Right Bank Bordeaux’s Legacy of Rebels

My first trip to Saint-Émilion in 2010

If you want to find the storybook of wine romance in Bordeaux, the Right Bank is the place to visit. Don’t get me wrong, I love Left Bank wines and the area of the Left Bank will always be one of my first loves; yet I had no idea how whimsical and exhilarating Bordeaux could be until I seriously got into the Right Bank. Last September, I had the opportunity to dive deeper into this fabled area at a seminar led by Matt Stamp, Master Sommelier, in New York City… and I have to say that I cannot stop thinking of those wines – some of them continue to haunt me with their rebellious spirit– just like the enchanting village of Saint-Émilion haunts those who have visited it – no other place is like it.

SaintÉmilion

Jurade of Saint-Émilion parading around during my 2010 trip

If you could only visit one vineyard area in the Old World, this is the place to go. It was the first wine region to be deemed an UNESCO World Heritage site. It transports one back in time, and the friendly, warm nature of the local people will make you feel like part of the community. There, they still practice ceremonies dating from the 1200s, such as the Jurade of Saint-Émilion, which not only are associated with historical events but also overseeing wine practices in Saint-Émilion.

Unlike the Left Bank which, as many Bordeaux lovers know, was classified in 1855, the great wines of Saint-Émilion were not classified until 1954 (published in 1955).  Also, the Saint-Émilion classification is not set in stone, unlike its Left Bank sibling – it is constantly re-evaluated as producers have to show a panel of judges a decade worth of back vintages, as well as conduct vineyard visits.  During this process, some of the classifications have been challenged resulting in alterations that are different from the first decision. Their ranking system is dynamic, just like their wines – which is funny considering they have a longer history of growing grapes than their Left Bank brothers and sisters.

Even though there is always an underlying quality that will let you know it is a Saint-Émilion beauty, with its accessible charm associated with a cooler climate and limestone dominant soil, it is the passion of the people who really impress me, such as rebel Jean-Luc Thunevin with Château Valandraud helping to start the garagistes (garage wine movement) in the 1990s that defied classification rules of production and ultimately became a cult hit wine among fine wine collectors.

The Right Bank is not the land of aristocracy, it is the land of the church (grape growing dating back 2,000 years to Roman times) yet people nowadays mainly pray and surrender in their vineyards and winery – they are devoted disciples who will not be constrained by the will of bureaucracy but instead follow the will of the divine – call it their passion or their muse leading them – it creates some of the most exhilarating wines in this area of the world.

Pomerol

Château Siaurac in Pomerol during my trip in 2010

Saint-Émilion’s neighbor, Pomerol, is a bigger mystery as they have no classification yet they have one of the most famous fine wines – Pétrus. Pomerol was part of the garagistes movement as well, with Le Pin becoming a superstar by breaking the “rules”. I had a chance to speak to Christian Moueix during a small staff training in New York City back in 2014 and he was not what I expected. You would think that a man who was part of one of the most famous Bordeaux families – owner of Pétrus, other wine super stars, as well as President of his family’s prestigious négociant house – would be formal and reserved. But in fact, he was the complete opposite – gregarious, down to earth and generous – it almost felt like I was visiting with a long time friend. He said that even with the success of his family’s wines and company, he still feels like a poor, struggling person from the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak.

Christian Moueix told stories about how his father, who first started their négociant business, had nothing when he was growing up. It was the sort of situation where they worried when they would eat next, could they pay their bills… he even remembers being a young person and having to sneak into châteaux parties on the Left Bank because as a Right Bank person he was considered a peasant. Things have certainly changed for him from that time but he remarked that many of his neighbors are still overlooked on the Right Bank.

Although Pomerol is only a short distance from Saint-Émilion, they typically produce richer, more decadent wines due to a drastic increase in temperature for their vines which are assisted by more gravel in their soil – with the exception of the legendary Pétrus vineyard known for their iron-rich clay.

Fronsac

Map Credit: Saint-Émilion Pomerol Fronsac

Fronsac is the least known but the wines punch above their weight. They are west of Pomerol but have more in common with Saint-Émilion, mainly because it has limestone dominated soils as well. But what is interesting about this area is that it has received an undeservedly lesser reputation that may be associated with the Phylloxera epidemic that destroyed most of the vineyards in France during the late 1800s. Phylloxera, a tiny aphid-like insect, could not be killed, although flooding a vineyard constantly would help. Fronsac had issues with rivers flooding it – and so the flatland vineyards survived (due to flooding killing Phylloxera – or at least managing it) and kept producing wines while the higher elevation vineyards declined. Well, many of us know that the lower quality vineyards in continental climates are commonly the lower quality vineyards while the ones on the slope or on top of the hill are higher quality. Hence why, perhaps, Fronsac built a reputation for quaffable wines that were not taken seriously because the best vineyards for a time were out of commission.

Well, today, the wines are a great value – some serious producers are carving out delicious, intriguing wines at great prices.

 Our Roots are Always a Part of Us

Roots can mean different things to different people. Personally, I can’t tell you much about the people who are genetically related to me, but I can tell you about the people who have influenced me during my formative years – and their families’ stories have been passed along to me. Also, I remember having nothing and feeling free because I had nothing to lose, nothing to live up to… I think that the super star Right Bank wines feel like they have that same freedom. France has some of the strictest rules when it comes to making wine. I’m not criticizing – it helps to promise quality to its customers within a particular stylistic framework.  But not the Right Bank of Bordeaux – their roots – their legacy has proven that they thrive when they are given room to experiment, to rebel… all the while being grateful for each opportunity to spend another day to pray at their alter – their vineyards.

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Wines Tasted at this Saint-Émilion-Pomerol-Fronsac Seminar

September 26th, 2016

General note – the percentages of varieties may not be exactly what is in the wine since many times it refers to what is planted, so please use them as a guideline of general percentages.

The following flight was a great example of some of the producers in Fronsac over-delivering. Fronsac has a reputation for modern winemaking practices that highlight the fruit and may be appealing to those who like New World wines.

Tasting Flight 1: Fronsac

-2012 Vrai Canon Bouché, Canon-Fronsac (SRP $25): 83% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec. This wine had a surprising amount of generous blue and black fruit, yet it was understated with an overall elegant quality.  In general, 2012 is considered a better vintage for the Right than Left Bank.

-2004 Château Canon, Canon-Fronsac (SRP $24): 100% Merlot. The most savory wine of this flight that has hints of black raspberry notes. A gentle wine hitting its peak, so I would drink within the next couple of years.

-2012 Château Dalem, Fronsac (SRP $26): 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. A delicious wine with an intense floral nose, a hint of wet stone minerality and a rich, opulent body with soft tannins.

 Tasting Flight 2: Satellites

This flight had the Old World charm of Saint-Émilion. These satellites may not have the polish of their Grand Cru siblings but they still offer the Saint-Émilion goods at a much more affordable price.

-2011 Château Lyonnat, Lussac-Saint-Émilion (SRP $24): 100% Merlot. I loved this old school Bordeaux, which I think is a style that can bring back the glory of Merlot with its dusty earth, cigar box and fresh black currant with lots of energy on the finish.

-2012 Château de Môle, Puisseguin-Saint-Émilion (SRP $24): 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. This was my favorite of the flight. It had an attractive nose of spice and floral notes, tannins evident yet fine in quality and so had plenty of shape and structure.

-2012 Château de Parsac, Montagne-Saint-Émilion (SRP $22): 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. Loamy earth, crushed rock with a nice amount of muscle and weight with flavors of stewed plums.

-2006 Château Maison Blanche, Montagne-Saint-Émilion (SRP $35): 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Franc. This showed what Old World wildness can taste like in a wine with roasted meats, singed sage and blueberry preserves all wrapped up with a lush body. This wine is at peak so drink this wild child now.

-2013 Château StAndré Corbin, St-Georges-St-Émilion (SRP $25): 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc. The 2013 has been compared to the 1992 – cool and wet with rot problems – some consider the 2013 vintage a wash but I thought this estate did a good job considering the circumstances. Lots of sweet oak and tannins dominated yet there was plenty of sweet red cherry and mouth watering acidity that makes me wonder if this wine just needs more time. It stood out being vastly different than any of the others. It would be interesting to stash a bottle away even for a couple of years.

 Tasting Flight 3: St-Émilion

 

-2011 Château de Fonbel. Grand Cru, Saint-Émilion (SRP $26): 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot and 5% Carménère. Very open wine that had no problems showing all of its goods from the first sip with cherry and spice. For the price, this is a wine that can easily become a weekly favorite.

-2010 Château Monbousquet, Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Émilion (SRP $67): 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. I have been a fan of Monbousquet for year. Yes, big and burly at this point from this blockbuster of a vintage yet it still has a lovely transparency of purity of fruit (raspberry) that I always find it simply stunning. This wine is already starting to open up now with notes of truffle and cardamom spice, yet you know it is barely showing you what it’s capable of. I can imagine it will be a super star in a few more years! Not the most expensive of the flight but I will go out on a limb and honestly say it is the wine I found the most exciting.

-2012 Château Lusseau, Grand Cru, Saint-Émilion (SRP $25): 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. I’m into this affordable and generous Saint-Émilion, like the first wine from this flight. Lilacs and cinnamon with sweet red fruit and a delightfully plush palate.

-2010 Château Pavie-Macquin, Premier Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Émilion (SRP $131): 85% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. A big, massive wine with lots of extraction that is pretty closed and tight at this point in its life. I would not open for at least another 5-6 years, but I think it will easily develop with great improvement over the next two decades. Dark, brooding fruit with an underlying chalky minerality. Still a mystery at this point but when I took the time to go back you could sense that this wine had so much to give – when it was ready. Can’t wait to see the future for this great wine from one of my favorite vintages in modern times.

-2012 Château de Pressac, Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Émilion (SRP $38): 69% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5% Malbec and 1.5% Carménère. If I had to buy any of the wines in this flight to drink tonight, it would be this wine. It was singing in the glass with an alluring nose of star anise, wild flowers and licorice with well-knit tannins that carry its plumy goodness on the palate across the sustained finish.

Tasting Flight 4: Pomerol

From my visit of Château Siaurac back in 2010

-2010 Château Siaurac, Lalande-de-Pomerol (SRP $22): 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. Lalande-de-Pomerol is the way to go when you want the Pomerol experience at a fraction of the price. Also, they are much more approachable at a younger age. Round and inviting with black berry fruit and a soft, lush texture.

-2009 Château Bourgneuf, Pomerol (SRP $43): 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. This wine was formally known as Bourgneuf-Vayron. It is dense with chocolate and purple fruit. A much more serious Pomerol for those who are up for the challenge. I would suggest decanting this wine for a couple hours if you can’t wait the couple more years it will need – and it screams for steak!

-2008 Vieux Château Certan, Pomerol (SRP $151): 65% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine caught me off-guard because Vieux Château Certan (VCC) can have a reputation for needing a long time before it can be approached, and while that may be true in certain vintages, this 2008 was remarkably friendly. Also, 2008 was a vintage that was not given that much notice during En Primeur but it became a lot better than many expected. Seductive aromas of dried thyme, spice box and tobacco leaf make this wine irresistible, and with the fine tannins and beautiful ripe fruit I could have drank this whole bottle and I wouldn’t have thought twice about the infanticide I just committed – so be careful –this gorgeous knockout is a real temptress… and it will just get better over the next decade.

