Tag Archives: Pomerol

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

Subscribe to Spitbucket

New posts sent to your email!

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

Photo by Pascal3012. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

As we continue our research on the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign, we head to Pomerol to look at the offers for Ch. Clinet, Clos L’Eglise, L’Evangile and Ch. Nenin.

To learn more about our general philosophy and buying approach to Bordeaux futures, check out previous posts in our series.

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

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge, Haut-Batailley

Also be sure to subscribe to SpitBucket to get the latest updates.

Now onto the offers.

Ch. Clinet (Pomerol)

Some Geekery:

With vines planted since at least 1785, Ch. Clinet has a long history that includes being owned by the Arnaud family of Petrus fame. Clive Coates notes in Grands Vins: The Finest Châteaux of Bordeaux and Their Wines that in the early to mid 19th century, the wines of Clinet were among the top wines of Pomerol selling for the same price as Petrus.

Eventually the property came into the hands of the Audy family which Jean Michel Arcaute married into in the 1970s. Coming from his family estate of Château Jonqueyres in the Entre-Deux-Mers, Arcaute took over management of Clinet in the 1980s and brought in Michel Rolland as a consultant. Until his death in 2001 from a boating accident, Arcaute instituted many changes in the estate that rapidly improved the quality of Clinet including green harvesting, declassifying more of the crop to the second wine and decreasing the plantings of the Cabernet Sauvignon in the vineyard.

At the 2017 UGC tasting the 2014 wines of Pomerol, including those of Ch. Clinet, were drinking remarkably well.


In 1998, Clinet was purchased by Jean-Louis Laborde whose son, Ronan, took over managing the property in 2004. Laborde continued many of Arcaute’s practices including further replacing under-performing Cabernet Sauvignon vines. He also reduced the amount of new oak used from 100% to around 60% and developed a value brand for declassified fruit known as Ronan by Clinet.

The vineyards of Clinet are situated high on the plateau of Pomerol neighboring many of the top estates of the commune including Petrus, Lafleur, l’Eglise-Clinet, Clos l’Eglise, Feytit-Clinet and Trotanoy. A parcel of old vine Merlot, known as La Grand Vigne, dating back to 1934 is located on deep clay and gravel next to Pomerol’s church and usually represents around 20% of the final blend of the Grand Vin. In addition to the Ronan by Clinet bottling, the estate also produces a second wine, Fleur de Clinet.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 92% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon with around 3,200 cases produced.

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

Sample Review:

Reminding me of the 2014, the 2017 Château Clinet is a beautiful, dense, concentrated wine that has terrific notes of blueberries, spring flowers, and chocolaty oak. It’s very much in the style of the vintage with its cool, perfumed aromatics and sensational purity of fruit, yet it also has richness and weight. It’s a brilliant Pomerol. — Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $83
JJ Buckley: $82.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: No offers yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $473.94 minimum 6 pack + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $84.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K & L: $79.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $106 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $131 Average Critic Score: 94
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $70 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $81 Average Critic Score: 90

Buy or Pass?

As I was following the progress of the 2017 vintage and the aftermath of the devastating April frosts, Pomerol was one of the regions I was most concerned about. While it looks like top estates on the plateau benefited from their slightly higher elevation and financial resources to take action, no one should approach the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign expecting to find values coming out of Pomerol.

While I am glad that Clinet didn’t try to price their 2017 north of $100 like the 2015/2016, paying $83+ isn’t very compelling to me personally. This is especially true with the very delicious 2014 Clinet hovering around $70 a bottle. That was one of the standout wines for me during the 2017 Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting and I’m quite pleased that I bought several bottles. Also if I’m looking for a stellar value (or a very reliable restaurant pour), the 2014 and 2015 Ronan by Clinet are still out on the market in the $15 range.

This all adds up to the 2017 Clinet being a Pass for me.

Clos l’Eglise (Pomerol)

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

Vineyards at neighboring L’Evangile.


Some Geekery:

Once part of the large Chateau Gombaude Guillot estate, Clos l’Eglise (along with what would eventually become Clos l’Eglise-Clinet) were cleaved off in the 1880s.

The 17th edition of Cocks & Féret’s Bordeaux and its Wines notes that in 1925 when Savien Giraud, president of of the Winemaking and Agricultural Union of Pomerol, submitted a classification of Pomerol’s top estate to the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce that Clos l’Eglise was listed among the “First Growths” of Pomerol along with L’Evangile, La Conseillante and Vieux Château Certan.

In the 1970s, the property was under the ownership of the Moreau family who modernized the facilities and began a replanting regime in the vineyard to uproot the nearly 20% of vines dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon in favor of Merlot. These efforts continued when Clos l’Eglise was purchased by Sylviane Garcin Cathiard, sister of the owner of the Pessac-Leognan estate Smith Haut Lafitte.

Today the estate is managed by Sylviane’s daughter, Hélène Garcin, who also manages Chateau Barde-Haut and Chateau Poesia in St. Emilion as well as Poesia winery in the Lujan de Cujo district of Mendoza, Argentina. With her husband, Patrice Lévêque, she owns Château d’Arce in Côtes de Castillon–an estate that lost 100% of its crop to frost in 2017. Sylviane’s son, Paul, manages the family’s properties of Haut Bergey and Ch. Banon in Pessac-Leognan. Originally the Garcins had Michel Rolland consulting but he was soon replaced by Alain Raynaud and, since 2015, Thomas Duclos.

Located on the plateau, Clos l’Eglise is bordered by Chateau Clinet, Chateau L’Eglise Clinet and Chateau Trotanoy with many parcels of old vines. One of the oldest is a block of Cabernet Franc vines that were planted in 1940s. Unique to the winemaking at the estate is the use of 300 liter barrels, a size more typical in Cognac compared to the standard 225 liter Bordelais barriques or 500 liter puncheon.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. Around 2,400 cases are produced in most years but, with Clos l’Eglise experiencing some frost damage on around 15% of its vines, it’s likely that fewer cases were made this year.

