Harmony: Part of the World Yet Not Being Compromised by It

When I was a child, one statement that I heard over and over again in various ways was, “The world won’t work around you so you have to work around the world”. A great piece of advice, or perhaps “reality check” is a better descriptor, that has helped me to grow in more ways than I could have ever imagined. It is important to keep in mind that there are many unpleasant realities in any given situation and that becoming a fully functioning part of our community means that we can’t always demand that things are within our comfort zones. But as time goes on and we face many challenges, one has to decide where the line is between opening ourselves to growth as opposed to changing key characteristics that define us as a person.

Bordeaux 2016 Panorama Primeurs

As many of you know, I was recently invited to be a guest of Millésima in Bordeaux to taste over 150 red Bordeaux wines from various appellations (protected geographic areas) of the 2016 vintage. En Primeur is an event that happens every year in Bordeaux after the spring of the previous vintage while the wines are still in barrel. The purpose was to give professional wine buyers and media a chance to try these wines at an early stage so they could place orders, or speak to the characteristics of the vintage to help guide consumers’ decisions of buying futures (pre-buying Bordeaux wines typically at a discount a couple years before they are shipped). In some years this has significantly paid off such as with the legendary 1982 vintage, but, in general, it typically just gives a nice discount for those who love to drink Bordeaux while helping to provide much needed cash flow to producers.

En Primeur took a hit during the 2009 and 2010 vintages (both extraordinary) due to the jump in prices at a time when the world was in a financial crisis after 2008. But as the slow economic recovery is starting to surface, so is the demand for En Primeur which was evident during the 2014 that delivered savings for those that pre-purchased the wines.

But there are some drawbacks, as one can imagine, to En Primeur – the biggest is that, many times, one does not taste the final blend of the wine. It takes time for the wines to reveal themselves while in the aging process and the French use a term that explains it perfectly: élevage – aka raising – like raising a child into an adult that will eventually be ready to take on the world himself/herself; and so the blend often times changes after En Primeur. That is where the Millésima Panorama plays an important part, allowing the trade and writers, such as myself, to taste the wines with their final blend and an additional year of aging – sometimes the differences between the En Primeur and Panorama can be drastic, and other times not much difference, it depends on each producer and what happened within the year of élevage.

Examining Our Journey

As I was in the Millésima cellars in Bordeaux tasting these wines, a flood of memories from over the years of drinking a multitude of vintages started to fill my mind and gained intensity with each Château I tasted. And I saw my own journey as it was intertwined with those of the Bordeaux wines.

Just like Bordeaux, personally I felt that there were many things I needed to work on… Bordeaux producers were always trying to attain ripeness and manage structure – mainly tannins; I needed to take on the rough and tumble world, get thicker skin, learn to work long hours while keeping my passion alive and stay calm when life got rocky. In a way, Bordeaux’s decision, decades ago, to try to significantly improve the ripeness of their wines, inspired by New World winemaking countries such as the US and Australia, was like the one that I made a long time ago to not hide from the world, taking the easy way out, but to put myself out there and accept all the responsibilities that go along with it.

Where Do We Draw the Line When It Comes to Compromise?

Bordeaux wines have seen a consistency in the ripeness of their fruit over the past couple of decades, although some years are still tough. It is understandable from producers’ perspective in Bordeaux who remember their fathers’ and grandfathers’ struggles with trying to deal with under-ripe fruit to rejoice in being given knowledge as well as a tide of a string of warm vintages to produce the wines their ancestors could only dream of.

It was the same for me when after years of having my head down working every day of the week and dealing with a continuous onslaught of challenging events in my life that I one day realized that I had some freedom and opportunity to embrace the world – and I embraced it with an open heart and zeal for life wanting to connect with everyone I encountered. But through time I realized that some people equated “connecting” with getting together to trash others or only giving someone time if one can use that person for something, or finding cliques where the purpose was to criticize everything that wasn’t in that circle… all of the aforementioned go against my character and the traits I deeply valued in myself: compassion, empathy and kindness. And so, although it took me a while to figure the whole thing out, I took a step back and grounded myself in the fundamentals of those things I valued most in the world, realizing that the world cannot be embraced wholeheartedly at all times if one doesn’t want to be diminished by the unsavory aspects of it.

