Tag Archives: Silver Oak

60 Second Wine Review — Adobe Road Bavarian Lion Cabernet Sauvignon

A few quick thoughts on the 2013 Adobe Road Cabernet Sauvignon from the Bavarian Lion Vineyard in the Knights Valley of Sonoma.

The Geekery

Adobe Road Winery was founded in 2002 by race car driver Kevin Buckler and his wife Debra.

One of the early winemakers was Franc Dusak who worked on the 2004 to 2008 vintages. He was eventually succeeded by Michael Scorsone who was winemaker at Adobe Road for seven years with Palmer Emmitt assisting him until the two left to start their joint project Emmitt-Scorsone Wines.

Prior to taking over the head winemaking duties at Adobe Road, Scorsone previously worked with Ehren Jordan at Failla and with Thomas Rivers Brown and Fred Schrader at Boars’ View.

In 2015, Garrett Martin joined Adobe Road as winemaker after stints at Joel Gott and working with Massimo and Mario Monticelli at their consulting firm.

The Bavarian Lion Vineyard in the Knights Valley is located in the shadow of Mt. Saint Helena and is owned by Pierre Ehret. The vineyard is sustainably farmed.

Among the other wineries who source fruit from Bavarian Lion is Rodney Strong Vineyards who produced a great 2 minute video that shows the vineyard and explains some of the uniqueness of the Knights Valley.

The 2013 Adobe Road Bavarian Lion Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% varietal that spent 28 months aging in French oak (90% new). Around 350 cases were made.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Mix of red and dark fruits–plums and cherries–with some tobacco spice.

On the palate more red fruits carry through that are amplified by the high acidity. Medium-plus tannins hold up the medium-plus body of the fruit but overall the wine feels a bit hollow. Moderate length finish brings back the tobacco spice.

The Verdict

While I loved the 2013 Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III that I had at the 2017 Wine Spectator Grand Tour, the Bavarian Lion didn’t wow me–especially for its $80-100 price point.

It reminds me of the Silver Oak Alexander Valley with both wines needing to be priced a lot lower.

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Doubling Down On What’s Been Done Before

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

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

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

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

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

Napa On My Mind — And The Minds Of Most Consumers

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

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

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

Wine & Spirits Top Restaurant Wines of 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lessons Of Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

How About Betting On What’s Exciting?

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

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

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

2013 Leonetti Cellar Aglianico Serra Pedace Vineyard Walla Walla Valley

Yes, an Aglianico! From Leonetti!

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

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

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

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

2015 Two Vintners Cinsault Make Haste Yakima Valley

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

2016 Savage Grace Côt Malbec Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley

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

2017 Syncline Winery Picpoul Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley

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

2012 MTR Productions Memory Found Syrah Walla Walla Valley

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

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

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

Lessons of Oregon part II

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

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

Now What?

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

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

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

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

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60 Second Wine Review — Sheridan Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

A few quick thoughts on the 2013 Sheridan Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Geekery

Scott and Karen Greer founded Sheridan Vineyards in 1996 in the Yakima Valley of Washington State. From the first vintage release in 2000, Sheridan has received much critical acclaim–being described as one of the rising stars in Washington.

In 2012, the Greers ventured into Napa Valley to produce a Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the Wilsey Vineyard in Rutherford.

Located in the northwest quadrant of the appellation next to the Beckstoeffer-Melrose vineyard and near Emmolo’s Home Ranch and Whitehall Lane’s Bommarito vineyards, the Wilsey Vineyard was purchased in 1974 by the late Gary Wilsey.

According to Richard Mendelson in his book Appellation Napa Valley, Wilsey and his wife Lanetta, along with Agustin Huneeus of Franciscan Estate, Steve Girard of Girard Winery, Dennis Groth of Groth Vineyards, Jean Phillips of Screaming Eagle and the Duncan family of Silver Oak were part of the “Anti-Benchers” faction that opposed the delineation (and even existence) of a “Rutherford Bench”.

The Wine

Photo by ANAND HULUGAPPA. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Right now the rich dark fruits and secondary oak dominates but this wine is not far from developing even more interesting tertiary flavors.

Medium-plus intensity nose–ripe dark fruit flavors of black plums and blackberry. Noticeable oak baking spices of clove and nutmeg as well.

On the palate those rich dark fruit flavors carry through contributing to the full-bodied weight of the wine.  The mouthwatering medium-plus acidity balances the fruit well. The high tannins are very present but very ripe and smoothed by the vanilla from the oak. The long finish is still fruit-forward but starts to linger with spice and just a hint of smokey tobacco.

The Verdict

It feels like this Napa Cab is certainly on the cusp of hitting its prime. It just needs the baby fat of ripe fruit and oak to give way to more complex notes.

This wine is drinking well within its $100-130 Napa peers. However, its structure and acidity has the potential to deliver much more.

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60 Second Wine Review — Silver Oak Alexander Valley

A few quick thoughts on the 2012 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Geekery

Silver Oak was founded in 1972 by Justin Meyer and Raymond Duncan with Meyer serving as winemaker till 1994 when he was succeeded by Daniel Baron.

Baron would stay for more than 20 years before handing off the reigns in 2016 to Nate Weis. Prior to joining Silver Oak, Weis worked at Etude, Patz & Hall and at the Antinori family’s Atlas Peak property, Antica Napa Valley.

In addition to Silver Oak, the Duncan family also produces Twomey Cellars. In 2017, they acquired the Pritchard Hill estate Ovid. Later that year, they expanded into Oregon with the purchase of the Prince Hill Vineyard in the Dundee Hills from Dick Erath.

The fruit for the Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from a combination of contract and estate fruit with the 2012 vintage being a blend of 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Merlot. Around 75,000 cases a year are produced.

The Wine

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

Sweet vanilla oak, dark fruit and leafy greenness earmark this Cab.

Medium intensity nose–dark fruit of black cherries and black plum. There is certainly the noticeable vanilla of American oak as well some of coconut tan oil as well. But there is also, paradoxically, a lot of greenness like tomato leaf. This is surprising given how ripe the fruit is. Giving the wine air only makes the green note more evident.

On the palate, those dark fruits carry through with medium-plus weight that is just barely balanced by medium acidity. The medium-plus tannins have a firmness to them that is soften by the vanilla oak. The moderate length finish brings back the greenness from the nose which, again, is surprising given the vintage quality of 2012.

The Verdict

Silver Oak is a legendary name. I’m sure the Justin Meyer years went far in creating the brand’s esteemed reputation.

But at around $70-80 for the 2012 Alexander Valley, you’re certainly paying a premium for that name and past reputation.

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60 Second Wine Review — Kicker Cane Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

A few quick thoughts on the 2014 Kicker Cane Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from the Francis Ford Coppola Family of Wines.

The Geekery

Kicker Cane is made by the Coppola family whose modern history in winemaking dates back to the 1970s when Francis Ford Coppola purchased the historic Inglenook estate in Napa.

James Laube notes in California’s Great Cabernets that originally Coppola wanted to keep a low profile in the wine industry and had André Tchelistcheff oversee the management and winemaking of his early vintages.

Today the Coppola family’s holdings have grown into an extensive portfolio of wines that includes Francis Ford Coppola Presents, Director’s Cut, Sofia sparkling wine, Archimedes, Storytellers Wines, Votre Santé, Press Run Wine, Virginia Dare Winery and American Pioneer Wine Growers along with Inglenook (formerly Rubicon Estate and Niebaum-Coppola) and Kicker Cane.

The Kicker Cane series of wines are produced by Sandy Walheim and focuses on Cabernet Sauvignon grown in different regions of the North Coast with particular highlights on the the Rutherford AVA in Napa Valley and Alexander Valley AVA in Sonoma County. Prior to working for Coppola (where she also heads up winemaking for Virginia Dare), Walheim worked in Napa at the Robert Mondavi Winery, Beringer, Cain Vineyards as well as at Simi Winery in Sonoma.

The Wine

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

Very strong oak flavors characterize this wine.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Red fruits–currants, plums and cherry–with noticeable oak spice and coconut.

On the palate, those red fruits carry through and have a juicy element with medium-plus acidity. The oak also carries through and makes it present known. Ample vanilla adds weight to the ripe medium-plus tannins. Moderate length finish ends on the oak spice.