Critic Scores:

92-93 JS, 91-93 VM, 90-92 WA, 88-91 WS, 90-92 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 92-94 JD

Sample Review:

The 2017 Clos l’Eglise was picked from 6 September to 2 October, the harvest was spread out for almost one month. It is matured in 90% new oak for 18 months. It has a well-defined, very pure bouquet with cranberry, dark cherries, bay leaf and crushed stone. It needs a little time to open in the glass and is not as immediate as the 2016 last year. The palate is medium-bodied with supple tannin, very smooth in texture with a slightly lactic note towards the finish. There is a touch of dark chocolate that infuses the red berry fruit with a subtle liquorice tincture that lingers on the aftertaste. This is a fine Clos l’Eglise although I do feel this year that its stablemate in Saint-Èmilion, Barde-Haut, takes the top honor. — Neal Martin, Vinous Media

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $83
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $485.94 minimum 6 pk + shipping
Total Wine: $84.97
K & L: $79.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $102 Average Critic Score: NA
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $100 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $70 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $71 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

My sentiments on this offer are very similar to those of Clinet above. Yeah this vintage isn’t being priced like a 2015/2016 but there is really no reason why I should give this wine a second thought when the comparable 2014 vintage is readily available at a more compelling price.

Plus, the 2017 Ch. Barde-Haut from St. Emilion, which Martin mentions was out-performing the Clos l’Eglise, is being offered for around $38. That makes this a pretty easy Pass for me.

Ch. L’Evangile (Pomerol)

Some Geekery:

With a history dating back to 1741, L’Evangile was originally known as Domaine de Fazilleau. In 1862 it was purchased by Jean Paul Chaperon who was related to the Ducasse family of Ch. Larcis-Ducasse in St. Emilion. Chaperon did much to raise the prestige and quality of the estate and by the time he passed away in 1903, L’Evangile was rated as one of the top estates in Pomerol.

Throughout the 20th century, his descendants and eventually the Ducasse family managed the property until 1990 when a majority of L’Evangile was purchased by the owners of the First Growth Ch. Lafite-Rothschild. The Lafite team incorporated many changes to the viticultural and winemaking practices such converting the estate to organic viticulture, instituting gravity flow design and using new oak barrels. In 2012, the owners purchased 6 hectares from neighboring La Croix de Gay, marking the first substantial change to the vineyards of the estate in over 200 years.

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

Ch. L’Evangile


Located in the southeast corner of Pomerol on the edge of the commune, L’Evangile is bordered by both Cheval Blanc across a dirt path in St. Emilion and by La Conseillante and Petrus in Pomerol. The soils of the estate reflect the high quality terroir of its neighbors with parcels planted in the famous blue clay shared with Petrus as well as vines planted in the gravel and sandy soils shared with Cheval Blanc.

With frost damaging the estate’s Cabernet Franc vines, the 2017 L’Evangile is 100% Merlot this year. Around 2000-3000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:
94-95 JS, 93-95 WA, 90-92 VM, 93-95 WE, 92-94 JL

Sample Review:

This has a lovely silkiness to it, one of the real successes in the appellation in terms of the texture and the quality of the tannins. It’s a fairly powerful 100% Merlot with 100% new oak – an unusual combination because the old vine Cabernet Franc was lost to frost in 2017. This is one of the few wines that gets close to the quality of 2016, even if it’s not quite there in terms of its completeness. 30 days maceration at reasonable temperatures has brought out the heart of plump blackberry fruit, while delivering subtle tobacco and slate elegance. I like this a lot. 100% organic in the vineyard (2016 was 95% organic) but not certified. 60% grand vin this year, from 40hl/ha. (95 points) Jane Anson, Decanter

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $259
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: $255 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $254.97
K & L: $249.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $247 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $240 Average Critic Score: 95
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $140 Average Critic Score: 93
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $165 Average Critic Score: 92

Buy or Pass?

L’Evangile is an estate that I have zero personal history in tasting so the cards were already stacked against this being a futures offer that I was going to be tempted by. In outstanding vintages like 2015 and 2016, I’m far more adventurous with my wallet and willing to gamble on new estates that I haven’t tried yet–especially estates with outstanding terroir and pedigree. But 2017 isn’t a vintage for gambling.

Then you add in some crazy pricing that averages $10-20 higher than 2015/2016 and more than $100 over 2014 and I’ve got one of the easiest Pass decisions that I’m probably going to make this campaign.

Ch. Nenin (Pomerol)

Some Geekery:

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

At Nenin and many other properties in Pomerol, the amount of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in the vineyards and used in the final blend has decreased dramatically over the last 30 years.


Nenin is one of the few major properties in Bordeaux that been owned by only two families throughout its history–the Despujol family from its founding in 1840 and the Delon family (of Leoville-Las-Cases fame) since 1997. Considering that the Delon are related to the Despujol by marriage, you could argue that it is still a single family affair at Nenin.

Among the changes under the Delons’ ownership was a complete renovation of the cellars in 2004 and an acquisition of vineyard parcels in 1999 from neighboring Chateau Certan Giraud. While Ch. Nenin took over 4 hectares, Christian Moueix of Établissements Jean-Pierre Moueix purchased the remaining hectares for what was to become Chateau Hosanna and Chateau Certan Marzelle.

In the vineyard, many parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon were uprooted in favor of Merlot and Cabernet Franc as the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon at Nenin dropped from around 20% to now only 1% of plantings. In most years these scant plantings are not used in the final blend but may go into the second wine, Fugue de Nénin.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 58% Merlot and 42% Cabernet Franc.

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

10% lost to the frost (while Fugue de Nénin was 70% frosted so the volumes are too small for it to be sold en primeur in this vintage). A little more Cabernet Franc than usual because the lower parts of Nénin were frosted. 35% new oak. Very dark with purple crimson. Lifted, lightly floral aroma and a charming dusty overlay. Quite dark on the palate, savoury and dark-fruited but also scented on the mid palate. Oak is well integrated. Creamy texture, elegant and beautifully balanced. Juicy finish and good freshness and length. (17/20) — Julia Harding, JancisRobinson.com

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $73
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $69.97
K & L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $70 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $82 Average Critic Score: 93
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $50 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $45 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

While I’ve read numerous reports about merchants being disheartened by the prices of the 2017 Bordeaux releases, as a regular consumer I’ve found them to be, for the most part, fairly reasonable and in-line with the 2014 vintage.

That was until I started looking at the offers from Pomerol. Sheesh.

Perhaps these wines will turn into magnificent swans in the bottle that will far exceed expectations 10-15 years down the road. But there are far too many solid wines from 2014-2015 still out on the market (as well as much more reasonable 2017 offers) to make considering the 2017 Nenin or many other 2017 Pomerols futures offers worth it. 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 — Malescot-St.-Exupéry, Prieuré-Lichine, Lascombes, Cantenac-Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subscribe to Spitbucket

New posts sent to your email!