Such is the story of Bordeaux that is now finding ways to deal with opportunities for riper, generous wines while retaining the freshness and regal structure that have made these wines some of the most imitated in the world. It just took time to find that harmony of advancing and moving with the outside world while not losing the best parts of themselves. It takes us all a while to find that harmony, and perhaps it will not last forever but when we find it, we need to celebrate it –the 2016 red Bordeaux wines are lovely examples of the beauty one can achieve when he/she works with the world without compromising what made one special in the first place.

 

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Tasting of 2016 Bordeaux Red Wines at Millésima Panorama En Primeurs on March 27th, 2018

Disclosure: Millésima paid for my travel and first two nights stay in Bordeaux. I tasted over 150 wines in their cellars and I have listed my favorites below that I felt stood out in the moment. Please keep in mind that there were many producers not available to taste in this lineup, and also the below list includes wines that I either found extraordinary or that punched way above their price point – so it is not a list that only includes the best of 2016. Also, I tried to mention varying wines that would appeal to different palates, as well as wallet sizes.

 Side Note:

A quick side note about Millésima. They have been a fine wine retailer since 1983, selling to various countries and opened up their first New York City (NYC) store in 2006. Some of you may already know that we have had a few fine wine stores established in NYC since the 1930s and I actually worked at one of those stores for a time where our main focus was Bordeaux and selling En Primeur. When I first heard about Millésima coming to NYC, I didn’t think they would survive since I thought they were a little too late to the game… but I was wrong. They have a few things in their favor – no matter the state of the economy, they are always able to buy wines En Primeur in large quantities and hold on to them – such as the 2.5 million bottles they currently have in stock (of course carrying fine wines other than Bordeaux); their cellared wines have only known two homes, the winery’s cellar and Millésima cellar; and Millésima has built solid relationships with fine wine producers by continuingly buying year in year out due to the successful mail order business they have built in Europe while still having a modern approach to social media, helping to expose traditional brands to a younger generation.

Furthermore, I understand why they spent the time and money to send some of us to Bordeaux – besides being able to taste the 2016s, it was extremely impressive to see their cellar with the wide array of producers and vintages that surrounded us – and they were all directly from the Châteaux (producers) themselves! As someone who used to sell Bordeaux, and various fine wines, it has become almost impossible to guarantee provenance for older wines, and surprisingly difficult to guarantee decent quantity of En Primeur wines since many US retailers pulled back on buying after our economy collapsed in 2008. As one can imagine, the Bordelais, or any set of producers, give preference to those that have supported them by buying year in and year out. And as a final note, someone who worked with me at one of the top Bordeaux retailers here in NYC decided, after many years, to move to Millésima 6 years ago, and not only does he feel more appreciated as a hardworking, knowledgeable employee but says it is a relief to be able to offer a wider range of Bordeaux wine and vintages that were lacking at our previous employer – and no, I will not mention the name of my previous employer 🙂  

Okay, here are the tasting notes which I have broken up by appellation:

2016 Tasting Notes

Bordeaux Supérieur

Château Beaulieu Comtes de Tastes: A value red  Bordeaux wine that was giving rich black fruit and hints of complexity with tar and dusty earth. I still can’t believe the price at $14.

Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

Château Joanin Bécot: Soft tannins with juicy red cherry flavors with a bright freshness and right amount of grip.

Fronsac

Château Carlmagnus: This wine had a seductive fleshiness of black raspberry jam highlighted with hints of citrus peel.

Puisseguin SaintÉmilion

Château Clarisse ‘Vieilles Vignes’A fun mix of spices with hints of kaffir lime leaves and a stunning balance for a value wine such as this one – a long concentrated finish really over-delivers for this price point.

