Tag Archives: Wine Spectator Grand Tour

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

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

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Déjà Vu at the Wine Spectator Grand Tour

Last month, I attended the Wine Spectator Grand Tour tasting at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas.

While I had a blast at the 2017 tasting (which I documented in my 3 part series that you can read here) I won’t be doing a series of articles on this year’s Grand Tour (apart from maybe a Top 10 post) because, frankly, I would be burning out the “cut and paste” keys on my laptop.

Déjà vu all over again

Out of the 244 wineries participating, an astonishing 184 of them (around 75%) were repeats from last year’s tastings.
Sure, wineries like Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Ch. Haut-Brion, Penfolds, Casanova de Neri, Perrier-Jouët and K Vintners make a lot of great wine that are fun to try. It’s fine to have some “big ticket names” regularly featured to attract attention.

But come on? 75% repeats?

That’s crazy when you consider that Wine Spectator reviews around 17,000 wines a year—several thousand of which get 90+ points. Using their Advance Search option, I found over 1800 American, 1700 French, 300 Italian, 180 Spanish and 180 Australian wines from just the 2014 vintage alone with 90+ ratings.

Is it really that difficult to find more than 100 new wineries each year to feature at their marquee tasting event?

Groundhog Day at the Mirage

While some of the repeat wineries did pour at least a different wine than they did the year before (like Albert Bichot’s Domaine du Clos Frantin pouring the 2013 Clos du Vougeot Grand Cru this year after pouring the 2013 Vosne-Romanee Les Malconsorts Premier Cru last year), 66 of the wineries poured only a different vintage of the same wines they featured in 2017.

Highlighting all the same wineries featured in 2017 and 2018.

Now, yes, I suppose you could argue that there is some interest in seeing vintage variation–but that is only helpful if you are tasting both vintages side by side or happen to have meticulous notes on hand of your previous tasting to compare. Otherwise, it pretty much feels like you are tasting the same damn wine you tasted last year.

The big exception, though, was when wineries took an opportunity to dive into back vintages to give you a unique library tasting experience. This was the case of Domaine de Chevalier and Chateau La Nerthe who brought out their 1998 and 2008 vintages to pour. Rather than feel like you’re tasting “last year’s wine”, this gave you a chance to try something very different and both wines ended up being some of my favorites of the night.

However, probably the most egregious sin of the event was the 25 wineries (around a tenth of all the wines at the event) who poured the exact same wine they poured in 2017. Granted, that number does includes some NV wines that theoretically could be a “new batch” but that still doesn’t discount the unoriginality and boredom of seeing the same wine featured.

Seeing a 3 liter bottle of Tawny Port is impressive in any context, though.

Even Champagne producer Lanson was able to mix things up with pouring their Black Label NV this year after featuring their NV Extra Age Brut last year. Likewise, the Port house Graham’s brought their NV 20 Year Tawny Port this year while last year they had their 2000 vintage Port available.

Same Bat-Wine, Same Bat-Channel
Wineries that poured the exact same wine at each event.

Alvear Pedro Ximenez Montilla-Moriles Solera 1927 NV
Ch. Brown Pessac-Leognan 2014
Chateau Ste. Michelle Artist Series 2013
Croft Vintage Port 2011
Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rose NV
Ernie Els Signature Stellenbosch 2012
Fattoria di Felsina Toscana Fontalloro 2013
Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino 2012
Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard 2005
Henriot Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne NV
Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Small Block Reserve 2013
Montecillo Rioja Gran Reserva 2009
Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut NV
Mumm Napa Blanc de Blancs NV
Orin Swift Abstract 2015
Patz & Hall Pinot noir Carneros Hyde Vineyard 2014
Famille Perrin Gigondas Clos des Tourelles 2013
Ramos-Pinto 30 year Tawny Port NV
Recanati Carignan Judean Hills Wild Reserve 2014
Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva Baron de Chirel 2010
Louis Roederer Brut Champagne Premier NV
Taylor-Fladgate 20 year Tawny Port NV
Teso La Monja Toro Victorino 2013
Torres Priorat Salmos 2013
Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Mario’s Vineyard 2013

Sneak Peak at the 2019 Wine Spectator Grand Tour pour list?

Trying a 5+ year aged Gruner was interesting. I much prefer that to tasting just the newer vintage of the same wine I had last year.

Below are the wineries that poured the same wine but a different vintage. The vintage they poured in 2017 is listed first followed by the wine featured at the 2018 event.

