Tag Archives: Wine Enthusiast

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

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

We head to St. Estephe for the next installment in our series on the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign to look at offers for the 2nd Growth estate of Cos d’Estournel and its second wine, Les Pagodes des Cos, the cru bourgeois Ch. Phélan Ségur and the 3rd Growth Calon-Segur.

Be sure to check out previous posts in our series for more details about the 2017 vintage.

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

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

Now onto the offers.

Ch. Cos d’Estournel (St. Estephe)

Some Geekery:

Since its founding in 1811 by Louis Gaspard d’Estournel, Cos d’Estournel has always been a little bit of a rule breaker. The chateau was also one of the first in Bordeaux to estate bottle and instead of selling wine through the traditional courtier and negociant system, Gaspard sold his wine directly to clients across the globe–with India being a key market.

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

Vineyards of Cos d’Estournel in St. Estephe

However, this early rebellious streak came to an end in 1852 at the death of Gaspard which was somewhat beneficial as by the time the fame 1855 Classification was drafted, the brokers and negociants who helped crafted the classification had some pricing records to know where to place Cos d’Estournel. With these records, Cos d’Estournel was able to take its place as a 2nd Growth along with Ch. Montrose in St. Estephe.

Compare this to the story of the Haut-Medoc 5th Growth Ch. Cantemerle whose owner bypassed the Bordelais system to sell directly to Dutch merchants. After initially being omitted from the original classification, it took almost a year of lobbying, producing sales and pricing records, by Mme. De Villeneuve-Durfort to convince the Bordeaux Brokers’ Union that Cantemerle merited inclusion.

For a time, Cos d’Estournel was owned by the Charmolue family who also owned neighboring Montrose but by 1917 it came under the care of Fernand Ginestet whose grandson, Bruno Prats, would usher in the modern-era of success for the estate. Eventually the Prats sold Cos d’Estournel to the Merlaut family (owners of Chasse-Spleen, Haut-Bages Libéral, Gruaud-Larose among many others) in 1998 who quickly sold it two years later to Michel Reybier.

To insure continuity, Reybier hired the son of Bruno Prats, Jean-Guillaume, to manage the estate which he did till 2012 when he left to join Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH). During his time, he completely renovated the winery by removing all pumps and making everything gravity fed. To minimize some of the harsh tannins associated with the cooler and more clay dominant soils of St. Estephe, Cos d’Estournel was also an early adopter of completely destemming clusters even during very ripe vintages like 2009. Prats’ replacement, Aymeric de Gironde, lasted 5 years until the 2017 when Reybier himself took over managing the estate.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc.

Critic Scores:

97-100 Wine Advocate (WA), 97-98 James Suckling (JS), 95-97 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 94-96 Vinous Media (VM), 94-96 Jeb Dunnuck (JD), 96-98 Jeff Leve (JL)

Sample Review:

This is exceptional, if a touch below the intensity and harmony of 2016. I love the density that’s displayed in this wine, showcasing luxurious, well-enrobed tannins. The complexity steals up on you little by little, the dark cassis and plum fruit character deepening through the palate with flashes of sage, charcoal, cigar box, graphite and taut tannins. The colour difference is marked between the grand vin and second wine, with the Cos extremely deep damson in colour following a one-month maceration at 30 degrees and clever use of the press. Harvested 12- 30 September. 40% of production went into the grand vin. (94 points) Jane Anson, Decanter

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average $148
JJ Buckley: $154.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: $154 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $899.94 for minimum 6 pack + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $149.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K & L: $144.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Ave. $192 Average Critic Score: 94 points
2015 — Wine Searcher Ave. $190 Average Critic Score: 95
2014 — Wine Searcher Ave. $138 Average Critic Score: 94
2013 — Wine Searcher Ave. $134 Average Critic Score: 91

Buy or Pass?

As I’ve outlined several times in this series, I have no interest in paying 2015/2016 prices for a vintage that I would put more on par with 2014. I understand that with drastically reduced yields, there is going to be some pressure on prices due to limited supply but from everything I’ve read about this vintage, the quality just doesn’t seem to merit paying a premium.

To that extent, I find the pricing of the 2017 Cos d’Estournel at around $148 a bottle to be quite fair and tempting. My only hedge is the changing management style from Prats to de Gironde to now owner Michel Reybier taking a more hands on approach. While I’ve absolutely adored the 2005-2006 and 2008-2010 Cos d’Estournel of Prats, I was a little underwhelmed by the 2014 vintage but I didn’t want to judge too harshly on that vintage at such a young age. While I have no doubt that Reybier is driven by a stellar commitment to quality, I just don’t know if his style is going to match my personal tastes and when I’m looking at wines north of $100, I want to bank on more certainty than glowing critic scores.

So for me, the 2017 Cos d’Estournel is a Pass but it will certainly be a compelling buy for many Bordeaux lovers.

Les Pagodes des Cos (St. Estephe)

Photo by ThomasPusch. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0
Some Geekery:

The second wine of Cos d’Estournel, Les Pagodes des Cos was first produced in 1994. Sourced from young vines and declassified lots, it originally replaced the role of the Prat’s family cru bourgeois estate Château de Marbuzet as a way of increasing the quality of the Grand Vin by being more selective in the vineyard and the winery.

Even though it still contains the fruit of younger vines, the average age of the vines that go into Les Pagodes des Cos is over 35 years. Reflective of the increasing acreage dedicated to Merlot at Cos d’Estournel, the percentage of Merlot in the final blend of Les Pagodes des Cos is usually notably high with some years (like 2015) even being Merlot-dominant.

While the Grand Vin of Cos d’Estournel will see anywhere from 60-80% new French oak, the second wine usually sees around 40%.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot.

Critic Scores:

92-94 WE, 92-93 JS, 90-92 WA, 90-92 VM

Sample Review:

This is the second label of Cos d’Estournel, which accounted for about 55% of production in 2017. A blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot, the 2017 Les Pagodes de Cos has a deep garnet-purple color and exuberant notes of crushed blackberries, red currants and cassis with touches of charcuterie, black soil and garrigue plus a waft of lavender. Medium-bodied and very fine-grained, it has great intensity and vibrancy with a good long, fruity finish. — Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Wine Advocate

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average $41
JJ Buckley: No offers yet
Vinfolio: No offers yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $257.94 for minimum 6 pack + shipping
Total Wine: $44.97
K & L: No offers yet

Previous Vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Ave. $47 Average Critic Score: 91 points
2015 — Wine Searcher Ave. $55 Average Critic Score: 91
2014 — Wine Searcher Ave. $47 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 — Wine Searcher Ave. $44 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

The value of “second wines” is often hotly debated by Bordeaux fans with some folks feeling that they are overpriced for being “second best” while some feel they can offer exceptional bargains.

I tend to fall somewhere in the middle as I do think that Second Wines can offer terrific value and give the consumer a taste of the house-style of a great estate for a fraction of the price of the Grand Vin. However, I would never invest in cases of a second wine–especially if the Grand Vin of another estate is equivalent in value.

In my assessment of the offers for the 2017 Cos d’Estournel, I expressed my reservations on if the changing house style of the estate will still meet my tastes. While I’m not inclined to gamble at $150 a bottle (even if it is likely to be a 100 point wine that will increase in value), I’m perfectly willing to spend $45 a bottle on the second wine to get a window into Reybier’s style and what he did in this vintage. That makes the 2017 Les Pagodes a compelling Buy for me and worth taking a gamble on.

Ch. Phélan Ségur
Some Geekery:

In the 1850s, Bernard Phelan began purchasing vineyards in St. Estephe–including parts that belonged to the historical Segur vineyard and Clos de Garramey–creating what would be the largest estate in St. Estephe at the time. In 1883, his heirs sold the estate to the Delon family who would own the property for over a 100 years as part of a portfolio that grew to include the 2nd Growth Léoville-Las-Cases, Château Nénin in Pomerol and the Medoc estate Ch. Potensac.

Photo from Private post-card collection. Released on Wikimedia Commons under public domain.

Postcard featuring Phélan Ségur in the early 1900s.


The Delons sold Phélan Ségur to Xavier Gardinier, the former head of the Champagne houses Pommery and Lanson, in 1984. When the 1983 vintage was released to poor reviews, Gardinier claimed the used of herbicides in the vineyards tainted the quality of the wine and he recalled all bottles from the marketplace.

The subsequent 1984 and 1985 vintages were likewise sold off in bulk and not released as Gardinier began a project of rehabilitation of the estate in the vineyard and winery. In 2002, he acquired Chateau Houissant next to the 2nd Growth estate Ch. Montrose, adding 25 hectares of prime vineyard land though 22 of those hectares would be eventually sold to Montrose in 2010.