The Verdict

At $18-23, this is a very oak-driven Alexander Valley Cabernet (a la “a baby Silver Oak”). It  would certainly appeal to those who enjoy those oaky styles.

It does have enough acidity for balance though. That would make this wine a solid restaurant pour and pairing for weighty dishes like meat.

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

After covering the 2017 Bordeaux futures offers of Clos de l’Oratoire, Ch. Monbousquet, Ch. Quinault l’Enclos and Ch. Fonplegade in our first visit to St. Emilion, we return now to look at the offers for the Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’ estates of Ch. Beau-Séjour Bécot, Ch. Canon-la-Gaffelière and Ch. Canon as well as the Grand Cru Classé estate of Ch. La Dominique.

While we are 10 entries deep into this series, first time visitors are always well-advised to check out the the first Bordeaux Futures 2017 post covering the offers of Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge and Haut-Batailley that gives an overview of what we are looking for here at SpitBucket in deciding on whether to Buy or Pass on these 2017 offers.

You can also check out the links at the bottom to see other offers that we have reviewed in this series.

Now onto the offers.

Ch. Beau-Séjour Bécot (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

The Ancient Romans were one of the first to cultivate vines in what is now Beau-Séjour Bécot more than 2000 years ago. During the Middle Ages the property came under the stewardship of the monks of Saint-Martin de Mazerat who also managed what is now Ch. Canon.

The exterior of Beau-Séjour Bécot.


Stephen Brook notes in The Complete Bordeaux that eventually the property came under the ownership of the Lord of Camarsacs. In 1722 when the daughter of one of the lords married into the Carles de Figeac family, the estate was given to the new couple as dowry.

One of their descendants, General Jacques de Carles renamed the property Beauséjour (meaning “good stay”) in 1787. By the early 1800s, Clive Coates describes in Grand Vins that the large estate was ranked highly in prestige in St. Emilion just behind Ch. Belair, Troplong-Mondot, Ch. Canon and Ausone.

In 1869, the estate was split between the heirs of Pierre-Paulin Ducarpe with his son getting the half that is today Beau-Séjour Bécot and his daughter, who married into the Duffau-Lagarosse family, inheriting the part that is now Ch. Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse. In 1955 both estates were classified as Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’.

The Bécot family, who already owned Ch. La Carte, purchased Beau-Séjour in 1969–affixing their name and later expanding it with their holdings at La Carte and acquiring the nearby Trois Moulins vineyard. However, the use of these other vineyard plots in the Grand Vin of Beau-Séjour Bécot was not previously approved by the governing authority of the St. Emilion classification so in 1986 the estate was demoted to Grand Cru Classé.

With the aid of consultant Michel Rolland, the Bécots worked 10 years to improve the vineyard quality of the new parcels and agreed not to use any parcels deemed inferior by the authorities for the Grand Vin. When the 1996 classification was released, Ch. Beau-Séjour Bécot was restored to its Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’ ranking.

The author touring the estate with Caroline Bécot.


Today the property is still in the hands of the Bécot family with Juliette Bécot managing the estate alongside Julien Barthe. In 2018, Michel Rolland left as consultant and was replaced by Thomas Duclos.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Around 6000 cases are produced each year.

Critic Scores:

93-96 Wine Spectator (WS), 93-95 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 93-94 James Suckling (JS), 92-94 Wine Advocate (WA), 91-93 Vinous Media (VM), 93-95 Jeff Leve (JL), 91-94 Jeb Dunnuck (JD)

Sample Review:

Coming from an incredible terroir located on the limestone plateau just outside the village, the 2017 Château Beau-Séjour Bécot is a medium-bodied, refined, incredibly elegant 2017 that offers awesome notes of crème de cassis, crushed violets, earth, and a saline-like minerality. Winemaker Thomas Duclos compares the 2017 to 2012, saying the wines will put on weight in barrel as well in bottle. Their 2017 is a fresh, vibrant wine and has tons of potential. The blend is 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon, with the Merlot brought in from the 14th to the 22nd of September, and the Cabernets on October 28 and 29. The wine will spend 16 months in 65% new French oak, with the balance in stainless steel, amphora, and larger oak. — Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $58
JJ Buckley: $59.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $59.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K&L: $59.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $74 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $77 Average Critic Score: 93
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $59 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $57 Average Critic Score: 90

Buy or Pass?

Compared to its peers in the Premier Grand Cru Classé tier, the wines of Beau-Séjour Bécot have always struck me as solid (if not slightly underrated) values.

The 2011 was very tight in 2016 and is still slowly starting to come out of its shell.
This makes me think that the 2017 is a wine that will probably need a good 10+ years itself.

My esteem for the estate rose even more during my 2016 visit to the region where I was also introduced to Juliette Bécot’s very delicious Joanin Bécot label from her Cotes de Castillon estate. Both the 2012 and 2015 of that label have been screaming good values under $30 that I eagerly seek out at retail stores and on restaurant wine lists.

While the 2017 will be a compelling buy for many Bordeaux fans, my only hitch is that my past experiences with the wines of Beau-Séjour Bécot have taught me that these wines need time in the cellar and rarely deliver much pleasure early in their life. While that is great for “cellar investment” years like 2015/2016, that is not my objective for futures buying with the 2017s.

So I will Pass on this offer even though it is a solid buy. However, I will certainly be buying some of the 2017 Joanin Bécot when it hits retail stores in 2019/2020.

Ch. Canon-la-Gaffelière (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

Canon-la-Gaffelière is a relatively young estate that was previously known as Canon Boitard (after an early 19th century owner) and La Gaffelière-Boitard with La Gaffelière coming from the medieval term for “lepers” and denoting the area’s previous history as part of manor grounds for a hospital that treated leprosy. Eventually the two names were combined in the 19th century to its current incarnation of Ch. Canon-la-Gaffelière.

The modern history of the estate began in 1971 when Count Joseph Hubert von Neipperg purchased the property from Pierre Meyrat, a former mayor of St. Emilion. In 2012, the estate was promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’.

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

Stéphane Derenoncourt, the consultant behind the von Neipperg wines, has a very distinctive style.


Today von Neipperg’s son, Stephan, manages the estate along with fellow Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’ La Mondotte as well as Clos de l’Oratoire, Ch. Peyreau, Ch. d’Aiguilhe in Cotes de Castillon, Clos Marsalette in Pessac-Léognan, the Sauternes Premier Cru Ch. Guiraud, Capaia in South Africa and Bessa Valley in Bulgaria.

Stéphane Derenoncourt is the longtime consultant who early on began Canon-la-Gaffelière’s conversion to organic viticulture with the estate being 100% certified organic in 2014.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Around 5000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

94-95 JS, 91-93 WA, 90-93 WS, 92-95 VM, 93-95 JL, 92-94 JD

Sample Review:

The 2017 Canon La Gaffelière is superb. Compelling in its aromatics and overall balance, the 2017 has so much to offer. All the elements simply fall into place. As is the case with all of Stephan von Neipperg’s wines, the 2017 is wonderfully fresh and nuanced, with less muscle than in the past and noticeably more finesse. Bright floral and mocha notes add lift to the dark red stone fruits. What a gorgeous wine this is. Tasted two times. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $75
JJ Buckley: $79.94 + shipping
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $467.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $78.97
K&L: $79.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $92 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $99 Average Critic Score: 94
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $83 Average Critic Score: 92
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $73 Average Critic Score: 91

Buy or Pass?

If you pay attention to Wine Spectator’s yearly Top 100 list, few names appear more frequently than Canon-la-Gaffelière which has been ranked #7 (2014 vintage, 2017 list), #2 (2010 vintage, 2013 list), #23 (2009 vintage, 2012 list) and #95 (2008 vintage, 2011 list) in the last 7 years. To say that Canon-la-Gaffelière has been on a roll lately is an understatement.

Photo by Dave Minogue. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

When you can buy 3 bottles of Canon-la-Gaffelière for the price of 1 bottle of Opus One and get something of very similar style and quality (if not better), it’s a no-brainer for me.

As I noted in my review of Clos de l’Oratoire’s 2017 futures offer, I find the style of Derenoncourt and von Neipperg to be very “New World-ish” so I always evaluate the pricing of their wines on the scale of equivalent priced Napa wines more so than other Bordeaux.