Castello di Albola Chianti Classico Riserva (2010/2013)
Alion Ribera del Duero (2012/2010)
Allegrini Amarone (2012/2013)
Almaviva Puente Alto (2013/2014)
Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Poggio Alle Mura (2011/2012)
Barboursville Ocatagon (2012/2014)
Marchesi di Barolo Sarmassa Barolo (2012/2013)
Belle Glos Pinot noir Clark & Telephone (2014/2012)
Beringer Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (2013/2014)
Brane-Cantenac Margaux (2010/2011)
Caiarossa Toscana (2011/2012)
Calon Segur St. Estephe (2003/2005)
Caparazo Brunello di Montalcino La Casa (2011/2012)
Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva (2011/2012)
Casa Ferreirinha Douro Quinta da Leda (2014/2011)
Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova (2011/2012)
Castellare di Castellina Toscano I Sodi di San Niccolo (2012/2013)
Caymus Special Select Cabernet Sauvignon (2009/2014)
Pio Cesare Barolo (2012/2013)
Chalk Hill Chardonnay Chalk Hill (2014/2015)
Cheval des Andes Mendoza (2012/2013)
Domaine de Chevalier Pessac-Leognan (2010/1998)
Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino Pianrosso (2010/2012)
Col Solare (2013/2009)
Colome Malbec Salta (2013/2015)
Craggy Range Pinot noir Martinborough Te Muna Road Vineyard (2013/2015)
Cune Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva (2010/2011)
Damilano Barolo Cannubi (2012/2013)
Domaine Drouhin Pinot noir Dundee Hills Laurene (2013/2014)
Donnafugata Terre Siciliane Mille e Una Notte (2011/2012)
Elk Cove Pinot noir Yamhill-Carlton District Mount Richmond (2014/2015)
Ch. d’ Esclans Cotes de Provence Garrus rosé (2014/2015)
Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte (2013/2015)
Feudo Maccari Sicilia Saia (2013/2014)
Fonseca Vintage Port Guimaraens (2013/2015)
Fontodi Colli Della Toscana Centrale Flaccianello (2013/2014)
Frescobaldi Brunello di Montalcino Castelgiocondo (2011/2012)
Ktima Gerovassiliou Malagousia Epanomi (2015/2016)
Kaiken Malbec Mendoza Mai (2012/2013)
Laurenz V. Gruner Veltliner Trocken Kamptal Charming Reserve (2014/2012)
Leeuwin Chardonnay Margaret River Art Series (2013/2014)
Luce Della Vite Toscana Luce (2013/2014)
Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Villa Gemma (2007/2011)
Masi Amarone Costasera (2011/2012)
Masut Pinot noir Eagle Peak Vineyard (2014/2015)
Mazzei Maremma Toscana Tenuta Belguardo (2011/2013)
Mollydooker Shiraz Carnival of Love McLaren Vale (2014/2016)
Ch. La Nerthe Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee des Cadettes (2013/2009)
El Nido Jumilla (2013/2014)
Siro Pacenti Brunello di Montalcino Vecchie Vigne (2012/2013)
Pacific Rim Riesling Yakima Valley Solstice Vineyard (2014/2015)
Pichon-Lalande Pauillac (2011/2009)
Protos Ribera del Duero Reserva (2011/2012)
Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco (2012/2013)
Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico Riserva di Fizzano Gran Selezione (2012/2013)
Rust en Verde Stellenbosch (2013/2014)
Rutini Malbec Mendoza Apartado Gran (2010/2013)
Tenuta San Guido Toscana Guidalberto (2014/2015)
Vina Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley Casa Real (2012/2013)
Vina Sena Aconcagua Valley (2013/2015)
Tenuta Sette Ponti Toscana Oreno (2014/2015)
Sterling Chardonnay Napa Valley Reserve (2013/2014)
Ch. du Tertre Margaux (2011/2010)
Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino (2007/2010)
Quinta do Vale Meao Douro Meandro (2013/2014)
Walt Pinot noir Sta. Rita Hills Clos Pepe (2014/2015)

Moral of the Story?

Let’s not even get into the clear spit buckets that were featured on several tables.

Setting aside that around three quarters of the wineries were the same, the crux for me was the nearly 40% of the wines being either actual or near repeats with different vintages. Paying $225 to $325 a ticket (and up to $475 at the upcoming New York event in October)–not to mention travel and hotel costs–for that is pretty ridiculous.

While I would still say that the value of the wines being tasted and the breadth of the tasting makes the Wine Spectator Grand Tour worth it for a first time visitor, the experience of having so many repeats of wineries and wines dampers my enthusiasm for making this a yearly priority to attend.

I haven’t made up my mind about attending the 2019 or 2020 event but, at this rate, I feel like I’d rather find another reason to go to Vegas to play the Somm Game.

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Wine Geek Notes 4/9 — Organic Wine, 2017 Bordeaux and Component Wines

Photo by Hudson C. S. de Souza. Released on Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-4.0

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

Isabelle Legeron MW: why it matters what wine we drink and food we eat by Alistair Morrell for The Buyer (@TheBuyer11)

I recently finished reading Clark Smith’s Postmodern Winemaking: Rethinking the Modern Science of an Ancient Craft where he advocates for a balance between winemakers using all the tools at their disposal (like reverse osmosis, cross-flow filtration, etc) but not lose sight of “soulful winemaking” and letting the wine tell the story of where it came from. It’s almost a contradictory position that is the vino-equivalent of the Kobayashi Maru.