Phélan Ségur stayed in the Gardinier family, under the care of Thierry Gardinier who also managed Chateau Meyney in Saint Estephe and the 5th Growth Chateau Grand-Puy-Ducasse in Pauillac, until 2017 when it was sold to Belgian businessman Philippe Van de Vyvere. Michel Rolland was brought on as a consultant.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Franc. Around 20,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

92-93 WE, 92-93 JS, 90-93 VM, 89-92 Wine Spectator (WS), 89-92 JD

Sample Review:

The deep, saturated purple-colored 2017 Phélan Ségur is a classic, well-made wine in the vintage that has notable depth and density as well as textbook Saint-Estèphe notes of ripe black fruits, leafy herbs/tobacco, and loamy earth. It shows the fresher, cooler-climate style of the vintage yet is far from austere and has loads to love. — Jeb Dunnuck

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average $41
JJ Buckley: $43.94 + shipping
Vinfolio: No offers yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $251.94 for minimum 6 pack + shipping
Total Wine: $42.97
K & L: $42.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Ave. $48 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 — Wine Searcher Ave. $49 Average Critic Score: 91
2014 — Wine Searcher Ave. $45 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 — Wine Searcher Ave. $37 Average Critic Score: 88

Buy or Pass?

Phélan Ségur first landed on my radar with the surprisingly good 2013 and then the much better 2014 vintage. My experience with those two less-than-stellar vintages gave me ample confidence to purchase futures of the 2015 and 2016. But as reflective of my more cautious approach in 2017, I’m going to Pass on this year’s offering even though the $41 average price looks to be a solid value.

Change in the wine world is always inevitable–especially in Bordeaux–but when it comes to my wallet, I prefer to take a wait and see approach when it comes to changing ownership and winemakers. Besides, for a cru bourgeois like Phélan Ségur the risk of the retail price of the 2017 rising dramatically when it finally hits shelves in 2020 is fairly small. It might rise to the $45 average that the 2014 vintage is fetching now but it would probably require a major wine critic “re-evaluating” the bottle sample as a 94+ point wine for it to jump over $50 a bottle.

Ch. Calon-Ségur (St. Estephe)

Some Geekery:

Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under the Public Domain.

While the Marquis de Ségur would own land that would become some of the most famous names in Bordeaux, the estate of Calon-Ségur was reportedly his favorite.


One of the oldest properties in the Medoc, the long history of Calon-Ségur can be traced to the 12th century when it belonged to the Monseigneur de Calon. The profile of the estate rose dramatically in the 18th century when it was owned by Nicolas Alexandre de Ségur, the Prince of Vines.

While the Marquis de Ségur would also go on to own an astonishing stable of estates, including 3 of the 5 First Growths–Lafite, Latour and Mouton–as well as land that is today part of Pontet-Canet, d’Armailhac and Montrose, it was said that his heart was always with his chateau at Calon in St. Estephe. That sentiment is reflected in the heart-shape logo of Calon-Ségur that still graces the label of the 3rd Growth today.

In 1894, the estate was purchased by negociant Charles Hanappier and Georges Gasqueton with Gasqueton’s descendants owning Calon-Ségur until 2012 when it was sold to a consortium that included the French insurance company Suravenir and Jean-Pierre Moueix, owner of Ch. Petrus. Flushed with capital, extensive renovations at the estate took place which included new tanks for parcel by parcel vinifications and the introduction of gravity-flow techniques. Vincent Millet, who previously was at Ch. Margaux, was kept as technical director.

In the vineyard, vine density was increased and under-performing parcels were uprooted with a goal of increasing the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the cépage. While today the vineyard is planted to around 53% Cabernet Sauvignon 38% Merlot 7% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot, eventually the owners of Calon-Ségur would like to see the amount of Merlot account for only 20% of plantings.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. Around 20,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

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

Sample Review:

Inky core with black-cherry rim. Ripe, dark and with a fine mineral cast to the cassis fruit, which is ripe but not sweet. Paper-fine tannins in many layers. Great ageing potential but also accessible. Deceptively accessible, suggesting lack of ageing ability, but I don’t think that is the case. Cool, fresh, serious, fine cassis fruit. The finesse comes from the lack of sweetness but there’s no lack of fruit. Dry, firm and very St-Estèphe, with tannin structure. But the structure is filled molecule by molecule with the fruit. It’s so finely balanced. There’s more firmness than in Cos but there’s still excellent harmony. Opens to a hint of violets. Super-moreish and juicy even with the structure of the terroir. (17.5 out of 20) Julia Harding, JancisRobinson.com

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average $85
JJ Buckley: $87.94 + shipping
Vinfolio: $88 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet
Total Wine: $84.97
K & L: $89.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Ave. $118 Average Critic Score: 95 points
2015 — Wine Searcher Ave. $106 Average Critic Score: 93
2014 — Wine Searcher Ave. $101 Average Critic Score: 94
2013 — Wine Searcher Ave. $101 Average Critic Score: 92

Buy or Pass?

I was very surprised to have the 2003 Calon Segur be one of my Top 10 wines from the 2017 Wine Spectator Grand Tour.
But even at nearly 14 years of age, this “heat wave” Bordeaux was showing beautifully.


I’ve adored numerous vintages of Calon-Ségur from the still lively 1996 (ave price $138), surprisingly complex 2003 (ave $128), undoubtedly excellent 2009 (ave $130) and the very promising 2012 (ave $105) and 2014.

While I’ve not yet purchased any futures from the estate, my experience particularly with the later two vintages has given me enough assurance in the stewardship of the new ownership team that this will likely continue being a style of wine that I enjoy. Plus with the value of Calon-Ségur rising north of $100 even in sub-par vintages like 2013, makes nabbing bottles of the 2017 at $85 an extremely compelling value and a definite Buy.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

*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

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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

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

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

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

Photo By Bjørn Erik Pedersen - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Continuing our series on the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign, today we are looking at offers on the 3rd Growth St. Julien estate of Ch. Langoa-Barton, 3rd Growth Haut-Medoc estate Ch. La Lagune, the St. Emilion Grand Cru Classe estate of Ch. Barde-Haut and the 4th Growth St. Julien estate of Ch. Branaire-Ducru.

For previous installments of our series check out:

Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge, Haut-Batailley
Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Pape Clément, Ormes de Pez, Marquis d’Alesme, Malartic-Lagraviere

Be sure to subscribe to SpitBucket so you can stay up to date with new installments as more 2017 offers are released.

Langoa-Barton (St. Julien)

Some geekery:

This 3rd Growth estate has been in the Barton family’s hands since 1821 when Hugh Barton of the negociant firm Barton and Guestier purchased Ch. Pontet-Langlois and renamed the estate. A few years later he purchased part of the massive Leoville estate which would subsequently become the 2nd Growth Leoville-Barton.

With the no winemaking facilities, the wines of Leoville-Barton were (and still are) made at Ch. Langoa-Barton with the chateau featured on the label of Leoville-Barton actually being the manor house of Langoa-Barton.

Photo By Jamain - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The chateau of Langoa-Barton featured on the logo of Leoville-Barton.

Today the estate is managed by Anthony Barton and his daughter Lillian with 25 hectare of vines close to neighboring estates of 2nd Growths Leoville Poyferre and Ducru-Beaucaillou as well as the 4th Growth estate of Ch. Beychevelle. The vines are planted to a mix of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Franc with the percentage of Merlot increasing in recent years.

The winemaking style of Langoa-Barton is very traditional with fermentation taking place in large wooden-vats with the must co-inoculated with MLF bacteria to induce malolactic fermentation during primary fermentation. Around 7,500 cases a year are produced.

The 2017 is a blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc.

Critic scores:

92-94 James Suckling (JS), 92-94 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 90-93 Wine Spectator (WS), 90-93 Vinous Media/Antonio Galloni (VM/AG), 91-93 Jeff Leve (JL), 90-92 Jeb Dunnuck (JD)

Sample review:

There is no doubt that this offers a good expression of the appellation in the medium to long term, but there’s a slightly wider gap between Léoville and Langoa this year – the first time I’ve felt that in several years, and perhaps a reflection of the slightly cooler terroir here. It’s impressively structured and well held together, with black fruits which aren’t as concentrated as the estate has displayed in the previous two vintages, but it displays an innate St-Julien elegance. Drinking Window 2025-2038. — Jane Anson, Decanter (92 pts)

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $46
JJ Buckley: $49.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: $50 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet
Total Wine: $47.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K & L: $48.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:

2016 — Wine Searcher Average $51 Average Critic Score: 91 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $54 Average Critic Score: 92 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $59 Average Critic Score: 92 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $46 Average Critic Score: 89 pts

Buy or Pass?