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Oakville Wrote Their Future By Defining Themselves

I found it incredibly fascinating to learn more about the AVA system (American Viticultural Area) at the Oakville Master Class in New York City on November 16th. It was not only a lesson on the why, how and what in regards to areas of production that are noted on the label of American wines, especially focusing on Napa Valley, but the deeper meaning of how all of us need to define ourselves if we want to have any say in our future.

AVA vs AOC

Let me just touch on what an AOC is since it is a system that was developed long before our American Viticultural System. AOC stands for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée or sometimes people just call it AC… it was superseded by the Appellation d’Origine Protegée (AOP) so this designation of origin would have more validity in court. So, even though some French producers may be a little peeved at me, let’s use the term AOC since that is the one many French wine drinkers are most familiar with…

Okay, what does the AOC do? Good question. It is a system that defines areas of wine production and regulates the parameters of the wines made, such as grape variety, in that specific AOC. For example, various red Burgundy AOCs define the grape variety to be Pinot Noir and the whites defined to be Chardonnay.  Of course there are exceptions – can I offer you a glass of Saint-Bris?

Since France began making wine way before America, it was France that helped to inspire many great American wine producers to set up a structure for their different wine regions, with Napa Valley being one of the most famous to follow their lead. Richard Mendelson, one of America’s preeminent wine lawyers, talked during this seminar about an apprenticeship, during his early days of post-graduate work, at a winery in Burgundy guiding him in how he assisted shaping the American system of appellations. Also, he expressed how France inspired many of the key figures that made Napa Valley what it is today.

And so, a system like the AOC, that would designate areas based on commonality of history, community identity, topography and sense of place, was created, although the American version, the AVA, does not have a “playbook” as Mendelson called it, so it does not set parameters that restrict the producer. For example, the AVA does not force a producer to grow a certain variety(ies). Mendelson explained that since we were such a young winemaking country, we needed time to sort out what worked best in particular vineyard sites – and he said that we are still figuring that out.

Napa Valley AVA

Napa Valley was the second designated AVA in the US, only second to the Missouri AVA, and that’s only because it took Napa a lot longer to figure out where the boundaries would be drawn.

It was an incredible experience to hear Richard Mendelson talk, since he himself not only witnessed some of the most significant events in the history of American wine but he was a part of it. That experience was enhanced by his book, which we were given, Appellation Napa Valley: Building and Protecting an American Treasure.  It is a big, hard covered book, deservedly so, since it not only documents the intricacies of setting up the Napa Valley AVA and its subsequent sub-AVAs, but there needed to be room for all the maps that truly give one a deep understanding of why boundaries were drawn the way they were and the impact of these final decisions. Mendelson creates a picture and journey that is so vivid that I could imagine being in those rooms when these passionate discussions between the legends of the Napa wine community were taking place.

During the seminar, Mendelson was always careful to make sure he was explaining the legalities of certain statements but it was always colored with his obvious gratitude that his life was enriched by the wine community. He said that as a lawyer he has worked with many commodities, and by comparison, nothing was as wonderful as working with “growers and vintners” as he felt that their proceedings were like no other. The people involved understand “that these boundaries may last forever”, and so they are happy to take their time to make sure they are doing the right thing, not only in regards to what is fair to everyone involved, but what is ultimately right for a distinctive AVA labeled area.

Impetus for Defining

Oakville and Rutherford are both sub-AVAs that are famous today, but at one time they were not officially designated. The impetus to designate these specific places came from the 1985 version of Hugh Johnson book, Atlas of Wine (the most updated version is one of my favorite wine books today). Now let me first preface this by saying that not only did Mendelson express his high admiration for Johnson, but I have always looked up to him and I am always immensely blown away by his skill and insane amount of talent when it comes to writing about wine. But back to the 1985 Atlas of Wine – in this edition, there was a defined area called the Rutherford Bench that was partly in Rutherford and party in Oakville. It became apparent to producers in both areas that they needed to legally define their own area or the press and outsiders would have no choice but to sort it out for themselves.

And so, the main leaders on both the Oakville and Rutherford sides decided that they needed to come together to figure out for themselves the following questions: Where was Oakville? Where was Rutherford? Where was the Rutherford Bench? Where was the Oakville Bench? Mendelson was a member of the team establishing the Oakville boundaries from the very beginning until the end and he said it took four years. Again, this illustrates the seriousness of which everyone took this decision.

Since many questioned where the “Bench” really existed, and some even questioned if it existed at all, it was decided that there would not be an official AVA for either the Rutherford or Oakville Bench. And just a further example of the community sticking together, they were afraid that designating a “Bench” would make those from the regular AVAs, who are not part of the “Bench”, second class citizens. Some used the example of the 1855 classification in Bordeaux and how some Châteaux felt they were given an unwarranted lower classification. For example today, a 5th growth like Pontet-Canet has had some of their vintages considered on par with 1st growths, but they are still considered a 5th growth, and cannot command a 1st growth’s price.

And so, in 1993, they defined the exact boundaries of Oakville and Rutherford as separate AVAs with the “Bench” idea left off the table. Even though it is interesting to note that although some producers will refer to vineyards being in the “Bench” in their marketing material, it is not a legally defined term.

What Happens If We Don’t Define Ourselves?

This seminar was already filled with a wealth of tantalizing information and experiences but there was something that happened that I think many people in that room had never experienced. It is worth noting that this seminar was held in the Carnegie Hall building, where some of the greatest musicians in the world have played.  It was serendipitous that a Sommelier present at the seminar was also an opera singer, and so he sang Danny Boy… it was simply exquisitely sung with such depth and emotion.

It is impossible to hear that song without thinking of my step-father. He loved that song. It was one of the songs he wanted played at his funeral. It always made him sad, but when I would asked him why he had tears in his eyes when he heard it he simply could not express exactly why. He thought it was a song about a father saying goodbye to his son… possibly never seeing him again. He had kids young and he thought he was not the best father, provider and he did express guilt about wishing he could have relived it. Even though his kids tried to reach out to him as they became adults and form a close relationship he allowed his own regret to hold him back. He allowed that early part of his life to define him and so his low self esteem made him settle for certain things he should have never settled for…

In that moment, listening, it was incredible to see this sommelier, Haksoo Kim, spread his wings and fly… he took us along for the ride showing us that we were a lot more than we have allowed ourselves to dream.

Oakville AVA

Oakville was a community that decided to stand up and define themselves as being a special place that was worth noting… and they talk as if there is still a lot more growth for them on the horizon… they see their future potential problems as opportunities to dig deeper into what their magnificent vineyards have to offer. They know the work has only just begun and they look foreword to another chapter in their lives and their children’s lives.

Defining Ourselves

How we define ourselves is always a work in process… just like the wine world – we evolve with the different experiences and challenges that are presented to us. But if we are going to live through all the trials that life has to offer, then we might as well define who we are and not allow others to place us in a box. Whether good times or bad, leaps or falls, we can always ground ourselves in the idea that our greatness never alters, it is sometimes just forgotten – or in my step-father’s case, buried in a deep, dark hole that he never realized was there.

It is not too late to define ourselves to the world. Some may not like it, some may have no interest, but in the end we will never know the life that we are supposed to live unless we stand up and be counted.

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The following are all Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Oakville that were tasted during the Master Class:

 1997 Heitz Martha’s Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (winery located in St. Helena but vineyard located in Oakville): 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Rich, lots of blackberry fruit, round tannins with a full body and long bright finish that had a lift of mint. A lush wine that still has that Heitz elegance.

Kathleen Heitz Myers

This wine is a special commemorative cuvee honoring the late Joe Heitz and his relationship with Tom and Martha May. Kathleen Heitz Myers, daughter of the founders as well as President and CEO of Heitz Cellars, told the story of Martha’s vineyard – the first single vineyard in the US for Cabernet Sauvignon. But before she told the story, she pointed out Tom and Martha’s daughter in the audience, Laura May Everett, and prefaced her story with “Laura and I are like sisters. We’ve known each other through good and bad, growing up together. We know each other’s secrets. Our company takes the long view. We stand by each other through tears and happiness.”

Laura May Everett

She then told the story of Martha’s vineyard as a property that Tom and Martha May bought in 1963 – right after they were married – and at the time, had no idea that this was “the vineyard”. In 1965, the Mays paid Joe and Alice Heitz a visit to see if they wanted to buy their grapes – and history was made. Joe Heitz thought the wine was so special because of the vineyard that he thought he should label it to give the Mays credit somehow. So Joe talked to Tom about what he would like to call the vineyard… one day Tom was driving behind a boat that had the name of a woman on it, and so, he named the vineyard after his wife, Martha – who was embarrassed by the gesture but the name stuck. And so for the 1966 vintage, Martha’s Vineyards was placed on the label.  Since then, the grape variety has naturally morphed and evolved and has become its own proprietary clone (or biotype) called Martha’s Cabernet Sauvignon – which features small berries, long, loose bunches, intense color and aromatics and is known for a minty note.

Left to Right: Peter Heitz, Larry Maguire, Kathleen Heitz Myers and Richard Mendelson

2002 Far Niente Estate Bottled: 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot. Deep ruby color, floral, soft tannins, juicy creme de cassis with flavorful finish.

Larry Maguire, President and CEO of Far Niente, said that when they write a comprehensive book about Napa Valley, there should be a whole chapter devoted to Richard Mendelson. He said that anytime he is sent some random “cease and desist” letter he immediately calls Mendelson who quickly works to help him out.

2010 Turnbull Cellars, Black Label: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Stewed plums, blueberry pie, sweet, big and plush tannins.

This wine comes from two areas in the Oakville Bench (Leopoldina and Fortuna) and Western rolling hills of Calistoga (Amoenus)

Peter Heitz, Winemaker for Turnbull Wine Cellars, no relation to Kathleen Heitz Myers but they have been friends for many years, said that part of Oakville’s success was due to the fact that people share their experiences and knowledge gathering together for meetings at the UC Davis station, located in Oakville.  He said this idea of cooperation for the greater good across Napa Valley as a whole accomplished the feat of eradicating the European Grape Moth within 5 years of working together.

2010 Detert Family Winery: Big, broad structure that has pure black currant flavor and a refined finish.

The Detert vineyard is surrounded by the famous To Kalon vineyard, but it cannot call themselves To Kalon on the label since Robert Mondavi owns the trademark to To Kalon and has an agreement to share that name with Beckstoffer but Detert is not part of that agreement.

2010 Heitz Martha’s Vineyards: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Focused and elegant, not as lush or jammy as the 1997… stunning violet notes with incredible energy.

2012 Far Niente Estate Bottled: 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc. Exotic spice, a great backbone of structure with hints of vanilla on the finish will make this a long lived wine.

2012 Paradigm Winery: 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot. They said that 2012 was a great vintage where they made their ideal wine… lots of black fruit, mid-weight on the palate and richness… this wine has a flavor of lush, ripe black cherries with sweet spice and nice fleshy body that makes it very appealing now.

2014 Turnbull Cellars, Black Label: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Smoky ash, dark brooding fruit with a beautiful, lifted nose of wild flowers that really made it stand out.

Peter Heitz, Winemaker for Turnbull Wine Cellars, said that even though the 2014 is not ready to drink he still wanted to show it since he thinks the wine is exciting. When asked about vintages he said that he originally thought the 2014 was only going to be a mediocre vintage but he thinks that it may end up being one of the greatest vintages in modern times.

The following wines were tasted after the Master Class during lunch:

2013 Hoopes Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon: Black currant preserves, cinnamon and velvety tannins.

2013 Franciscan Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon: Dusty, opulent, rich, blackberry, spice and tobacco leaf.