Throughout the entire book, Smith advocates for, above all, more transparency in winemaking. A winemaker shouldn’t use any tool or additive that he or she would not feel comfortable openly talking about. In that regard, he and Master of Wine Isabelle Legeron would be kindred spirits.

In her interview with Alistair Morrell, Legeron draws the connection between consumers’ concerns over sourcing and knowing what’s exactly in their food and how that is changing the wine they are drinking. However, as I discovered in researching for my article about Vegan wines, the wine industry has a bit of a halo effect that has long been given a free pass in most consumers’ minds because—it’s just grapes, right? Well….not exactly.

Like Smith, I don’t think winemakers should be demonized for using technology but I also find sympathy with Legeron’s view that consumers should know what kind of chemicals are being used in the vineyards, what additives like Mega-Purple or oak chips do and what in the world was done to make a wine like Apothic Brew exist.

The article also touches on some of the issues that “natural producers” dealt with in the troublesome vintage 2017 which brings me to my next article of interest.

Photo by Benjamin Zingg, Switzerland. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.5

Ch. Rauzan-Ségla in Margaux

The 2017 Bordeaux Barrels Diary: A View from the Top at Château Canon by James Molesworth (@JMolesworth1) for Wine Spectator (@WineSpectator)

As the 2018 en primeur tastings wrap up, we’re getting ready for the start of the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign. I’m buckling down into my research as I plot my own personal strategy and purchases. I bought very heavily in the 2015 and 2016 campaigns so I naturally expect to buy much less in 2017.

But I’ll still buy something. My initial instinct is that 2017 could serve as a fair “cellar defender” vintage meant to be open for more short term consumption. I use the term “cellar defender” because my cellar will now have a nice stash of 2015/2016 that I will need to fight off the temptation to open too soon–a fate that has unfortunately befallen many of my 2009/2010 gems. If I want to get the full value of my pleasure investment in these potentially great 2015/2016 wine, I will need to have a few good “sacrificial lambs” to help keep my grubby paws off the good stuff.

The key will be in sorting through the hype and fluff to find the real value. I don’t want to pay filet mignon prices for my mutton.

The Chanel Group’s holding of Ch. Canon, Ch. Rauzan-Ségla and now Ch. Berliquet intrigue me because the first two have undoubtedly been on the upswing and reaping the benefit of investments in the vineyards and winery. Rauzan-Ségla has particularly impressed me with delivering quality results in the troublesome 2012 and 2013 vintages. While I would not want to go into the $100+ range, if the 2017 is priced in the $75-80 range like those 2012/2013s then I might be intrigued.

However, having the Chanel team now at Ch. Berliquet (which is priced in the $35-40 range) could be some very enticing mutton

Making Varietal Wines in Bordeaux by Vicki Denig (@vicki_denig‏) for Seven Fifty Daily (@SevenFiftyDaily). Brought to my dash via John Corcoran (@jncorcoran1).

Going along with my Bordeaux mood, I got very excited reading about this new project with Michael H. Kennedy II of Component Wine Company in Napa (a protege of Aldo Sohm) and Château Lynch-Bages to come up with a special series of varietal wines from some of the Cazes family’s holdings in the Left Bank.

While blending is always going to be intimately connected with Bordeaux, the chance to try the individual components in isolation (from such a high quality producer) is worth geeking out over. Of course it will depend on if the price is crazy or not. While I expect to pay $100+ for Ch. Lynch-Bages, I’m not sure a varietal Cabernet Franc from them at that price is going to entice me. My optimistic hope is that these Component wines will be priced more in the $35-45 range.

I signed up for Component Wine Company’s mailing list to keep an eye on this project and will post any updates.

What’s On Deck for SpitBucket

In addition to getting knee deep in readings about the 2017 Bordeaux vintage and Futures campaign, I’m also prepping for my upcoming trip to Paso Robles for Hospice du Rhone at the end of this month and a trip to Burgundy at the end of May. So expect to see a few more posts geeking out about Rhone varietals and a couple more installments in my “Keeping up with the Joneses in Burgundy” series.

My top wine at the 2017 Wine Spectator Grand Tasting was this Adobe Road Cabernet Sauvignon from the Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III in Rutherford.

In the middle, I’ll also be attending the Wine Spectator Grand Tour Tasting in Las Vegas. You can check out the first part of my three part series from last year’s Grand Tour Tasting here.

While my blog postings won’t be as frequent during my travels, I will still be posting regularly to Instagram and Twitter so feel free to follow me on those platforms as well.

Cheers!