Compared to wines like Opus One, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Silver Oak, Duckhorn and Caymus, I find that there is virtually no contest in the value that Derenoncourt and von Neipperg’s Bordeaux wines provide in delivering lush, hedonistic power for much more compelling prices.

And the wines always seem to be reliably approachable for early consumption. While, on the flip side, I tend to avoid buying Canon-la-Gaffelière and Clos de l’Oratoire in stellar vintages where I’m looking for more classic and age-worthy Bordeaux, these wines fit the bill perfectly for the “cellar defender” role I’m seeking out of vintages like 2017. That makes them an easy Buy, especially when the prices are right.

Ch. Canon (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

This photo was taken in the limestone caves of Beau-Séjour Bécot but through here you can access the caves of Ch. Canon which is only separated by a gated door.

Like neighboring Beau-Séjour Bécot, Ch. Canon was once an ecclesiastical vineyard ran by the monks of Clos St. Martin in the 1700s. It was during this period that much of the extensive limestone caves that still connect Beau-Séjour Bécot, Ch. Canon and Clos Fourtet were quarried out with the limestone used to build many chateaux in the Libournais.

The estate was known as Domaine de Saint-Martin in 1760 when it was purchased by Jacques Kanon, a privateer from Dunkirk who served as a lieutenant in the Royal Marines during the Seven Years’ War and earned his fortune from looting and piracy. However, the name of the domaine did not change to Ch. Canon until 1853 when it was owned by the descendants of Raymond Fontemoing who purchased Domaine de Saint-Martin from Kanon in 1770.

The Fontemoing family already owned the famous Chateau Canon in the Canon-Fronsac area which Clive Coates notes in Grand Vins was fetching the highest wine of any Libournais wine in the late 18th century.

The Fontemoings wanted to avoid confusion between their two properties and kept them separate until the wines of St. Emilion began earning more prominence on the market. By the mid 1850s, the newly rechristened Ch. Canon was ranked among the top 4 estates of St. Emilion alongside Ausone, Belair and Magdelaine.

The modern history of Ch. Canon was kick started in 1996 when the estate was sold by the Fournier family to the Wertheimer brothers, Alan and Gerard, who owned the luxury brand Chanel. Today it is part of a portfolio that includes the Margaux 2nd Growth Rauzan-Ségla, Ch. Berliquet in St. Emilion and St. Supéry in Napa Valley as well as the negociant firm Ulysse Cazabonne.

Under the Chanel Group’s ownership, significant capital was invested into replanting the vineyards and renovating the cellars. John Kolasa was brought on to manage Ch. Canon (as well as the other Bordeaux estates) where he stayed till 2015 when he was succeeded by Nicolas Audebert who formerly managed the LVMH Argentine project of Cheval des Andes. Thomas Duclos was also brought on that year as a consultant.

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

The vineyards of Ch. Canon.

The vineyards of Ch. Canon are smack dab in the heart of St. Emilion’s famous limestone plateau with additional parcels on the slopes neighboring Angelus and Ch. Quintus. In recent years, the owners have acquired Chateau Matras and Chateau Cure Bon with the INAO permitting some of the hectares from Cure Bon to be used in the Grand Vin.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 73% Merlot and 18% Cabernet Franc. Around 6,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

Another successful year for Canon; not as voluptuous as in 2016 or 2015, but it has a wonderful salinity and a crisp, fresh curl to the fruit. They aim for crystalline flavours, vibrant fruit and a sense of forward motion, and for me it has that again this year. The flavours of blueberries, blackberries and soft, smoky almonds are drawn out through the palate, and by the time it has finished you are ready to go again. It has an austerity that is overridden by the juice, not quite overriding the vintage, but it’s a delicious wine that again showcases the beauty of limestone. 50% new oak. Thomas Duclos is consultant here, and it really is a great year for the estates that he works with. (94 points) — Jane Anson, Decanter

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $94
JJ Buckley: $95.94 + shipping
Vinfolio: $96.00 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $581.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping
Total Wine: $94.97
K&L: $94.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $153 Average Critic Score: 95 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $271 Average Critic Score: 96
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $91 Average Critic Score: 92
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $66 Average Critic Score: 91

Buy or Pass?

I’ve never been very impressed with John Kolsa’s style at Ch. Canon (or Rauzan-Ségla for that matter) so this is an estate that is usually not on my radar. I will say that the 2014 Canon was intriguing at the 2017 UGC Bordeaux tasting though. Given that that year’s wine was finished and bottled by Audebert and Duclos, I may have reason to give Canon another look.

But 2017 is not a vintage I’m using for revisiting or taking flyers on new estates and winemaking teams. Looking at the price history of the last 4 vintages of Canon, I won’t deny that there is clearly value here in the 2017 pricing and I can see this being a very compelling offer for other Bordeaux fans. I’m just more incline to be cautious which is leading me to Pass on buying this as a future.

Ch. La Dominique (St. Emilion)

Some Geekery:

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

Ch. La Dominique

Ch. La Dominique is named after the Caribbean island of Dominica where the estate’s 18th century owners also had property.

The modern history of the estate began in 1933 when it was purchased by the de Bailliencourt family who own Ch. Gazin in Pomerol. The de Bailliencourts sold La Dominique in 1969 to billionaire Clément Fayat who made his fortune in the construction industry. Today it is part of a portfolio that includes Ch. Clément-Pichon in Haut-Médoc and Ch. Fayat in Pomerol.

In 2007, Fayat brought in Jean-Luc Thunevin (of Château Valandraud fame) to consult. He also purchased nearby Ch. Vieux Fortin, merging their 5 hectares of vines into La Dominique’s holding. The estate is experimenting with biodynamic viticulture.

Located in the western end of St. Emilion on the border with Pomerol, La Dominique has exceptional terroir neighboring Cheval Blanc and Ch. Figeac in St. Emilion as well as La Conseillante and L’Evangile across the way into Pomerol. From the rooftop of their restaurant, La Terrasse Rouge located among their vineyards, you can see the vineyards of Ch. Petrus as well.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Around 7000 cases a year are produced but with significant frost damage experienced in 2017, production this year is likely closer to 3500 cases.

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

70% frosted so they had more Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) and Cabernet Franc (20%) in 2017. This is 50% of production. Inky dark with purple rim. Dark, rocky/mineral fragrance. Juicy and scented on the palate, with some red as well as black fruit. Super-polished tannins that are a fine framework for the fruit. Refined, not over-oaked. Long. (17/20 points) — Julia Harding, JancisRobinson.com

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $57
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $59.97
K&L: No offers yet.

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $62 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $58 Average Critic Score: 92
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $51 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $41 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

The restaurant also had a killer collection of vintage Armagnacs.


Visiting the vineyards of La Dominique and their La Terrasse Rouge restaurant was one of the highlights of my 2016 Bordeaux trip. This site truly has remarkable potential but not a single one of their wines really left any kind of impression.

While I adore Thunevin’s work at his own personal estate of Valandraud and his consulting work at Fleur Cardinale, I have a hankering suspicion that the business goals of La Dominique are more geared towards tourism than necessarily raising the quality of their wines above other Grand Cru Classé. And with pricing closer to 2015/2016 levels than 2014 this is an easy Pass for me.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

Why I Buy Bordeaux Futures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — 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

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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

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Playing the Somm Game in Vegas

“Unicorns aren’t real, but the house advantage is.”

I just got back from a weekend in Las Vegas where I lost far more than I care to admit at the casinos.

Growing up in St. Louis with church bingo and riverboat casinos, I will always have soft-spot for the gambler’s heart.

But man does it suck losing.

However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve found one game that I love playing in Vegas where I’m a sure bet to come out a big winner–the Somm Game.

How to Play

It’s a simple game. You go to a nice restaurant with a thick, Bible-size wine list.

Give the sommelier your budget, what food you are ordering, let them know you are open to anything and then let them take it from there.

That’s it. That’s the game and the payoff is almost always better than anything you’ll find at the tables or slots.

Why the Somm Game works

First off, your objective is to have a great dining experience. You know who else shares that same objective? The sommelier. Their entire job is to give you a memorable experience so the house odds are already in your favor.

Just like I’m sure you perform best at your job when your clients let you do your thing, so too do sommeliers really get a chance to shine when you simply trust them to do what they are trained to do—which is far more than only opening bottles and pouring them into decanters.