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

Photo by self. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons as Agne27 under CC-BY-SA-3.0

For our next installment on the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign, we go to St. Emilion to look for values from the sister properties of the Premier Grand Cru Classe estates Ch. Canon-la-Gaffeliere and Ch. Cheval Blanc as well as the Grand Cru Classe estates of Ch. Monbousquet and Ch. Fonplegade.

To see some of the our previous posts on the 2017 campaign check out:

Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge, Haut-Batailley

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

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

Now onto the offers.

Clos de l’Oratoire (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

The history of Clos de l’Oratoire dates back to the 1800s when it was part of the large estate of Château Peyreau on the northeast slope of the St. Emilion plateau. In 1874, Edouard Féret ranked the Peyreau estate as one of “second growth quality.”

When the vineyards of St. Emilion were classified in 1955, the best sections of Peyreau were splintered off and became Clos de l’Oratoire. This new estate was ranked as a Grand Cru Classé while Ch. Peyreau would be bottled under the St. Emilion Grand Cru AOC.

Image by Leonhard Dorst von Schatzberg. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under Public Domain usage.

The label of Clos de l’Oratoire and many other wines in the portfolio of Vignobles Comtes von Neipperg prominently feature the family’s coat of arms that date back to the early 1700s.

In the 1970s, both Peyreau and Clos de l’Oratoire where purchased by the von Neipperg family with the estates joining a portfolio that now includes the Premiers Grands Cru Classé ‘B’ estates of Ch. Canon-La-Gaffeliere and La Mondotte, Ch. d’Aiguilhe in Cotes de Castillon, Clos Marsalette in Pessac-Léognan (jointly owned with Didier Miqueu), the Sauternes Premier Cru Ch. Guiraud, Capaia in the New Philadelphia region of South Africa and Bessa Valley in Bulgaria.

All the vineyards are farmed sustainably with some parcels biodynamically managed.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc.

Critic Scores:

93-94 James Suckling (JS), 90-92 Wine Advocate (WA), 89-92 Wine Spectator (WS), 90-93 Vinous Media (VM), 90-92 Jeb Dunnuck (JD), 90-92 Jeff Leve (JL)

Sample Review:

The 2017 Clos de l’Oratoire is pliant and supple, with striking balance of fruit and tannin. In some recent vintages, Clos de l’Oratoire has been more massive, but I have to say, the balance of the 2017 is really quite compelling. A rush of red cherry, plum, blood orange, pomegranate and mint builds into the racy, pliant finish. This is a gorgeous vintage for Clos de l’Oratoire. Sadly, yields are down by 60% because of frost on the lower parts of the vineyard. As a result, only hillside parcels were used. Tasted two times. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $35
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $39.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K & L: $37.99 +shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Ave. $43 Average Critic Score: NA
2015 — Wine Searcher Ave. $50 Average Critic Score: 91 points
2014 — Wine Searcher Ave. $40 Average Critic Score: 90
2013 — Wine Searcher Ave. $32 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

Clos de l’Oratoire benefits from the same winemaking and viticultural teams as the blockbuster estates of Canon-La-Gaffeliere (Wine Searcher Ave $95) and La Mondotte (Wine Searcher Ave $252). While Clos de l’Oratoire will never reach the depths and pure hedonistic pleasures of those wines, I’ve always found it be a solid “baby brother” and good value.

Photo by Steve Ryan. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

While I certainly do enjoy nice Napa wines, getting a lush but elegant “New World-ish” Bordeaux like Clos de l’Oratoire for almost half the price is a stellar value.


In general, I find the wines of von Neipperg and his consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt to be very “New Worldish” and Napa-like meant for more short-term consumption. For a vintage like 2017 which I’m not planning on cellaring long that makes Clos de l’Oratoire a compelling buy–especially when I compare it to Napa wines in similar price points. I would put the quality of Clos de l’Oratoire on par with Napa Cabs like Silver Oak and Duckhorn or Merlots like Pride and Barnett Vineyards which all easily fetch far more than $40 a bottle. That makes this wine an easy Buy for me.

Ch. Monbousquet (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

First owned by François de Lescours in 1540, Monbousquet spent almost 150 years under the stewardship of the notable De Carles family who also owned Château de Carles in Fronsac and were very prominent in Bordeaux politics from the 15th to 17th centuries.

The modern history of Monbousquet began in 1993 when the estate was purchased by Gerard Perse who brought in Michel Rolland as a consultant. While Perse would go on to acquire the Premier Grand Cru Classe ‘A’ Ch. Pavie, Grand Cru Classé Ch. Pavie Decesse and St. Emilion Grand Cru Chateau Bellevue Mondotte as well as Clos Lunelles in the Cotes de Castillon, the chateau of Monbousquet would be the Perse family’s personal home until 2013 when it was sold to a French pension fund.

Photo by Private post-card collection. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under the Public Domain.

Ch. Monbousquet in the early 1900s.

Since 2006 the estate has been ranked as Grand Cru Classé with around 6000 cases a year produced. During the years of Perse’s ownership the percentage of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon was steadily increased in the more gravel and sand portions of the vineyards and today the estate is planted to around 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Critic Scores:

92-94 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 92-93 JS, 89-92 WS, 89-91 WA, 90-91 JL, 90-92 JD

Sample Review:

Incense, red cherries, thyme and smoke open the wine. On the palate, the wine is medium-bodied, full, velvety, polished and forward. The fruit is bright and you sense true freshness. The percentage of new oak has dropped to 50%, placing the fruit center stage. — Jeff Leve, The Wine Cellar Insider

Offers:

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $52
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $311.94 for minimum 6 pack + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $54.97
K & L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Ave. $54 Average Critic Score: 89 points
2015 — Wine Searcher Ave. $60 Average Critic Score: 91
2014 — Wine Searcher Ave. $50 Average Critic Score: 90
2013 — Wine Searcher Ave. $44 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

While the 2012 Monbousquet is still a terrific value, I’ve been far more impressed with the efforts of many other St. Emilion estates (like Fleur Cardinale) in 2014 and 2015 for similar price points. That experience is encouraging me to take a “wait and see” approach to future Monbousquet releases.

I used to adore Monbousquet and have been avidly consuming vintages since 2005. While I’m still buying and getting a lot of pleasure from the 2012 vintage (Wine Searcher Average $55), I must confess that both the 2014 and 2015 underwhelmed me–especially for their price points.

While the 2012 was undoubtedly blended and bottled under the new winemaking team following the 2013 sale, I’m still a bit skeptical that Monbousquet is going to continue to be the reliable pleasure producer that it was for so many years under the Perse family’s stewardship. For a vintage like 2017 that skepticism is enough to merit a Pass for me.