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Top Ten Wines from 2017 Wine Spectator Grand Tour

As we wrap up Spitbucket’s 3 part series on the 2017 Wine Spectator Grand Tour in Las Vegas, we come to our grand finale–my Top Ten Wines of the event. Of course this list is entirely limited and subjective. As I mentioned in the first part of this series, it is virtually impossible to try all 244 wines available in just 3 hours. While I thoroughly enjoyed the 68 wines that I did get to try, I undoubtedly missed out on several gems that may have found their way to this list.

Among the wines that I regrettably missed out on:

Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino Pianrosso 2010 (94 pts. Wine Searcher average price $75)
Graham’s Vintage Port 2000 (98 pts. Wine Searcher average price $98)
Marques de Grinon Domino de Valdepusa Petit Verdot 2011 (93 pts. Wine Spectator list price $40)
Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque 2007 (93 pts. Wine Searcher average price $143)
Recanti Judean Hills Wild Carignan Reserve 2014 (91 pts. Wine Searcher average price $48)
Anthonij Rupert Cabernet Franc 2009 (92 pts. Wine Searcher average price $77)
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23 2012 (93 pts. Wine Searcher average price $227)

Now as for my Top 10 list, as frequent readers know I do have a bit of bias towards Bordeaux wines. While the geek in me seeks out tasty treats from across the globe, Bordeaux will always be my most enduring love in the world of wine. So it should not be a surprised that Bordeaux wines account for almost a third of this list with many of the other wines capturing my attention for their “Bordeaux-like” elegance and qualities. Again, this list is completely subjective.

My Top 10 wines of the night:

Adobe Road 2013 Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III A1-Block Cabernet Sauvignon (94 points. Wine Spectator list price $175) Still the undoubted wine of the event. Even glancing over my list of missed opportunities, I don’t think any of them would have knocked this 228 case limited release from Adobe Road off the pedestal.

As I described in part 2, this wine was classic Napa but what set it far above its peers that I tasted was the fresh, lively acidity that gave sparks to tongue while the velvety soft and rich fruit was wrapping it up in a kiss. When you are “power-tasting” through a lot of great wine, you find that they start to meld together, making it hard to stand out. Especially in Napa where the check-list seems to be [x] Ripe dark fruit [x] Full-bodied [x] Soft but noticeable tannins and [x] Noticeable oak. It’s easy to check all those boxes and make a wine that will give immense pleasure when being enjoyed by itself.

But for a wine to stand out when it is being tasted along such illustrious wines as the 2009 Caymus Special Selection, 2012 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow, 2013 Alpha Omega Era, 2013 Beringer Private Reserve, 2012 Chimney Rock Elevage, 2013 Vine Cliff 16 Rows Oakville, 2005 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard and 2013 Trinchero Mario’s Vineyard, it is going to be that freshness that hits you like a finger snap in front of your face, commanding your attention. None of the aforementioned wines were bad and, indeed, two of those wines also ended up making my Top 10 list. The 2013 Adobe Road Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III A1-Block Cabernet Sauvignon was just better.

Altesino 2011 Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli (93 points. Wine Spectator list price $110) Outside of Burgundy and the Mosel, we usually don’t talk about individual vineyards in Europe the same way we do with American wines. There are certainly legendary vineyards in Europe, and single bottlings from those vineyards, but the names don’t easily roll off our tongues quite like To Kalon, Ciel du Cheval, Shea, Monte Bello, Red Willow, Sangiacomo, etc. However, you can make a fair argument (as James Suckling does here [subscription]) that the Montosoli vineyard owned by Altesino is one of the top vineyards in all of Montalcino. In fact, it was the very first vineyard to be bottled as a single cru of Brunello di Montalcino.

Despite being a very young Brunello (even for a warm vintage), this wine lived up to its lofty pedigree with an intoxicating bouquet of tobacco spice, orange peel, black cherry and savory leather. It had me picturing myself drinking an old-fashioned at a Victorian Explorer’s Club gathering. The palate brought more richness to the cherry notes with enough acidity to keep it juicy without being “bitey”. The tannins are still quite firm, again confessing its youth, but a silkiness emerges as you roll the wine around your tongue that holds much promise.

Emilio Moro 2011 Malleolus de Valderramiro Ribera del Duero (90 points. Wine Searcher Average price $85) I am still a bit dumbfounded how this wine only got a mere 90 points from Wine Spectator. (As I was with several wines like this that I reviewed in the first part of the series.) While I can appreciate the palates and scores of critics like Thomas Matthews, its always important to formulate our own opinions on wine. While I try to avoid using the 100 point scale myself, with pegging wines down to just a number, I will say that this delicious wine from Emilio Moro far surpassed many 93-94 rated wines.