Lalande de Pomerol

Château des Annereaux: I have never had or even knew about this producer and I wanted to say to this wine, “Where have you been all my life?!” I remember when I first discovered Lalande de Pomerol and I realized that I didn’t have to pay a fortune to drink Pomerol wines – the heavenly home of Merlot. An uplifted mint-y quality that had notes of plum pie with shape and structure and so decadent yet energetic leaving me wanting more.

Château Siaurac: I wasn’t surprised how good this Siaurac was… I actually visited them back in 2010 and I remember tasting their 2007 Lalande de Pomerol – known as a mediocre year in Bordeaux. But it was fresh and bright with ripeness and fruit – ideal to drink at the time and a few years after. This Lalande was quite a bit better than the 2007 with complex aromas and flavors such as wet earth, purple flowers and black fruit.

Moulis

Château Chasse-Spleen: My goodness was this a pretty Moulis with aromas that evoked images of fields covered with flowers, smoldering cedar and high-quality firm tannins that carried along the elegant finish.

Médoc

Château Potensac: I have long been a fan of Potensac and it has been my go to Bordeaux wine over the years. The 2016 had a fun seashell quality with lots of black berry that had an intense energy in the mid-palate.

Château Belgrave: The balance is already there for this wine with a lush body of generous fruit with hints of herbs and cardamom pods with plenty of vitality.

Château Cantemerle: This wine had the expressive fruit, integrated tannins and brightness that was a mark of my previous favorites yet already had some delicious savory tobacco and fresh leather and a touch of tautness that makes it punch above its weight.

Château La Lagune: The incredible nose did it for me when it came to the La Lagune – fresh wild berries, lit cigar and pressed flowers that carried across a linear, persistent finish.  

Château Sénéjac: Pretty, pretty, oh so pretty, Sénéjac with an explosion of ripe strawberries and lilacs that seemed to be carried on breezes in the middle of a forest (an $18 wine that transports you to another world) – judicious amount of oak and overall harmony to this wine.

PessacLéognan

Château Carbonnieux: Although there were other superstars in this Pessac-Léognan I was really impressed by the purity of fruit expression of this Carbonnieux – another go to Bordeaux favorite of mine that won’t cost a fortune and always delivers. Also, it seemed a lot more complex (underbrush and orange blossom) and fine tuned (lovely texture and shape) than ones I have had in the recent past and this 2016 is happily over-delivering. I couldn’t stop thinking about this wine.

Domaine de Chevalier: One of the things I kept finding myself say over and over again in my mind while tasting the 2016s, “The noses of these Bordeaux wines, so alive, so vibrant, just singing!” – which is something one thinks they would say for Burgundy, not Bordeaux. The Chevalier has a saline minerality that was highlighted by black raspberry, sweet tobacco and tea leaves. It has a stunning finesse on the palate just gliding across which is mind-boggling at this stage.

Château Haut-Bailly: A subtle yet extraordinary Haut-Bailly. I must admit I was trying to blast through this tasting (I only had so much time to taste over 150 wines) and so sometimes you miss the ones that are exquisitely quiet in their excellence. And so I went back to the Haut-Bailly when I felt I was not getting what I expected from such a wine, and I am glad I did. The 2016 slowly reveals itself like a lotus that transforms into a flower… hints of lapsang souchong, freshly shaved nutmeg and loganberries with gravel and exotic spice on the expressively long finish.

Château Larrivet Haut-Brion: This wine has a plush-ness on the nose and palate that just makes it immediately satisfying with hints of smoky delights that intrigues one to know what other hedonistic desires this wine will express… the finish has a surprising precision that makes one want to go back for more and all for only $38 as a future.

Château Lespault-Martillac: For $32 as a future, this wine is certainly worth the price with a mixed array of fruit flavors that was inviting and simply delicious with round texture and well-knit tannins.

