Winery Spotlight: Chateau Latour-Martillac

LM 3The JJ Buckley wine staff recently had a chance to learn a bit more about Chateau Latour-Martillac, one of the top estates in the Pessac-Leognan appellation south of Bordeaux. Tastings with owners and their winemakers or marketing managers at our offices are always an important way to add to the knowledge we gain during our annual visits to Bordeaux. This visit, however, afforded us the chance to learn about something other than soils and varietals.

The domaine has a long history that starts with an ancient tower from the 12th Century that gives rise to the winery’s name. Vines were not planted until the middle of the 19th Century yet the quality of wine from the estate was soon recognized by Edouard Kressman, a negociant from Bordeaux. His son purchased the chateau and its 100 acres of vines in 1930 (about 80% is planted to red varieties with the rest planted to semillon and sauvignon blanc). The domaine remains in the family’s hands while members of the Kressman family still work as negociants.

The vineyards are located outside the little village of Martillac, some ten minutes southeast of the small town of Leognan that comprises part of the appellation’s name. The weather and soil composition of the two villages are quite similar but differ markedly from the Pessac wineries located next to the city limits of Bordeaux. There’s a sense of elegance and finesse found in the wines made here compared to the power and concentration found in wines from Pessac. Thanks to the heat generated by the warmth of the city, Pessac’s grapes there are picked two weeks earlier than in Martillac and Leognan.

The Latour-Martillac label and the diary that provided inspiration.

The Latour-Martillac label and the diary that provided inspiration.

2014 marks the 80th anniversary of the Kressman family’s purchase of the domaine and the creation of the winery’s distinctive label. As explained to us by Wilfrid Groizard, the estate’s Marketing Director, the label has remained unchanged since it first appeared. It was designed at the height of the Art Deco era and was based on a small diary owned by Alfred Kressman. (See photo on left) We were all quite fortunate to get a chance to examine this beautiful notebook which was carefully brought over to us directly from the winery.

But what really caught our interest lay inside the covers of this fragile journal, a detailed account of Alfred’s tastings over the years accompanied with sketches of labels and bottles. (See photo on right) It provides a fascinating insight into the wines that traveled across the tables of a top negociant during the early 1930s. In less than a month, wines from the 1864-1875 (Margaux,

Tasting notes from January and February 1932

Tasting notes from January and February 1932

Malescot and Chasse Spleen among others) were complemented by more recent wines from 1911-1920 including a Petrus from Pomerol and St. Estephe’s Tronquay. But the most intriguing entry was for a bottle of 1911 Haute Rive from “Etats Unis”, more evidence showing that wines from America made it across the Atlantic. (See upper left corner) Unfortunately, little is known about this winery or what state it came from.

While it was great to taste through their wines (including a sumptuous 2001 blanc along with a ripe and powerful 2009 rouge), it’s often stories, history and context that make wines richer. Our session certainly proved this adage to be true.

In Pursuit of Balance: The Hand of Man or the Hand of the Land?

Jason Drew of Drew Family Cellars

Jason Drew of Drew Family Cellars

The annual In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB) tastings have quickly found a place as one of the wine industry’s most important events. Initially organized by Raj Parr of the Michael Mina restaraunt group as a one-off event in San Francisco back in 2011, Raj was joined by Jasmine Hirsch, whose family owns the acclaimed Sonoma Coast vineyard named after her father, to organize the seminars and tastings. Starting in 2012, the IPOB conclaves have become a bi-coastal affair conducted in New York and San Francisco.

Most wine trade and consumer tastings are organized around something concrete, something that one can hold onto. It could be an event, like the release of a new vintage, while others might be focused on a grape (like ZAP’s annual party) or a winegrowing region. What makes the IPOB tastings so unique is that the purpose of the event is to focus attention on an idea: “to promote dialogue around the meaning and relevance of balance in California pinot noir and chardonnay” as they note on their website. It’s clear that the IPOB tastings have struck a chord that resonates among passionate consumers and interested members of the trade because their events are one of the few that generates debate long after the spit buckets have been dumped and the glasses cleaned.

Following the success of the first event, Raj and Jasmine added a few industry stalwarts (including the SF Chronicle’s Jon Bonne and Failla winemaker Ehren Jordan) to help craft a portfolio of wineries that “share a commitment to seeking balance in California pinot noir and chardonnay”. The selected wineries present their wines at the trade and consumer tastings following a few educational seminars and mostly include “small, independent, family-run operations” that are usually sold direct to consumers and/or select restaurants. For many consumers and members of the trade, the IPOB tastings represent a rare chance to taste these wines.

The concept of balanced wines has become a lightning rod for the debate about lower alcohol in wines. Whether it’s in wine focused blogposts on the internet or more mainstream wine publications, the issue has gained traction in the press and polarized many in the wine community. And by that I mean winemakers and critics because the voice of consumers seems to be lost in all the noise.