And *spoiler alert* sometimes they have bottles like this just “lying around”.

Sommeliers are professionals and many have spent years honing their craft, studying, tasting and traveling the world of wine. With certification programs from the Court of Master Sommeliers, Wine & Spirits Education Trust, International Sommelier Guild and the like, the quality of wine education in the industry has never been higher. Why let that advantage go to waste?

And it is an advantage–one that even the most savvy and experienced wine drinkers don’t readily have.

Look I know my fair share about wine. I can open up a wine list and recognize most every name and region on it. I can hold my own rattling off producers, soil types, grapes varieties and facts. But I’ll tell you what I don’t necessarily know—how everything on the list is drinking now and what exactly will pair best with the particular flavors of the chef’s cuisine.

No matter how much a person knows about wine, the odds are that the sommelier team knows their own list and their own food at least a little bit better than you do. Especially at a restaurant with a good wine program that involves frequent tastings and pairing exercises, they’re going to have a leg up on you with what is drinking great right now and is pairing well.

“But Amber, I don’t want to get ripped off by restaurant mark ups!”

Okay, I know restaurant mark ups can be painful to swallow. Believe me, it’s even tougher when you’ve been in the business and know intimately what the typical wholesale and retail prices are of the wines you frequently see on wine lists.

But here’s the beauty of playing the Somm Game and trusting the sommelier to make the wine picks—most likely you’re going to avoid getting the crazy mark up wines and instead get the gems that the sommeliers themselves would pick for their own dinners.

By trusting the sommeliers you are far less likely to get “ripped off” by markups than you would be ordering on your own. They don’t need to sell you the crazy high mark up wines because your fellow diners are already buying those wines and paying the “Ego Tax” on them.

The “Ego Tax”

General rule of thumb–if an average wine drinker would recognize the name on a wine list then you are probably going to pay an “ego tax” ordering it.

Restaurants are businesses and all businesses aim to make a profit. With margins on food being so tight, it naturally falls on the beverage side of the business to earn healthy returns.

In the wine industry, there are certain well known brands that restaurants know will sell off their wine list without any effort. These are your Jordan, Caymus, Rombauer, Veuve Clicquot, Dom Perignon, Opus One and Silver Oak type wines of the world.

There is no need for effort because wine consumers will order these wines on their own as frequently these are the only names on the list they recognize. Often their ego (either hubris or an irrational fear of looking helpless) keeps them from seeking the sommelier’s assistance so they retreat to the comfort of a known quantity.

But these “known quantities” are often the highest marked up wines on the entire list!

That hesitance to relinquish control and trust the sommelier to guide you out of the realm of the “the same ole, same ole” is not limited to just “regular wine drinkers”. It hits folks who “know wine” and have been around the industry. I mean come on! We don’t need help. We know how to order wine and what’s good!

And that is why restaurants make bank off of the “Ego Tax”.

Which is fine, I suppose, if you are living off an expense account and paying with someone else’s dime. But most of us in the real world aren’t expense account dandies so it’s pointless to be paying the “Ego Tax” when all we’ve got to do is trust the somm and have some fun.

The Somm Game in Action

When I play the Somm Game, I start by introducing myself as a wine geek and telling the sommelier that all I want to do this evening is “geek out” a bit. Sometimes in the conversation that follows I will mention my wine industry background but that is rarely brought up. My approach is to present myself as just a geek that trusts and respects the sommelier’s judgement and expertise.

I give them a budget and tell them that I’m open to anything–glass pours, half-bottles, full-bottles. I recommend going a little higher in your budget than you would usually give yourself for ordering a single bottle because the more flexibility you give the somms, the more fun you can have. Trust me, it will pay off dividends.

I share with them what food I’m ordering–again emphasizing my openness in going with whatever the sommelier thinks will work best whether it be glass pours for each course or half/full-bottles, etc.

Then I sit back and have fun.

This weekend I had the opportunity to play the Somm Game at two restaurants–Lago by Julian Serrano at the Bellagio and at Aureole by Charlie Palmer at Mandalay Bay. Both restaurants have tremendous wine programs overseen by Master Sommelier Jason L. Smith, Executive Director of Wine for MGM Resorts International, and Mandalay Bay Director of Wine Harley Carbery.

When playing the Somm Game, it helps to increase your odds by playing with a stack deck.

Lago

At Lago, we were served by head sommelier Jeffrey Bencus, an Advance Sommelier who is on the cusp of achieving his MS. Talking with him, we found out that he has separately passed his theory and tasting exams for the Master Sommelier certification–just not within the same testing cycle.

On my own, when out for a nice dinner I usually aim for a bottle in the $250-300 range so I gave Jeffrey a budget of $350 and laid out the perimeters above. I told him we were geeks and opened to pretty much anything.

The style of cuisine at Lago is small plates so we started off with short rib cannelloni and red wine risotto.

These were red wine heavy dishes but we were delighted when he brought out a half bottle of 2015 Jean-Philippe Fichet Meursault.

Granted, coming from the tremendous 2015 vintage this wine was already playing with a full house.

With plots in the enviable “second crus” of Les Chaumes de Narvaux (upslope from the Premier cru vineyards of Les Bouchères and Les Gouttes d’Or) and Le Limozin (flanked by 1er crus Les Genevrières and Les Charmes) as well as 65 to 75+ year old vine plantings in Les Clous and Les Criots, this village-level Meursault was delivering premier cru quality pleasure.

Textbook Meursault with subtle butteriness, hazelnuts and that liquid-rocks minerality that makes this place so special for Chardonnay. I don’t remember what the restaurant price was, but the Wine Searcher Average for the 2015 was $65. Well worth finding.

The following course was Italian sausage skewers with red pepper sauce and a filet with a Gorgonzola demi-glaze. Originally Jeffrey was thinking a classic 2012 Brunnello di Montalcino but decided to geek it up more for us with a 2012 Mastroberardino Radici Taurasi from the legendary Campanian producer. I was quite familiar with Mastroberardino and their flagship Taurasi but my initial instinct was that a 2012 would be far too young.

But, again, here is where a somm’s expertise and experience with their own wine list pays off.

With nothing more than a splash decant the Radici was absolutely singing with the savory floral and spicy undertones of Aglianico complimenting not only my steak but also my wife’s Italian sausage with its sweet roasted red bell pepper sauce.

Black olives and black fruit with a long savory finish. A masterful wine from Mastroberardino that was drinking surprisingly well for a young Taurasi.

The Wine Searcher Average for this wine is listed at $47 but that is skewed a little by some discount Hong Kong retailers. In the US, it is far more common to find it retailing for $55-60.

For dessert we had a creme brulee and citrus cannoli and boy did we hit the jackpot with the Somm Game!

My wife and I were flabbergasted when Jeffrey brought out a tiny 187ml split of 1993 Château Pajzos Tokaji Esszencia.

I don’t think this wine was even on the wine list!

While I’ve had Tokaji several times, this was my first experience trying an Esszencia because of how rare (and expensive) it is. Made from the free-run juice of dried botrytized grapes, residual sugars can go as high as 85% and take over 6 years to ferment because of how sweet and concentrated it is. Tokaji Esszencia is truly one of the wonders of the wine world.

This wine was the #3 ranked wine on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list in 1998 and was described as “a perfect wine” with 100 pts from Robert Parker.

And it was just….wow!

I think I finally found a wine that broke my mental 94 point barrier. It’s been over four days since I had this wine and I can still taste the amazing concentration of liquid figs, honey, cognac and lingering spice.

Folks….this is a WHITE wine!

Incredibly difficult to find retail due to its limited supply (only 165 cases made), the Wine Searcher Average for a 500ml of the 1993 Pajzos Esszencia is $698.

A stunning treat and life-long memory.

All together, the three wines were well around our $350 budget. As we were finishing up dinner while savoring that amazing Esszencia, I noticed the table next to us had ordered a bottle of 2006 Opus One which was $995 on the Lago’s restaurant list.

While I’m sure they enjoyed that bottle of Opus fine enough, I can’t help but think that we came out WAY ahead in our wine and food pairing experience by paying around a third of what they did.