 

2014 Robert Mondavi Winery, Fumé Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, To Kalon Vineyard: Lots of textural complexity with delicious notes of honeysuckle and white peach.  Many people agree that very few did as much for the prestige of Napa Valley than Robert Mondavi.

2014 Tor Kenward Family Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tierra Roja Vineyard: A sexy, extremely attractive wine that grabs you from the first taste with sensual flavors of sweet black berry that is balanced by a undertone of earth.

 2013 Oakville Ranch, Cabernet Sauvignon: An opulent wine with silky tannins that has well-integrated oak and a refined aromatic finish.

 

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Cabernet Franc: The Forgotten Father

Dracaena Wines

Recently, I greatly enjoyed participating in #CabFrancDay on Twitter.  This day was founded by Lori Budd of Dracaena Wines and it takes place on the same day each year, December 4th, for reasons that Lori illustrates in one of her posts. In the well-regarded book, Wine Grapes , Cabernet Franc is said to be “undoubtedly one of the most important and ancient varieties in the Bordeaux region”, yet it has been extremely underappreciated for a variety that has such a noble history. How did it become the forgotten father of its superstar son, Cabernet Sauvignon?

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon (the other progenitor being Sauvignon Blanc) which makes sense simply considering their names. The parentage of Cabernet Sauvignon was discovered at the University of Davis in 1996 and came as a shock to many people in the wine world considering that Cabernet Sauvignon was a variety held in the highest regards yet Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc were taken less seriously.

It can be argued that Sauvignon Blanc suffers from the prejudice that red wines are of inherently higher quality than white wines – although it is interesting to note that the one quality that has given Cabernet Sauvignon such acclaim is also a marker for its white mother: “What is remarkable about Cabernet Sauvignon is that it imprints its identity so firmly on any wine that includes it…” –Wine Grapes

Cabernet Franc, on the other hand, is a red variety that is part of the esteemed legacy of Bordeaux. Even though it plays a small part in the blends of Left Bank Bordeaux, it certainly found its home in Saint-Émilion (Right Bank Bordeaux) although it does play second fiddle to Merlot in blends. Château Cheval Blanc is the best example of what Cabernet Franc can bring to a blend since, for most vintages, it is the dominant variety. Clive Coats, wine writer and Master of Wine, described Cheval Blanc as “the only great wine in the world made predominantly from Cabernet Franc.” It is one of only four producers that have the highest ranking in the Saint-Émilion classification with the status Premier Grand Cru Classé (A).

But what about single variety Cabernet Franc? Or at least a blend that is made with a significant amount of Cabernet Franc, as it seems Cheval Blanc uses, at most, 60% Cab Franc.

Glorie Farm Winery

The cooler area of the Loire Valley, France, has been making single variety/Cab Franc dominant wines for ages. I have certainly had some lovely examples from Chinon and Bourgueil yet a variety cannot become a global success unless other areas around the world are growing it. And so, its long established association with cooler weather, as well as it being a mid ripening variety (Cabernet Sauvignon ripens later) and its less tannic nature, makes it a nice variety to grow in other cool climates such as the Finger Lakes in New York and the much lesser known Hudson Valley. I was excited to try my first Hudson Valley, New York, wine for #CabFrancDay, Glorie Farm Winery’s 2014 Cabernet Franc. It showed a nice balance between Old World fresh autumn leaves, and New World fresh black currant fruit.

Chateau Niagara

But the tendency to plant it in cooler climates may be an issue for Cabernet Franc since, in these conditions, it makes lighter, less “show stopper” type wines that can verge on being austere and unpleasantly green. Actually, the first red wine I tasted in my #CabFrancDay lineup was a wine from Niagara called Chateau Niagara. I have to admit that I knew it was going to have a pretty nose (well made Cab Franc can produce stunning aromas) due to the good things I had read while researching this producer but I was afraid that the palate was going to be lacking with a thin body. Well, happily I was wrong… about the palate that is… the wine had a pristine raspberry nose that was perfectly balanced with a juicy body and a hint of wet stones on the finish. The owner, Jim Baker, who joined us on Twitter for our discussion, said Niagara gets “less tannic, more medium bodied wines with substantial red fruit.” He also emphasized that Cabernet Franc can range in character depending on how it is treated in the vineyard.

The Son: Cabernet Sauvignon

All of us know the importance of Cabernet Sauvignon. When a New World winemaking country wants to be taken seriously, they plant this noble red grape variety. When its parentage was revealed, it seemed to turn the wine world on its head… almost on the same level as when Darth Vader revealed to Luke Skywalker that he was his father in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. It will certainly go down as one of the greatest cinematic reveals of all time. I can remember feeling stunned… I was a very young child who, for the first time, consciously realized that the world was a lot more complicated than I once thought.

There is no doubt that Cabernet Sauvignon has the right to be considered a great variety but its own father seems to be considered nowhere near its greatness. There are many factors that could have contributed to the modern day impression of these varieties. First, it is easier to make more structured and darker colored wines with Cabernet Sauvignon, which automatically gives a serious profile to its wines. The typically high acid and significant amount of tannins assist in making the high quality versions ideal for ageing – giving it more validity for its greatness. And, it was fortunate enough to be taken seriously hundreds of years ago, in Bordeaux, and hence has had a large amount of time devoted to the best practices for its growth in various types of vineyards and its handling in the winery.

Ehlers Estate

 

Napa Valley, California, is one of those New World areas that has spent a large amount of resources and time on the production of Cabernet Sauvignon. But it is nice to see them placing some of that focus on Caberent Franc. My lineup for #CabFrancDay had two wines from Napa Valley. One was a 2013 organic 100% Cab Franc from St. Helena in Napa by Ehlers Estate that had silky tannins, rich black cherries and a nice sense of place.

 

St. Supéry

 

And to show the diversity of Cabernet Franc, the other Napa wine, 2012 St. Supéry in Rutherford, had more cassis and chocolate notes yet the cooler 2012 vintage was evident with marked acidity. Both wines showed brilliantly and made it obvious why, during a Master Class I attended recently about Oakville wines in Napa Valley, one of the winemakers, Peter Heitz – winemaker for Turnbull Wine Cellars – said he thought Cabernet Franc was the future for Napa Valley.

 

Parentage

As people, we seem to have a need to concern ourselves with the stories of our parents. Whether they are our biological, adoptive, or in some cases step-parents or grandparents raising us, it becomes a mission to understand ourselves better, to either live up to or to avoid certain values, and to either succeed by becoming even 1/10th of the person they were or to learn from their mistakes and to evolve to a better path. Sometimes it is all of those things or sometimes it is not so clear at all what we need to resolve.

That is one of the reasons why I love Star Wars. Yes, it can seem like a simple, childish movie that has mediocre dialogue, acting, and, in the original films, sub-par special effects (by today’s standards). But it is the arc of Luke Skywalker that gets me every time. He is an inherently good young man that is faced with the fact that his father is one of the worst villains of all time. This knowledge makes him question himself and his own tendencies to lean towards the dark side… and through time, his strong feelings to protect his friends are used to inflame anger that brings out his worse fear… he is capable of going to the dark side by committing an unbridled act of violence.

But Luke never gives up hope that there is good in his father, and Darth Vader, with his last breaths, redeems himself and proves to Luke that he was right – there was still good in him. Of course, this is a movie, a fantasy that does not always play out in real life. But it makes one wonder, when you see the flash of goodness in Darth Vader (aka Anakin Skywalker) before he dies, that if he could have avoided certain horrific tragedies so early in his life, then perhaps he would have become a great force for good – the greatest Jedi of all time.

I think many of us can’t help but think the same thing about certain people in our own lives…often times we think of parents, not that they are villains but that they had unreached potential, if they would have taken a different path then perhaps they would have been capable of greatness. The same can be said for Cabernet Franc.

A Chance for Redemption

Leah Jørgensen Cellars

Unlike human beings, noble varieties such as Cabernet Franc can be given many chances, so long as there are quality wine producers singing its praises.  There are such producers as Dracaena Wines in Paso Robles, California, whose Cabernet Franc gives new definition to the phrase “sexy beauty”, or Leah Jørgensen Cellars in Oregon who produces both red and white Cabernet Franc wines that could each be described as being devastatingly gorgeous. The redemption of Cabernet Franc is coming as producers are finally giving the forgotten father of the most well-respected variety in the world the adoration that it has deserved for way too long.

Credit: boards.theforce.net

One of the most powerful scenes in the Star Wars original trilogy is when Luke Skywalker takes Darth Vader’s lifeless body to a deserted place in the woods where he gives him the funeral rites of a Jedi – burning his body. It is fitting that Luke alone looks at his father’s outer shell, Darth Vader, being turned to ashes while Luke’s thematic melody, which represents his journey, plays in the background. To me it represents many things… destroying the twisted villain Darth Vader, freeing the once good Anakin Skywalker from his prison… bringing balance to the Force… allowing Luke to find peace within himself so he may move forward… all the while wondering about the man that Anakin Skywalker should have been.

In a way, it is impossible to know the nuanced layers that Cabernet Sauvignon can offer if we do not intimately get to know its father – Cabernet Franc. Fortunately, we have what our forefathers and foremothers did not have, the opportunity to drink an exciting array of amazing Cabernet Franc wines from around the world.

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Samples of Cabernet Franc wines tasted on December 4th, 2016

Me and my Cabernet Franc wines! Yee-haa!!

I was only given samples to taste from the US, but in the past, have been extremely impressed by some of the quality producers coming from the Loire Valley and so those are certainly worth checking out as well. Also, the Finger Lakes, New York, is also missing from my samples but they are well-known for their amazing Cabernet Francs and so it was fun to try other areas of the US that are not as known for their Cab Franc wines.

I tasted the following wines in the morning of Decemeber 4th, as I prefer tasting early in the day, and participated in the Twitter virtual tasting later that night. The wines are in the order in which I tasted them.

2015 Leah Jørgensen Cellars Blanc de Cabernet Franc, Mae’s Vineyard, Applegate Valley, Oregon ($30): 100% Cabernet Franc white wine. Golden color with kumquat and lemon confit flavors and hint of orange blossom, with creamy, medium body and saline finish. This is just simply a wine nerd’s dream come true.

2015 Chateau Niagara Cabernet Franc, Niagara, New York ($29.99): 100% Cabernet Franc. Pristine raspberry nose with juicy, fleshy fruit (pleasantly surprised) and a hint of wet stones on the finish. I definitely want to try more Cabernet Francs from Niagara.

2014 Glorie Farm Winery Cabernet Franc, Hudson River Region, New York ($19): 100% Cabernet Franc. Balance of Old World fresh autumn leaves, and New World bright black currant fruit.

2015 Leah Jørgensen Cellars Cabernet Franc, Southern Oregon ($25): 100% Cabernet Franc. A moderate bodied red wine with lovely rose petal aromas and rich cherry flavors that have fascinating layers of tree bark and star anise adding to its complexity.

2013 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc, St. Helena, Napa Valley, California ($60): 100% Cabernet Franc. Loamy, earthy undertones gives this a great sense of place with silky tannins, rich black cherries and a flavorful finish.

2012 St. Supéry Estate Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Rutherford, Napa Valley, California ($65): 94% Cabernet Franc and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was full bodied, like the Ehlers, but with more cassis and chocolate notes, yet the cooler 2012 vintage was evident with marked acidity.