Ch. Quinault l’Enclos (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

Historically part of the satellite region Sables St. Emilion that surrounded the city of Libourne, Quinault l’Enclos was often overlooked until 1997 when it was purchased by Alain Raynaud.

Raynaud renovated the cellars and replanted many under-performing parcels by the time he sold the estate in 2008 to Bernard Arnault and Albert Frere, the owners of the legendary Cheval Blanc. Today the vineyards and winemaking of the Grand Cru Classé is managed by Pierre Lurton with the same team used at Cheval Blanc. Since 2009 all vineyard parcels have been farmed organically.

Under Lurton and the Cheval Blanc team the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc used in the final blend has steadily increased with the 2017 vintage being a blend of 62% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Cabernet Franc. Around 7500 cases are made yearly.

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

The Cheval Blanc team changed everything when they started working there 10 years ago. Replanting with good clones etc and more Cabernet Sauvignon because there is a lot of gravel. Now also a new cellar, concrete for fermentation. Experimenting with foudres and bigger 500-litre barrels to reduce the oak impact but all new.
Deep crimson. Delicately herbaceous and slightly dusty aroma. Smells of stone dust. Or is it the concrete in the cellar? Under that, light cassis. Strange mix of herbaceous flavours and sweet chocolate. Sweet/sour at the moment. Smooth tannins, chocolate texture. Gentle but fresh.(16 out of 20) — Julia Harding, JancisRobinson.com

Offers:

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

Being managed by the same viticultural and winemaking team as the illustrious Cheval Blanc (pictured) makes Quinault L’Enclos a compelling value for under $35 a bottle.


Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $31
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $33.97
K & L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Ave. $ 36 Average Critic Score: NA
2015 — Wine Searcher Ave. $ 44 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2014 — Wine Searcher Ave. $ 35 Average Critic Score: 90
2013 — Wine Searcher Ave. $ NA Average Critic Score: NA

Buy or Pass?

Quinault L’Enclos first caught my attention with its savory and elegant 2010 vintage. While that vintage today averages around $50 (which is still a good value for its quality), it was a raging steal of a deal a few years back when it was around $35-40. The estate continued to impressed me with very solid offerings in the troublesome vintages of 2011 and 2012 and has been drinking fantastic for a young 2015.

Even though it has been under the Cheval Blanc teams stewardship for almost 10 years, this estate is still vastly underrated and is truly a gem worth discovering. As you can tell by the dearth of retail offers, this is a tough wine to get in the US (though I’ve noticed an uptick in savvy sommeliers putting this on restaurant wine lists), it’s worth finding and nabbing a few bottles if you can–especially the 2015 that is out in the market now.

Eventually folks are going to catch on and the prices will rise to match the quality but for under $50 this is a no-brainer Buy for me.

Ch. Fonplegade (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

Home to ancient Roman ruins that date back to AD 400, Fonplegade is one of the oldest and most historical properties in Bordeaux. The Roman settlement of St. Emilion likely took advantage of the fountain that still sits among the vines in the vineyard. The name “Fonplegade” itself roughly translates to “flowing fountain” or “fountain of plenty”.

The chateau was built in the 1850s and by 1863 the estate came under the ownership of Napoleon III’s step-brother, Charles de Morny the Duke of Morny. In 1953, the Moueix family (of Petrus fame) purchased Fonplegade. The property stayed in the family for several decades until 2004 when Armand Moueix sold it to Americans Denise and Stephen Adams.

The fountain in the vineyards of Fonplegade.


The Adams hired Michel Rolland as a consultant and began converting the vineyards over to organic and biodynamic (a similar path they took with the Pomerol estate they purchased in 2006, Ch. L’Enclos). By 2013, Fonplegade was certified organic with aims of being fully certified biodynamic by 2020. In 2015 Stephane Derenoncourt was hired to replace Rolland as consulting winemaker working with Corinne Comme the wife of Pontet-Canet’s Jean-Michel Comme.

In 2010, all the Cabernet Sauvignon vines were removed and replaced with Cabernet Franc. Sensing the potential of the variety in their clay and limestone dominant soils, the Adams have a goal of eventually 20% of the vineyard being planted to the grape.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Around 4000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

The deep garnet-purple colored 2017 Fonplegade has quite a spicy nose sporting notes of anise, cloves, fenugreek and black pepper over a core of warm black plums and blackberries plus a waft of potpourri. Medium-bodied with a rock-solid frame of grainy tannins and wonderful freshness, it features bags of vibrant black fruits and a long, spicy finish. — Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Wine Advocate

Offers:

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

Ch. Fonplegade in 2011 before work to reconstruct the right tower that was damaged in World War II began.

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $34
JJ Buckley: $35.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $34.97
K & L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Ave. $ 38 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 — Wine Searcher Ave. $ 50 Average Critic Score: 91
2014 — Wine Searcher Ave. $40 Average Critic Score: 89
2013 — Wine Searcher Ave. $35 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

Fonplegade in 2016 after the right tower was restored. Beginning with the 2015 vintage you can see the two towers illustrated on the wine’s label.


Visiting the estate of Ch. Fonplegade was one of the highlights of my 2016 trip to Bordeaux and it is clear that the Adams family are dedicated to raising the profile and quality level of the property. Touring the vineyards and their immaculate winery you could tell that no expense was being spared in their quest. Along with Ch. Fleur Cardinale, Fonplegade is one of the Grand Cru Classé that I can see eventually being promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’.

I am intrigued with the change from Rolland to Derenoncourt as I tend to prefer the later’s style a bit more. I’m also quite pleased at the very reasonable pricing for the futures being noticeably less than the current market prices for the 2014 and 2015. With value seeking being a primarily driver in my approach to the 2017 vintage this puts Fonplegade as a solid Buy for me.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

Why I Buy Bordeaux Futures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subscribe to Spitbucket

New posts sent to your email!

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 actually in the Bordaux region of Pomerol in 1761 when the grape was called Noir de Pressac (black of Pressac), likely referring to the individual who first cultivated the grape. From Pomerol, the grape made its way to the Left Bank region of the Medoc where it was called 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-Polinate…

In 2009, DNA analysis discoevered 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 of the estates that were classified in 1855 had Malbec account for as much as 50% of their blends in the early 19th century.

However, the later 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 choose to replace Malbec in their vineyards with the more popular and easier to grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Into the 20th century, Malbec still maintain a presence, particularly in the Right Bank, but the devastating frost of 1956 killed off a significant number of plantings and practically signal the death kneel for the grape in Bordeaux.

