some of the 2017 Bordeaux Futures offers from 4 of the 14 Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’ — Clos Fourtet, Ch. Larcis Ducasse, Ch. Pavie Macquin and Ch. Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse.

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

In our previous jaunts to St. Emilion we examined the offers of Clos de l’Oratoire, Ch. Monbousquet, Ch. Quinault l’Enclos and Ch. Fonplegade as well as Ch. Beau-Séjour Bécot, Ch. Canon-la-Gaffelière, Ch. Canon and Ch. La Dominique.

You can also check out our first Bordeaux Futures 2017 post covering the offers of the St. Emilion estates of Ch. Valandraud and Ch. Fombrauge with more links at the bottom of the page featuring other estates across Bordeaux that we have reviewed so far in this series.

Clos Fourtet (St. Emilion)
Some Geekery:

Located on the limestone plateau, near the entrance to the town of St. Emilion itself, Clos Fourtet was first born as Camfourtet–a defensive fortification built during the Middle Ages to protect the village. Roughly translated as “Camp Fort”, vines were planted by the late 18th century when it was owned by the Carles family who also owned Ch. Figeac.

Photo by Ernmuhl at lb.wikipedia. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under : CC-BY-SA-3.0

The Chateau of Clos Fourtet.

In 1868, the estate’s owners, the Rulleau family, changed the name to Clos Fourtet. In 1919, the property was purchased by the Ginestet family–a powerful negociant family who owned several properties throughout the Bordeaux. They would own the estate until 1948 when it was “traded” to François Lurton in exchange for the Ginestets receiving his share of Chateau Margaux.

Under the Lurton family, the quality in the vineyards and winery steadily improved with François’ grandson, Pierre Lurton, taking over winemaking in the 1980s. Pierre would continue to manage the estate until 1991 when he left to manage Cheval Blanc. He was succeeded by Tony Ballu who is still managing Clos Fourtet today.

In 1999, the Lurtons sold Clos Fourtet to Philippe Cuvelier who made his money in the office supply industry. Cuvelier retained Ballu and brought in his son, Mathieu, to assist in managing the estate. Jean Claude Berrouet, the former winemaker of Chateau Petrus, and Stéphane Derenoncourt consult.

In addition to Clos Fourtet, the Cuveliers also own the St. Emilion estates of Ch. Les Grandes Murailles, Clos St. Martin and Ch. Cote de Baleau as well as the Haut-Medoc cru bourgeois Ch. Poujeaux.

All 20 ha (49 acres) of the estate are farmed sustainably with parcels being converted to biodynamic since 2010.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 86% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. Around 4,500 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

The 2017 Clos Fourtet is very good, but also very tightly wound. Powerful and tannic, the 2017 is likely to require many years to come in its own. Today, the 2017 is certainly less charming than some recent vintages and other 2017 Saint-Émilions. There is certainly no lack of depth or concentration. The dark red/purplish berry fruit, rose petal and lavender flavors are very nicely delineated. Clos Fourtet is one of the wines that improved over the two weeks I followed it. I won’t be surprised if it is even better from bottle. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $102
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $629.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $104.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K&L: $104.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)
Previous Vintages:

2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $123 Average Critic Score: 94 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $122 Average Critic Score: 95
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $98 Average Critic Score: 93
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $81 Average Critic Score: 91

 

Buy or Pass?

The 2014 Clos Fourtet was one of my favorite wines during the 2017 Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting highlighting the wines of the 2014 vintage. I ended up buying several bottles that night which are still in my cellar.

While I appreciate that the 2017 pricing for Clos Fourtet is tilting closer to 2014 instead of 2015/2016 pricing, I’m quite content sticking with the sure thing of the 2014s I bought so I will Pass.

Ch. Larcis Ducasse (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

The origins of Larcis Ducasse date back to Roman times when the hillside slope on the southern end of the St. Emilion plateau (near modern-day Ch. Pavie) was particularly prized by Roman viticulturists.

The modern history of the estate began in 1893 when it was purchased by Henri Raba. Through the female line of his descendants, the property has remained in the ownership of the same family for over a 120 years with Jacques-Olivier Gratiot managing the estate since 1990 when his mother and niece of Henri Raba, Hélène Gratiot-Alphandéry, passed away.

While the last half of the 20th century saw the quality level of Larcis Ducasse dip, things began to turn around when Gratiot brought in Nicolas Thienpont in 2002 to manage the estate. Well known for his work at fellow Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’ estates Ch. Pavie Macquin as well as Château Berliquet, Thienpont began a series of extensive renovations in the vineyard and winery.