2014 Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc, Paso Robles, California ($32):  90% Cabernet Franc and 10% Petite Sirah. A sexy, lush wine that really opened my eyes to the fact that I did not know Cabernet Franc as well as I thought. Who knew that it could make such a hedonistic wine with raspberry jam, spice, black pepper and hints of rosemary on the finish? It has textural complexity with well-knit tannins that gave shape to the luscious body. I don’t smoke, but if I did, I would have smoked a cigarette after drinking this wine.

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Life Can Crush the Soul. Wine Reminds Us that We have One

The vital need for art is not always as apparent as more practical things in life, such as the urgency for shelter, food and water or safety. We want to teach our children to focus on those things that help pay the bills and help us to survive. Unfortunately, that tendency to focus on survival skills often times sacrifices the teaching of how to nourish the spirit; we learn how to survive but we don’t learn how to live – to keep that inner light glowing.

Fullerton Wines

In the summer of 2015, I went to my first Wine Bloggers Conference in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. One of the greatest aspects about the wine industry is meeting all the people involved, as most have usually had “another life” doing something else prior to joining the industry. One man I met seemed very earnest and forthright – I remember talking about why we started to write about wine, wanting to tell the human story associated with this special libation.

When he reached out to me a couple of months ago about tasting wines for an Oregon winery, Fullerton Wines, where he worked, I knew that I had to taste those wines because I remembered our conversations at the conference and I was confident that wines he represented would have soul to them. And they certainly were soulful wines on many levels, from their flavors to their story – a story that actually goes back to World War II.

The Pianist

As I tasted these wines and read about the owner, Eric Fullerton, I could not help but think of The Pianist – a memoir and film (2002). Władysław Szpilman, a Jewish pianist for Polish Radio during World War II, tells his story of how he survived deportation to extermination camps, destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. It is a heart-wrenching story that shows the best and worst of humanity. There is one moment in his book, faithfully reproduced in the film, that plays over and over again in my mind – the moment when the reignition of a Nazi German officer’s soul helps save Szpilman’s life.

This special moment took place when Szpilman searched an abandoned building for food and was discovered by a Nazi German officer. The officer asked Szpilman what he was doing, to which he had no answer. The officer then asked him his occupation, to which he answered that he was a pianist. The officer then proceeded to lead him into a room that had a piano and ordered him to play. He played Chopin’s Nocturne in C Sharp minor. When he had finished playing, the officer asked him if he was Jewish, to which Szpilman replied yes. In that moment the officer had a decision to make – bring Szpilman to his superiors, or allow him to continue to hide. The officer not only decided to allow him to continue to hide, but he brought him food and drink, clothing at various times, etc., risking his own life in doing so.

What made this officer risk his own life? Was he a music lover? Was he a musician himself? We will never know for sure, but I like to think that maybe he was simply a human being forced into a terrible situation, and was inspired to find the strength to put his soul before his body.

Eric Fullerton

During the summer of 1969, at the age of 14, Eric Fullerton’s wine journey began during a trip with his grandparents to the Boppard am Rhein in Germany. He met a woman who was one of the 15 Jewish refugees that his family hid and supplied with essentials until the end of World War II. On that trip he was first introduced to viticulture and winemaking and so, he now associates wine with people taking care of their community and lifting each other’s spirit.

After many years of learning about wines from around the world, Eric and his family found their home in Willamette Valley, Oregon. The wines and community inspired him and his wife to start a winery with their son Alex as the winemaker (their two other children are involved as well). The Fullerton family makes wines that express the values that were established when Eric had that special encounter at 14 years old.

“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.” -Stella Adler

While life takes its toll on everyone, some are unfortunately put in impossible situations. But as life chips away, it is important to remind ourselves that good people are always on the same side, even if superficial labels try to divide us. That is why we can never take the need for art for granted. Those things that tap into our soul will not only carry us through our tough times but they will help us to recognize that precious being who needs our help – especially necessary when life blurs our vision.

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Samples Tasted on December 9th, 2016

Fullerton Wines were founded in 2012 by the Fullerton family and they source their fruit from Select Vineyard Partners and Estate Ivy Slope Vineyard. Their total annual production is 4,500 cases.

 Fullerton Three Otters Wines

Three otters have been on the Fullerton family crest since the 13th century, and it not only represents the love for their family’s legacy of helping others but it also represents their passion for supporting organizations that protect these beautiful animals and their natural habitat.

2014 Chardonnay: Citrus oil with mouthwatering acidity and a linear body that has great energy. A nice example which shows that US West Coast Chardonnay can make wines with lots of tension and restraint.

2015 Pinot Noir Rosé: A real “chalky” quality that I also get from Sancerre Rosé, yet this has a more wild strawberry note. It reminded me of Grace Kelly – a wild streak bubbling underneath a controlled, polished exterior.

2014 Pinot Noir: Smoky notes that are reminiscent of grilled portobello mushrooms, with kumquat flavors. A Pinot Noir with great sense of place and elegant fruit – a great value.

Fullerton Five FACES Wine

FACES is an acronym for the five Fullerton family members: Filip, Alex, Caroline, Eric and Susanne.

2014 Five FACES Pinot Noir: This wine was absolutely delicious and drinking so well right now with a nice grounding in wet earthy undertones that were offset by tarragon and blueberry pie. Only 600 cases made.

Fullerton Single Vineyard Wines

Croft Single Vineyard has Bellpine and veins of Jory soil planted with Pinot Noir clones 115, Pommard and Wadensville. It is part of the Willamette Valley AVA.

-2014 Croft Vineyard Pinot Noir: Tight in structure in the form of fine tannin and lots of deep, dark fruit, finishing with hints of cardamom and cumin seeds that dance on the palate. I would highly recommend decanting to allow it to open.  It will certainly improve with a few years of cellaring. Only 200 cases made.

Momtazi Single Vineyard has primarily sedimentary soil planted with Pinot Noir clones 113, 114, 115, 667 and 777. It is part of the McMinnville AVA and one of the first vineyards in the Willamette Valley to receive cooling winds in the evening. The McMinnville AVA is an American Viticultural Area located in Yamhill County, Oregon. It is entirely contained within the Willamette Valley AVA, roughly running from McMinnville to Sheridan.

-2014 Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir: A stunning wine that has an ethereal nose with rose petal, crushed rocks and bright pomegranate flavor that are all expressive along the lengthy finish. This impressive wine will improve with cellaring, yet it is extremely tempting to drink now. Only 400 cases made.

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Beaujolais Helped Me Right a Wrong

During major holiday seasons, I have the tendency to not only want to review the past year, but also my life. There are some memories I like to relive because they are filled with love and a sense of the ethics and values that I constantly try to keep at the forefront of my life. But there are other memories that haunt me with disappointment in myself –although I have gotten to the point where they don’t cause me too much angst, they are still slightly painful due to my actions that make me ashamed of myself.

Mistakes

I have made many mistakes in my life – most of them involved giving the benefit of the doubt to someone who ended up having ulterior motives. Those sorts of mistakes do not bother me that much – I would have made them again and again if given the chance. My attitude is that I would rather take the chance of getting hurt with the possibility of opening myself to a new experience or person, rather than close myself off, protecting myself, never experiencing anything beyond my comfort zone. But there is one incident that I do regret and no matter how much I would love to go back and redo that memory again, it is not possible.  In the end, I think it is an important lesson to keep close to my heart.

Need to Belong

Upon graduating from junior high school, there was a chance for me to go to a party where the cool kids would be potentially hanging out.  I ended up blowing off a younger friend to go to the party. At the time, I was consumed with fitting in – whether it was with cool kids, alternative kids or even nerdy kids.  I was a loner for most of my primary school life (not by choice) as I came from an extremely dysfunctional upbringing, and it took many years for me to become comfortable with myself.

Even though I had always taken pride as a child, but also as an adult, in never bonding with people by trashing others, that one incident of blowing off a good friend haunts me. Within minutes of getting into a conversation with those same-aged kids at the party, I wanted to leave. I had nothing to share with them, and most importantly, I had very few values and priorities in common with them. I would have left within the first 15 minutes but I had ended up going with someone who said that I needed to at least hang out for a couple hours and warm up to the party – but the warming up never happened.

Betraying Yourself

To me, the only thing worse than betraying yourself is betraying a good friend; on that day, I swore that I would never do it again. I have kept that promise with regards to being loyal to true friends, but sometimes, in the past, I have felt that I have betrayed what I know, deep down in my gut, to be honest about my feelings towards certain wines. Because of insecurity, or trying to seem like a true, sophisticated wine expert, I have made belittling comments about certain wines amongst other wine professionals. And when I was younger, less secure and eager to try to gain approval from senior colleagues, I have dismissed some wines, wrongfully so, to prove my chops.

Beaujolais Nouveau

Beaujolais Nouveau was a wine that was once a victim of my insecurity. It is famous as a wine that is celebrated at the end of the harvest – released the third Thursday of November with a new, fun label each year. This wine is made by Gamay grapes being harvested in whole bunches and placed through a process called Carbonic Maceration which produces a wine that is fresh and fruity with a minimum amount of tannin. It has been a great commercial success – people hold Beaujolais parties on its release and, in the US, has become associated with Thanksgiving which takes place one week later.

Contrary to what some may say or believe, Beaujolais Nouveau does have vintage variation. For example, the 2016 is a riper, fleshier wine than the 2015. Also, although it is generally fresh and fruity, I can find hints of spice, pepper or earthy nuances that are in the background of these wines. Many say the common aromas are supposed to be banana or bubblegum, but personally (and descriptions in wine are subjective) I have never gotten either of those notes, and I have never liked the flavor of bananas or bubblegum… actually, in general, I don’t prefer sweets. I’m not trying to criticize those who get those notes, but when I have had Beaujolais Nouveau blind, I have never honestly smelled these aromas.

Georges Duboeuf

Beaujolais, the wine region, has made a recent comeback with the serious wine community, especially with its Crus such as Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent – the two villages that have the best reputation for aging. Some New York wine nerds who had previously sworn off Nouveau have started drinking it again, only choosing lesser known producers over Duboeuf. The thinking behind it is that it has to be more interesting and/or higher quality if it comes from a smaller producer. But this thought process is how our wine nerdiness gets the best of us. The proof is in the pudding – taste the wines – taste them blind and find out for real which one you prefer. I know many people who haven’t touched a Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau in over a decade but they still criticize this producer. For me, Duboeuf IS Beaujolais Nouveau, and I knew that in my heart when I heard him speak at a tasting a couple years ago.

Beaujolais Nouveau is about the vineyard growers and their celebration after the back breaking work of harvest. During his talk/tasting a few years ago, Georges Duboeuf could not help but go off track telling stories of the memories he has shared with the growers such as a dinner celebrating one of them being able to buy a new car. At one point other people on the panel had to stop him to refocus on the technical questions for the journalists and wine trade professionals in the room, but for him there was nothing more important than his family of vineyard owners and how they saved the region with the idea of Beaujolais Nouveau. This idea was reiterated by Georges’ son, Franck Duboeuf, during my lunch with him on Beaujolais Nouveau Day this year – November 17th. Georges Duboeuf grew up helping his family run their vineyard in the Mâconnais, Burgundy, which is just north of Beaujolais. Georges’ father died when he was young and so he felt a strong responsibility to help his family business.