Photo By Murgh - Self-photographed, Public Domain,

In contrast to Leoville-Barton, the labels of Langoa Barton have no chateau image.


Langoa-Barton was one of the estate that I thought really overachieved in 2014 and I’m grateful that I bought several bottles soon after release in the $48-50 range before the prices jumped. Compared to its sister estate, Leoville-Barton, I appreciate how approachable Langoa-Barton is at a relatively young age for an “old-school style” St. Julien that leans more towards the savory and cedary style.

The cooler nature of their terroir that Anson mention gives me some pause for this cool and frost-prone vintage. Like the 2014, I could take a wait and see approach to taste the 2017 in the bottle before buying in. If the price was north of $50, this would definitely be a pass but the impressiveness of the 2014 and compelling value is tilting me towards Buy–but only for a couple bottles at this point.

La Lagune (Haut-Medoc)

Some geekery:

Ch. La Lagune is noted for its classically style chateau that was designed in 1715 by Baron Victor Louis, the same architect who designed the Grand Theater of Bordeaux. During this time the estate was owned by the wealthy de Seze family that owned many properties throughout Bordeaux including what would eventually become the St. Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classe estate Ch. Troplong-Mondot.

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

Ch. La Lagune


The estate fell on hard times in the early 20th century and was especially ravaged by World War II and the great frost of 1956. By the time George Brunette purchased the property in 1958 only 5 hectares of vines were in healthy production. Brunette started the estate on the path of revitalization that really took off when he sold it to the Ducellier family who owned the Champagne house Ayala.

In 2000, Ch. La Lagune and Ayala were sold to the Frey family who partially own Billecart-Salmon. The Freys subsequently sold Ayala to Bollinger, keeping La Lagune and also acquiring the Rhone estate Maison Paul Jaboulet Aine in Hermitage, Chateau de Corton Andre in the Cote de Beaune region of Burgundy and Chateau D’Arche in the Haut-Medoc commune of Ludon near La Lagune.

Today the estate is managed by Caroline Frey with around 20,000 cases a year produced.

One unique aspect of the winemaking, similar to the style of Ch. Haut-Brion, is that the final blend of each vintage is determined shortly after fermentation with the blended wine being put into the barrel for aging. In contrast, most estates wait till closer to the time of En Primeur in April following harvest to determine the blend and even then the varietal components may be kept separate throughout the aging process until closer to bottling.

Photo by BerndB; GNU free licence;

A 1961 bottle of Ch. La Lagune.


The 2017 vintage is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. While many estates were hit hard by frost in 2017, causing a drop of around 40% in total production, Ch. La Lagune came out relatively unscathed with only a loss of 5% of their vineyards.

Critic scores:

90-92 VM, 89-90 JS, 88-90 Wine Advocate (WA), 88-90 JD

Sample review:

This has clear damson flesh to the fruit, a good plummy wine with an elegance and freshness to the tannins. It’s good, linear with a precision that you don’t find everywhere. This is still not quite at the 2015/16 level of completeness, but delivers from start to finish, and is a wine that should age well. It has a 2001 type of elegance and lift with a tension to the tannins that gives confidence in its ageing ability. Now certified organic, in conversion for biodynamics. — Jane Anson, Decanter (92 pts)

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $45
JJ Buckley: No offers yet
Vinfolio: $50 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet
Total Wine: $49.97
K & L: $49.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 — Wine Searcher Average $51 Average Critic Score: 91 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $55 Average Critic Score: 92 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $51 Average Critic Score: 91 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $49 Average Critic Score: 89 pts

Buy or Pass?

As I noted in my previous Bordeaux 2017 posts, the focus of my spending this campaign is on value and getting “cellar defenders” with wines that have a good track-record of delivering pleasure at younger ages.

While the La Lagune is offering decent value, I don’t have enough personal track record with the estate to pull the trigger. My previous experience with the estate has been with the stellar 2005 and 2009/2010 vintages. Those wines were certainly enjoyable and encouraged me to buy some more from 2015/2016. But my buying habits are much more cautious for vintages like 2017 so this will be a Pass for me.

Barde-Haut (St. Emilion)

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

Vineyards in St. Emilion.


Some geekery:

Ch. Barde-Haut is a relatively young estates who fortunes changed dramatically when it was purchased by Sylviane Garcin-Cathiard in 2000. Today it is owned by her daughter, Hélène Garcin-Lévêque, who previously managed the Pessac-Leognan estates of Château Haut-Bergey and Ch. Banon (now ran by her brother Paul Garcin).

In addition to Barde-Haut, Garcin-Lévêque also owns the Pomerol estate Clos L’Eglise, Château D’Arce in Côtes de Castillon and a new project in St. Emilion near Valandraud called Poesia. Previously known as Chateau Haut Villet, the estate is named after the Garcin-Lévêque estate in the Mendoza region of Argentina.

While her husband Patrice oversees the viticulture, Hélène Garcin-Lévêque is in charge of the winemaking with Thomas Duclos consulting. Around 3,500 cases a year are produced.

The 16 hectares of vineyards are found mostly on the limestone plateau of St. Emilion by Troplong Mondot and Pavie Macquin as well as parcels near Ch. Fombrauge.

The 2017 is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc.

Critic scores:

93-94 JS, 92-94 VM, 91-93 WA, 90-93 WS, 88-90 WE, 92-94 JD

Sample review:

Barde-Haut didn’t see any frost this year due to the altitude of the vineyards. Composed of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, the deep garnet-purple colored 2017 Barde-Haut gives notions of baked blackberries, blueberry compote and Black Forest cake with touches of potpourri, dusty soil and cast iron pan. The palate is medium to full-bodied with a firm frame of grainy tannins and great freshness, finishing long and minerally. — Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Wine Advocate

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $38
JJ Buckley: No offers yet
Vinfolio: No offers yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $221.94 for 6 pack + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $37.97
K & L: $39.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 — Wine Searcher Average $41 Average Critic Score: 90 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $46 Average Critic Score: 91 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $35 Average Critic Score: 90 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $27 Average Critic Score: 88 pts

Buy or Pass?

I think there are exciting things in-store with Ch. Barde-Haut and was thoroughly impressed with their 2015 which is drinking absolutely scrumptious now and probably could be commanding prices north of $50.

But, again, I’m feeling cautious with my wallet and my only “sub-par vintage” experience with this estate was a very underwhelming 2013 (which I can’t hold against any winery) and a 2014 that was super-tight and not fitting the mold of my ideal “cellar defender.” At this point, I’m more incline to Pass on this offer and buy up more of the 2015 before the prices start reflecting its very high quality level.

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

Ch. Branaire-Ducru

Branaire-Ducru (St. Julien)

Some geekery:

This fourth growth estate has a long history dating back to 1600s when it was originally part of the large Beychevelle estate. When the owner of that large estate passed in 1680, parcels of the estate were broken up and sold with Jean-Baptiste Braneyre buying the parcels that was to become Branaire-Ducru. The “Ducru” part of the name was added in 1875 when Gustave Ducru purchased the estate and appended his name to it.

In 1988, the estate was purchased by Patrick Maroteaux who brought in Philippe Dhalluin to help modernize the winemaking. Dhalluin would go on to the revitalize the use of gravity-flow wine production at Branaire-Ducru before moving in 2004 to take over winemaking at the First Growth Pauilliac estate Ch. Mouton-Rothschild. He was succeeded by Jean Dominique Videau with Eric Boissenot consulting.

This was the last vintage of Patrick Maroteaux with him passing away just after harvest in November 2017. His son, François Xavier Maroteaux, has taken over the estate.

Branaire-Ducru covers 60 hectares in the southern portion of St. Julien with parcels in view of the Gironde next to neighboring 2nd Growth Ducru-Beaucaillou and 4th Growth Beychevelle. There are also parcels more inland near 3rd Growth Ch. Lagrange and 4th Growth Ch. Talbot. Around 25,000 cases a year are produced.

The blend for the 2017 is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 6.5% Petit Verdot and 4.5% Cabernet Franc.

Critic scores:

91-94 VM, 92-93 JS, 91-93 WE, 90-93 WS, 88-90 WA, 90-92 JD

Sample review:

The 2017 Branaire-Ducru offers lovely depth and density. The characteristic dark red/purplish fruit character of Brainaire comes through beautifully. As always, Branaire is a wine of polish and finesse. Stylistically, the 2017 comes across as a smaller scaled and more accessible version of the 2015. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous

Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $49
JJ Buckley: No offers yet
Vinfolio: No offers yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $299.94 for 6 pack + shipping
Total Wine: $51.97
K & L: $51.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 — Wine Searcher Average $58 Average Critic Score: 92 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $62 Average Critic Score: 92 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $51 Average Critic Score: 92 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $49 Average Critic Score: 89 pts

Buy or Pass?