There are still some small plantings of Bordeaux with the Côtes de Bourg and Côtes de Blaye being the most significant strongholds. 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 own Chateau Fonplegade in St. Emilion) also maintain some Malbec.

On the Left Bank, a small 1 ha block of old vine Malbec is still producing for 2nd Growth estate of 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 is credited with introducing 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 create a skin to juice ratio that tends to produce more 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 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 but as better clone options from Cahors and Argentina become available, Napa is seeing increased plantings of the variety on Mt. Veeder, Coombsville and Atlas Peak.

Outside of Napa, Malbec is most 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, particularly in regions like 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 curious distinction of being the most expensive grape per ton with the average price for a ton of Malbec in 2016 being $1,587 as opposed to varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon $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.

Subscribe to Spitbucket

New posts sent to your email!

Wine Geek Notes 3/13/18 — Domaine Jacques Prieur, Les Forts Latour and Geeky Napa Grapes

Photo by Craig Drollett. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

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

Interesting Tweets and Weblinks

Edouard Labruyère’s transformation of Domaine Jacques Prieur by Peter Dean (@TweetaDean) for The Buyer.

Domaine Jacques Prieur is one my favorite Burgundian estates and I was enjoying its sleepy-under-the-radar-status. With as crazy as prices in Burgundy can get, I was selfishly hoping that other wine insiders wouldn’t notice how sneaky good this estate has gotten over the last couple vintages under the winemaking direction of Nadine Gublin. But it looks like the cat is out of the bag.

Still I learn a lot of cool stuff in this article about DJP and its owner Edouard Labruyère–namely the expansion into Santenay (hopefully with affordable bottlings), the family owning Château Rouget in Pomerol, planting Syrah and Pinot noir in Beaujolais and the launch of Labruyère’s Champagne.

Sourcing from Grand Cru vineyards that use to supply Dom Perignon, this Extra Brut style Champagne is partially fermented in old white DJP barrels and spends 5 years aging on the lees. Looks like something to keep an eye out for.

LATOUR TO INCLUDE FORTS 2012 IN NEXT RELEASE by Rupert Millar (@wineguroo) for The Drinks Business (@teamdb)

Since Ch. Latour left the en primeur system in 2012, its been hard keeping track of their releases. While we still don’t know when the 2012 Grand Vin is going to be released, the estate announced that on March 21st, their second wine Les Forts de Latour will be released along with (re-release?) the 2006 Grand Vin.

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

While considered a “second wine”, in many ways Les Forts is really its own entity being sourced from three dedicated plots with only some years having declassified Grand Vin parcels included. That said, these plots are still tended to by the Latour viticulture and winemaking team and is often an outstanding wine.

Back in 2015, I did a side by side tasting of the 2005 Latour and 2005 Les Forts and you could certainly see how the pedigree shined through with the Les Forts. While the 05 Latour was way too young at that point, the Les Forts was raring to go at 10 years with many tasters thinking it was, at that moment, the better wine.

With the 2005 Latour averaging $1119 on Wine Searcher and the Les Forts averaging $263, it was certainly the best value of the night. It remains to be seen what the pricing of the 2012 will be.

14 OF THE MOST UNUSUAL GRAPE VARIETIES IN NAPA VALLEY by Ilona Thompson at Palate Exposure (@PalateXposure)

Ilona at Palate Exposure is quickly becoming one of my favorite content creators in the wine world. Her website is well worth a peak with fabulous original posts about winemakers and wineries with a Napa Valley focus. Of course I geeked out like crazy with this article!

While Grenache and Tempranillo aren’t very surprising and even Pinot Meunier makes sense with sparkling wine producers like Domaine Chandon in Napa, who knew about Lagier-Meredith’s Mondeuse? Heitz Cellars’ Grignolino or even Spiriterra Vineyards’ Scuppernong?

Napa Valley Scuppernong. For realz, y’all. Ilona just gave me my new unicorn-wine list.

Upcoming Posts for Taste Washington Wine Month!

First quick apologies to subscribers as last night we accidentally, kinda, maybe, sorta hit “submit” on an unfinished version of my book review of Paul Gregutt’s Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide. Our bad! All I can say is that the post will be finished properly and published shortly over the next few days.

Other posts in the pipeline for Taste Washington Wine Month include a Geek Out over Washington Cabernet Franc courtesy of Savage Grace Wines, an exploration of the legend of William (W.B.) Bridgman in Washington wine history and his lasting legacy of Harrison Hill and Upland Vineyards as well as a flashback post to last year’s Taste Washington Grand Tasting!

Plus more 60 Second Wine Reviews featuring exclusively Washington wine for the month of March. In April, we’ll get back to our regular peppering of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa and other fun wine reviews.

Subscribe to Spitbucket

New posts sent to your email!

Petrus — The Super Bowl of Wine

I finally got a chance to try one of my bucket list wines–a bottle of 2006 Petrus from Pomerol. My wife and I originally bought it for our early December wedding anniversary but then I got a cold so we shelved that idea.

Then we were going to open it up for Christmas Eve and another cold hit. So we decided to hold off till we both were 100% healthy and fully on point with our tasting sensibilities before cracking into this baby. My tasting notes (and whether I think it is worth the cost) are below after a bit of geeking.

The Geekery

What makes Petrus, Petrus?

As Clive Coates notes in Grands Vins: The Finest Châteaux of Bordeaux and Their Wines, the phenomenon of Petrus as a cult wine for Bordeaux lovers is a relatively new creation. As recently as the post World War II years leading up to 1955, the wine merchant Avery’s of Bristol had exclusive rights to buy up virtually all available allocations of Petrus–which it usually did–but would struggle to find buyers.

While there is some evidence of winemaking at the estate dating back to the 1750s, the first recorded mention of Petrus can be found in the 1837 notebooks of the merchant house Tastet and Lawton. Here the estate was owned by the Arnaud family and considered the third best property in Pomerol behind Vieux Château Certan and Trotanoy. In pricing, it fetched far less than the top estates of the Medoc and only a third of the top estates of St. Emilion such as Ch. Belair. But its reputation for quality was soon to be discovered, as David Peppercorn noted in his work Bordeaux, when at the 1878 Paris Exhibition Petrus won a gold medal–becoming the first wine from Pomerol to earn such an achievement.