At a young age, he came up with innovative systems to bottle Beaujolais, then became a négociant in 1964 when he founded Les Vins Georges Duboeuf. The agreements with his growers have always been verbal, no written contracts needed, and when I have talked to a couple of his growers in Beaujolais, they had nothing but kind words for the man who saved Beaujolais wines. Some of his top Cru wines will use the name of the grower on the label, again, showing who is held in the highest regard. Also, the process of Carbonic Maceration is currently a trend amongst some producers in Rioja, Spain and in Burgundy, France – some producers have taken the idea of using whole bunches for even their red Grand Cru wines to produce a wine that is more accessible at an earlier age. Whether it is an aspect of the process of Beaujolais Nouveau, only a semi-Carbonic or a full Carbonic Maceration, it is a process that is recognized by many quality producers as being a great technique to make wines generous at a younger stage.

 Opportunity to Evolve

I discovered how wrong I was about Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau a few years ago when I was given a blind tasting. I knew it was a young “new” wine that was fresh and fruity, yet I sensed it was more complex than a simple quaffable wine, and more importantly, it had a sense of purpose – to bring people together in celebration. It was great to sit down with Franck Duboeuf to have an intimate conversation about his family’s wines, the idea of Beaujolais Nouveau, and the remarkable life of his father who is now 83 years old. As I sat there, I felt proud that I had reached a point in my life where I no longer worried about proving my worth, or avoided writing about wines that I know will get a sneer or two. I have reached a point where I write what I feel is true in my heart, and most importantly, what I find to be tasty – especially when it over-delivers on the price. It was nice to be given a chance to right this wrong and to give homage to a producer that was well overdue.

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Duboeuf Wines tasted on November 17th, 2016

2015 Mâcon-Villages: This wine is from Georges Duboeuf’s home district, the Mâconnais, and is comprised of 100% Chardonnay. It has a pretty nose of white flowers and honeysuckle with gentle stone fruit flavors on the palate and a fresh, pure finish.

The rest of the wines from this point are 100% Gamay:

2016 Beaujolais Nouveau: Floral nose with dark fruit flavors such as black cherry and good flesh on the palate. Always best to enjoy Beaujolais Nouveau a little colder than room temperature so popping it in the fridge for 10 to 15 minutes really helps to show this wine at its best.

2016 Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau: This Nouveau comes from 30 of the non-Cru villages of Beaujolais and had a distinctive black pepper note that would pair well with richer dishes. The previously mentioned Nouveau would do better with lighter dishes or simply as an aperitif.

2015 Beaujolais-Villages: This wine has a bit more structure in the form of well-managed tannins with juicy blackberry fruit and sweet spice.

The next is an examination of 3 different Crus – there are 10 Crus which are considered the best villages in Beaujolais– and they illustrate that the Gamay grape has an affinity for expressing terroir aka a sense of place.

2015 ‘La Madone’ Fleurie: Fleurie is a Cru village that is known for its intoxicating floral notes, which makes sense considering the name. The soil is mainly granite with pink sand – the sand is associated with making a lighter style wine. A lusty nose with an intense floral aroma of orange blossoms and lilacs.

2015 Domaine de Quatre Vents, Fleurie: This wine is from Cru Fleurie as well. This vineyard and the winery have been owned by the Darroze family since the mid-1950s. The Dubouef family has an exclusive agreement with them. A gentler floral note was immediately evident, and through time, layers of licorice and cinnamon were noticed. The supple palate gave sweet fruit – a charming wine!

2015 Chateau des Capitans, Julienas: Julienas is a Cru village that has more clay in its soil and it has become known for its spicy character with fleshy body. The Château des Capitans is named after the 18th century castle that is situated right in the heart of Julienas. I certainly noticed the exotic spiciness of this wine as well as juicy fruit and stewed strawberries – very delicious.

2015 Domaine de Javernieres, Cote du Py, Morgon: In my mind, the wines from the Cru Morgon are the most age worthy. The soil is rich in iron oxide with traces of volcanic rock. In my experience, its wines are big and wild. These vineyards in Morgon are owned by the Lecoque family who have had a long relationship with the Duboeuf family. A darker, more masculine wine that really showed the diversity of the Gamay grape. The smoky minerality instantly drew me in and the wild black strawberry with apricot skin and great backbone of structure made this wine irresistible to a wine nerd like myself… but since it is extremely complex I would either decant it for a few hours or at least hold it for another year of cellaring.

2015 Jean Ernest Descombes, Morgon: Nicole Descombes Savoye, known as “the Queen of Beaujolais” took over running the winery and vineyards when her parents passed away in 1993 (Nicole’s father, Jean Ernst, was considered one of the great winemakers of the region). Descombes is the first grower that Georges Duboeuf started working with when he founded Les Vins Georges Duboeuf in 1968. This wine had that little bit of a “iron fist in a velvet glove” with a quiet power that slowly and elegantly revealed itself with notes of kirsch and forest floor – I would absolutely cellar for at least 1 or 2 more years.

At the end of the tasting, there was a surprise, served blind – a 2011 Duboeuf Moulin-à-Vent, the other village that ages well. It showed notes of black tea and tapenade yet still was youthful with beautiful flavors of fresh strawberries. In the past, I have had some Morgon that have been over twenty years old that were absolutely spectacular.

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Special Wines Uplift Our Lives

A few years ago – perhaps it was more than a few – I had one of my most heart warming experiences while working in a fine wine retail store in Manhattan. It would become one of the experiences that would inspire my subsequent thoughts regarding the importance of splurging on special wines.

A Stranger’s Struggle Isn’t Always Apparent

One day, I was working on the sales floor of a fine wine retailer. It was serendipitous that I was on the floor that day, since, most of the time, I worked answering the phones and writing web content for their website. A married couple, visiting from Texas, came in; the wife had a big smile, and the husband glanced down with a miserable look on his face. She started to talk to me about wanting to buy a special wine for them to enjoy in their hotel room – trying all the while to include her husband in the conversation – yet he did not speak a word and motioned that he wanted to leave.  Eventually, he just wandered to the corner of the store to sulk.

Before I knew it, she moved in closer and whispered to me that her husband had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, so he had problems speaking clearly, felt embarrassed and simply defeated by life. By my rough estimation, they could not have been older than their mid-forties – they were in the prime of their lives. She wanted to take this trip to New York City to help lift his spirits – to show him that their days of making fun memories were not yet over. But he was complaining the whole trip – he just wanted to go home and resign himself to his fate.

I could see that the wife felt like she was at the end of her rope. She said that she didn’t know what to do and I’m sure the whole experience had been extremely overwhelming for her. She was trying with every ounce of strength she could muster to bring joy back into their lives, but she had her breaking point, like all of us, and she seemed to be reaching it, and so she was asking me for help.

Wine Lovers to the Rescue

At that moment, I walked over to her husband and started to share my love for wine and told them that I would be able to pick the ideal wine that would send them to the moon. His wife said that they had many romantic experiences with Rosé and Champagne wines, yet they had never had a Rosé Champagne. And so I knew that I needed to find the best Rosé Champagne for them. We were able to get her husband to join the conversation and, through time, I realized that they wanted an elegant Rosé Champagne with strong purity of fruit. I immediately thought of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Champagne, with its stunning, pristine, crunchy red fruit, intoxicating aromatics and overall sense of grace and charm. Also, the bottle is shaped in a sensual way that is indicative of how two love birds, such as this married couple, will feel once they drink this wine together. They started to blush and giggle a bit as I described why I thought this was the ideal wine for them to share during this romantic getaway.

Laurent-Perrier

I recently re-tasted the current release of the 100% Pinot Noir Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé NV, which brought this memory rushing back to me. The newest release is based on the 2008 vintage (90%) with the wine being made from 12 different crus, including grand crus such as Ambonnay and Bouzy, as well as others. It has all the complexity that one would expect from a top Rosé Champagne, yet it is able to display pure flavors of Pinot Noir that are breathtaking.

Also, I re-tasted the Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle MV (Multi-Vintage), which is legendary among Champagne connoisseurs. It is always a blend of 3 complementary wines which have been declared vintages by Laurent-Perrier. The newest release is a blend of the declared vintages 2002, 1999 and 1998, and is a blend of 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir from exclusively grand cru vineyards. If you love Champagne, it is a must-have at least once in your life. Grand Siècle is truly the epitome of a fine wine that can deliver intense, complex flavors with finesse and uplifting freshness.

Beautiful Memory with Laurent-Perrier

As I was brightening the mood of that married couple with the description of the Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé, a regular customer must have overheard our conversation because, before I knew it, he swung his arm around the husband and brought him around the store to show him all the goodies we had on display. His wife and I followed them and we spent a wonderful time laughing and talking about all of the good times we have had with wine. The husband even became so comfortable he started to talk, and seemed to lose the self-consciousness of his speech impediment as he chuckled and smiled and grabbed and hugged his wife.

As I handed the bag that contained the gorgeous bottle of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé to his wife, she hugged me tightly and said with deep gratitude in her voice, “Thank you so much.” As I looked at her, she seemed to beam and I knew that there were a lot more good times to come for her and her husband. That experience reminded me why I have devoted so much of my life to wine. We all need to be inspired and there is no other beverage, in my mind, more inspirational than wine.

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 Laurent-Perrier Samples Tasted on November 18th, 2016

 –Cuvée Rosé Brut NV (Non-Vintage): A beautiful pale pink color with tinges of salmon and fine bubbles that caress the palate. The stunningly pristine wild strawberry aromas seductively invite one into the glass with hints of toast and spice.

SRP $99.99. 100% Pinot Noir from 12 different crus situated mainly in Montagne de Reims, including the grand crus of Ambonnay, Bouzy, Louvois and Tours-sur-Marne. The newest release is based on 2008 vintage (90%).

Grand Siècle MV (Multi-Vintage): This wine dances in one’s head like a slow yet intense tango, with aromas of lemon blossom, honeysuckle and fresh tarragon with chalky minerality that carries along the precise, expressive finish.

SRP $149.99. 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir. Grand Siècle is made from 100% grand cru vineyards in outstanding villages such as Avize, Cramant and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger for Chardonnay; as well as Ambonnay, Bouzy, and Mailly. Always a blend of 3 complementary declared vintages – the newest release is from 2002, 1999 and 1998.

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Passionate Winemaking in Israel

israel-pic-3-long-table-picHere in the US, it has certainly been an intense week with our Presidential election. Even though my candidate did not win, I respect that we live in a democracy and that citizens have the right to vote for anyone, or to not vote at all. But it can be sad, at times, to know that we are divided – difficult to feel connected to all our countrymen and countrywomen – let alone the rest of the world. I desperately needed to find inspiration, and I quickly found it reviewing my notes (both written and audio) from an Israeli wine lunch I attended a couple of weeks ago.

Passion

Although I understand other writers’ past articles written about Israeli wines wanted to focus on the politics and/or the religious Kosher aspect of the wines, I have felt that these articles were missing the most important facet of wines from Israel – the new wave of passionate grape growers and winemakers. But I do have to give kudos to Wine Spectator for recently writing a thorough report, the cover story even, about Israel as an “emerging region” for wine. If there is one hope that I have for my country, as well as the world, it is the idea that passionate artists, such as high quality wine producers, will continue to elevate our hearts and spirits to lift us beyond superficial labels, so we remember that all of us are part of the same journey of life.

It was the passion of these wine producers that lifted, and continues to lift, my spirit – showing me how we can “come together”. Each of their stories was one connected to not only their love for making great wine but their great desire to share it with everyone around the world.

Domaine du Castel

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Eli Ben Zaken

The founder of Domaine du Castel, Eli Ben Zaken, is considered a pioneer of winemaking in Israel. But I have to quote his feelings about being called a pioneer, “I was not a pioneer because I didn’t have a dream.” In 1988, he was prompted by intuition, or may I use the word passion, to plant a small vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot by his home in the Judean Hills. Eli taught himself winemaking from Emile Peynaud’s famous book, “Knowing and Making Wine” and he tried, and certainly succeeded, in living up to the highest standards of French winemaking. Some Francophiles may call his small, artisan wine endeavor a “garage wine” but since they originally crushed the grapes in an empty stable next to a chicken coop, he called it a “stable wine”.