This is one of my personal favorite estates that is virtually an automatic Buy for me every year. This wine always seems to vastly over-perform its price point and classification–drinking more on par with a 2nd Growth most years. The 2009 vintage (with a Wine Searcher Average price of $92) is one of the best wines I’ve had from that vintage and has put several of its more expensive peers to shame.

With this wine priced in line with 2014 and the estate looking like it is still rolling out the home runs, this was a no-brainer purchase for me.

More 2017 Bordeaux Futures Posts

*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

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

Photo by Kassander der Minoer. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0-migrated

Continuing our series on the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign, I’m taking a look at offers featuring the Pessac-Léognan estates of Ch. Pape Clément and Malartic-Lagraviere, the St. Estephe Cru Bourgeois Ormes de Pez and the 3rd Growth Margaux estate Marquis d’Alesme.

For my general approach to buying futures for the 2017 vintage and my thoughts on earlier offers, check out my post Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge, Haut-Batailley.

Pape Clément (Pessac-Léognan)

Brief winery geekery:

One of the oldest estates in Bordeaux with a history dating back to the 13th century. In 1305, the Archbishop of Bordeaux, Bertrand de Goth was elected pope (taking the name Clement V) and was gifted the property in Pessac-Léognan. The property remained in the hands of the Archbishops of Bordeaux until the end of the 18th century when many ecclesiastical properties were confiscated by the French government.

In 1980 Bernard Magrez, an entrepreneur who worked as a negociant for the Cordier group, acquired sole control of the estate from the two families who shared ownership (which included his wife). In 1993, he brought in Michel Rolland as a consultant. The style of Pape Clément during this period has been distinguished by its use of 100% new French oak.

The estate is located very close to the city of Bordeaux with the First Growth estate Ch. Haut-Brion being the closest vineyard neighbor. Both red and white grapes are planted with the vineyard spread of red varieties being 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. Around 7,500 cases a year of the red Grand Vin are produced.

Photo by Kassander der Minoer. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0-migrated

Ch. Pape-Clement


The 2017 vintage is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Merlot.

Critic scores:

94-97 Antonio Galloni (AG), 95-96 James Suckling (JS), 92-94 Wine Advocate (WA), 91-94 Wine Spectator (WS), 90-92 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 94-96 Jeb Dunnuck (JD), 95-97 Jeff Leve (JL)

Sample review:

The 2017 Pape Clément is fabulous. One of the rare 2017s with a real sense of structure, Pape Clément possesses dazzling intensity from start to finish. A rush of dark cherry, plum, chocolate and grilled herb notes hits the palate as this majestic, towering wine shows off its personality. Time in the glass brings out a brighter and more floral set of flavors. The 2017 is the first vintage made with a portion of whole clusters, an inspiration Bernard Magrez takes from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where he recently bought a small property. Quite simply, the 2017 Pape Clément is a magnificent wine by any measure. Don’t miss it. The only problem with the 2017 is that yields are down 40% because of frost. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous

2017 Wine Searcher Average Price: $88
JJ Buckley: $89.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland, CA location)
Vinfolio: $95 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $87.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $89.97 (no shipping/sent to local store)
K&L: $94.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:

2016 — Wine Searcher Average $ 99 Average Critic Score: 92 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $ 116 Average Critic Score: 94 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $ 96 Average Critic Score: 93 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $ 89 Average Critic Score: 91 pts

Buy or Pass?

To my taste, the style of Pape Clément is very New World-ish which has me comparing its value more to high-end Napa Valley than necessarily to its Bordelais peers. That said, I usually find the wine delivering ample hedonistic pleasure that I would put on par with Napa wines in the $150+ range. This is never a wine that I buy more than a couple bottles of as I’m skeptical about the long term aging potential with this lush, velvety style.

Still, I’m impressed that the average futures price is more inline with the sub-par 2013 vintage–even with the drastically reduced case production. As I noted in my last 2017 Bordeaux Futures post, my objective this campaign is to look for value and “cellar defenders”. To that extent the Pape Clément is compelling enough to be a Buy for me.

Ormes de Pez (St. Estephe)

Brief winery geekery:

The author and her wife with Jean-Michel Cazes.

Cru Bourgeois estate founded in the 16th century in the northwestern part of St. Estephe near Ch. de Pez and Ch. Château Beau-Site Haut-Vignoble. Since 1940, the estate has been owned by the Cazes family who also own the 5th Growth Pauillac estate Ch. Lynch-Bages with the same viticulture and winemaking teams used at both estates.

The vineyard soils are a mix of gravel with high percentages of clay and sand. To optimize the terroir, the Cazes family has been steadily increasing the amount of Merlot planted on the clay dominant parcels with the estate being planted to around 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. Around 18,000 cases a year are produced.

The 2017 vintage is 51% Merlot dominant, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot.

Critic scores:

92-93 JS, 91-93 AG, 88-91 WS, 91 -93 WE, 89-91 JD, 88-90 JL

Sample review:

Ormes has managed another good vintage after a run of them. This is a lovely wine and a buy for me. Succulent, bristling and charming, it has juicy brambled fruit extraction and tension. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, just asking to be loved. The fruit spectrum is rich with blueberries and damsons, with integrity and a swirl of vanilla bean oak. Includes 6% Cabernet Franc in the blend. No need to wait too long for this. 45% new oak. (92 pts) — Jane Anson, Decanter

2017 Wine Searcher Average Price: $28
JJ Buckley: No offers yet
Vinfolio: No offers yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $179.94 minimum 6 bottle purchase + shipping.
Total Wine: $29.97
K&L: $29.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 — Wine Searcher Average $ 34 Average Critic Score: 91 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $ 35 Average Critic Score: 90 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $ 34 Average Critic Score: 90 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $ 27 Average Critic Score: 88 pts

Buy or Pass?

I was impressed with how well the 2011 Ormes de Pez was showing despite that vintage being much more promblematic than 2017. That gives me a lot of optimism about the quality level that the Cazes family will deliver.

At around $30 a bottle, this looks like the quintessential “Cellar Defender” that will offer short term pleasure and guilt-free enjoyment which will help me keep my paws off of my 2015/16 Bordeaux. This is a good Buy for me, even with a 6 bottle minimum purchase.

Photo from unknown author's private postcard collection. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-PD-Mark

Old postcard featuring the exterior of Ch. Marquis d’Alesme circa 1900-1920.

Marquis d’Alesme (Margaux)

Brief winery geekery:

Third Growth Margaux estates founded in 1585 in the northern part of the commune near Ch. Margaux, Ch. Malescot St. Exupéry and Ch. Ferrière.

In 2006, the property was sold by the Zuger family (who own Malescot St. Exupery) to Hubert Perrodo who also owned the Cru Bourgeois Margaux estate Ch. Labegorce. Following Hubert’s death after a skiing accident, both estates have been ran by his daughter Nathalie Perrodo.

The estate owns three parcels of vineyards, including a significant section close to the D2 road on silica and gravel soils. In recent years, plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc have been increased with the current vineyard mix being around 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc. About 7000 cases a year are produced.

The 2017 vintage of Marquis d’Alesme is a blend of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot.

Critic scores:

92-94 WA, 92-94 AG, 90-93 WS, 91-92 JS, 91-93 JL

Sample review:

The wine quickly shows off its floral essence with black cherry and spice box notes. Sweet and fresh, the wine is full bodied, soft, refined and displays its freshness and ripe cherries with a bit of cocoa just as you approach the endnote. The wine reached 13.5% alcohol. — Jeff Leve, The Wine Cellar Insider

2017 Wine Searcher Average Price: $39
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet
Total Wine: $41.97
K&L: $40.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 — Wine Searcher Average $ 42 Average Critic Score: 91 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $ 49 Average Critic Score: 92 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $ 43 Average Critic Score: 91 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $ 36 Average Critic Score: 89 pts

Buy or Pass?

Compared to the 2014 (and even 2016) vintage, this does look like a decent value. But I must confess that I’ve never been terribly wowed by Marquis d’Alesme in the past. While in vintages like 2015/16, I’d be more willing to give an estate a flyer or another look, for 2017 I’m leaning more towards estates that I have a track record of enjoying.

Truthfully, I’ve founded the Perrodo’s Cru Bourgeois estate Ch. Labegorce to be a much better value in the $29-33 range. I’m more incline to investigate JJ Buckley, Spectrum, Total Wine and K & L’s offers on that wine and Pass on the Marquis d’Alesme.

The calm before the storm at the UGC tasting for the 2014 vintage in Miami, FL.