The fortune, and pricing of Petrus, began to change in the 1920s when then owner, M. Sabin-Douarre, began selling shares of Petrus to the proprietor of his favorite restaurant in Libourne, l’Hotel Loubat. Madame Loubat continued purchasing shares from Sabin-Douarre until she was the sole owner of the estate.

when my wife and I were in Bordeaux, we drove around for at least 40 minutes through Pomerol trying to find Petrus. We kept passing by it because it was so unassuming.

Stephen Brook notes, in The Complete Bordeaux, that at this point Petrus was being priced on par with the Second Growths of the Medoc but Mme. Loubat wanted everyone to know the high quality of Petrus and began demanding higher prices.

In 1943, she hired Jean-Pierre Moueix as the sole agent in charge of not only distribution of her wine but also production. Soon Petrus was never priced below the acclaimed Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘A’ estate of Cheval Blanc and was beginning to rival the First Growths of the Medoc.

Moueix started out owning Ch. Fonroque in St. Emilion before beginning his négociant business–mostly to help sell his own estate wine. When Mme. Loubat passed away in 1961, she bequeathed Moueix a single share of Petrus while splitting the rest between her niece and nephew. Over the next few years, Moueix gradually bought out Loubat’s heirs and assumed full ownership of Petrus by 1969.

Today the Moueix family owns several estates in Bordeaux including Trotanoy, La Fleur-Pétrus, Hosanna, Latour à Pomerol, La Grave, Lafleur-Gazin and Ch. Lagrange in Pomerol; Ch. Bélair-Monange and Clos La Madeleine in St. Emilion as well as Dominus, Napanook, Othello and Ulysses in Napa Valley.

While historically Petrus has kept a small parcel of Cabernet Franc on the property, these vines have been gradually replaced with Merlot. The 2006 vintage I tasted was 100% Merlot.

Why So Expensive?

The grounds of Petrus with vineyards to the right. The weather was gorgeous the week we were there, with it only raining on our last night, so we didn’t get to experience the muddy clay sticking to our shoes.

Petrus certainly has distinctive and very unique terroir which wine writer Oz Clarke has described in his work Bordeaux as “…one of the muddiest, most clay-clogged pieces of land my shoes have ever had the ill luck to slither through.”

Petrus sits on a “button-hole” of this blue muddy clay which covers a subsoil of gravel that is followed underneath by a virtually impenetrable layer of hard iron-rich crasse de fer. The soil is around 40 million years old compared to the 1 million year old gravel soils surrounding the Pomerol plateau. The dense, hard smectite clay causes the vine to struggle as its roots cannot penetrate deep yet it does amply retain moisture that is invaluable during warm years and dry summer months when the risk of hydraulic stress is high. As Jeff Leve of The Wine Cellar Insider notes, there is no other wine producing region in the world that has this soil structure.

There is about 50 acres of this unique soil in Pomerol and while neighboring estates like Vieux Château Certan, La Fleur-Pétrus, La Conseillante and L’Evangile have some parcels featuring this terroir, Petrus is the only estate whose 28+ acres of vines are exclusively planted on it. Additionally, Petrus is located on the top of this gently sloping button-hole which allows for better drainage during wetter years.

The vines of Petrus are relatively old with some parcels dating back to 1952. The root system of other parcels are even older because after the 1956 frost that devastated the Right Bank, and killed nearly 2/3 of Petrus’ vines, Mme. Loubat refused to completely replant and instead attempted the untested technique of recépage where new vines were grafted onto the established root-stock. It was believed that these vines would only produce for a few vintages but decades later they are still viable.

I wasn’t brave enough to go up and touch the building.

The Moueix family spares no expense when it comes to tending the vines, with severe yield restrictions of 32 to a max of 45 hl/ha (3 tons an acre) with some years going as low as 17.5 hl/ha. In contrast, many well regarded estates frequently harvest at 60-70 hl/ha.

If inopportune rains hit close to harvest, Moueix will rent a helicopter to hover over the vines and dry them off. In 1992, they covered the entire vineyard in plastic sheeting to avoid excess moisture seeping into the ground, plumping up the berries and diluting flavors.

Like with top Sauternes, harvest is done at Petrus on a berry by berry basis with vineyard workers manually picking the individual grapes off the vines. These 100% de-stemmed berries are then hand sorted with an optical sorter joining the process only since the 2009 vintage.

After fermentation and malo, the wine is aged in 50% new French oak for 18-20 months before going through a rigorous selection process that narrows the barrels down to only the very best that will go into the final Grand Vin. Anything that doesn’t meet the grade is sold off as anonymous Pomerol. It’s every Bordeaux insider’s dream to figure out where these “discard barrels” of wine go.

This is where we ultimately get down to the biggest cost driver. In the end, only around 2,500 cases (30,000 bottles) of Petrus is made each year.

I honestly don’t think they will ever make gummy bears from Petrus like they do with the 5 million+ bottles of Dom Perignon.


Compare this to the 31,000+ cases of Ch. Latour, the 10,000+ cases of Opus One or even the 5 million+ bottles of Dom Perignon produced virtually every year and the scarcity means that so few people will ever get a chance to try this wine.

The Wine

So how was it? I knew that this was a wine that really should’ve been held onto for at least 15-20 years and, even then, given a good several hours of decanting. But this was more about sharing a moment with my wife so we popped it open when she got home and watched it evolve as we cooked and savored dinner.

Pop and pour–Medium intensity nose. Red fruits–plums, raspberry and a little earthy funk that is not defined but intriguing.

Palate has medium-plus acidity, very juicy and fresh, with medium tannins and medium-plus body. The red fruits carry through and then WHOA the mid-palate just jumps with an assortment of spice that I will need some time to piece out. Minute and half long finish right now.

After an hour and half in the decanter— Nose is now medium-plus intensity with the spice notes coming out more with a little herbal thyme. The fruit is also now a richer deeper dark fruit like Turkish fig with black currant.

Would St. Peter rob Paul to drink Petrus?

The palate is still juicy with medium-plus acidity. The spices are getting a little more defined–making me think of Asian cuisine with tamarind fruit, star anise, coriander seed and pink peppercorn.

After 3 hours–Still medium-plus intensity nose but a little tobacco spice has joined the party. Still has the mix of Asian spice with black currants and a smidgen of eucalyptus. Pretty remarkable how this keeps evolving. Truthfully, I can only imagine how much more evocative this would get if I had the patience and restraint to milk this out over several more hours.

The palate is still incredibly juicy with medium-plus acidity that only works against you trying to ration and be restrained as the mouthwatering makes you want to take another sip and then another. The tannins have gotten more velvety at this point. The finish has topped out at about 2 minutes with the cornucopia of spices being the last notes.