Heck, all three of the wines we had which included one 375ml half bottle, one 750ml bottle and one 187ml split was less at restaurant mark-up than what one single bottle of 2006 Opus One averages at retail price.

That folks….is winning big with the Somm Game.

Aureole

The next night we visited Aureole at Mandalay Bay where we rolled the dice for the Somm Game with Kyran O’Dwyer, an Advance Sommelier since 2006.

While Kyran didn’t have an extra 187ml bottle of an uber-rare wine lying around, he had his own ace up his sleeve and delivered a remarkable and personalized experience that far exceeded our expectations.

We didn’t finish this bottle till just before dessert and it paired exquisitely with every dish we had.

Giving him the same $350 budget, the first roll came up sevens when he brought out a perfectly geeky Champagne–the Drappier Quattuor Blanc de Blancs featuring some of the rarest grapes in Champagne.

A blend of 25% Arbane, 25% Petit Meslier, 25% Blanc Vrai (Pinot blanc) and 25% Chardonnay to round it out, the wine was aged 3 years on the lees before being bottled with a dosage of 4 g/l. The Wine Searcher Average for it is $61 but most retailers in the US have it closer to the $120 release price noted by Wine Spectator. However it is incredibly difficult to find with most retailers (like K & L) getting less than a couple cases.

But oh is it worth the hunt!

This is a “unicorn Champagne” like the ones I’ve been on the prowl for since I finished reading Robert Walters’ Bursting Bubbles. High intensity aromatics that continually evolved in the glass with a mix of citrus lemon custard and orange blossoms with some creamy creme brulee action. Exceptionally well balanced between the creamy mousse, racy citrus notes and dry dosage, the long finish brought out intriguing salty mineral notes that lasted for several minutes after you swallowed.

For appetizers my wife got a black garlic Cesar salad while I had the foie gras du jour–which was seared foie gras with a balsamic berry reduction paired with a French toast concoction that had the chef’s homemade nutella filling. While we enjoyed the Champagne, he gave us each an additional 2-3 oz “taster pour” of the 2014 Braida Brachetto d’Acqui to go with the foie gras.

The wine was lively and fresh with ample acidity to balance the sweetness.

A seriously good sweet wine worth geeking out over.

The wine tasted like you were eating ripe strawberries picked straight from the bush. In a market flooded with Moscatos, Roscatos and Stella Rosa, sweet wines often get a bad rap as overly simple but tasting a wine like the Giacomo Bologna Braida Brachetto d’Acqui is a great reminder about how joyful and delicious “simple sweet wines” can be. At a retail average of $18 a bottle, it is also a great deal for folks wanting to trade out of the same ole, same ole for something new to try.

For dinner I had braised short rib ravioli with a smoked tomato cream sauce while my wife had one of the most delicious vegetarian lasagnas that we had ever tried. It must have had at least 20 layers of fresh pasta, butternut squash, sage, spinach and mascarpone. My ravioli was great but her lasagna was outstanding.

Of course, these dishes were quite different and not necessarily the easiest to pair with the same wine. Truthfully, on my own, I probably would have “wimped out” and took the easy route of ordering a village-level Burgundy with the thinking of acidity for my tomato cream sauce while some earthiness could play well with the lasagna without being too big or tannic. Not a perfect pairing but a serviceable one.

But Advance Sommeliers do not settle for serviceable.

One of the tell-tale signs of a good restaurant wine program is when the wine list has gems like this Portuguese Douro on it. Few people are savvy enough to recognize or order them but the sommeliers know what’s up.

Instead, Kyran surprised me with a 2012 Prats & Symington Post Scriptum de Chryseia from the Douro. I was already very familiar with the Symington family’s stable of Port houses like Cockburn, Dow, Graham, Warre and Quinta do Vesúvio but wasn’t aware of this particular Douro red wine label.

A blend of 53% Touriga Franca, 45% Touriga Nacional and 2% other Portuguese varieties, the wine was remarkably “St. Emilion-like” with a beautiful mix of blue flowers, dark fruit and savory baking spice notes on the nose. Far from being “too big” or “too tannic” for the vegetable lasagna, the wine was beautifully balance with juicy medium-plus acidity and velvety medium-plus tannins.

If this was a blind tasting and I pegged it as a St. Emilion, I would have been expecting it to be in the $45-55 range retail for a bottle. But here is where the savvy of a good sommelier comes into play because this absolute gem of a wine from a very underappreciated region is a total steal at around $26 a bottle retail.

The wine list price for this bottle was $67 which, compared to the usual 3x retail mark up common in the industry, was a great deal in its own right. Frankly, you would be hard-pressed to find a better bottle than this on most restaurant’s wine lists for less than $80.

We would have been more than happy with only this bottle for both our main courses.

But, again, Kyran when above and beyond as he brought my wife out a glass pour of the 2015 Domaine Laroche Vielle Voye Chablis to compliment her vegetarian lasagna. Sourced from 70+ year old vines, this village-level Chablis way over delivered and is another great value at $36 a bottle (and probably a $20-25 glass pour, at least).

The wine….they just kept coming!

Then for dessert my wife went with a blood orange creamsicle parfait while I ordered a maple brown butter creme brulee (my favorite dessert if you haven’t guess yet). Once again Kyran decided to individualize the pairing for us with my wife getting a glass of the 2008 Jackson Triggs Vidal Ice Wine from Niagara that was chock-full of orange blossoms and apricot notes while I got a 2011 Kracher Beerenauslese from Burgenland that had amazing lightness in the mouthfeel despite its rich concentration.

And coming…..
Like a hot slot machine.

With Wine Searcher averages of $93 and $61 respectively, my wife and I rarely buy full bottles of dessert wines because we never finish them. For us, it’s worth paying a little bit of a premium to enjoy them by the glass pour at a restaurant with a nice dessert. Yet, I rarely ever feel like I am paying a premium compared to the amount of pleasure I’m getting with the pairing.

With an end total of 2 bottles, 3 glasses and two taster pours over the course of a fabulous dinner with a personalize touch made this another jackpot win for the Somm Game. There is truly no way that I could have spent my money better that evening than just letting Kyran run the table with his fantastic pairings.

That is the beauty of the Somm Game.

Yes, it’s still gambling

And the house is going to get its share.

Of course, I could have likely bought (assuming I could even find them) bottles of the wines I had at each dinner for less than $350 on the retail market but that’s the same truth when comparing the cost of the food ingredients if you cooked the meal at home versus what you paid at a restaurant for a dish.

No one should approach the Somm Game or buying wine at restaurants with the perspective of beating retail prices. It’s never going to happen. These restaurants are businesses with overhead and staff that deserve to be paid living wages and benefits.

I’m not advocating the Somm Game as a way of “beating the house” though I do wholeheartedly endorse it as a way of getting the most out your money and having a kick-ass experience.

There is really not a dollar amount that you can put on your own personal pleasure or the joy of trying something new.

You “come out ahead” when you end up getting more than you expected with a tremendous evening of great wine, great food and great memories that happened just because you let the professionals do the very thing that they are really good at doing.

No, there is not guaranteed 100% success each time you play. Sometimes you may be at a restaurant that doesn’t have a serious wine program with trained sommeliers. Sure you can still roll the dice but, as with all forms of gambling, there is always a chance you will crap out.

I recommend checking out the wine list and asking questions of the staff to get a feel if this is the type of place that is worth playing the Somm Game at.

But in Las Vegas, with its high density of outstanding restaurants and sommeliers, I’ve found no surer bet.

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Event Review — Stags’ Leap Winery Dinner

Daniel’s Broiler in Bellevue, Washington is one of my wife and I’s favorite restaurants to visit. Each year they host a Champagne Gala that we love going to. Even when we’re not thrilled with the wines selected, we nonetheless always enjoy the exquisite food crafted by Executive Chef Kevin Rohr and a chance to try interesting food pairings.

Recently I got to attend a dinner featuring the wines of Stags’ Leap Winery with Assistant Winemaker Joanne “Jo” Wing.

The Background

I geeked out about some of the backstory of Stags’ Leap Winery in my 60 Second Review of their 2013 Napa Valley Merlot. With a long history dating back to the late 19th century, the winery is one of Napa’s most historic properties.