Heitz 2005 Martha’s Vineyard Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (93 points. Wine Searcher average price $181) Like the Adobe Road Beckstoffer Georges III, Martha’s Vineyard located in Oakville is a legendary site for Cabernet Sauvignon. My adoration of this wine will again reveal my “Bordeaux-bias” a it had, by far, the most Bordeaux-like nose of all the Napa Cabs. Lots of savory herbal elements of what I like to call the “Chicken herbs” used for roasting–sage, thyme and particularly rosemary. The classic Martha’s Vineyard eucalyptus was also there but I was surprised with how much St.-Julien like cedar box and tobacco spice was also present.

The mouthfeel though was tried and true Napa with rich, almost Port-like dark fruit and Belgium dark chocolate undertones. The medium-plus acidity added enough freshness to balance the weight. The tannins were mostly velvety but they had a firm grip along the edge which hinted at how much more time this already 12-year old wine could go. While some of the eucalyptus and tobacco spice carried through to the palate, most of the savory Bordeaux-like notes on the nose were gone. In many ways it felt like I was drinking two different wines and that kept my interest.

Ramos Pinto 30 year Tawny Port (95 points. Wine Searcher average price $85) You can find my full review here. Again, simply a fabulous Port that is among the best I’ve ever had. If you can find it, its definitely worth grabbing and if you find it priced under a $100, grab two.

Ch. Pichon Longueville Lalande 2011 Pauillac (91 points. Wine Searcher average price $116) You can’t sugar-coat over how rough of a vintage that 2011 was. Spring was too hot and fraught with drought while summer was too cold with rains happening at the most inopportune times (if they happened at at all). Still, the blessings of modern viticulture and winemaking knowledge means that even in the roughest of vintages, wineries still have the skills and the tools to produce delicious wine.

Does this 2011 Pichon Lalande stack up to the 2010, 2009 or even the absolutely scrumptious 2005 (one of my all-time favs among all wines)? No. But neither does the 2011’s price tag of around $116 stack up to the price tags of those vintages–Wine Searcher average of $229, $204 and $152, respectively. That is the landscape of Bordeaux with every bottle and every vintage needing to be evaluate both on a curve and within the big picture.

So judging this 2011 among its vintage-peers, I was exceedingly impressed with how well it was drinking this evening. With 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot and 2% Petite Verdot, this wine had far more Cab than typical Pichon Lalande and with the characteristics of the vintage, I was expecting something that needed far more time. But this wine was ready to dance with a mix of black currant and red cherry fruit framed with the typical savory tobacco and cedar cigar box notes of a good Pauillac. The mouthfeel had a lot more noticeable vanilla oak notes than I would expect. Much as the vanilla works to coax early drinking approach-ability with New World wines, so here it was smoothing out the rough edges of youthful tannins. With a little dark chocolate and Christmas fruitcake spiciness on the finish, you end up with a delightful wine that has character and personality.

Marchesi Fumanelli 2009 Octavius Riserva Amarone (94 points. Wine Searcher average price $173) Another wine that took me by surprised as I reviewed in part 2. This wine may be more difficult to find in the United States but it is well worth the hunt for any wine lover of bold, brooding reds with layers of complexity.

Diamond Creek 2012 Gravelly Meadow Cabernet Sauvignon (92 points. Wine Searcher average price $216) This was only my second encounter with Diamond Creek after previously trying a 2009 Volcanic Hill. That one experience coupled with reading Cellar Tracker reviews of their wines helped form my expectation that this was going to be similar to other Diamond Mountain Cabernets that I’ve had in the past (Wallis Family, Lokoya, Martin Ray and Von Strasser)–powerful, rich but with a lot of structure and firm tannins that need time to mellow.

While this 2012 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow certainly had the power and richness, I was taken back by how soft the tannins where. In a blind tasting, I would be completely fooled that this wasn’t something from Rutherford or Oakville. It was downright velvety with the opulent black fruit. On the nose there was some earthiness, like dusty crushed rocks with a tinge of smokiness, but it was no where near as herbal as I would have expected. This was another wine that I found myself excited at the thought of what enjoyment savoring a full bottle of this wine would bring.

Ch. Calon Segur 2003 (95 points. Wine Searcher average price $117) As I wrote in part 2, it is easy for Bordeaux lovers to dismiss the 2003 “heat wave” vintage (especially on the Left Bank) but wines like the 2003 Calon Segur shows that there were still many great wines made that year.

Ch. Lascombes 2010 Margaux (91 points. Wine Searcher average price $118) Oh you didn’t think I could get through this list without slipping in a 2010 Bordeaux, did you? Of course not. I especially couldn’t pass up tasting again and falling back in love with this wine from the 2nd Growth estate in Margaux. Since Dominique Befve took over in the early 2000s (after stints at l’Evangile in Pomerol and 10 years as Technical Director of Chateau Lafite), Chateau Lascombes has been going from strength to strength.