Malartic-Lagraviere (Pessac-Léognan)

Brief winery geekery:

This Graves estate was originally known as Domaine de Lagraviere until the Malartic family changed the name in 1850 to honor Comte Anne-Joseph-Hippolyte Maures de Malartic who was a notable Admiral in the French Navy. The boat featured on the wine label also pays tribute to this heritage. In 1990, the estate was purchased by the Champagne house Laurent-Perrier who later sold it to the Bonnie family in 1997.

The Bonnies have modernize the facilitaties and introduced sustainable farming to the vineyards. The terroir of their 53 hectares (located near Domaine de Chevalier and Ch. de Fieuzel) includes deep gravelly soils that can be as deep as 8 meters in the parcels near the Chateau. The vineyards are planted to 45% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc

Critic scores:

94-96 WE, 92-93 JS, 90-93 WS, 90-93 AG, 89-91 WA, 92-94 JL, 89-91 JD

Sample review:

Deep crimson. Dark, nicely dusty cassis. Dark chocolate and graphite finesse. Dry, fine tannins with the graphite freshness marked on the finish. Elegant, if not charming at the moment. Attractive restraint. (16.5 out of 20)– Julia Harding, Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages

2017 Wine Searcher Average Price: $47
JJ Buckley: $49.94 + shipping
Vinfolio: No offers yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet
Total Wine: $49.97
K&L: $49.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:

2016 — Wine Searcher Average $ 59 Average Critic Score: 91 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $ 61 Average Critic Score: 94 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $ 51 Average Critic Score: 92 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $ 41 Average Critic Score: 90 pts

Overall I was fairly impressed with the 2013 and 2014 from Pessac-Leognan at the UGC tastings but for 2017 I’m more incline to buy in for estates like Domaine de Chevalier (pictured) .


Buy or Pass?

This is another estate that looks to be offering decent value but is one that I just don’t have a strong personal track record with. My most recent tastings of Malartic-Lagraviere were at Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux events for the 2014 and 2013 vintages and while I found the wines well-made, there was nothing spectacular about them either. My notes for the 2014, in particular, highlighted how tight the 2014 was and that it would need far more time than what I typically anticipate for a “Cellar Defender”.

As a futures offering, I’m going to Pass on the Malartic-Lagraviere but would certainly be open to tasting it in the bottle at a future UGC tasting and perhaps buying in then if the prices still remain compelling as a good value.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

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

*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

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Cinsault — The Black Prince of South Africa

As promised in my summary post about the 2018 Hospice du Rhône Weekend, I’ll tackle each of the four seminars with their own posts beginning with the first seminar on Friday — South Africa’s Cinsault Renaissance.

I’m hard-pressed to narrow down which of the four seminars were my absolute favorite but, without a doubt, this seminar was the most eye-opening. In my Quick Take on Day 1, I commented how neither Cinsault nor South Africa tends to be on the radar of most US consumers. The trade organization WOSA (Wines of South Africa) reported in 2016 that the US receives only 3% of the wine exported from South Africa. In 2014, when US sales of wine (both domestic and exported) were around 370 million cases, wines from South Africa accounted for less than 0.33% of those sales.

But after attending this seminar moderated by Lauren Buzzeo of Wine Enthusiast and reading about my friend Adrienne’s wine adventures drinking South African wines in Nambia, it’s clear that South Africa is a wine producer worth paying attention to—not the least of which for the country’s treasure trove of old vine Cinsault.

The seminar featured 9 Cinsaults and Cinsault-dominant blends from 7 producers with winemakers Tremayne Smith (The Blacksmith Wines), Andrea Mullineux (Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines), Danie Steytler (Kaapzicht Wine Estate) and Ryan Mostert (Silwervis) on the panel.

I will get into my tasting notes on the individual wines in the moment but first some geeking about Cinsault.

Cinsault: The Mediterranean “Pinot noir”?

Jancis Robinson notes in Wine Grapes that the earliest recorded mention of Cinsault was under the synonym ‘Marroquin’ in 1600 by the French writer Olivier de Serres. The modern spelling ‘Cinsault’ emerged in the 1880s as a likely derivative from ‘Sinsâou’ that was used in the Hérault department along the Mediterranean coast as early as 1829.

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

Cinsault growing in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

DNA analysis suggest this area is the probable birthplace of Cinsault due to its close genetic relationship to the Piquepoul varieties and the potential parent-offspring relationship with Rivairenc (Aspiran), the very old Languedoc grape.

Today some of the oldest vines of Cinsault in the Languedoc date back to 1900. While Cinsault suffered the same post-WW II image problem here it did in South Africa, it is also benefiting from renewed interest in the variety with even acclaimed Burgundian producers like Anne Gros (of the notable Vosne-Romanée family) and her husband Jean-Paul Tollot tending to 50+ year old vines in Minervois.

Outside of France, the grape is found in the Puglia region of Italy where it is known as Ottavianello and must make up a minimum of 85% of the red blends in the Ostuni DOC. In Morocco it is the most widely planted grape variety but that is largely because Cinsault is also a popular table grape variety.

Chateau Musar has long championed the grape variety in Lebanon, frequently blending it with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

In Washington State, Paul Gregutt describes wines made from Cinsault as like a “good Beaujolais” and notes in Washington Wines that it can be found in Walla Walla in the Morrison Lane and Minnick Vineyards as well as in the Horse Heaven Hills at Alder Ridge.

Cinsault in South Africa

Tim James in Wines of the New South Africa notes that Cinsault was introduced to South Africa in the 1880s and quickly became a popular planting. By 1909, it was the most widely planted red grape variety and the third most popular grape after Greengrape (Semillon) and Muscat.

Originally known as “Hermitage” until the mid-1930s, Cinsault would eventually account for as much as a third of all vineyard plantings in South Africa and was used to make everything from dry reds to sweet fortified wines to even brandy. The rise in popularity of Chenin blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon after World War II would eventually signal the grape’s decline throughout rest of the 20th century but even as its popularity wane it was still frequently used as a blending grape to add perfume and acidity to some of the country’s top Cabernet Sauvignon.

By 2008, Cinsault accounted for around a tenth of all vineyards in South Africa with notable plantings in Paarl, Breedekloof and the ward of Malmesbury in Swartland. Roughly translated to “The Black Land” in reference to the renosterbos (“rhino bush”) shrubs that dot the landscape, it is somewhat poetic that old vine vineyards of the Black Prince in Swartland would be the source of some of the most delicious Cinsault at the seminar.

Seminar Wines

Most of these wines are limited releases and hard to find in the United States. But they are well worth the hunt if you can get them.

Color of the The Blacksmith Barebones. Note how you can read through the core to see the text underneath.


2017 The Blacksmith Barebones, W.O. Paarl (Wine Searcher Average $24)
Medium intensity nose with black cherry and fresh uncured tobacco.

On the palate, those black cherry notes come through and are quite juicy and fresh with medium-plus acidity. Medium tannins and medium body contribute to the “Beaujolais” quality of the wine making it very pleasant and enjoyable with a moderate finish.

2017 The Blacksmith Prince of Bones, W.O. Swartland (No WS listing. At the seminar, Lauren Buzzeo priced it at $45)
Medium-plus intensity nose with lots of blue floral notes to go with the black cherry and tobacco notes exhibited by the Barebones.

On the palate, those fresh uncured tobacco notes from the nose change to more cured tobacco spice–not that dissimilar from Bordeaux wines. Medium-plus acidity maintains the juiciness of the cherry fruit with medium-plus tannins contributing to the medium-plus body of the wine. Long finish ends on the spicy note and mouthwatering fruit. Outstanding wine and probably my favorite of the tasting.

2017 Sadie Family Pofadder, W.O. Swartland (WS Average for 2016 vintage $42)
Medium-minus intensity nose. Light raspberry and some herbal notes. With some air a slight watermelon note (both flesh and rind) come out which is intriguing.

On the palate, the fruit flavors are similarly light. High acidity and chalky medium-plus tannins contribute to a thin and skeletal feel of the wine. Very short finish brings an earthy element that is hard to make out.

2017 Craven Wines Cinsault, W.O. Stellenbosch (WS Average $14 but I’m skeptical as Buzzeo listed the price at $55)
Medium intensity nose with red cherry, rose petals and fresh forest earthiness.

On the palate, the earthy element becomes a little more herbal but also brings a savory black pepper spice note. High acidity and medium-plus tannins are balanced a bit better with the fruit than the Sadie Pofadder so the wine feels more firm and structured rather than thin and skeletal. Seems young but promising.

The Badenhorst Ramnasgras from Swartland was fantastic.


2016 A.A. Badenhorst Cinsault Ramnasgras, W.O. Swartland (WS Average $38)
Medium-plus intensity with black cherry notes and lots of spice and meatiness. A mix of Burgundian and Rhone notes on the nose that had my mouth watering before even taking a sip.