Today, Eli, joined by his three children, has moved his family’s winemaking to a more state of the art facility, yet the enthusiasm and excitement of being able to make wine that can move and transcend the drinker is still present and represented in the sparkle in his eyes. During our lunch, he spoke of the first time he fell in love with white wine. He and his wife like to travel and explore different restaurants around the world, since they themselves owned a restaurant at one time. Many years ago, he knew very little about wine, and while at Le Montrachet, in the village of Puligny-Montrachet in Burgundy, asked the waiter about the local wine. When the waiter replied, “Puligny-Montrachet”, Eli then followed up with, “What color is it?” Of course, some of you Burgundy lovers will know that the answer is white. Back then, he was not a fan of white wines but thought he should try it – that first sip brought tears to his eyes. This experience led him to make a Chardonnay called ‘C’ Blanc du Castel, noting that to him, “Chardonnay is the reddest of the white wines.”

Even though it was unintentional, and small production, he planted the seed in many Israeli producers’ minds that one could make high quality wines in Israel.

Recanati Winery

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Gil Shatsberg and Lenny Recanati

Earlier this year, I had gone to a wine press lunch in NYC to taste the wines of Recanati Winery, so it was lovely to see the head winemaker, Gil Shatsberg, and owner, Lenny Recanati, again. They are making some exciting wines, ranging from an indigenous white variety called Marawi, grown by a Palestinian farmer, to a dry-farmed Carignan on bush vines, grown by an Arab Christian. These projects are a desire to not only find an identity for Israeli wines, but are symbolic of how various types of people can come together to produce a product filled with passion to share with the world. These stories of people working together in harmony are unfortunately not the stories that make the headlines, but they are the most representative of how many people are living.

Recanati is also a believer in Mediterranean varieties such as Syrah and Petite Sirah, which I tried at their previous tasting. Gil talked about the wine legacy of Israel, as winemaking has been documented as far back as 3,700 years ago, as well as the recent, fast improvement in their techniques in the vineyards and wineries. They believe that Israeli winemakers are just starting to scratch the surface of discovering the true potential of their various terroirs (soils and micro-climates). It is a country with an ancient winemaking tradition that could potentially become an exciting emerging wine region for the world to discover.

Tzora Vineyards

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Me and Eran Pick

Eran Pick is not only the first Israeli Master of Wine and winemaker and general manager of Tzora Vineyards, but he is also a friend. He contacted me about setting up this lunch in New York City for himself and other producers representing three other wineries. It was the first time, inside or outside of Israel, that they had come together. Eran is someone who is open to seeing things from different points of view, and even though he has his own opinions about his style of winemaking, he has a desire to showcase all of the quality producers in Israel. His goal is to not only see his own wines in a prime place on the shelf in a respected retailer, but he has a more inclusive dream of having an Israeli wine section in retail stores as well as top restaurants. He has a passionate, noble vision of Israeli producers working together to reach a wider audience of wine lovers.

I have tasted Eran’s wines a few times and I have always been a fan. Sometimes I wish he was not so modest about his skills as he is an incredibly talented winemaker. He is a big believer in red blends, and it was interesting to learn that he never blends based on knowing the grape varieties. Each year he blends by taste, sometimes almost having a monovarietal wine in some years, or more of a blend in others. He doesn’t know which varieties or percentages of those varieties until he writes the analysis that is required for US paperwork to export the wines.

Tabor Winery

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Michal Akerman and Or Nidbach (Tabor team)

Michal Akerman, the Agronomist (Viticulturalist), was the last to tell her story. At first she said that she didn’t think it would be of much interest, but we pushed her to tell it anyway. After she served her time in the Israeli army, she decided to travel, and since her family is originally from Peru, she thought South America would be a great choice to not only get the chance to meet her grandparents, but to experience other cultures as she traveled around the continent. She needed money, so she decided to work for a winery in Chile – this led to her falling in love with vineyards and wanting to know more about them.

Michal would eventually wind up getting a Masters Degree (six years studying rootstocks) and attempting a PhD while also working with vineyards in South Africa and Cyprus, as well as Chile and Israel. She said that fifteen years ago, she convinced one of the largest wineries in Israel to hire her as their Viticulturalist – becoming the first one in the country. She said that up until that time, the work in the vineyards was never connected to the final product of the wine. Her work would help to grow vines in a way that would improve wine quality. She left this winery to pursue her PhD, but was quickly given an offer to work for Tabor Winery which would give her the opportunity to discover new vineyards in Israel. She left her PhD to devote herself to the task at hand with Tabor, and has now been there for a decade.  Over those 10 years, she has found through her discoveries that Israel has more to offer, in terms of terroir, than she could have ever dreamt.

Michal’s passion and love for Tabor Winery’s vineyards were evident in her telling us about their Malkiya Cabernet Sauvignon wine. They bought and planted this vineyard in 2006, and from the first vintage in 2009, she knew it was special. The topsoil is terra rossa (a red clay that is commonly associated with the Cabernet Sauvignon fine wines of Coonawarra, Australia) but underneath, only 8 inches (20 centimeters) down, is one of the most unique soils she has ever seen in Israel. In English, it is called “a lot of stars” since there are limestone rocks throughout the soil that gives the visual impression of this name. She said that it was a piece of land that many of the local people thought to be undesirable for any type of crop, but that she somehow, to their amazement, was able to produce the best Cabernet Sauvignon she has ever seen, which, considering she has had 20 years of experience with this grape around the world is a pretty impressive statement. She gets tiny berries from this plot that taste like the wine when she tastes the grapes in the vineyard – concentrated blackberry, complex flavors – she goes to this vineyard once or twice a week because she is so amazed by it. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone talk about a piece of land with so much passion.

Tabor is a large winery with a big portfolio, yet as one can see, by having someone like Michal Akerman overlooking their vineyards, they produce some pretty spectacular wines in their lineup.

How Do We Come Together?

This is the big question that all of us in the US are asking ourselves, and considering other recent events in the Western World, I think many people in other countries are asking themselves this same question. We need to stop blinding ourselves to those things that divide us. We need to stop making assumptions of the politics or attitudes of someone just because of where they live. We need to meet people with open hearts to experience what they are passionate about so that we have a better sense of who they are that goes beyond the sound bites on social media and tv that tend to focus on the worst of humanity.

The questions we should be asking Israeli winemakers do not deal with the Kosher issue, because it has nothing to do with quality, or what they think of some Middle Eastern event that has been blown out of proportion by the media… We should be asking them about their wine, about their story, and about what they hope to share with the world through their wines.

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Wines Tasted on
October 20th 2016

White Wines

It was interesting to taste the first two whites, both Sauvignon Blanc wines, together as the first was more of a fruit driven wine and the second was a more textural wine. Both were nice expressions of Sauvignon Blanc. Also, it was interesting to learn that Sauvignon Blanc does well in certain areas in Israel, not only because of higher altitudes creating cooler micro-climates, but also the ability to pick Sauvignon Blanc early and not having to worry about phenolic ripeness since they do not ferment the wines on the skins. Also, it is possible to pick Sauvignon Blanc early and still have good development of aromas and flavors.

israel-sauvignion-blanc-2015 Tabor Winery Sauvignon Blanc Adama: 100% Sauvignon Blanc from 40 year old vines and deep roots in limestone soil. Bright and crisp with zingy flavors of grapefruit and fresh thyme.

 -2015 Tzora Vineyards Shoresh Blanc: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Fermented and aged in neutral barrels with lees aging create a wine with weight, white peach flavors and herbaceous hints on the finish.

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-2015 Recanati Winery Marawi: 100% Marawi. This vineyard is grown on pergola trellises and dry-farmed. A truly interesting white that had an intense, smoky minerality that comes from this indigenous variety.

 

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-2014 Domaine du Castel “C” Blanc du Castel: 100% Chardonnay. I must admit, I have never been a huge fan of Israeli Chardonnay wines, but this was quite impressive. Fermented and aged on its lees in French oak barrels (1/3 new). Spicy, nutty aromas with nectarine flavors and hints of caramel on the finish. A lovely example that proves that fine Chardonnay can be made in Israel.

 

 

Red Wines

israel-malkiya-pic-2013 Tabor Winery Malkiya: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Michal Akerman’s description of the unique qualities of her vineyard certainly showed itself in this wine. A fiercely concentrated wine that had a generous quality with silky tannins and fresh black cherry flavors. A remarkable sense of minerality gave this wine a backbone of elegance that carries through the persistent finish.

 

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-2014 Tzora Vineyards Shoresh: 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Syrah and 4% Petit Verdot. A charming wine that showed harmony of its multi-layer fruit flavors that presented itself with a graceful texture and a pure, expressive finish.

 

 

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-2014 Recanati Winery Reserve Wild Carignan: 100% Carignan. In the 1880s, Baron Edmond de Rothschild’s first growers in the region planted Carignan, and it remained the most planted variety in Israel up until 9 years ago. Also, since it is a grape variety originating from Southern France, it tends to do well in warm climates. Its popularity was due to its capacity to produce large yields, yet when grown under stressful, high quality conditions, it can produce exotically intoxicating wines such as this one. Grown on bush vines that are dry-farmed on chalky, limestone soil producing low yields. An explosion of brambly berries that had good structure and plenty of tannins and acidity that settled down with some aeration. This wine had complex notes of star anise, violet and crushed rocks.

israel-pic-castel-2014 Domaine du Castel Grand Vin: The blend is always a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon, with the balance, in order of importance, being Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. This wine had serious muscle yet it was approachable with good flesh on the body and simply delicious cassis flavors and a fine, flavorful finish. Although drinking well now, I have a feeling this wine will only improve with time.

 

 

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What Qualities make a Great Older Wine?

Various research companies have estimated that up to 90% of wine purchased in the US is consumed within 24 hours. Of course, this could range between 70-90% depending on different factors – many people may purchase a significant amount of wine in advance for special events such as New Year’s Eve. But it stands to reason that most wine drinkers are not holding on to wine for aging purposes, and that makes sense, since there are very few wines that are meant for aging.

Yet the aging of wine is a concept which I think, even by consumers who don’t experience it often, intrigues wine drinkers.

We think of the great Cabernet Sauvignon dominated red wines of the world, Bordeaux and Napa Valley being just a couple of examples, as the most age-worthy wines. Yet there are various types of wines that have what it takes to be long distance marathon runners – great Riesling, a white wine no less, is known to make magnificent old bones.

Château de Riquewihr Dopff & Irion Vertical Tasting

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of tasting 8 different decades of a fine wine Riesling from Alsace made by Château de Riquewihr Dopff & Irion at a trade event in New York City. It was a chance to illustrate how well this particular Riesling, from a vineyard designated by the owner as Les Murailles, would fair over the years.

Qualities Depend on Taste

I naturally thought that each wine would show its age more and more as we tasted from youngest to oldest, but that was not the case. Some of the oldest wines, 1945 and 1953, seemed younger than 1976 or even the 1992. This discrepancy between my expectation and reality may have had to do with various issues of wine closure and/or amount of SO2 (sulfur dioxide), nevertheless, it is interesting to think that perhaps the differences had to do with the distinctive characteristics of each vintage.