In California’s Great Cabernets, James Laube notes that the rise of the modern-era of Stags’ Leap Winery under Carl Doumani went hand in hand with the “Cabernet boom” of the 1970s that saw the notable Cabs of Burgess, Cakebread, Caymus, Clos du Val, Mount Eden, Mt. Veeder, Silver Oak and Joseph Phelps hit the scene. It also saw the birth of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and decades-long legal intrigue.

The War of the Apostrophe” soon took off with Warren Winiarski of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (and winner of the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris) suing Doumani–who promptly counter-sued.

The two men eventually settled their differences in the mid-1980s and released a special collaborative bottling between the two estates called Accord from the 1985 vintage to commemorate. The agreement was that Winiarski’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars would have the apostrophe to the left of the ‘s’ while Doumani’s Stags’ Leap Winery would have it to the right.

You could tell that the Treasury Wine Estate rep at the dinner wasn’t too happy about the apostrophe typo on the menu.

Around this time, the two wineries faced another challenge with other wineries in the area like Gary Andrus’ Pine Ridge Winery, Steltzner Vineyards, Shafer Vineyards and more wanting to use the Stags Leap name and petitioning for American Viticultural Area (AVA) approval under that name for the region. After more legal challenges, a compromise was struck for the name of the new AVA to be the Stags Leap District (SLD) sans apostrophe.

Today the winery is owned by Treasury Wine Estates where it is part of a vast portfolio that includes 19 Crimes, The Walking Dead wines, Beaulieu Vineyards, Beringer, Ch. St Jean, Penfolds, Provenance, Hewitt Vineyard and more.

The current winemaker is Christophe Paubert who succeeded Robert Brittan when the later left Napa to make wine in Oregon at his own Brittan Vineyards and consult for wineries such as Winderlea.

A Bordeaux trained winemaker, Paubert has extensive experience working at such illustrious estates as the 2nd Growth St. Julien estate of Ch. Gruaud-Larose and the First Growth Sauternes estate of Chateau d’Yquem. Prior to joining Stags’ Leap in 2009, Paubert was the head winemaker for 4 years at Canoe Ridge Vineyards in Washington State.

Assistant Winemaker Joanne Wing is a New Zealand native who started out at Indevin, one of New Zealand’s largest wine producers. She gained experience working harvest across the globe from Saintsbury in Napa to Mount Pleasant Winery in the Hunter Valley of Australia as well as in Bordeaux before accepting a position at Stags’ Leap as a harvest enologist and working her way up to Asst. Winemaker.

Gorgeous Viognier that is well worth seeking out.


Passed hors d’oeuvres paired with 2016 Stags’ Leap Winery Napa Valley Viognier
Smoked sablefish with soft scrambled farm egg, ikura, chives and Chevre crostini with watermelon beet, grilled apricot, chili spice

I’m not a big beet person so I let my wife try the Chevre Crostini while I had the smoked sablefish with the ikura roe caviar. Both were smashing pairings with the Stags’ Leap Viognier with the wine being a particular revelation.

Sourced primarily from cooler climate vineyards in the Carneros AVA and Oak Knoll District, the Viognier had medium-plus intensity nose of orange blossoms and white peach notes.

On the palate, those white peach tree fruits carried through but also brought some tropical notes of passion-fruit and papaya. However this Viognier never came close to the tutti-fruity “Fruit Loop Cereal” style that unfortunately befalls many domestic Viogniers–especially those fermented and aged only in stainless steel. To avoid that pratfall, Paubert and Wing fermented the wine in neutral French oak barrels with weekly batonnage for 4 months. This very “Condrieu-style” approach produced a Viognier with textural weight and depth but with enough medium-plus acidity to keep it from being flabby or overly creamy.

The acidity also matched perfectly with the hors d’oeuvres, cutting through the “fishiness” of the sablefish and roe. My wife was particularly impressed at how well the acidity matched with the Chevre–the tangy goat cheese that often calls for high acid whites like Sauvignon blanc.

At $22-27, this is an outstanding Viognier with loads of personality and complexity that I would put on par with the àMaurice Viognier from Washington State as one of the stellar domestic examples of this variety.

The preserved kumquat vinaigrette on the salad were quite a treat.


First Course paired with 2016 Stags’ Leap Napa Valley Chardonnay
Spring Salad with Belgian endive, baby kale, avocado, marcona almonds, preserved kumquat vinaigrette

Sourced from the Carneros and Oak Knoll District, this Napa Chardonnay counters the stereotype of over-the-top, oaky, buttery Chardonnays. With 25% fermented and aged in new French oak, 50% in “seasoned” French oak and the rest in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation, this Chardonnay aimed for an elegant and food-friendly style.

The wine had a medium intensity nose with apple and citrus lime notes. A little subtle baking spice from the oak rims around the edge.

On the palate, the citrus notes came through the most and played off the baby kale and avocado very well. Medium-plus acidity maintained freshness and balanced the moderate creaminess in the wine. The clove oak spice and an almost marzipan nuttiness lingered on the moderate finish.

Overall, this was a very drinkable and pleasant Chardonnay that did hit the target for food-pairing. But, admittedly, at $25-30 it didn’t jump out as anything wow-worthy–especially following in the footsteps of the scrumptious Viognier. It’s a very well made California Chard but it is still one of hundreds of similar well-made and similarly priced California Chards.

The star of the night. I can still taste the braised short ribs and that delectable sauce.

Second Course paired with 2014 Stags’ Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Braised short ribs with seared sea scallops, morel mushrooms, chervil

From a food perspective, this was the winning course of the night. The braised short ribs melted in the mouth and had you dearly wishing you had more than just the bite. The scallops were perfectly cooked and while I was skeptical with pairing them with a big Cab, the morel and au jus sauce from the short ribs offered just enough weight to carry the pairing.

As with other wines in the white label Napa Valley series, the Stags’ Leap Cabernet Sauvignon includes some estate fruit but is mostly sourced from vineyards throughout Napa Valley. Joanne Wing noted that while Paubert likes the flexibility of having some fruit from warm climate sites like Calistoga, he’s far more excited about the fruit from the cooler southern reaches of Napa like Coombsville, Oak Knoll and Yountville.

Medium-plus intensity with rich dark fruit–black currants, black plums, blackberries. This screams Napa Cab from the nose but it is not as overtly oak-driven as the norm with a little tobacco spice element.

On the palate those dark fruits carry through but there is a little earthy forest-floor element that emerges that adds some intrigue. Medium acidity adds juiciness to the fruit but not enough to be mouthwatering. The oak is a little more pronounced but is more spice driven than vanilla. The medium-plus tannins are still quite firm and young but are more tight than biting. Moderate length finish ends on the fruit which testifies to the youth of this wine.

Stags’ Leap Winery Assistant Winemaker Joanne Wing.

At $45-50, this is priced in lined with many of its Napa peers as a sort of “entry-level” Napa Cab. It’s hard to say it is a compelling value compared to what you can get for equivalent pricing from other regions like Washington and Paso Robles. Like the Chardonnay, I feel like this Cab is certainly well made but not blow-your-socks-off-you-must-find-it good partly because of the premium you are paying for the Napa name (and the winery’s history).

However, I do suspect that this wine could kick it up a couple notches with a few more years of bottle age that potentially could make it far more compelling.

Third Course paired with 2014 Stags’ Leap “The Investor” Red Blend
Piedmontese New York Steak with herb polenta, spring vegetables, blackberry demiglace

Admittedly, this was one of the few times I’ve been disappointed with a Daniel’s steak. Perhaps it was just this cut but I found it was in the weird position of being both too fatty and too dry and lacking flavor. The polenta and blackberry demi-glace were excellent though. But I found myself again wishing that the braised short ribs were the main course.

A unique blend of Merlot, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, The Investor pays homage to former owner Horace Chase who made his fortune investing in gold and silver mines during the Gold Rush days of California. The Merlot and majority of the Petite Sirah come from estate fruit in the Stags Leap District and Oakville while the Cabernet and Malbec are sourced from vineyards throughout Napa Valley.

The medium-plus acidity and savory, herbal element of The Investor red blend definitely helped interject some much needed flavor into the Piedmontese New York steak.

Medium-plus nose with a mix of red and dark fruits–plums and currants. There is more overt oak vanilla on the nose of this wine than with the Cab but it doesn’t seem overwhelming. Underneath there is also a blue floral element that is not defined.