On the palate, the cherry and spice carries through with the mouthwatering continuing with the medium-plus acidity. High tannins hold up the full-bodied fruit of the wine really well and contribute to this wine feeling like a meal in itself. Another favorite.

2016 Kaapzicht Cinsault 1952, W.O. Stellenbosch (NO WS listing though one merchant offering it for $31)
Medium intensity nose with an intriguing mix of cherry pie spices and leather.

The Kaapzicht 1952. Note how much darker this wine is in the core.


On the palate, those cherry pie notes come through with a toasty graham cracker crust character as well. Juicy medium-plus and ripe medium-plus tannins gives the wine great structure and mouthfeel. Long finish keeps with the cherry pie note with some cured tobacco spice joining the party. Very delicious.

2015 Kaapzicht Cinsault Skuinberg, W.O. Stellenbosch (NO WS listing though one merchant offering it for $79)
Medium-minus intensity nose. A mix of minty menthol and coffee espresso with some undefined red fruits.

On the palate, the red fruits become more defined as cherry and raspberry but the menthol and espresso dominant. Like the 1952, the medium-plus acidity and tannins give the wine exceptional balance and structure. I just don’t know if I’m a fan of this flavor profile as much.

2015 Leeu Passant Old Vine Cinsault, W.O. Franschhoek (NO WS listing though one merchant offering it for $103)
Medium-plus intensity nose with black raspberry and blackberry notes. There is also a minty element here but it smells more like fresh mint leaves rather than menthol.

The black fruits carry through on the palate with the minty notes being more subdued. In their place some of that Bordeaux-style tobacco spice emerges which gives the wine a savory element with the medium-plus acidity. Medium-plus tannins balances out the full bodied weight of the fruit. Long finish lingers on the spice. Really well made wine.

2015 Silwervis Cinsault, W.O. Swartland (WS Average $26 but I’m skeptical as Buzzeo listed the price at $50)
Medium intensity nose with coffee and cherry notes. With some air, a little floral mint and fresh tobacco leaf comes out.

On the palate, the coffee notes dominant with fruit present but struggling to emerge. Medium acidity and medium-plus tannins have firm edges to them. Even though this one of the oldest wines at the tastings, it felt really young. Intriguing though.

Takeaways

Cinsault’s diversity is a joy for food pairing but a nightmare for blind tasting.

As I reviewed my notes I saw some patterns emerging (cherry and tobacco) but many of those notes overlap with styles familiar to Burgundy, Beaujolais and lighter Bordeaux. A few examples even hit some of those savory meaty notes of a Rhone. Still, this diversity is exciting because here we have a wine that can be anything from a great picnic & BBQ sipper to something savory and complex that can hold up to robust dishes.

While two of my favorites (The Blacksmith’s Prince of Bones and A.A. Badenhorst’s Ramnagras) were from the Swartland–along with the intriguing but young tasting Silwervis–it was hard to pinpoint terroir characteristics. Considering how much I’ve liked other wines from these producers, I wonder how much of it is more producer style verses the region?

But a big takeaway, and one that the moderator and panelists frequently referred to, was the importance of older vines for Cinsault. The vine lends itself easily to overproduction and with its thin skins can be prone to producing thin flavors. While that may work for bulk rosé, it’s not ideal for making character driven wines.

With over 1600 acres of Cinsault vines over 20 years old (and many of the wines featured in this tasting coming from 40+ year old vineyards), South Africa does have a good bounty of older vines to work with. The really lovely Leeu Passant Old Vine Cinsault from Franschhoek was sourced from South Africa’s 2nd oldest red wine vineyard from vines that are 91+ years old. You can taste the added complexity and concentration from these older vines.

Remarkable stuff that is, again, well worth the hunt to find.

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

Photo by Berndt Fernow. Released on Wikimedia Commons under GNU-FDLOffers for the 2017 Bordeaux futures campaign are starting to come in. Today I’m going to look at four offers and share my thought process on whether I’m going to buy in on these wines or pass.

But first, let me explain my general approach to the 2017 vintage.

Value & Cellar Defenders

Personally, I don’t approach buying Bordeaux futures as a financial investment where I hopefully “buy low and sell high”. I’m not trying to make money off of these deals. While I may do some wine locker trading with friends down the road, in general, I approach these campaigns with the mindset of buying wines that I expect to drink myself.

Despite the positive spin that merchants and the Bordelais themselves are trying cast on 2017, I’m not convinced that it’s a great year. I think it is certainly better than 2011 and 2013 but this is not a vintage that I’m going to invest heavily in or pay a premium for. Instead, I’m going to be looking for value with prices less than 2016/2015 and more in the range of the 2014 vintage which I feel is the most apt comparison to 2017.

I bought fairly heavily in Bordeaux during the 2015 and 2016 campaigns so I will have a decent amount of great Bordeaux in my cellar that I won’t want to touch for another 10-15 years. As I learned the hard way with many of my 2009/2010 (and even 2005s), the temptation to open these bottles can be very seductive only to have my momentary pleasure give way to pangs of guilt as the wines reveal only a shadow of how good they could have been if only I had given them more time.

Therefore I place value in making sure I have wines that I call “Cellar Defenders”. These are wines from less highly acclaimed vintages that generally reach their peak drinking window earlier than wines from outstanding vintages. Plus with these wines usually having better price points, I can open up these “sacrificial lambs” with far less guilt even if they aren’t quite at their peak.

Photo by Raphael Reynier of Onewineproduction. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Wine critics tasting at one of the 2017 en primeur events in Bordeaux.


A Note About Scores

In my breakdown of the wines below I will include the barrel scores from several notable critics as well the Wine Searcher Average of critic scores for previous vintages. As I describe in my post on my own personal approach to scoring, I prefer to rate wines with my wallet and whether or not I think they deliver enough pleasure to merit the cost.

But I’m not going to get a chance to taste these wines anytime soon so I still see some value in using the opinions of professional critics as tools in my decision making on whether I want to invest in buying these wines. I don’t take any one critic’s opinion as gospel truth but rather look for a pattern to see where their opinions tend to overlap.

Ch. Palmer (Margaux)

Brief winery geekery: Third Growth estate owned by 22 shareholders, including the owners of the negociant firms BorieManoux and Sichel. Since 2004, Thomas Duroux has been the winemaker. Their second wine, Alter Ego de Palmer has been produced since 1998 with some critics (like The Wine Cellar Insider’s Jeff Leve) feeling the wine performs at the level of a 4th Growth. In 2017, the vineyards of Palmer were certified 100% Biodynamic. The 2017 is a blend of 54% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot making it a Merlot dominant Left Bank wine. Between 8,000 to 10,000 cases are produced each vintage.

Critic scores: 97-98 JS (James Suckling), 96-98 WA (Wine Advocate), 94-96 WE (Wine Enthusiast), 92-95 WS (Wine Spectator), 92-95 JD (Jeb Dunnuck), 96 JL (Jeff Leve)

Sample review:

… very deep purple-black in color and leaps from the glass with freshly macerated blue and black fruits: wild blueberries, blackberries and black cherries plus hints of licorice, rose hips, tilled soil and oolong tea with a waft of truffles. Medium-bodied, very finely crafted with exquisitely ripe and smooth yet firm tannins and sporting great mid-palate intensity and wonderful freshness, it finishes long and minerally. — Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Wine Advocate

2017 Wine Searcher Average $273
JJ Buckley $284.95 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio $279 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions $274.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up in Tustin, CA)
Total Wine $284.99 (no shipping with all wines sent to a local store and only 50% down upfront)
K & L $279.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at K & L locations in California)

Previous vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Average $339 Average critic score: 94 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $359 Average critic score: 96 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $253 Average critic score: 94 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $257 Average critic score: 92 pts

Buy or Pass?

This one is tempting but ultimately it will be a pass for me. I actually find myself more interested in finding bottles of the 2014 Palmer as I see that vintage performing a similar “cellar defender” role at a little better price point.

This 2011 Valandraud I tasted when I visited the estate back in 2016 was drinking fantastic for something from such an underwhelming vintage like 2011.
This give me optimism that in a much better vintage like 2017 that Valandraud will produce a winner.

Ch. Valandraud (St. Emilion)

Brief winery geekery: Premier Grand Cru Classe founded in 1989 by Jean-Luc Thunevin as one of the first “garage wines”. Vineyards planted to 70 % Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon with the remaining 5% split between Malbec and Carmenere–making Valandraud one of the few St. Emilion estates to use 5 red Bordeaux grape varieties. Around 3,400 cases produced each vintage.