Château Pape Clément: One always expects Pape Clément to be excellent but I must say that I really was taken by the fine tannins that were reminiscent of embroidered lace that gave an elegant shape while still seeming generous with juicy blackberry fruit and hints of gravel and sea spray that had a beautifully graceful finish. Lovely.

Château Smith Haut Lafitte: Château Smith Haut Lafitte stopped me in my tracks with its complex subtleties… so much there that slowly reveals itself and enchants with each taste… smoldering cigar with fresh blackberry, rain forest and seashell with an overall precision that was breathtaking with fine tannins and elegant structure… a wine that you could spend the whole day with and never tire of… a mentally exhilarating wine.

Saint-Émilion

Château Canon: Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow! Okay, this wine takes time to experience the heavenly divinity of it. It expands with such depth of expression that seems of another world that it is hard to do justice to it by using mere words; a mix of elderberries and blueberries with wet stones and the ocean air that has a great amount of tension that made my heart beat faster when I tasted this wine.

Château Canon La Gaffelière: Intense minerality with blackcurrant leaves and volcanic ash with a linear body that had a sharp edge to the long finish. I have a feeling this wine will be a rock star in a few more years.

Couvent des Jacobins: One of the unfortunate things about being a wine professional who tastes 100 to 200 wines during the same day is that often you don’t have much time to give to those wines that are not on your list of favorites. I hate to admit it but it is true. So it was nice to take time with this wine during that 150+ tasting of 2016s because I knew I was going to visit this estate. It had good flesh on the body and was aromatically stunning with autumn leaves, raspberry sorbet and spice with shape and energy that lifted the wine on the long finish. But also, many people who I respect in the Bordeaux world said they have really upped their quality on the 2015 and 2016.

Château Faugères: An expressive wine with rich fruit, elegant structure and layers of complexities. I found the Right Bank wines were extra exciting this year with fresh acidity and evident structure prevalent across the wines.

Château Figeac: This Figeac was not as big in style as the Faugères but it was breathtaking in its ethereal expression and delineated precision with a tension that made it exhilarating. Interesting that this property has used the services of Michel Rolland since 2013 and that this wine was matured in 100% new oak. It just goes to show that we must always be careful of the generalizations we make as the misnomer that Rolland only makes big, over-ripe wines – not true, he is the top in his field because he finds the ideal expression for various properties. And sometimes 100% new oak makes sense depending on the wine and the selections of oak, a multitude exists within France itself, because it can imbue the wine with various qualities. This wine had superbly chiseled tannins giving it an unforgettable, gorgeous shape.

Château Pavie Macquin: Although lush and fruit forward, this wine still had a vitality intermixing fresh and ripe flavors of vivid plums, vanilla bean and spice with a hint of forest floor.

Château Soutard: I tasted this wine after some outstanding Saint-Émilion and it really held its own standing out with sweet red fruit, silky texture and the right amount of weight balanced by brightness.

 Château Troplong Mondot: The complexity of aromatics was addictive with leather, smoldering earth and wild berries and were only outdone by the muscular tannins and robust body – it will be interesting to see if this becomes an epic Troplong Mondot.

Pomerol

Château La Conseillante: This La Conseillante was extraordinary from the first sip… really just shows how some Pomerol wines in certain vintages can be delicately beautiful while still having that Pomerol concentration. It slowly unveiled itself with soft scents of freshly cut flowers, pretty black fruit and an underlying limestone minerality… one of those wines that brings tears to your eyes because it gently gives everything to you.

Château La Croix de Gay: Immediate fan of savory and sweet combination of wild morels and tobacco with blueberry pie.

Château Gazin: Château Gazin has always been a Pomerol favorite of mine and it is one of my top after the 2016 preview tasting. Yes, it has the seductive concentration one would expect from Pomerol, yet it is exceptionally balanced with bright acidity and overall finesse.