On the palate, the mix of fruits carry through with mouthwatering medium-plus acidity tilting the favor towards the red fruit. Some savory herbal and smokey notes join the party that dearly helps the food-pairing with the flavorless Piedmontese New York steak. The vanilla oak notes add a layer of velvety softness to the high tannins that still have a fair amount of gripe. Like the Cab, the moderate length finish ends on the youthful fruit.

At $50-60, The Investor intrigues me a lot more than the Napa Cabernet (and the Napa Merlot) because of the savory, smokey element and mouthwatering acidity. It’s still young and has some “baby fat” of oak that needs to be shed but this is a unique blend that could turn into something exceptionally good.

Dessert paired with 2014 Stags’ Leap Napa Valley Petite Sirah
Chocolate torte with Devonshire cream, coconut crisp

While the chocolate torte was amazing and sinfully delicious and the wine outstanding, this was not a winning pairing. The wine was nowhere near sweet enough to balance with the torte.

While delicious on their own, the pairing of the chocolate torte with the Stags’ Leap Petite Sirah just didn’t do it for me.

Still, it was somewhat fitting to end the Stags’ Leap Winery dinner with the wine that truly epitomizes the estate. While the name “Stags Leap” is synonymous with Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags’ Leap Winery was always a vanguard in cultivating and promoting Petite Sirah.

High intensity nose that started jumping out of the glass as soon as the waiter poured it. Blackberries and boysenberries with some peppery spice and violets.

On the palate, the first thing that hits you is the weight and richness of the wine with the full brunt of the dark fruits and high tannins. But there is an elegance with the juicy medium-plus acidity and fine balance that keeps the wine from being overbearing. On the moderate finish, there is some subtle dark chocolate notes that come out but not enough to make the food-pairing work. This was definitely a wine to savor on its own.

At $32-40, this is a more premium-priced Petite Sirah but it is well worth not only its price but also its reputation as the winery’s flagship. During this course, Jo told us about the Ne Cede Malis block of Prohibition-era vines that is a field blend of majority Petite Sirah with Muscat, Malbec, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan and up to 9 other varieties. The grapes are harvested together and co-fermented to produce a limited release bottling. I have to admit that if Stags’ Leap Winery’s mobile ordering website wasn’t so buggy and difficult to navigate, I would have purchased a bottle of the Ne Cede Malis Petite Sirah (as well as several bottles of the Viognier) right then.

Overall Impressions

Attending this dinner left me wondering if Stags’ Leap Winery is a victim of its own name and location in Napa Valley. While the winery absolutely shined with its Viognier and Petite Sirah, their more typical Napa offerings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay were just “ho-hum”.

I do appreciate that Treasury Wine Estates has let Paubert, Wing and Co. continue producing their more obscure bottlings but I have no doubt that the health of the winery’s bottom line depends on the case sales of the bread and butter Cab, Chardonnay and Merlot. It’s where the money is–especially in Napa–and that is what they’re out to sell.

Yet after tasting their outstanding Viognier, scrumptious Petite Sirah and very character-driven Investor blend, its hard not to think about what more the winery could do with their talented winemaking team and unique approach if they didn’t have to live up to the name Stags’ Leap.

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Event Review — Washington vs The World Seminar

Every year as part of Taste Washington weekend, the Washington Wine Commission host several education seminars to highlight the unique terroir, wines and personalities of the Washington wine industry.

This year I participated in the Washington vs the World: Old World, New World, Our World seminar that was moderated by Doug Charles of Compass Wines. The event was presented as a blind tasting of 5 flights–each pairing a Washington wine with a counterpart from elsewhere in the world.

Featuring a panel of winemakers including Casey McClellan of Seven Hills Winery, Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen of WT Vintners, Keith Johnson of Sleight of Hand and Anna Schafer Cohen of àMaurice Cellars as well as Damon Huard of Passing Time Winery and Sean Sullivan of Wine Enthusiast and The Washington Wine Report, the one and half hour event was a terrific opportunity to learn insights from the panel while honing your blind tasting skills with some world class wines.

Below are my notes from each of the flights followed by the reveal of what the wines were.

Flight 1

Wine 1: Opaque ruby with more red than blue hues. Medium-minus intensity nose–floral roses with red berries. Some oak spice.
On the palate–red cherry and currant. High acidity, medium-plus tannins. Little skeletal and thin. Short finish but the floral notes come back and seem promising. Feels like a young Cab that needs some time to flesh out. No minerality so likely New World. Cool climate Washington–Yakima/Walla Walla?

Wine 2: Very opaque purple. Much darker than #1. Little hazy so likely unfiltered. Medium-minus intensity–dark fruit but also a noticeable green note. Vanilla.

The sediment from wine #2. There was no sign of age so clearly this wine wasn’t filtered.

On the palate, the noticeable oak vanilla comes to the forefront but the green leafy notes are also there. Dark fruits but still not very defined, especially with the oak. Medium-plus acidity and high tannins that have a chalky grittiness to them. Some clove spice from the oak. Likely a Cab like wine #1 and it feels like a New World Napa with dark fruit and all the oak but the green notes are throwing me off. Napa Mountain AVAs? 2014 Walla Walla?

Flight 2

Wine 3: Opaque with more red than blue hues. Medium intensity nose. Chocolate covered cherries and spice.

On the palate, chocolate cover cherries still with blue floral notes (Cab Franc?) and a mix of oak baking spice and Asian cooking spice. A lot of layers to evolve. High acidity–very juicy cherries. Medium-plus tannins, very velvet. Some pencil graphite minerality on the long finish (Cab Franc x2?) Kinda Old Worldish but the chocolate covered cherries seem New World or a very modern Right Bank Bordeaux? Very lovely.

Wine 4: Opaque ruby with a little fuchsia hues. Pretty similar color depth to #3, just slightly different shades. Medium intensity nose with some floral and perfume nose. Vanilla blossoms. Smells like a Macy department store. Some blue fruits.

On the palate, the blue fruits–plums and blueberries–carry through and has noticeable oak. Medium-plus acidity and high grippy tannins. Seems very Cab-like with that big structure. No minerality and really short finish. Like wine #1 this seems a bit skeletal and young but I don’t think this one is as promising as #1. Washington BDX blend?

Flight 3

Wine 5: Opaque ruby with noticeable blue hues. High intensity nose. Smokey tobacco and meatiness but also an earthy forest element. It smells like you’re hiking through the forest to get to a brisket BBQ.

On the palate, lots of dark fruit–black currant, black raspberry–but lots of smokey, meatiness too. Some leather. High acidity, high tannins. Big wine! Long finish with cigar notes. Taste like a Left Bank Bordeaux and Cote Rotie had a baby. Fantastic wine but I can’t think of a WA producer doing this.

Wine 6: Opaque ruby with noticeable blue hues. A tad darker than #5. Medium-plus intensity nose. Dark fruits. Chocolate covered acai berries. Lovely blue floral notes.

On the palate, rich black fruits–black plums, black currants. Noticeable oak vanilla. Juicy medium-plus acidity and medium-plus tannins. Very well balanced. Long finish. Taste like a high-end Napa so high-end WA? Both of these are outstanding.

Flight 4

Wine 7: Opaque ruby with some blue hues. High intensity nose with leather and smoked meat. More intense than Wine #5! A little green olive tapenade on toasted bread. Grilled rosemary skews. Floral violets. Roasted coffee. Lots and lots of layers!

On the palate, blackberries and bacon. The roasted coffee notes come through as well as most of the bouquet. Medium-plus acidity and medium-plus tannins. Little back end heat. Long finish. Very Northern Rhone-like. Really delicious wine that I want more time with.

The panel for the seminar. (Left to Right)
Doug Charles, moderator
Casey McClellan, Seven Hills
Jeff-Lindsay-Thorsen, WT Vintners
Keith Johnson, Sleight of Hand
Damon Huard, Passing Time
Anna Schafer Cohen, àMaurice
Sean Sullivan, Wine Enthusiast


Wine 8: Very opaque purple. Much darker than #7. Medium-intensity nose. Almost shy compare to #7. Black fruits. Citrus-lime zest? (WA Syrah?) Medium acidity and medium tannins. High pH. Little rocky minerality on moderate finish. Warm climate New World. Seems like a Red Mountain Syrah. Reminds me a little of the Betz La Cote Rousse.