Lascombes is a little unique in that the fair amount of clay in the soils of their vineyards around the communes of Cantenac, Soussans and Margaux, allows them to grow more Merlot than you would expect for a highly classified Medoc estate. In 2010 that translated to a blend that was dominated by Merlot with 55% followed by 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. While many of its 2010 Cab-dominated Left Bank peers still need ample time in the cellar, this Lascombes is following the path of Angelus, Canon-La-Gaffelière, Pavie-Macquin and Le Dome in being one of the best drinking 2010s right now on the market.

The nose has swirls of black licorice spice with smokey espresso that give way to black currant and Turkish figs. The tannins on the mouthfeel are silky with the same black fruits on the nose being wrapped with even more smoke and now chocolate espresso flavors. The finish is long and lingering, giving ample pleasure but making you soon crave another sip. While most 2009/2010 prices are in the stratosphere, this is still an absolute steal for how much this wine over-delivers.

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Wine Spectator Grand Tour Las Vegas (Part 2)


First things, if you haven’t checked out the first entry in Spitbucket’s 3 part series on the 2017 Wine Spectator Grand Tour Las Vegas, head there now. You will find a lot of a great wines that often get passed over as score hounds hunt for the wines with the blockbuster ratings.

While the wines featured in Part I were described as Ted Williams wines, the wines that I’m featuring now are more the Joe Dimaggios. They got the big scores and married Marilyn Monroe (or MaryAnn Worobiec) so of course they garnered the bulk of attendees’ attention. Out of the 244 wines, there were 25 wines that received scores 94+ available for tasting, headlined by two Vintage Ports–the 98 point rated Graham’s 2000 and 97 pt Croft 2011.

I got a chance to try several of them and while there were many delicious treats that made my Top Ten list, there were also a few that were just “meh”. It’s good to remember that while Joe did get Marilyn–so did Arthur Miller.


Adobe Road 2013 Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III A1-Block Cabernet Sauvignon (94 points. Wine Spectator list price $175) Hands down, my wine of the night. Tiny production wine from a single block of Cabernet Sauvignon in the legendary Beckstoffer Georges III vineyard in Rutherford. The highly sought after fruit from this vineyard is prized by a “Who’s Who” of high-end California wineries like Caymus, Alpha Omega, Chateau Boswell, Duckhorn, Staglin, Hunnicutt, Myriad, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Provenance, Robert Craig, Sojurn and Schrader. This example from Adobe Road delivers in spades.

High intensity aromatics of black currant, blackberry with floral elements and a mixture of baking and Asian spices. I spent several minutes just smelling my glass before taking sip because the bouquet was so intoxicating alluring. The mouthfeel was classic Napa–silky smooth tannins that added weight and depth to the palate but wrapped around your tongue like kiss. But unlike a few of the other high scoring wines, this is not a fruit bomb. The acidity was still medium-plus to keep the fruit lively and fresh with the ability to age in the cellar for several more years. However, it is at such a fantastically delicious spot now, I don’t know if anyone lucky enough to get their hands on one of these bottles will want to wait. Just a perfect combination of power, balance and elegance.

Ch. Calon Segur 2003 Saint Estephe (95 points. Wine Searcher average price $117) Another wine that made my Top 10 list. The 2003 vintage often sends a shudder down the spines of European wine lovers because it was a “heat wave” vintage. Indeed, a staggering number of people died from the heat and, while nowhere near as tragic as the loss of human life, grapevines also suffered. But the axiom that “Good wine is made even in bad vintages” is still aptly true. You just have to be more selective and look for the gems that had the kismet of the right terroir and right winemaking touch for the vintage. The 2003 Calon Segur is a perfect case in point.

Located in St. Estephe, the Third Growth estate of Calon Segur is the most northern of the classified growth in the Medoc. While the soils have the typical Medocian mixture of gravel and sand, you also find a far amount of clay. This coupled with the overall coolness of its northernly location, gives you soils that were more apt to retain the limited, precious amount of water needed to weather the heat. Then you add a winemaking style of Calon Segur that (was then) focused on lower alcohol but brawny wines that prized acidity and structure, and you have a wine with a fighting chance to not only be good but maybe even great.

It was a long term bet but one that paid off exceptionally well for the 2003 Calon Segur. The wine had a floral, spicy nose with a delicate touch of fruit that almost smelled like a great red Burgundy. The palate, though, was very Bordeaux–almost full-bodied with velvety tannins that had no greeness or bite. The spice from the nose carried through as a mixture of tobacco and baking spices that complimented the juicy, ripe dark fruits which still had plenty of acidity and life. This wine easily has several more years that it could go on but it is at a great point right now and an absolute bargain at this price. I would put this toe to toe with Bordeaux from the more heralded 2005 vintage in the $170-200 range.