Critic scores: 95-97 WE, 94-97 JD, 93-96 WS, 94-95 JS, 93-95 WA, 94 JL

Sample review:

Lots of beautiful blueberry and blackberry fruits here. Medium to full body, round and very polished tannins and a flavorful finish. Wet-earth undertones. Velvety mouthfeel at the end. — James Suckling

Wine Searcher Average $141
JJ Buckley $159.94 + shipping
Vinfolio — No offer yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions $144.99 + shipping
Total Wine $149.97
K & L $149.99 + shipping

Previous vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Average $179 Average critic score: 93 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $167 Average critic score: 94 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $141 Average critic score: 93 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $141 Average critic score: 92 pts

Buy or Pass?

While I’m not going to go crazy, this is a buy for me. Valandraud is one of my favorite Bordeaux estates, regularly producing wines that I would put on par with $200+ Napa Valley wines. It’s worth having a couple bottles in the cellar when I’m craving something bold and luscious but with enough complexity to still remind me it is a Bordeaux.

Ch. Fombrauge (St. Emilion)

Brief winery geekery: Grand Cru Classe that is one of the largest and oldest vineyards in St. Emilion with parcels neighboring Ch. Pavie. Since 1999, has been owned by Bernard Magrez who also owns Ch. Pape-Clement with Michel Rolland as a consultant. 2017 vintage is a blend of 93% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Franc. Around 14,000 cases produced each vintage.

Critic scores: 93-95 WE, 92-94 WA, 90-93 WS, 91-92 JS, 90 JL

Sample review:

Offers nice flesh, with a mix of black currant and plum fruit inlaid with subtle black tea, graphite and anise notes. Reveals a tobacco edge on the finish. Well done. — James Molesworth, Wine Spectator

Wine Searcher Average $25
JJ Buckley — No offer yet
Vinfolio — No offer yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions — 6 bottle minimum $149.94 + shipping
Total Wine $28.97
K & L — No offer yet

Previous vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Average $28 Average critic score: 89 points
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $33 Average critic score: 90 points
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $35 Average critic score: 90 points
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $29 Average critic score: 88 points

Buy or Pass?

This is a definite buy for me and pretty much exemplifies the value that I’m looking for in 2017. The Magrez/Rolland style tends to favor early drinkability with “New World-ish” fleshy fruit. These are wines that I expect to be drinking fine 5-10 years from vintage date, making them perfect cellar defenders to help protect my 2015/2016 from being opened too soon.

Photo by Christian Haase. Released on Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0
Ch. Haut-Batailley (Pauillac)

Brief winery geekery: 5th growth estate that was previously owned by the Borie family of Ducru Beaucaillou fame and managed by Francois Xavier Borie (who also owns Grand Puy Lacoste). In 2017, the estate was sold to the Cazes family (of Lynch-Bages fame). The vineyard is currently planted to 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc with the Cazes family planning on decreasing the amount of Cabernet planted and increasing the amount of Merlot. Vineyards divided among two parcels with one neighboring Ch. Latour and the other Lynch-Bages. Around 9000 cases a year produced.

Critic scores: 94-95 JS, 89-92 WS, 94 JL

Sample review:

With a good depth of color, the wine shows a nice purity of juicy cassis while a leafy olive and pepper component keeps you interested throughout this full bodied, crunchy and classic experience. The tannins are a bit uncompromising right now but give the wine time, and it will prove to be worth the wait. This is the debut vintage from the new owners, the Cazes family. — Jeff Leve The Wine Cellar Insider

Wine Searcher Average $61
JJ Buckley — No offer yet
Vinfolio — No offer yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions $64.99 + shipping
Total Wine $64.97
K & L — No offer yet

Previous vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Average $57 Average critic score: NA
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $51 Average critic score: 92 points
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $44 Average critic score: 91 points
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $41 Average critic score: 89 points

Buy or Pass?

This is going to be a pass for me. Definitely not a compelling value compared to previous vintages. While I’m a huge fan of the Cazes family and can anticipate exciting things in the future for Haut-Batailley, I think it will be a few years before we really see their influence in the wine. I don’t see a reason to pay a premium over the $51 average that the 2015 vintage has just on the potential of the Cazes family’s involvement.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

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

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

*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

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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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60 Second Wine Review — Ancestry Cellars Pinot gris

A few quick thoughts on the 2017 Ancestry Cellars Prosperita Pinot gris from the Columbia Valley.

The Geekery

Ancestry Cellars was founded by Jason and Erin Moran in 2011. Full disclosure, like Michael Savage of Savage Grace, Jason is an alum of the Northwest Wine Academy and was in my wine production class.

The accolades for Ancestry came quickly after its founding with Sean Sullivan of the Washington Wine Report and Wine Enthusiast noting that Jason Morin particularly excels with his white wines.

With a tasting room in Manson, as well as in Woodinville, Ancestry Cellars has been focusing more on the developing Lake Chelan AVA. In addition to sourcing white grape varieties like Pinot gris and Chardonnay, Ancestry also produces a Malbec sourced from Dry Lake Vineyard in Manson.

The 2017 Prosperita Pinot gris is sourced from fruit from the Lake Chelan AVA and from Sagemoor Vineyards in the greater Columbia Valley AVA. The wine is 100% Pinot gris that was fermented and aged in stainless steel.

The Wine

High intensity nose of fresh white peaches and orange blossoms. In the background is a little pear note as well.

On the palate, that fresh white peach note comes through but the floral orange blossom notes gets more zesty and citrusy. Medium-plus acidity keeps the mouthfeel very lively and fresh but is amply balanced by the medium bodied weight of the fruit.

Photo by Fir0002. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-NC-3.0

Lovely fresh white peach notes in this Pinot gris.

Dry but fruit forward. The acidity also adds a mouthwatering aspect that quickly makes you want to take another drink. Moderate length finish brings back some of the floral notes.

The Verdict

This wine tastes like Spring and is exceptionally well made. While some Northwest Pinot gris producers have a difficult time balancing the sense of fruitiness/sweetness with crisp acidity, this Ancestry Pinot gris hits those notes perfectly making a dry Pinot gris with ample weight and fruit.

For $12-15, this is a delicious white wine that is perfect for patio sipping as well as food pairing.

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Wine Geek Notes 3/16/18 — Pinot Meunier, 2015 Bordeaux and Cali 2nd Wines

Photo by Igor Zemljič. Released on Wikimedia Commons under PD-user

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

Interesting Tweets and Weblinks

Pinot Meunier Goes Beyond the Blend in Champagne by Jameson Fink (@jamesonfink) for Wine Enthusiast (@WineEnthusiast). Brought to my dash via Frank Morgan (@DrinkWhatULike).

I absolutely ADORE Pinot Meunier so I was thrilled to see Fink give this unheralded grape of Champagne some much needed love. While Chardonnay and Pinot noir get all the attention, Pinot Meunier is often the backbone of some of the most powerful and evocative Champagnes made in the region. Echoing David Speer of Ambonnay Champagne bar (@AmbonnayBar) in Portland, Oregon, Fink notes that the flavors that Pinot Meunier brings to the table includes “… white flowers, herbs (in a good way), blueberries, spices, earth and meaty notes—[a] ‘fascinating mix of sweet, savory and spicy tones.'”

A few of my favorite Pinot Meunier-dominant Champagnes include Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV and Duval-Leroy NV Brut with the grape often playing equal billing with Pinot noir in the wines of Pol Roger and for Charles Heidsieck’s Brut Reserve. But what excites me the most about Fink’s article is the emergence of single varietal Pinot Meunier Champagnes with Fink’s providing a nifty shopping list of producers to seek out. Several of these growers (such as Jérôme Prévost and Laherte Frères) have been on my must-try list since I reviewed Robert Walters’ Bursting Bubbles and this just gives me more incentive to hunt them down.

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

Château Paloumey in Ludon-Médoc

Here We Go Again: Value Bordeaux 2015 by Neal Martin (@nealmartin) of Vinous (@VinousMedia).

The 2015 and 2016 vintages are going to be a smorgasbord of goodness for Bordeaux lovers. While, yes, there are going to be the outrageously priced top estates, there is also going to be an abundance of value. In this article, Martin list several top finds under $25 that are very intriguing. I’ve had Château Paloumey from the less than stellar 2011 vintage and was rather impressed so I would be very interested in trying the 2015 of this Haut-Medoc estate. Another wine that Martin highlights is the 2015 Eva from Château Le Pey that is 25% Petit Verdot!