The room was filled with sommeliers and journalists who each had their own favorite, and actually the “winner” seemed to be the 1953 with its shocking vigor still intact and bright spirit. It seemed like an enthusiastic child that was a little more colorful than its classmates, as noted by minty aromatics – the tiny hint that suggested an evolved Riesling. Honestly, if someone gave me that wine without telling me the vintage, I may have guessed that it was no more than a decade old.

My favorite was the 1976 (actually only one year younger than me) as I thought it wore its age openly, with pride. Obviously, it was a several decades evolved wine with nutty, smoky aromatics that were the first to say hello, and although it still had enough verve to keep it fresh, it had a soft, round body. There were a few people in the room that expressed a lack of interest in it as it did not have the tension or taut body of the others. I thought it seemed to be more confident as a wine that sat back with nothing to prove – this wine did not need to jump out of the glass like it did in its youth – it had valuable things to offer in its more evolved state. This quality of being significantly different than its youthful counterparts was exactly what some people did not like… while it was the very reason why it was my favorite.

There are some basic qualities that all wines need to have, whether young or old, to be considered a great wine. There has to be balance, long length and enjoyable aromas and flavors – although it is difficult to be objective about the last point. Some may add if it has the capacity for long term aging depending on the style of wine. The consensus of the room that day was that the vertical showed that this was a high quality producer capable of  making wines that were age-worthy. But I found it fascinating that some people found the older wines, which seemed like their youthful versions, to be the most appealing.

Appreciation for Older Wines

I remember when I first started to drink older wines, delving into those that were a decade, a couple of decades and then eventually drinking the oldest wine I have had which was a 1875 Madeira (a fortified wine). My first few experiences were a little jarring. It took time to get used to the different types of positively evolved aromatics that came with aging. But through time I started to fall in love with older wines to the point that I would crave them.

If I were to give a general, and I mean general, description of high quality aged wines in their prime, I would say the following: the fruit is in the background and/or is altered into deeper, darker flavors; savory notes would dominate and there is typically a more supple quality that needs time and focus to appreciate. The wines don’t sing, commonly; if anything, they are “over” singing – they had done their song and dance earlier in their life to gain attention, and now, they don’t need attention. But don’t get them wrong, they are happy to have a long, intimate conversation.

To me the greatest old wines show their age – they are survivors and that should be celebrated. As long as an older wine can pass on the tough savory lessons of a life long-lived, still with flickers of the sweet fruit of hope, then it can be a truly special experience that no adolescent wine can emulate, even with all the decanting in the world. Some results only come from age, and the best come from a long life believing in the promise of a better tomorrow.

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October 13th, 2016

Vertical Tasting of Château de Riquewihr Dopff & Irion, Riesling, Les Murailles:

Château de Riquewihr, located within the fortified city walls of the town of Riquewihr, in Alsace, France, was constructed in 1549. The Dopff and Irion families, having a vineyard lineage dating back to the 16th century, purchased Château de Riquewihr in 1945 with René Dopff leading the way to update the winery, labeling, as well as matching grape varieties to their appropriate terroir. Hence, one of their top wines, Riesling from their personally designated Les Murailles, does not have Grand Cru status because, in his eyes, some of the best vineyards fall outside the boundaries, as well as some mediocre vineyards he did not want to use were considered within the Grand Cru. But the wines below certainly show a nobility of being fine wines, and hence, the proof is in the pudding.

Some of the below bottles had been recorked to keep the integrity of the seal.

(Initially greeted with a Crémant d’Alsace Blanc de Blancs Brut NV which showed their modern labeling as well as being delightful with 50% Pinot Blanc and 50% Pinot Auxerrois, with notes of honey covered apples and blanched almonds.)

Château de Riquewihr Dopff & Irion, Riesling, Les Murailles

-2010: Tight with marked acidity and citrus zest as the main characteristics that are prevalent in this wine, more layers hidden, hints of white flower and lime blossom, but needs a lot more time to show its potential.

-2001: Intensely smoky, flinty minerality notes dominated this wine with a touch of honeysuckle.

-1992: Surprisingly, this wine had the most oxidative notes which could be due, in part, to bottle variations with this vintage.  I personally liked it, being a fan of Sherry-like wines – bruised apple, roasted cashews with ashy aromas in the background.

-1989: Lovely purity of fruit with white peach and nectarine that had an added layer of complexity with white stones, good flesh and ripeness on the body but the wine still had an overall quality of being taut and concise.

-1976: Toasted almonds, smoky minerality, broader and richer than the other vintages yet still balanced beautifully, softer acidity…peach and lemon confit flavors carried along the sustained finish.

-1969: Very different wine than the rest with pronounced perfume nose, spice on the palate, a hint of mushroom on the finish.

-1953: A touch of mint, more herbaceous notes than fruit flavors, linear in shape, still had lots of fierce energy.

-1945: (“wine survived 5 years of war” – World War II) Minty, bright, fresh, crumbly stone notes.

Château de Riquewihr Dopff & Irion Tasting during Press Lunch after Vertical:

Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NV: A refreshing traditional method sparkling wine with pristine red fruit and orange blossoms.

-2015 Riesling Cuvée René Dopff: (grapes bought from 200 selected wine grape growers) Lots of juicy stone fruit flavors with a broad body and richer texture than typical for Riesling – a good wine/vintage to try for those who like a richer style.

-2014 Crustacés: (grapes bought from 200 selected wine grape growers) 90% Sylvaner and 10% Pinot Blanc. Chamomile tea, pear, melon and a clean finish made this a fun choice to have with seafood.

-2014 Pinot Blanc Cuvée René Dopff: (grapes bought from 200 selected wine grape growers) This wine was a nice example of a good Alsace Pinot Blanc that had apricot and wood smoked aromas and soft acidity.

2011 Riesling Grand Cru Schoenenbourg: An exhilarating wine with a great back bone of acidity that gives it a kick of verve throughout the long finish with floral, sweet peach and anise aromatics that finish with an intense minerality.

-2009 Pinot Gris Grand Cru Vorbourg: Anyone who questions if Pinot Gris can be aromatic should try this wine. Pretty honey notes with exotic tropical flavors and a full body.

-2014 Gewurztraminer Cuvée René Dopff: (grapes bought from 200 selected wine grape growers) Perfumed with classic lychee flavors and a tinge of clove with a lush body.

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Recovering from Life with Champagne

paillard-pic-2It was truly a wonderful experience to meet Alice Paillard, daughter of Bruno – the founder of Bruno Paillard Champagnes. I have always admired their Champagnes for their tendency to over-deliver in quality, as well as Bruno himself as being a living legend making Champagnes that are sought after by serious connoisseurs even though he faced strong competition from larger, more well-established Champagne houses. Alice had the same passion that I imagined her father possessed. I had a thrilling lunch, often times forgetting to eat my food, as I was drawn into her exuberant explanations of their philosophies with regards to making these lovely Champagnes. One philosophy, in particular, stood out to me – their philosophy of disgorgement.

Disgorgement

I want to give a brief explanation of disgorgement for those of you who may not be used to this term. Champagne is a wine that is not only about a specific place, aka terroir, but it is also about a particular process of winemaking that needs to be executed with great skill. After a second fermentation in individual bottles, which helps to create the bubbles, there is a time when the bottles are left to age so autolysis, aka lees aging (wine lees are the sediment from the dead yeast cells), can add more complexity to the Champagne. This process may take anywhere from 15 months to up to a decade.

Disgorgement is when the producer removes all the sediment from the bottle. After disgorgement, the wines are given a dosage (wine that equals the quality of what is in the bottle plus very pure cane sugar) which not only helps to make up for the volume of wine that was lost during disgorgement, but also balances out the fierce acidity that is typical in Champagne. Hence, when someone asks what the “dosage” is for a given Champagne, they are asking how much residual sugar is in that bottle.

Life is like an Operation

paillard-pic-1 Let us get back to the word disgorgement. During my lunch with Alice Paillard, she explained to me that cellar workers used to use the French word meaning “to operate” when they were talking about disgorging bottles. This is the first time that I had heard this term, which seemed odd figuring how long I have been involved in the wine industry, and certainly meeting Champagne producers, that I had to have heard this story sometime in the past.

But I must admit it was the first time I had consciously heard it. Maybe it was the passionate way that Alice expressed the importance of seeing it as an operation – the trauma, the shock, the recovery needed for the wines. Maybe it was the idea that I was in a place in my life where I was open to hearing this idea. Or probably it was both.

When I look back on my life, especially during my 20s and 30s, there was so much running around trying to pay bills and take care of people; trying to be everything to everyone – it takes its toll. That inner sparkle started to diminish – not overnight – but slowly, and one day I woke up and said to myself, “What happened to me?!”

Life is like a series of operations, disgorgements, where we have been through some type of intense stress, shock to our system, and we need the time for recovery – even though we may have pressure from the outside world to never stop.

The Maillard Reaction

paillard-pic-8Alice Paillard said that it was vital for them to allow their bottles to recover after their operation. This recovery time is dependent on how long they were aged on lees, and so, their general practice of recovery is as follows: minimum of 5 months for Première Cuvée and Rosé Première Cuvée, 8 months for Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, 8 to 12 months for vintage wines, and up to 18 months for N.P.U. (Nec Plus Ultra).

I have read in the past that aging after post-disgorgement was necessary for the Maillard reaction (in Champagne terminology, Reaction Maillard) to happen. I know I’m dropping a lot of crazy terms in this post but this is simply a reaction of sugars and amino acids in the wine that, some believe, create the toasty and roasted goodness present in Champagne wines, as well as other complex aromatics that have not been exactly pinpointed.

Recovery from Life

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Alice Paillard and me

And so the concept of Champagne needing a little rest before being consumed was not foreign to me, but using the language of “operation” and “recovery” hit me in that moment as truly understanding the importance of this practice.

All of us go through periods in our life where it is impossible to properly take care of ourselves. We experience times like this more and more as we get older. But I think we can get into such a habit of sacrificing our own well-being for so many reasons, that when we do have time to take care of ourselves, we feel guilty about taking that precious time to allow ourselves to be happy. A few months ago, for the first time, I sat for 15 minutes in a little park that I have lived by for over 12 years. I had to force myself to relax and enjoy but once I allowed myself to just sit there, looking at the birds and deeply breathing, I felt new again.

Maybe I had heard the terms “operation” and “recovery” with regards to Champagne before this lunch, but I was in a place in my life where taking care of myself, or at least in my mind, was not an option.

We have to actively give ourselves the time to recover just like Champagne Bruno Paillard gives their wines the rest that they need. And so, I thought, what better way to celebrate having the strength and courage to take care of myself than by drinking a Bruno Paillard Champagne while sitting on my couch with my partner in crime, being grateful for a moment of recovery.

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Tasting of Champagne Bruno Paillard with Alice Paillard on October 7th, 2016

Multi-Vintage Champagnes

Bruno Paillard prefers to use the term “multi-vintage” instead of “non-vintage” because they have been using “reserve wines” (wines placed aside from other vintages) since 1985, as well as using a large amount ranging from 20 to 50% in the blend. The large amount of various vintages used truly makes these wines “multi-vintage” Champagnes.