Croft 2011 Vintage Port (97 points. Wine Searcher average price $81) This was the highest rated wine that I got to try that night and it came from the highly acclaimed 2011 vintage. This is a vintage that is often compared to the great vintages of the 1970s as well as 1963 and 1945. However, the thing to keep in mind with vintage Port is that after a few brief years of youthful exuberance following release, these wines tend to “shut down” and enter their quiet phase or “awkward adolescence” that can last for several years or even a decade plus. The trade off is that when these wines re-emerge from that “dumb phase”, they are even more outstanding and mind-blowing. You need the patience of a grasshopper to reap the beauty of a butterfly.

I go through that tangent because, sadly, this Croft has entered that awkward adolescence. This is a fate rapidly befalling upon its 2011 peers with the Cockburn and Graham’s that I’ve tried in the last year likewise being a bit underwhelming despite their pedigrees and potential. What does a “quiet vintage Port” taste like? Well in the case of the Croft it was very muted on the nose, red fruit and that was about it. On the palate, instead of being focused or concentrated, it was a rather clumsy hodgepodge of undistinguished fruit flavors and sweetness. I have no doubt that the potential to live up to its lofty score is there but it is clear that this wine was tasting exponentially better 2-3 years ago when it was being reviewed and that its best years is still much further down the road.

Kistler 2013 Hudson Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay (94 points. Wine Spectator list price $80) Combine one of California’s top Chardonnay producer with a legendary Chardonnay vineyard and you are sure to have a winning combination. This wine was classic Cali Chard with tropical fruit aromas on the nose–papaya and ripe honeydew melon–followed by a creamy, rich mouthfeel. But what keeps this from being a butter bomb was the elegance with medium-plus acidity that held up the weight of the malo and a minerally streak that you’re often hard pressed to find in many California Chardonnays. No one would ever mistake this wine for a white Burgundy, but fans of the more weightier examples from Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet could appreciate this wine for being a well-made example of a California benchmark.

Antinori 2013 Guado Al Tasso (94 points. Wine Searcher average price $86) A Super Tuscan blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot, this wine captures some of the savory herbalness of a nice Pauillac but with a lighter touch and riper tannins. It was a bit tight at this tasting and, like the 2014 Ornellaia noted in the previous blog entry, will need several years to show its stuffing.

Marchesi Fumanelli 2009 Octavius Riserva Amarone (94 points. Wine Searcher average price $173) This was another first-time find and it had me googling where in the US I could buy this wine. That’s always a good sign that something is heading towards my Top Ten list. This was a very spicy Amarone with some floral and earthy elements that smelled like you were hiking through a mint and clover field while carrying a bouquet of roses. The palate was very bold, almost decadent, with rich dark fruit flavors that tasted like a savory Christmas fruitcake. Every sip revealed something different with this wine unfurling on the tongue like chapters and verses of an exciting story. The balance between savory and rich was outstanding. Situated among tables next to a stunning list of top Amarone producers like Allegrini, Masi, Zenato and Bertani, Marchesi Fumanelli stood head over shoulders above them all.

Much like the Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero I talked about in Part I, I was left feeling that if this wine was this impressive based on a single taste, how much more pleasure could be discovered over the course of a whole bottle?


Mollydooker 2014 Carnival of Love McLaren Vale Shiraz (95 points. Wine Searcher average price $72) This winery has its legions of fans but much like smokey, peaty Islay Scotches, its a singular taste that either people love or find that its not really their cup of tea. Being a wine geek, I try to find the nuance of appeal in every wine and while the lush, over the top oak and fruity style of Mollydooker is usually not my cup of tea, I have found examples of their wines that I’ve been able to enjoy for their simple, hedonistic pleasures. But it is kind of like shooting with a bow and arrow at an apple that a circus clown is juggling. Sometimes you hit the apple and win the prize. Sometimes you miss and sometimes you impale the poor the clown.

This one was just a miss. It wasn’t horrible by any stretch of the imagination. It was just really, really, really, really oaky. In fact it was competing with the Orin Swift Abstract and Belle Glos Clarke & Telephone for most oaky wine at the tasting. Lots of sweet vanilla with more overt taste of toast instead of more subtle baking spice. Trying to get past the oak to venture for some fruit, I did feel a sense of richness and intense fruit on the palate but I was hard pressed to really identify what kind of fruit it was or pick up any other layer of complexity. While, in general, Mollydooker wines are often meant to be consumed young as their low acidity usually doesn’t bode well for cellaring, I find that giving them 4 to 5 years from vintage date allows the oak to temper itself a bit while letting some character show.


Ramos Pinto 30 year Tawny Port (95 points. Wine Searcher average price $85) Not too long ago, I did a tasting featuring the tawnys of Taylor-Fladgate where I absolutely adored the 30 year tawny. As phenomenal as that Taylor 30 was, I have to say that the Ramos Pinto ran laps around it. Wow, just wow. This may be one of the single best Tawny Ports that I’ve ever tasted and I would start putting it close to the 1970 Taylor and 1970 Fonseca vintage Ports as one of the best Ports, I’ve had. Period.