Flight 5

Wine 9: Clear ruby with red hues. First wine that I can see through. Medium-plus intensity nose. Roasted chicken herbs–thyme and sage. Some blue floral notes.

On the palate, a mix of red and dark fruits–cherries and berries–with the herbal and floral notes. High acidity. Medium-plus tannins. Little minerality on the moderate finish. Seems like a cool climate New World or Old World Rhone.

Wine 10: Clear pale ruby. Lighter than #9 but darker than a Pinot noir. High intensity aromatics with earthy notes and red fruits. Some bacon fat smokiness.

On the palate, all red fruits–cherries and tart cranberries. The smokey bacon fat also comes through (Syrah?). High acidity and medium-plus tannins but way more biting. Not as well balanced as #9 and coming across as more thin and skeletal. Short finish. Seems young.

The Reveal
My favorite for each flight is highlighted with ***

Wine 1: 2012 àMaurice Cellars Artist Series Ivey Blend Columbia Valley (Wine Searcher Ave $43)***
Wine 2: 2013 Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia Napa Valley (Wine Searcher Ave $213) Update: Sean Sullivan informed me that this was poured from a magnum which likely highlighted how young tasting and underwhelming this wine was.

Wine 3: 2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (Wine Searcher Ave $47)***
Wine 4: 2014 Seven Hills Winery Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (Wine Searcher Ave $45)

Wine 5: 2012 Château Lynch Bages Pauillac (Wine Searcher Ave $114)***
Wine 6: 2015 Passing Time Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills (Winery price $80)

Wine 7: 2015 Sleight of Hand Cellars Psychedelic Syrah Stoney Vine Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (Wine Searcher Ave $61)***
Wine 8: 2015 Glaetzer Wines Amon-Ra Shiraz Barossa Valley (Wine Searcher Ave $75)

Wine 9: 2015 WT Vintners Rhone Blend Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley (Winery price $40)***
Wine 10: 2014 Sadie Family Columella Coastal Region (Wine Searcher Ave $107)

My Top 3 Wines of the Event

2015 Sleight of Hand Cellars Psychedelic Syrah Stoney Vine Vineyard — WOW! This wine was so funky and character driven that I can still memorably taste it over 4 days later. I’m usually not that blown away by Sleight of Hand wines–finding them well made but often jammy and fading quickly–and while I don’t think this wine is necessarily built for the cellar, it certainly built to deliver loads of pleasure and layers of complexity over the next few years.

The Sleight of Hand Psychedelic Syrah from the Stoney Vine Vineyard was my Wine of the Event.


2012 Château Lynch Bages Pauillac — I don’t know what kind of decanting this wine saw before the event but this wine was tasting exceptional for a young Pauillac–more so for a young Lynch Bages! I suspect it was opened earlier in the morning with the somm team pouring the glasses at least an hour before the event started–which is still a relatively brief amount of time for a top shelf Bordeaux. Update: I learned from Nick Davis of Medium Plus and the somm team at the seminar that the 2012 Lynch Bages was opened only 40 minutes before the event and poured 20 minutes prior to the tasting beginning. That only adds to how impressive the wine was showing.

The 2012 vintage in Bordeaux is not getting a lot of attention being bookend between the stellar 2009/10 and 2015/16 vintages. Like 2014, you hear Bordeaux lovers note that 2012 is much better than 2011 and 2013 but that almost seems like damning with faint praise. It’s clear that there is a lot of great value to be had in this vintage–compare the Wine Searcher Ave for 2010 Lynch Bages ($190) & 2015 ($142) to the $114 average for 2012–and if it is starting to deliver pleasure at a little over 5 years of age then it’s worth investing in as a “cellar defender” to enjoy while waiting for your 2009/10 and 2015/16 wines to age.

2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley — I was not expecting this result. During the blind tasting I was very intrigued by this wine and ultimately pegged it as a Right Bank Bordeaux made in a style along the veins of Valandraud, Fleur Cardinale, Monbousquet or Canon-la-Gaffelière. Never would have pegged it as a Napa Merlot! In hindsight the chocolate covered cherries should have been my clue but they were so well balanced by the acidity and minerality that it didn’t come across as “Napa sweet”. Well done Duckhorn!

An honorable mention goes to the 2015 Passing Time Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon. I was very impressed with how how Napa-like it has become. I was already a fan of the winery and tried this 2015 as a barrel sample at last year’s release party where its potential was evident. Still, I wasn’t expecting it to be this good, this quickly. It was rather unfair to compare the Passing Time to the 2012 Lynch Bages which was so different and so fantastic in its own right. A better pairing would have been with the Joseph Phelps Insignia or any other high end Napa like Silver Oak, Caymus, Frank Family, Cakebread, etc and I have no doubt that the Passing Time would have came out on top for most tasters.

Things I Learned About Blind Tasting

Admittedly I was a tad concerned finding myself consistently liking the first wine in each tasting flight but I can’t think of any systematic reason that would lead to that result. The wines were all poured in advance and I cleared my palate with crackers and water between each so I have to chalk it all up to coincidence.

For the most part, the varietal character and identity of each flight stood out and I was fairly accurate in identifying them. The main outlier was the Merlot flight (#2) featuring the Duckhorn and Seven Hills Merlots. The Duckhorn was tripping some of my Cab Franc notes while the Seven Hills was exceptionally Cabernet Sauvignon-like so that led me to deduce Right Bank Bordeaux blend which was wrong but at least in the ballpark.

The more difficult task was trying to nail down the region and which was the Washington example versus the World example. Here I felt like I only solidly hit 2 of the 5 flights (Flight #1 and Flight #3–Cab and Cab-dominant blends) but that was mostly just by 50/50 luck–especially in Flight #1.

The WT Vintners Rhone blend from Boushey Vineyards in the Yakima Valley is a tough wine to pin down in blind tasting because of its mix of Old/New World characteristics.

I was often tripped up by how “Old Worldish” many of the Washington wines were–especially the Sleight of Hand Cellars Psychedelic Syrah from the Stoney Vine Vineyard in the Rocks District. In hindsight, this should have screamed “ROCKS!” to me much sooner. While technically Oregon, this sub-AVA of Walla Walla produces some of the most complex and interesting Syrahs being made in Washington. I commented from the audience that putting this Syrah in a blind tasting is a little evil because of how Old World and Cote Rotie-ish it is.

Another thing that makes Washington a bit difficult to peg down is how frequently “cool climate notes” like red fruit, juicy medium-plus acidity, bright floral perfumes and subtle herbal notes appear in wines that are actually grown in rather warm climates (especially compared to Old World regions like Bordeaux). This is largely because of the significant diurnal temperature variation in Eastern Washington that can swing as much as 40℉ from the high heat of the daytime to cool low temperatures of night. This allows Washington grapes to get fully ripe and develop some of those dark fruit notes but, especially in cooler areas like Boushey and Red Willow Vineyard in Yakima and parts of Walla Walla, also maintain ample acidity and some of those cool climate characteristics.

From a blind tasting perspective, I need to solidify in my mind that getting a wine with that mix of warm/cool climate characteristics should be a tip off that I’m dealing with a Washington wine.

Is it Worth it?

Hell yeah. While I wasn’t impressed at all with attending The New Vintage, I will certainly make an effort to attend future seminars at Taste Washington.

At $85 a ticket, this was one of the more expensive seminars with others being as low as $45 a ticket, but the experience (and tasting over $800 worth of wine) delivers more than enough value to merit the cost.

A lot of great wine to taste through.


The only slight criticism is the rush between tasting each wine and getting the panel and audience to start commenting on them. Especially being a blind tasting, I wanted more than just a minute or two to critically taste and evaluate the wine before I start hearing other people’s comments that may sway my assessment.

Granted, I’m sure I’m in the minority here as I could tell that for many other participants in the audience, tasting the wines and being able to ask questions of the panel was a bigger draw than getting a chance to sharpen their blind tasting skills. When you have 10 wines being presented over 90 minutes–and allotting time for questions about vineyards, grape varieties, winemaking style, etc–something got to give so I understand why the tasting time got the short shrift.

Still, it was an exceedingly worthwhile experience that I highly recommend for Washington wine lovers and wine geeks alike.

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