The three following Multi-Vintage Champagnes have a blend of 25 different vintages.

paillard-pic-4-Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru: 100% Chardonnay, as indicated by the term “Blanc de Blancs” on a Champagne bottle. The grapes are sourced from grand crus vineyards in the Côte des Blancs, an area of vineyards in Champagne that is highly prized for great Chardonnay. A linear body with lots of energy, a hint of lime blossom yet the very fine bubbles create a creamy texture that balances well with the marked acidity.

paillard-pic-5-Première Cuvée:                                    45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 22% Pinot Meunier (20% spent first fermentation in barrel). Extra Brut dosage with less than 6 g/l residual sugar. Lots of generous fruit with cranberry and golden apple that has a hint of purple flowers and broader on the palate than the Blanc de Blancs.

paillard-pic-6-Rosé Première Cuvée:  Majority Pinot Noir with a small amount of Chardonnay (amount remains a secret). A simply pretty Rosé Champagne with a stunning pale salmon color that hinted to the beautiful yet delicate wild strawberry fruit on the palate, with a touch of sweet spice on the finish.

Art and Vintage Champagnes                                                                                           It can be difficult to express the experience of drinking a particular wine. We try with language using words that people can relate to with regards to aromas, flavors and texture. But I was thrilled to talk to Alice Paillard about their Art series for their Vintage Champagnes. Once they have tasted the Vintage Champagnes, once ready to access, they work with an artist to design the label to help express the main character of the wine.

paillard-pic-7-2006 Vintage Voluptous: Swedish artist Jockum Nordström created a collage/painting for this wine under the title Voluptous, a theme the Paillard family decided on because of the wine’s generous and round character. Smooth and silky in the mouth with flavors of peach pastries and marzipan, with a long, flavorful finish.

paillard-pic-8-2008 Vintage Energy: Korean artist Bang Hai Ja designed this powerful label using the theme Energy. This vintage is completely different from the 2006 with its intense vitality, a dominance of chalky minerality notes and incredible precision.

paillard-pic-9-2003 N.P.U: N.P.U. stands for “Nec Plus Ultra” and represents the most exceptional vintages. 2003 is only the 5th vintage to be released on the market that has been given the prestigious title of N.P.U., as well as 1990, 1995, 1996 and 1999. The 2003 first seemed like an odd vintage with shockingly high temperatures in France during the summer, and so it remains a unique vintage in Champagne that many disagree on with regards to quality. But this 2003 N.P.U. had delicious flavors of honeysuckle, roasted hazelnuts and a rich, creamy texture, yet still had great tension and energy; zesty acidity and an underlying note of minerality came across on the superb, refined finish.

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Do Scores Matter in the Wine World?

chadwick-pic-3This is an old topic that will really never go out of fashion. I think there should be constant discussion regarding wine scores since those factors that influence wine purchases are starting to change as Millennials, ages 21-34 become more influential. Stories about the producers, region, history and culture seem to be of greater importance to this group, and hence, scores may not be the only factor that younger drinkers are considering. But wines need to get on their radar first before they even attempt to research them. And that is where scores, whether they are taken at face value or not, can make someone at any age take the time to seek out particular wines.

Scores

Although there have been many notable great British (as well as many other great wine minds around the world ) critics who have helped to convey quality through scores, as an American, no one has had the impact that Robert Parker has had in establishing this system. It seems that either people love him or hate him, but no matter one’s personal opinion, I hope we can all agree that he was a game changer. He was a consumer, self taught, who decided to empower others while empowering himself. He created the 100 point system which helped consumers of all economic backgrounds make their own choices at retail stores and restaurants. This system became so popular and powerful because it was a system that was desperately needed in America, and eventually encouraged the US to become the vibrant wine drinking country it is today, but I know the system is not perfect and we are still evolving as a wine drinking country.

A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to try various wines from Chile and Argentina, as famous wine critic James Suckling brought the event “Great Wines of the Andes” to NYC, as well as to other major cities around the US. This event showcased wines that Suckling considered as the best out of the over 2000 wines he had tasted in Chile. This is where we get into controversial tropics with wine critics because some may rightly argue that certain amazing wines were left off this list, and bring up the valid point that this list is just one person’s opinion. But these are valid points for any list, or any critic or any recommendations for that matter. I try to think of these events/lists as an opportunity to discover new wines, or bring greater attention to wines that I know, instead of focusing on the wines that were missed if I were to make my own list.

Errazuriz

chadwick-pic-1Because there were many producers in town, I had the chance to sit down with a few of them, taste their wines, and talk to them about what was currently exciting in their world. One great encounter, historical I would even say, was with the owner of Viña Errázuriz, Eduardo Chadwick. Chilean wine lovers will be very well acquainted with his winery which is credited with giving Chile some validity in the fine wine world.

100 Points

It would have already been a pleasure to meet him and taste current releases because I have admired his family winery, their accomplishments and wines for many years. But I was even more intrigued because one of his wines, the 2014 iconic Viñedo Chadwick, was given 100 points by James Suckling – the first 100 point Chilean wine. Again, going back to the main issue of points being one person’s opinion, even though it is a well experienced and educated opinion, but yes, I give it to you, it is still one person’s opinion. And so, if you are not a fan of Suckling’s taste, maybe the 100 points does not mean as much as a wine critic you do follow. But I would argue, in this case, that it is significant. It is significant because it will garner the attention for Chile that they so rightly deserve. Those who know their wines, their diversity, the elegance and intoxicating complexity that is possible from their top wines will say, “It is about damn time that we have a 100 point Chilean wine!”

I only had one hour to talk to Eduardo Chadwick and he spent 15 minutes talking about his family and their wines, while he spent the other 45 minutes talking about Chile and all the reasons why it is a great wine making country. He gave us a book called “The Berlin Tasting – Uncorking the Potential of Chile’s Terroir” that documented this famous tasting that placed not only his 2000 Viñedo Chadwick wine in first place but also went into detail about the glory of Chile.  He also expressed pride that many Chilean wines, from other producers, have high rankings in various blind tasting that have taken place around the world.

The Judgment of Paris

Hearing Chadwick’s pride in the Chilean contingent doing well in these blind tastings reminded me of how important The Judgment of Paris was to California producers. It was a blind tasting in 1976, in Paris, involving top wine critics – nine out of the eleven judges were French. Two Napa Valley wines received top marks for both white and red categories, beating out top producers from Bordeaux and Burgundy. The importance of this tasting was not to give the US bragging rights over France with regards to wine, but rather, it helped to legitimize a struggling region that had been considered a joke to the rest of the world. It still gives me chills when I talk to the old time producers from Napa Valley, who started in the 1970s, and they tell me that once the news broke out, about The Judgment of Paris, they were then able to get approvals for loans that were once denied. Napa Valley may have never become a world class wine area if it wasn’t for that one event.

Caballo Loco

caballo-loco-pic-1In the spirit of shining a light on the world class wines that Chile is producing, I would like to mention an unknown wine, certainly a lesser known one in the US: Caballo Loco, which means “Crazy Horse” in English. I met with their humble winemaker Brett Jackson – originally from New Zealand, who moved to Chile over 20 years ago – to taste his wild Caballo Loco wines. In the past, I have always thought of Chilean wines as being the reserved “safe” wines from South America, due to their restraint compared to wines from other South American countries, but the Caballo Loco wines were some of the most “savage” wines I have had from Chile.

The Caballo Loco wines had wild flavors while still having a backbone of the elegance one expects from the great wines of Chile. The wines are named after one of the owners whose nickname is Crazy Horse. Since Chileans are typically reserved people, evidently due to the idea that they are an isolated country because of the ocean on one side and the Andes Mountains on the other side, it is atypical to have such a free spirit. But he was the inspiration for their incredibly unique Caballo Loco Nº 16, which is described below, and it is the first time I have experienced such a wine. They are currently trying to get better distribution in the US and I hope Suckling’s “Great Wines of the Andes” events have helped them in this task.

Perspective

When it comes to scores it is important to keep them in perspective. Scores are great opportunities to discover a new producer, whether it creates an impetus to try their highly scored wine or their other more affordable options, or just wines from the region, or in this case just premium wines from another country, such as Chile. In this way, 100 points can be valuable to everyone, if we also realize that those who haven’t achieved a high score can still be interesting wines to try as well.

chadwick-pic-4Eduardo Chadwick was understandably excited for his family’s wines. It was bittersweet because his late father is the one who allowed him to plant vineyards in 1992, over his beloved polo fields, since his father, a famous polo player, was retired from playing polo at the time – that vineyard would end up making this 100 point wine. Eduardo has not only honored his father’s memory through his determination and accomplishments of making fine wine using his family’s names, Errazuriz and Chadwick, but he brings great honor to all the forefathers, as well as foremothers, of Chile.

And if this particular 100 points get significantly more people to taste and read about Chilean wines, then yes, it does matter in my eyes.

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Errazuriz Wines Tasted on September 27th, 2016

chadwick-pic-2-2014 Viñedo Chadwick, Puente Alto, Maipo Valley, Chile: Puente Alto in Maipo. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Only available in a case of three vertical wines: 1 each 2014, 2012, 2010. Previous vintage 2013 is available on the market for $212 according to wine-searcher.com. Maipo Valley has one of the best reputations for big red wines in Chile with the Puento Alto region having the highest reputation for Cabernet Sauvignon. Many describe it as the ‘Bordeaux of South America’. The name of this wine honors Eduardo Chadwick’s father. The pure elegance of this wine was stunning with pretty notes of cassis, lilacs and a whiff of cigar box. From the first sip, the silky texture is simply breathtaking, as well as the long, pure and expressive finish.

-2013 Viña Errázuriz Don Maximiano, Aconcagua Valley, Chile ($62): 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 6% Carménère and 5% Petit Verdot. At one time, Errazuriz winery was mocked for planting vines in the Aconcagua Valley for the purpose of making fine wine due to the preconceived notion that it was too hot. Many of those critics did not take into account the moderating affects of the Andes Mountains, Pacific Ocean and Humboldt Current. They succeeded by becoming one of the most celebrated producers in Chile. Errazuriz is the family name from Eduardo Chadwick’s paternal grandmother’s side of the family – she was the grand niece of the founder.  A bigger wine than the Chadwick with muscular tannins and flavors of dried plums, black berries and a touch of rosemary. After a few hours of decanting, it showed more nuanced minerality and rounder tannins.

-2013 Viña Errázuriz Max Reserva Chardonnay, Aconcagua Valley, Chile ($14): 100% Chardonnay. 60% Malolatic fermentation. Wild yeasts. 10% New oak. I had this wine after the reds and I was happy I tried it. I used to have a prejudice against South American Chardonnay, but this one was a nice surprise, especially considering the price. Ripe white peach with sweet spice and nutty oak. It had a rich quality many Chardonnay lovers like yet it still had plenty of acidity to keep it lively.

Caballo Loco Wines Tasted on September 28th, 2016

-2013 Caballo Loco Grand Cru Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile (SRP $35): Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carménère. Apalta is identified as a Grand Cru vineyard in the Colchagua Valley for Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère and Cabernet Franc due to a longer growing season that helps to develop more aromatics. Deep color with ripe black currant fruit, a hint of thyme and firm yet fine tannins that give a nice structure to this wine.

 caballo-loco-pic-2-Caballo Loco Nº 16, Maipo, Apalta and Central Valleys, Chile (SRP $70): 50% Nº 15 and 50% 2011. This wine does not have a vintage because it is fractionally blended with the best barrels from various vintages. Because every year they use 50% of previously fractionally blended wines, they figure that there is still tiny portions from their first vintages of 1992 and 1994, as well as all the ones in between, in this blend.   Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Carménère are all the varieties in this blend. A multi-layered and dimensional wine with cedar infused plums, dried blackberries and fresh blood oranges that had an underlayer of coffee notes. A powerful wine with volume and tension that had a prolonged and flavorful finish. 

 

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