While I was extremely discipline in spitting throughout the evening, I swallowed and savored every drop of this wine. The nose was a beautiful blend of spice and hazelnuts. The palate introduced butterscotch and dried golden raisins. The mouthfeel was the star with a silkiness that seemed almost feather-light around the tip of the tongue but pulled you in with its richness and weight towards the mid-palate. The finish was the longest of the evening. Several minutes. In fact, I ended up savoring it for so long that I missed out on the 98 point rated Graham’s 2000 vintage port that was being emptied in glasses as I stood by the table still reveling in the Ramos Pinto 30. While I’m sure the Graham’s would have been wonderful, I think the sacrifice of being able to enjoy the Ramos longer was well worth it. Needless to say, this wine was one of my Top 10 of the night.

Rodney Strong 2012 Rockaway Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (94 points. Wine Searcher average price $74) If you mostly know of Rodney Strong for their low-end, chain-restaurant wines then this wine is an eye-opener. Much like Sbragia’s Monte Rosso I reviewed in the last post, it seems sinful to compare this Alexander Valley Cabernet to a Napa wine but I’d be damn if this wouldn’t fool me for a Silver Oak Napa (but still priced like their Alexander!). Though while the Silver Oak Napa usually needs 7 to 10 years to get to this level of complexity and drink-ability, this Rodney Strong Rockaway is already roaring on all cylinders.

The nose has a great mix of ripe black currant and plum with tobacco oak spice and cedar cigar box. The palate is powerful and fills up your entire mouth with seductive fruit but also has layers of savory meaty notes underneath. The oak is present but plays a supporting role while letting the fruit and power of the wine take center stage. This wine would be equally at ease paired with a juicy prime rib as it would be with an elegant lamb dish or just being savored by itself.

Torbreck 2013 Descendant Shiraz Barossa Valley (96 points. Wine Searcher average price $89) This wine was tussling with the Penfolds 2014 RWT, Two Hands 2014 Bella Garden and the Hickinbotham Clarendon 2013 Brooks Road for best Australian wine of the night. A co-ferment with 8% Viognier, this wine has an absolutely beautiful floral nose paired with vibrant berry fruit. Even though time is precious with just 3 hours to taste upwards of 244 wines, this was a wine that deliberately slows you down, encouraging you to spend several minutes just smelling and enjoying it.

When you finally do get to tasting it, the pay off is well worth it with it full-body but elegant mouthfeel that testifies to but also defies it 15.5% alcohol. Tasting blind, I would’ve peg it more around 14% because of how graceful it carries it heavy weight across the palate. Medium-plus acidity keeps the fruit fresh and invites your taste buds to water enough to pick up some of the black pepper and baking spices of cinnamon and nutmeg that wraps around the berry fruit. It’s a shame that Torbreck gets no where near the amount of attention that Penfolds or Mollydooker gets because this wine is certainly among Australia’s best.


K Vintners 2013 Royal City Syrah (95 points. Wine Searcher average price $129) Like Mollydooker, I find Charles Smith’s wines of K Vintners to be “hit or miss” for me with, thankfully, more hits than misses. But these are still wines that I will hardly ever buy “on faith” without tasting first because when they miss, they’re “impale the clown” kind of misses. Partly that’s because of K Vintner’s style which seems to favor high pH, very lush wines that can sometimes veer towards issues with volatile acidity and brettanomyces. I don’t mind a little brett because it can add complexity but VA is something that I’m personally hyper-sensitive about.

This 2013 Royal City had a smidgen of brett but was, thankfully, just in the gamey arena instead of the full-blown camping-in-the-horse-barn arena of brett. Also, thankfully, there was no overt signs of VA but the very dense and lush mouthfeel with medium-minus acidity doesn’t leave me optimistic that VA won’t make an appearance over time as the fruit fades with bottle age. The tannins are smooth, of course, and the fruit sweet and dark. It’s definitely a drink-now kind of wine that I’m sure will give many people much pleasure. It’s just not a wine that I would, personally, risk the clown for.

Well….maybe I’d risk that clown.

El Nido 2013 Jumilla (95 points. Wine Searcher average price $125) Much like Mollydooker and K Vintners, El Nido is about lush, decadence and lip smacking fruit. But while those wines were underwhelming, this wine was absolutely scrumptious. The nose gave off the siren song of rich, intensely concentrated dark fruit signaling a very fruity and full-bodied wine but the palate surprised with high, almost Bordeaux-like, acidity that added a splash of freshness to the fruit. It not only made your lips smack but your mouth water as well. It’s a big, big wine (probably the most full-bodied outside of the Amarones and Ports) but it had finesse to it that would open it up to more food-pairing possibilities than it lush co-horts. Of course, it was quite delicious still on its own.

Coming up next: My Top Ten Wines of the 2017 Wine Spectator Grand Tour

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