All these wines look to be well worth exploring. Other sub $25 Bordeaux from the 2015 vintage that I’ve personally had and would also encourage Bordeaux lovers to explore include:

Ch. Lanessan (Haut-Medoc) Wine Searcher Ave $25
Ch. Chantegrive (Graves) Wine Searcher Ave $19
Ch. Vrai Canon Bouche (Canon-Fronsac) Wine Searcher Ave $25
Ch. de la Huste (Fronsac) Wine Searcher Ave $19
Ch. Ferran (Pessac-Leognan) Wine Searcher Ave $19

Berger on wine: Parallel brands allow room to grow by Dan Berger for The Press Democrat (@NorthBayNews)

The concept of Second Wines is well known for Bordeaux lovers. It allows an estate to be more selective in both the vineyard and winery, limiting their top cuvee to just the “best of the best”. The remaining juice is still very good but often doesn’t merit being premium priced so estates would create a second label to sell the juice. The benefit to the consumer is that they get the pedigree of the Grand Vin’s viticulture and winemaking teams but are only paying a fraction of the price of the top cuvee.

In California, the wineries are also very selective in limiting their top cuvee to just the “best of the best” but would instead sell off the declassified juice as anonymous bulk wine to other producers. California négociants like Courtney Benham often make off like bandits buying premium lots from top wineries and selling them under their own label.

But the consumers still don’t know where the juice came from which is why I’m encouraged by Berger’s article that more wineries are starting to create their own second labels to bottle their declassified lots. I’m particularly intrigued by Cathy Corison’s Corazón and Helio labels and Ramey’s Sidebar wines.

Hide yo kids, Hide yo wife

I really wish this was an April Fool’s Day joke but I fret that it is not. So consider this a public service warning because soon your local grocery stores and gas stations are going to be inundated with displays and marketing for Apothic Brew— a “cold brew-wine” hybrid created by Gallo.

While I was able to find some redeeming factors in the whiskey barrel aged wine trend that Apothic helped popularize, I really have no clue what Gallo’s marketing team is thinking with this. But, it’s Gallo and they didn’t become a billion dollar company by coming up with stupid ideas so who knows?

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Book Review — Washington Wines and Wineries

A few thoughts on Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide by Paul Gregutt.

Overview

The Washington wine industry is the second largest producer of premium wine in the United States behind California with more than 900 wineries and over 350 vineyards.

Top 100 lists from publications like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast are frequently dotted by Washington wines including the 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon that was named the #1 wine on Wine Spectator’s 2009 list. Numerous Washington wines from Quilceda Creek, Cayuse and Leonetti have earned perfect 100 point scores from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

In 2014, the 2011 L’Ecole Ferguson won Best Bordeaux Blend in the World at the Decanter World Wine awards.

Yet, while you can easily find literally hundreds of books to learn about California wine, the pickings on the people, places and wines of Washington are much more slim.

Thankfully, Paul Gregutt, a former columnist for The Seattle Times and Wine Enthusiast, has helped fill that gaping hole with the best reference standard to date about the Washington wine industry.

With the first edition released in 2007 and an updated, expanded 2nd edition released in 2010, Gregutt’s work is broken into two parts.

Part one includes a brief history of the Washington wine industry from Walla Walla’s first plantings in the 1860s, W.B. Bridgman’s 1917 plantings of Vitis vinifera on Snipes Mountain, to the rise of Associated Vintners and the birth of the modern Washington wine industry in the 1970s & 1980s. In the first edition, Gregutt also discusses the 1825 plantings at Fort Vancouver.

An example of the varietal pages where Gregutt list some of the best Washington examples of several varieties (like Cabernet Franc)

Gregutt then moves into a chapter exploring the (then) 11 AVAs of Washington. Since 2010, the number has grown to 14 AVAs with Naches Heights (2011), Ancient Lakes (2012) and Lewis-Clark Valley (2016) joining the ranks with The Burn likely to soon follow.

The third chapter goes into the major grape varieties grown in Washington State, profiling the wine regions, flavor characteristics and top producers for many of the nearly 70 different grape varieties grown in Washington. Gregutt hits not only the big varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot but also touches on the history and importance of Riesling in the Washington wine industry as well as some of the more obscure but notable varieties grown such as Chenin blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Barbera, Counoise, Petite Verdot, Tempranillo and Zinfandel.

The final chapter in Part 1 examines 20 of Washington’s most important vineyards, including many that would be considered the “Grand Crus” of the state such as Boushey Vineyards, Champoux and Ciel du Cheval. In each profile, Gregutt talks not only about the history and terroir of the vineyards but also notes which grape varieties and wineries tend to showcase each vineyard’s unique qualities.

Betz, one of the Five Star Wineries profiled by Gregutt.

In Part 2, Gregutt profiles over 200 different Washington wineries–breaking them into categories like Five Star wineries (such as Betz, Cadence, L’Ecole, Quilceda Creek and Woodward Canyon), Four Star wineries (like Boudreaux Cellars, Gordon Brothers, Hedges and Sheridan Vineyard), Three Star wineries (like àMaurice, Apex, Camaraderie Cellars, Chinook, Gamache, Kiona, Otis Kenyon and Tagaris) and then finally Rising Stars (like Efeste, Hestia, Lost River, Doubleback and Whidbey Island Winery).

Some Things I Learned

In the history chapter, I was particularly fascinated with the era following Prohibition where liquor laws that still severely restricted access to hard alcohol and cocktails discouraged the nascent Washington wine industry from focusing on dry European-style wines in lieu of producing sweet, fortified wines.

The rise of Merlot in the 1990s was also an interesting read, especially hearing that Jed Steele, while consulting winemaking for Northstar Winery, was promoting the Walla Walla winery as “Washington’s answer to Ch. Petrus.” I enjoy Northstar quite a bit but I think we should forgive Steele of the hyperbole.

In the AVA chapter, I developed more of an appreciation for the “workhorse wine regions” of the Wahluke Slope and Horse Heaven Hills that often get overlooked in favor of the “Sexier AVAs” of Red Mountain and Walla Walla. With more than 80,000 acres, the Wahluke Slope is responsible for around 15% of all the wines produced in Washington while the Horse Heaven Hills is responsible for 25%–and was also home to the state’s first 100 point wines from Quilceda Creek’s Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

Even at 14 years of age, this 2003 Gorman Pixie Syrah from Red Mountain still had that zesty lemon-lime note Gregutt describes along with some gorgeous bacon fat!

In Chapter 3, Gregutt does an outstanding job explaining the typicity and unique characteristic of grape varieties grown in Washington soils which are invaluable for folks studying how to blind taste. I know now to look for things like the blueberry and light-olive notes of Cabernet Franc, the distinctive “streak of lemon-lime zest” in Washington Syrahs and the mix of Japanese pears and green apple flavors that tend to show up in the state’s Pinot gris wines.

Wines I Want to Try Because of This Book

Throughout Washington Wines, Gregutt name drops many intriguing wines (particularly in the grape variety and wineries chapters). But after reading Gregutt’s book, I think I’m most interested in doing comparative tastings of Washington terroir.

One tasting that particularly intrigues me is investigating the 10 different Wahluke Slope Vineyards manage by the Milbrandt family–including Northridge, Sundance, Clifton Hill, Pheasant, Katherine Leone and Talcott Vineyards. Ideally I’d want to compare with the same variety (like Merlot or Syrah) and find as many vineyard designated examples from the same winery as I can. Looking on Wine Searcher, I see that Bunnell Family Cellar and Charles Smith’s K Vintners have some individual bottlings from these vineyards.

The history geek in me would also love to try a Muscat of Alexandria from the 1917 W.B. Bridgman plantings in what is now Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain.

New Reading Recommendations I Got From This Book

Because Gregutt was blazing new trails in this in-depth overview of the Washington wine industry, there wasn’t a lot of other source material that he could point uber-geeks like me to.

From a historical perspective, it’s worth seeking out Leon Adams’ Wines of America which included the first critical acclaim of a Washington wine–a 1966 rosé of Grenache made by Associated Vintners.

One book that Gregutt does cite is The Wine Project: Washington State’s Winemaking History by Ron Irvine and Walter Clore (“The Father of Washington Wine”). This was actually a required text book during my time at the Northwest Wine Academy when I was earning my wine production degree. Prior to the 2007 release of Gregutt’s Washington Wines, this was virtually the only book that seriously looked at the Washington wine industry.

Final Thoughts

In the very first chapter, Gregutt recounts a story from Master of Wine Bob Betz about promoting Washington wine on the East Coast of the United States. One time after a long presentation about the history of the state, the many AVAs and grape varieties grown in Washington, Betz opened the session up for questions from the audience. The first query he got was someone wondering on what side of the Potomac were Washington’s wine grapes grown.

That anecdotal story encapsulate very well the issues that the Washington wine industry has in distinguishing itself–not only on the world’s stage but also at home in the United States where California casts a very long shadow. Throughout Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide, Paul Gregutt does an outstanding job highlighting the terroirs, wineries and people that make Washington unique.

It is not only a must-read for people who want to learn more about the 2nd largest producer of American wines but also for folks who have already discovered and fallen in love with the bounty of wines that Washington offers.

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