Château La Pointe: Oh yeah, precision right off the bat baby… also, just a general note about the Pomerol wines… I can’t remember where I tasted a bunch of Pomerols and never felt tired by tasting so many… loving the focus and energy on them in 2016. Lilacs and cherries danced in my head with layers of complexity – cigar box and gravel.

Margaux

Château Cantenac Brown: Loving the perfume-y nose… so pretty… moderate body had a lovely harmony and the soft tannins gave a round finish.

Château Giscours: Giscours had more structure than the Cantenac Brown with earthier notes that was fleshed out with some boysenberry flavors.

Château d’Issan: A tad tight but I would expect that at this stage; notes of tobacco and hints of blackberry with a saline finish.

Château Palmer: Okay, I must admit that I have had a long love affair with Palmer so I am a little biased. But I dare anyone to say this wine doesn’t knock them on their a$$. Intoxicating notes of truffles, minerality and brambly fruit with a textural body that was like fine linen and a superbly long, pure finish. And I have a feeling it will just get better with a significant amount of time.  

Château Prieuré-Lichine: A pretty wine with plums and perfume that had smoldering earth in the background. Just the right amount of firmness and flesh as well.

Château Rauzan-Ségla: I was completely seduced by the generosity of juicy fruit and spice with this 2016 Rauzan-Ségla…. already singing at this stage; a winner out of the gates!

Château du Tertre: I really liked the purity of red and black fruits that was first to hit the nose and then its firm structure balanced by medium richness on the palate.

Saint-Julien

Château Beychevelle: This wine seems shy at first but really builds on the finish with cassis, spice and gravelly rock that had well-knit tannins and seemed to expand in the mouth.

Château Gloria: This Gloria is a lot more restrained than previous vintages yet I enjoyed its brightness and overall sense of finesse… can’t wait to see what it will reveal with time.

Château Lagrange: It was really a thrilling experience to taste so many wines that had great amounts of expression and energy during the 2016 Panorama Primeurs in Bordeaux. This 2016 Château Lagrange was an ideal example with citrus peel, black raspberry and orange blossom that had a zesty punch on the finish.

Château Langoa-Barton: This 2016 Langoa Barton was tighter than the other Saint-Julien but that is what one expects as this wine typically takes time and is about quiet grace over showboating.

Château Léoville Barton: 2016 Leoville Barton had a firm structure with plenty of fleshy fruit and brightness that had a lovely intense mineral finish… but I have a feeling it has a lot more to give in time.

Château Léoville Poyferré: One of the top Château Léoville Poyferré I have had at such a youthful stage. This 2016 is shockingly balanced with incredible energy that makes this wine nimble and vibrantly expressive with rich aromas and flavors of cassis and pressed flowers.

Château Saint-Pierre: I was really impressed with this Saint-Pierre with a great amount of focus and a touch of tension… many times Saint Julien gets overlooked when it comes to being placed side by side with Pauillac super-stars but I felt the Saint Julien wines in 2016 had more definition than is typical that really kicked them up to another notch. Marked acidity and sculpted tannins really lifted this wine that had plenty of black fruit to balance it out.

Pauillac

Château d’Armailhac: Richly decadent wine that had a lot of nuance and structure to give it grandiose poise.

Château Batailley: Classic in style with defiant tannins and gravel-y, dried tobacco, and pencil lead notes which finds a nice balance of ripe fruit and it has an elegant finish. This wine will take some time but it shows good potential.

Château Clerc Milon: A thrilling vitality with marked acidity with a luxurious body of manicured tannins and a velvety finish.

Château Duhart-Milon: This wine takes attention at this stage as it needs time to unravel with spice, freshly washed black currant leaves and damp earth. The fine tannins and bright flavors makes this wine a pleasure to taste several times as it methodically reveals itself.

Château Grand-Puy Ducasse: The intense bouquet and pristine flavors makes this a great example of this charming 2016 vintage with delicate polish tannins that draws in the taster.