The Verdict

So is it worth $2600 (when I got it in November 2017) to now at $3000 a bottle?

Kinda.

It truly is a remarkable wine that enchants you as it continuously evolves in your glass. Not just hour by hour but sip by sip. It’s an experience that I’m quite pleased to have had but, at the same time, it is not necessarily an experience that I feel compelled to ever splurge on again.

As I mentioned in my reviews of the Samuel Adams’ Utopias and the Pappy Van Winkle 20 yr, a lot of the cost (and subsequent pleasure) for these Veblen goods often comes from the hunt to finally acquire them. For me, getting a chance to try a Petrus was a bucket list item–just as jumping out of an airplane and meeting Jancis Robinson are. It is always a thrill to check a bucket list item off.

My wife is a native Boston girl who was a season ticket holder during the crappy years. We finally went to Super Bowl in 2017 when the Pats played the Falcons.


I’ll also somewhat borrow an analogy from my Behind the Curtain post about wine pricing. In many ways, drinking a wine like Petrus is like attending the Super Bowl.

With only around 70,000 tickets for a single game each year, how many people in their lifetime get a chance to watch the game in person? How much of a premium do they pay for the privilege of watching a game that could very well suck (especially if their team loses)? And what are they paying for but really just a single night of an experience that is over after a few hours–much like a single bottle of wine?

Now compare that to how much you pay to attend a regular NFL playoff game, a regular season game, a college game or even your local Friday night high school game? Of course, you can argue about the supposed superior play of NFL players playing at the pinnacle of their profession but, likewise, you can argue about the supposed superior terroir of Petrus, craftsmanship of Pappy Van Winkle, uniqueness of Utopias, etc.

The truth of the matter is–no one needs to attend the Super Bowl just like no one needs to try Petrus. There are a lot of great football games at all different levels just like there are lots of great wines at all different price points. Whether or not it is “worth it” is purely about how much the experience means to you.

Admittedly, the first 3 quarters of Super Bowl LI sucked pretty hard to watch as a Pats fan.
The last quarter was totally worth it though.
The Petrus, meanwhile, gave me 3 hours of excellence.

For me, they were both worth it. After attending the Super Bowl once and tasting Petrus once, I treasure both experiences and am grateful that I had those opportunities.

I just don’t feel like I ever need to do either again. When I think of all the other things I could do for the same costs (travel, enjoy multiple bottles of Ch. Angelus, Ch. Palmer, etc), I am content to happily check those things off the bucket list and move on to the next experience.

Subscribe to Spitbucket

New posts sent to your email!

The Mastery of Bob Betz

Washington State is ridiculously spoiled with talented winemakers.

Alex Golitzin of Quilceda Creek, Christophe Baron of Cayuse, Chris Figgins of Leonetti, Rick Small of Woodward Canyon, Scott Greer of Sheridan, Anna Shafer of àMaurice, Greg Harrington of Gramercy, Kay Simon of Chinook, Charlie Hoppes of Fidelitas, Chris Upchurch of DeLille/Upchurch Vineyard, Ben Smith of Cadence, Chris Camarda of Andrew Will, Charlie Hoppes of Fidelitas, Rob Newsom of Boudreaux, Kerry Shiels of Côte Bonneville, Chris Peterson of Avennia/Passing Time, etc.

And that is only a small sliver of the immense talent in this state.

But if you asked me to give you just one expression of winemaking talent that exhibits the best of Washington, I would answer without any hesitation that it is Bob Betz.

From Chicago to the Chateau

A Chicago native, Bob Betz moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1954. He attended the University of Washington with the goal of entering med school but, when those plans didn’t work out, he spent a year in Europe with his wife, Cathy, where he discovered a passion for wine.

After working at a wine shop for a year, he was hired by Charles Finkel (now of Pike Brewing Company) to work at Chateau Ste. Michelle back when the Washington powerhouse was a small winery operating on East Marginal Way in Seattle. There he was mentored by the famed consultant André Tchelistcheff of Beaulieu Vineyard fame.

Starting in communications with the estate, as Chateau Ste. Michelle moved to Woodinville and grew into Washington’s largest winery, Betz worked his way up to Vice President of Winemaking Research–working closely with an All-Star roster of winemaking talent such Mike Januik (Novelty Hill/Januik Winery), Cheryl Barber-Jones (Sozo Friends), Kay Simon (Chinook Wines), Joy Anderson (Snoqualmie Vineyards), Erik Olsen (Clos du Bois/Constellation Brands) and Charlie Hoppes (Fidelitas). During this time, his own passion for winemaking and starting his own label developed.

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

Bob Betz (in grey sweat shirt) talking with guests at a release party at Betz Family Winery


In the mid 1990s, he embarked on completing the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) program, earning his Master of Wine (MW) in 1998. To this day, he is one of the few MWs who are practicing winemakers (Billo Naravane at Rasa/Sinclair Estate is another), with the vast majority of individuals who hold that title being writers, educators, wholesalers and retailers.

In earning his MW, Betz won the Villa Maria Award for the highest scores on the viticultural exam as well as the Robert Mondavi Award for the highest overall scores in all theory exams.

Betz Family Winery

In 1997, Greg Lill of DeLille Cellars offered space in his winery for Betz to make six barrels of his first vintage. Sourcing fruit from Klipsun vineyard on Red Mountain, Harrison Hill on Snipes Mountain and Portteus vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, it wasn’t long before the accolades came in with Betz having numerous wines featured on Best of Washington lists by the Seattle Times and Seattle Met as well as earning Winemaker of the Year from Sunset Magazine in 2007. Moving from DeLille, he was one of the first wineries in the now-famous “Warehouse District” of Woodinville before building his own winery.

Just as he was mentored by Tchelistcheff and others, Betz has mentored other budding talents such as Kathryn House (House of Wine), Tyson Schiffner (brewmaster at Sumerian Brewing), Ross Mickel (Ross Andrews), Chris Dickson (Twill Cellars), Casey Cobble (Robert Ramsay) and his eventual successor as head winemaker at Betz, Louis Skinner.

La Côte Rousse, a “New World style” Syrah from Red Mountain


In 2011, with Bob & Cathy Betz’s daughters expressing no interest in taking over the winery, Betz worked out an agreement to sell the winery to South African entrepreneurs Steve and Bridgit Griessel. Agreeing to stay on with the winery for five more years, a succession plan was worked out with Louis Skinner, a South Seattle Northwest Wine Academy alum and former assistant at DeLille Cellars, taking over the winemaking duties at Betz Family Winery in 2016 with Betz as a consultant.