Photo by Isabelle Albucher, Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Stéphane Derenoncourt consults for Larcis Ducasse as well as several other estates in St. Emilion.

Since 2005, the entire estate was converted to organic viticulture and, with the assistance of consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt, wine production methods were changed to incorporate whole berry fermentation, micro-oxygenation and gravity flow movement.

Several prime parcels of the 11 ha (27 acre) estate are located next to the Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘A’ estate of Ch. Pavie while others neighbor Ch. Pavie Macquin, Canon-la-Gaffelière, La Gaffelière and Troplong-Mondot.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 92% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc. Around 3000 cases were produced.

 

Critic Scores:

 

94-95 JS, 92-95 WS, 92-94 WA, 92-94 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 91-93 VM, 92-95 JD, 91-94 JL

 

Sample Review:

Blueberries, blackberries, violets, licorice and ample crushed rock notes all emerge from this medium-bodied, tight, firm 2017 Larcis Ducasse, which comes from a magical terroir not far from Pavie. It doesn’t have the density or depth of the 2015 or 2012, yet has beautiful purity of fruit, ripe tannins, and considerable elegance and purity. I suspect it will put on weight with time in barrel and evolve similarly to the 2008. — Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $69
JJ Buckley: No offers yet
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $69.97
K&L: $69.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $79 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $90 Average Critic Score: 94
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $59 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $51 Average Critic Score: 90

Buy or Pass?

 

Larcis Ducasse is another estate that I bought several bottles of the 2014 vintage of. However, my experience with this wine and previous vintages is that it is going to need a bit more time in the bottle than typically what I would hope for with a “cellar defender”. The 2012 (Wine Searcher ave $68) likewise was charming and undoubtedly age-worthy though I fret I may only have a single bottle left of that vintage in the cellar.

I strongly suspect the 2017 will follow the same pattern. But with the 2014 and 2012 being much more attractively priced, I’m going to Pass on this offer in lieu of hopefully finding more of these older vintages on the market.

Ch. Pavie Macquin (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

Ch. Pavie Macquin was once part of the large Pavie estate that extended from the top of the St. Emilion plateau and down the southern slope. In 1887, Albert Macquin purchased the Chapus-Pavie and Pavie-Pigasse sections located on the top of the plateau to form the estate that now bares his name.

Macquin earned his fortune in the aftermath of the phylloxera epidemic pioneering grafting techniques to plant Vitis vinifera vines onto American rootstock. Noting the susceptibility of vines planted on limestone soils to develop chlorosis (a nutrient deficiency particularly impacting iron uptake), Macquin advocated for the use of Vitis berlandieri rootstock which had much more tolerance to lime-rich soils. Over the next several years, his nursery produced more than 1 million grafted vines to help replant the Libournais after the devastation of phylloxera.

Today the estate is ran by Macquin’s grandchildren, Benoît and Bruno Corre and Marie Jacques Charpentier. In 1990, the owners brought in Stéphane Derenoncourt to consult and assist with converting the vineyard to biodynamic viticulture. However, a particularly bad attack of mildew in 1993 caused Pavie Macquin to lose more than 2/3 of its crop and ended the estate’s experimentation with biodynamics. The vineyards are still farmed organically but without certification to maintain the flexibility of being able to respond if another viticultural hazard threatens a vintage.

Under Thienpont

In 1994, Nicolas Thienpont of the notable Belgian merchant family–whose extended members own such illustrious properties as the Pomerol estates Le Pin and Vieux Chateau Certan as well as the Margaux estate Clos des Quatre Vents–was brought in to manage the estate.

The oak leaves and noose on the modern labels of Pavie Macquin pay homage to the unique history of a large oak tree on the estate.

The 15 ha (37 acres) of Pavie Macquin are located above Ch. Pavie, next to Pavie Decesse, on the plateau with Troplong Mondot to the west and Ch. Trottevielle to the north.

On the property is a large solitary oak tree believed to be hundreds of years old. According to legend this tree was the site of criminal executions and the modern bottles of Pavie Macquin pay homage to this history with the image of two oak leaves and a noose on the label.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 80% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. Around 4,500 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

 

95-97 WA, 94-96 WE, 94-95 JS, 92-95 WS, 92-94 VM, 93-95 JD, 91-94 JL

Sample Review:

Delicate, soft, skillfully shaped tannins and mature, dark fruit proffer sweetness and lift at the core of this year’s presentation. Full bodied, lush and polished with juicy fruit characteristics, length and complexity, the vintage is about stylish refinement, vibrancy and purity of fruit. — Jeff Leve, The Wine Cellar Insider

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $73
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: $75 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $74.97
K&L: $74.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $89 Average Critic Score: 94 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $94 Average Critic Score: 92
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $69 Average Critic Score: 92
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $50 Average Critic Score: 92

Buy or Pass?