Château Lynch-Bages: I have always been a fan of Lynch-Bages and it is a producer that I haven’t gotten to taste many times as it is a very popular château here in the US but this is the best I have had in my recent memory. Yes, the richness, intense concentration and generous fruit is there but there is a delicacy and haunting aromas such as flowers, a saline minerality and orange blossoms – best of both worlds. The tannins were like fine lace that melted seamlessly into the background. Breathtaking!

Château Pédesclaux: This is a sophisticated Pauillac that has a fierce linearity and long mineral finish. Lots of energetic power.

Château Pichon Baron: Fills my heart with warmth knowing that this 2016 Pichon-Longueville Baron has a traditional structure of firm yet not over-extracted tannins with all the Pauillac regalities of freshly split cedar, tobacco and black currant that had a fierce stony minerality. Energy, shape, and precision…. all the qualities that made me fall in love with Bordeaux in the first place.

Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande: An enticing overall sense of harmony with this 2016 Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande with the right amount of weight, structure and precision to appease all the sweet spots of a Pauillac lover. Plenty of Bordeaux charm with a mix of red and black berries, freshly picked mint and graphite that had just a touch of spice. This wine really had the two key components that I really loved about the 2016s – balance and purity of expression.

Château Pontet-Canet: In recent years, Pontet-Canet has always been a favorite – they have been really hitting it out of the park since their 2005, and it makes it just that much better their commitment to biodynamics, even with all the climatic difficulties one faces in Bordeaux. They have produced another stunner with this 2016 that has lots of rich black fruit that had a fair amount of weight with layers and layers of aromas and flavors that were thrilling with exotic spice, wild mushrooms, and an intense backbone of minerality and fine tannins with bright acidity that brought it all together. When I think it is impossible for them to find more nuances in their wines, they find a way to always reveal more from their terroir. Wow!

SaintEstèphe

Château Calon-Ségur: So nice to see such beautiful fruit on this Calon-Ségur with notes of star anise and coriander seeds that had a floral finish – really happy to see a distinctive floral note carry through in many of the appellations. Well-knit tannins help to keep the ripe fruit in check.

Château Cos d’Estournel: When it comes to Saint- Estèphe, usually there is a clear favorite in any given vintage between Cos d’Estournel and Montrose… but this one was a toss up. Both devastatingly gorgeous! A real overall feeling of grace of how this Cos d’Estournel opened in the mouth with a smoky minerality and cassis that had multilayer texture that gave complexity to it on many levels. Tasting a Cos d’Estournel and Montrose such as the 2016s really shows how Saint- Estèphe can give Pauillac a run for its money when it comes to the best appellation in Bordeaux.

Château Laffitte Carcasset: For a wine that is going as a future for around $25, this offers great value. Juicy fruit with freshness and round tannins that has well-integrated oak.

Château Lafon-Rochet: Brawny tannins, but I expect nothing less from Lafon-Rochet and it is my go to wine when I want to have a nice steak. Traditional style of structure and savory dominant with pretty fruit notes balancing it out.

Château Meyney: Gives opulent fruit at first and then a strong backbone of acidity and firm tannins give it shape and focus on the prolonged finish.

Château Montrose: I really loved how this 2016 Montrose slowly revealed itself with a lovely shape and energy that gave hints of gravel and graphite, then flowers and blueberries, and on and on… through time it seemed to expand in the mouth leaving a devastatingly long, insanely gorgeous finish. There were other Saint-Estèphe wines that were more upfront, but if you stayed with this wine it impressed. I kept thinking about it, wanting to go back to it… it was beautiful, which is odd to use the word “beautiful” about Saint-Estèphe because I typically think of it being too big and stern for such a descriptor, but my heart kept aching for it. Well-done Montrose!

Château Phélan-Ségur: This is quite an outstanding Phélan-Ségur that is incredibly complex with crushed flowers, exotic spice and oyster shell that had a beautiful expression of fruit and a stunning delineation that was carried throughout its strikingly persistent finish.

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