In 2017, Bob Betz returned to Chateau Ste. Michelle as a consultant for Col Solare, a joint project with the Antinori family located on Red Mountain. Here Betz will be working with Darel Allwine and Antinori’s head enologist Renzo Cotarella.

Tasting the Best of Washington

While the future of Betz Family Winery looks strong with the Griessels and Louis Skinner, there is something magical about “Bob’s vintages” of Betz that are worth savoring. Paul Gregutt, in Washington Wines, describes Betz Family Winery as one of the “Five Star Wineries” in Washington and ascribes their success to Betz’s “painstaking planning and attention to detail”, noting that if even a single barrel of wine didn’t meet his standards then it would be sold off rather than used in the wines.

La Serenne, a “Northern Rhone-style” Syrah from Boushey Vineyard.

The list of vineyards that Bob Betz has worked with includes some of the “Grand Crus” of Washington like Boushey Vineyard and Red Willow in Yakima; Ciel du Cheval, Kiona and Klipsun on Red Mountain; Harrison Hill and Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain.

2010 La Serenne Syrah – 100% Syrah sourced from Boushey Vineyard. This cool-climate site north of Grandview, Washington is often harvested more than a month after the Syrahs that go into La Côte Rousse from Red Mountain are picked. Around 535 cases were made.

High intensity nose with a mixture of dark fruit–black plums and blackberries–smoke and spice.

On the palate those dark fruits come through but it is the savory, smokey, meatiness that is the star of the show. Medium-plus acidity keeps it fresh and juicy while the medium-plus tannins have a velvety feel at this point. The long savory finish on this wine would make any Côte-Rôtie lover weak in the knees. Stunningly beautiful and well worth the $70-75.

2011 La Côte Rousse – 100% Syrah sourced from Ciel du Cheval and The Ranch At The End of The Road Vineyard in Red Mountain. The parcels from Ciel du Cheval include some of the oldest plantings of Syrah on Red Mountain. The wine was aged in 45% new oak barrels. Around 559 cases were made.

Medium-intensity nose. A bit more oak driven with the baking spice. Underneath there is a core still of dark fruit but it is not as defined.

On the palate, the fruit is still struggling to be defined. It seems to be a mix of black cherries with a little red pomegranate. Medium acidity and soft medium tannins add lushness to the mouthfeel. The oak is still fairly noticeable with a sweet vanilla edge and rich dark chocolate note that lingers through to the moderate finish. Definitely a more “New World” style that reminds me of a less sweet Mollydooker. Not my personal style but at $70-75, it is well in line with Mollydooker’s Carnival of Love and Enchanted Path for those who enjoy those bold, lush wines.

2011 Bésoleil – A blend of 54% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 12% Counoise, 12% Mourvedre and 7% Syrah. Sourced from vineyards in Yakima, Red Mountain and Snipes Mountains, this was the first vintage to include Counoise. Around 662 cases were made.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Very evocative mix of blue flowers–violets and irises–with spicy black pepper, anise and Asian spices. This wine smells like you walked into a fantastic Indian restaurant.

On the palate, a mix of dark and red fruits come out but the spices get even more mouthwatering with the medium-plus acidity. The medium tannins are very silky at this point, helping the fruit to wrap around your tongue and linger for a long finish. Still fairly New World in style but at $50-55, this is inimitably charming and complex to entice a Châteauneuf-du-Pape fan.

2011 Clos de Betz – A blend of 67% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. Often features fruit from Ciel du Cheval and Kiona on Red Mountain, Red Willow and Dubrul in the Yakima Valley and Alder Ridge in the Horse Heaven Hills. The wine was aged in 45% new oak. Around 1186 cases were made.

Clos de Betz, a Right Bank Bordeaux style blend.

Medium intensity nose–a mix of red and black currants with a floral element that is not very defined. With some air, tertiary notes of tobacco spice emerge as well as an intriguing graphite pencil lead that would have me thinking Cabernet Franc is in this blend even though it’s not.

On the palate, the tide tilts more towards the red fruits dominating with the medium-plus acidity adding a sense of freshness to the wine. The graphite pencil notes disappear and seem to be replaced with an espresso chocolately note that plays off the tobacco spice that carried through. Medium tannins are well integrated and velvet–showing that this wine is probably at its peak drinking window now. Moderate length finish brings back the floral notes though I still can’t quite pinpoint them.

At $65-70, you won’t confuse this for a St. Emilion or Pomerol but this wine amply demonstrates how fantastic Bordeaux varieties–particularly Merlot–do in Washington State.

Subscribe to Spitbucket

New posts sent to your email!

60 Second Wine Review — 2008 Potensac

A few quick thoughts on the 2008 Chateau Potensac from the Médoc.

The Geekery

Chateau Potensac is owned by the Delon family who also own the 2nd Growth St. Julien estate Léoville Las Cases and Chateau Nénin in Pomerol. According to Stephen Brook in The Complete Bordeaux, the estate has been in the hands of the Delon family and their ancestors for over two centuries. The same viticulture and winemaking team at Léoville Las Cases takes care of the wines at Potensac.

The estate is located just 4 miles north of Chateau Calon Segur and the boundaries of St. Estephe. The soils contain a fair amount of clay and limestone that is not that dissimilar to the right bank region of St. Emilion which is why Merlot tends to dominate in plantings.

Since 2002, the estate has produced a second wine known as Chapelle de Potensac with around 40% of the estate’s Grand Vin being declassified down to this level.

The 2008 vintage of Potensac was a blend of 42% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 18% Cabernet Franc. The wine is aged for 15 months in 30% new oak with around 320,000 bottles produced each vintage.

According to the very cool vintage chart on the Domaines Delon site (also available for Léoville Las Cases and Nenin), the 2008 is ready to drink now but can still be held for a few years.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Fresh cigar tobacco and cedar dominant. There is a little red fruit underneath (cherry and currant).

Photo by Dan Smith. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.5

This wine has a mix of both cured and green tobacco notes.


Those red fruits carry through to the palate but are quite muted with more earthy and green leafy notes emerging. Medium-plus acidity and firm medium-plus tannins hints that this wine definitely can age for longer. The tobacco notes also come through and linger for the moderate finish.

The Verdict

At around $30-35, this is a solid “old school” style Bordeaux with a firm structure and earthy notes. While I had this wine by itself, I suspect that it will really shine on the table with food.

Subscribe to Spitbucket

New posts sent to your email!