 

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m just not very inspired at these 2017 prices compared to those of the still available and very delicious 2014 wines that are out on the market.

Like 2017, the 2014 vintage was an uneven year that was mostly saved by a nice Indian summer which led to a dry and warm harvest. Coming off the releases of the fairly rough years of 2013 and 2011–and then succeeded by the blockbuster 2015/2016–prices for 2014 have kept steady as the wines have made their way to market with a quality level that has surprised many.

2017 could also go own to surprise folks in the bottle but, for my money, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush so as long as the pricing for 2014s are more enticing I’m going to Pass on gambling on the potential of 2017.

Ch. Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

 

Like neighboring Ch. Beau-Séjour Bécot and Ch. Canon, Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse was once part of a large ecclesiastical estate that was tended in the Middle Ages by the monks of Saint-Martin de Mazerat.

In the 17th century, the Beauséjour half of the property (known as Peycoucou) came into the hands of the Gerès family who were the current Lord of Camarsacs. A descendant of theirs married into the Carles de Figeac family in 1722 with the estate bequeathed to the new couple as a dowry. It wasn’t until 1787 when the couple’s son, a general in the Bourbon army, rechristened Peycoucou as Beauséjour meaning “Good day”.

In the early 1800s, the wines of Beauséjour merited critical acclaim with Clive Coates noting in Grand Vins that they were often ranked 5th in the commune behind only those of Belair, Troplong Mondot, Canon and Ausone.

Eventually the estate passed to a cousin, Pierre-Paulin Ducarpe, who upon his death saw the estate divided between his two children. His son received the half that would become Beau-Séjour Bécot while his daughter, who married into the Duffau-Lagarrosse family, received the other half.

Today, the same family still owns Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse.  Since 2009, Nicolas Thienpont has been in charge of winemaking with both Michel Rolland and Stéphane Derenoncourt consulting.

The estate is composed of one single 6.5 ha (16 acres) parcel that spans the top of the St. Emilion plateau, west of the city, near Beau-Séjour Bécot and Canon and along the slopes near Clos Fourtet, Ch. Angelus and Clos Saint Martin.

The 2017 is a blend of 88% Merlot and 12% Cabernet Franc.  The winery produces around 800 to 1,200 cases of the Grand Vin each vintage.

Critic Scores:

 

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

Sample Review:

Very dark. Ripe, dark black plums and just a touch of red cherry. Then quite oaky on the palate, rich, firm, smooth, with chocolate on the finish from the oak. Needs quite a bit of time. Chewy on the second taste. No lack of fruit but the structure dominates at the moment. (16 out of 20) — Julia Harding, JancisRobinson.com

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $107
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $659.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping
Total Wine: $109.97
K&L: $109.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $121 Average Critic Score: 94 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $153 Average Critic Score: 94
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $89 Average Critic Score: 93
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $73 Average Critic Score: 91

Buy or Pass?

 

With pricing averaging nearly $20 more than the 2014 vintage, this offer for Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse already had one strike against it. Then couple it with a very oaky style that multiple tasting notes from critics suggest is going to need quite a bit of time and I have little reason to see this 2017 wine fitting my plans for a “cellar defender”. 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 — Vieux Chateau Certan, La Conseillante, La Violette, L’Eglise Clinet

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

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

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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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Getting Geeky about Malbec

Photo by Marianne Casamance. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0Continuing our celebration of the oddly named Malbec World Day we’re going to get geeky here at Spitbucket about the Malbec grape.

What’s In a Name?

In Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes, the entry for Malbec is under Cot (or Côt) because of the association with grape’s likely birthplace in the region of Cahors in the historical province of Quercy in southwest France. Ampelographers note that like Côt many of the other early names for the grape such as Cos, Cau, Cor and Cors all seem to be contractions of Cahors.

However, the first written account of Malbec was in Pomerol in 1761 as Noir de Pressac (black of Pressac). The name likely referred to the individual who first cultivated the vine. From Pomerol, the grape made its way to the Left Bank region of the Medoc. Here it took on the new name of Èstranger (stranger) or Estrangey.

The name Malbec came from a grower named Malbeck who propagated the grape in what is now known as Sainte-Eulalie in the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux AOC of the Entre-Deux-Mers region.

When a Mommy Grape and a Daddy Grape Cross-Pollinate…

In 2009, DNA analysis discovered that Magdeleine Noire des Charentes–the mother grape of Merlot (Check out the Academic Wino’s Who’s Your Daddy? series on Merlot)– and an obscure grape from the Tarn department called Prunelard were the parent varieties of Malbec.

In addition to being a half-sibling of Merlot, Malbec has done a bit of its own “cross-pollinating” being a parent grape to Jurançon noir (with Folle blanche) and Caladoc (with Grenache).

Malbec in Bordeaux

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

Malbec used to be far more prevalent in the Bordeaux region. In fact, Stephen Brook noted in The Complete Bordeaux that it was the most widely planted grape in the vineyards of Lafite in the 18th century. Many estates classified in 1855 had Malbec account for as much as 50% of their blends in the early 19th century.

However, the latter half of the 19th century would usher in the decline of the variety due to its sensitivity to coulure and mildew. Following the devastation of phylloxera, many growers who did replant chose to replace Malbec. The easier to grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were favored choices. Into the 20th century, Malbec was still present, particularly in the Right Bank. However, the devastating frost of 1956 killed off a significant number of plantings. This practically signaled the death knell for the grape in Bordeaux.

There are still some small plantings in Bordeaux. The most significant strongholds are the Côtes de Bourg and Côtes de Blaye. In St. Emilion, Cheval Blanc and Jean Faure are two notable estates with some plantings of Malbec. In Pomerol, Chateau L’Enclos (owned by the Adams family who also owns Chateau Fonplegade in St. Emilion) also maintain some Malbec.

On the Left Bank, a 1 ha block of old-vine Malbec is still producing for Ch. Gruaud Larose in St. Julien. Fellow 2nd Growth, Ch. Brane Cantenac in Margaux grows a few parcels of Malbec (as well as Carmenère). In the Graves region of Pessac-Leognan, Ch. Haut Bailly owns a 4 ha block of 100+-year-old vines that includes a field blend of all six Bordeaux varieties–including Malbec and Carmenère.

Malbec in Argentina

Photo by PABLO GONZALEZ. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Malbec vines growing in Argentina.

Michel Pouget introduced Malbec to Argentina, bringing pre-phylloxera cuttings of the grape from Bordeaux to the country in the 1850s.

Compared to their French counterparts, clusters of Malbec in Argentina are smaller with tighter berries. These smaller grape berries have a skin-to-juice ratio that produces deeply colored wines with intense black fruit.

The Bordeaux influence in Argentina is still felt today with producers like like Léoville Poyferré (Cuvelier de Los Andes), Michel Rolland (Clos de los Siete), Cheval Blanc (Cheval des Andes), Hélène Garcin-Lévêque (Poesia) and Lafite-Rothschild (CARO) having projects in Argentina making both varietal Malbec and using it in Bordeaux style blends.

Malbec in the United States

The grape is widely planted throughout the US including in states like Missouri, Idaho, Georgia, Arizona, Virginia, North Carolina, New York, Maryland, Texas and Michigan. Here it is made as both as a varietal wine and as a blending component.

In Napa Valley, despite being a regular feature of popular blends like Opus One and Joseph Phelps Insignia, Malbec is sometimes considered the “Gummo Marx” of the Bordeaux varieties. Part of the grape’s low standing in the region was historically due to poor clonal selection. However, as better clones from Cahors and Argentina become available, growers in Mt. Veeder, Coombsville and Atlas Peak are increasing plantings.

Outside of Napa, Malbec is widely planted in the San Joaquin Valley where it is used for mass-produced bulk blends. However, there are quality minded producers making varietal Malbec wines throughout the state. Key areas include Paso Robles, Dry Creek Valley, Santa Ynez, Lodi and the Sierra Foothills.

Photo taken by self. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons as User:Agne27 and released under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Red Willow Vineyard in Washington State.

In Washington State, Malbec has the distinction of being the most expensive grape per ton. The average price for a ton of Malbec in 2016 was $1,587. In contrast, Cabernet Sauvignon was $1,442/ton, Merlot $1,174/ton, Chardonnay $940/ton and Semilion (the most expensive white grape) at $1,054 ton.

While Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley helped pioneer the grape in Washington State, Paul Gregutt in Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide notes that Casey McClellan of Seven Hills Winery was the first to plant the grape in Walla Walla in the early 1990s.

Want More Malbec?

Check out the hashtags #MalbecWorldDay and #WorldMalbecDay on Twitter and the Malbec tag on Instagram for more fun.

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