Catalogs from the last In Pursuit of Balance tasting in San Francisco

Catalogs from the last In Pursuit of Balance tasting in San Francisco

But if you look at some statistics on the wines that have been poured at IPOB tastings, it seems that where the grapes are grown plays a greater role and a larger impact on making balanced wines, as least among the wines selected by the IPOB tasting panel. Over the past 4 years, wineries have poured about 400 wines from 17 different AVAs and these three appellations below are the most popular.

Sonoma Coast                                     38.4%
Anderson Valley/Mendocino                12%
Santa Cruz Mountains                          10%

It’s important to note that popular wine regions that have developed strong reputations for making quality pinot noirs like Monterey, Carneros and Russian River have been virtually excluded from the IPOB tastings. Over the past 4 years of San Francisco tastings, only 8.8% of the wines presented came from these three appellations.

The clear implication from this data is that the influence of the land is stronger than that of the winemaker’s hand in making balanced wines, and that certain regions are more likely to produce balanced wines than others. This is in sharp contrast to the notion that winemakers have control over a wine’s balance.

Happy greetings from Ehren Jordan of Failla Wines

Happy greetings from Ehren Jordan of Failla Wines

The tastings so far have probably raised more questions than have been answered (and that should be expected and encouraged). There are some very interesting topics that deserve to be addressed at future IPOB events which have so far only focused on chardonnay and pinot noir. For example, the concept of finding balance is something that could also extend to other varietals like syrah or cabernet. And what are we to make of regions that seem to be unable to make balanced wines? What will make wines from Carneros or Russian River more present at the IPOB in the future? Whatever the answers, you can be sure that IPOB events will create a healthy and vigorous dialogue in the future!!

The wines below are some of the wines poured at the San Francisco In Pursuit of Balance tastings and are available at JJ Buckley:

2011 Calera Pinot Noir Ryan Vineyard

2012 Failla Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast

2011 Sandhi Pinot Noir Sanford & Benedict

2012 Calera Chardonnay Central Coast

2012 Failla Chardonnay Sonoma Coast

2011 Sandhi Chardonnay Rita’s Crown

It’s Chardonnay Day!! Celebrating a Much Loved and Maligned Varietal

Chardonnay master Jacques Lardiere of Lois Jadot

Chardonnay master Jacques Lardiere of Louis Jadot

It wasn’t that long ago that we celebrated International Sauvignon Blanc Day, in fact it was actually just last week. Started five years ago, it has sparked a number of other “Grape Days” thanks to the increasing connections between the wine industry and social media. The goal has been to taste the grape of the day and use twitter and Facebook to share tasting experiences across the globe, raise awareness of the grape and do a bit of education on the side.

So now comes National Chardonnay Day and it’s quite logical to ask why chardonnay, one of the most popular grapes in the world, would need a day of its own? If anything, the grape probably needs a bit of love these days as chardonnay seems to be a target for any wine writer or a sommelier with an ax to grind. The term “ABC” used to refer to the alphabet or Jim Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat Winery but today is more popularly known for meaning “Anything But Chardonnay.” Wineries that specialize in chardonnay are ridiculed. It’s tough to be a chardonnay lover these days.

It wasn’t always that way. From a historical perspective, chardonnay has been around for centuries having found a long standing home in Burgundy. Going further back, UC Davis researchers have used DNA analysis to conclude that the grape is derived from a cross of pinot blanc and a more obscure varietal called gouais blanc. Other anecdotal claims have traced its’ origins back to the Middle East. Today, however, it has a global presence shared by few other varietals.

In America, chardonnay’s history is much more recent. The first cuttings came to California just over a century ago when the Wente family of Livermore sourced some rootstock from the University of Montpelier, France’s leading wine research center. Some of the first plantings to follow occurred in the Santa Cruz Mountains at Mount Eden and Ridge, in Napa with Louis Martini and Stony Hill and in Sonoma at Hanzell.

Paul and Michael Brajkovich, chardonnay masters at Kumeu River

Paul and Michael Brajkovich, chardonnay masters at Kumeu River

It nevertheless took decades before chardonnay gained a foothold with consumers in America. In fact, so little chardonnay was planted that the annual California Grape Harvest Reports put chardonnay in the category of “Other White Varietals” up until the mid-1960’s. Things began to change shortly after as the beginnings of a wine culture began to take hold in the country. A growing segment of wine drinkers started to enjoy drier white wines, moving on from the rieslings and chenin blancs preferred for the table in previous years. Thanks to the rapid growth of California’s wine industry following the Judgment of Paris, chardonnay was identified by writers and winemakers as one of the grapes that the state could produce successfully.

What accounts for chardonnay’s popularity? Part of it lies with how it is made. For one, it’s relatively easy to grow and the vines naturally produce a healthy, bountiful crop so it’s good for revenue from a grower’s perspective. In the cellar, winemakers can choose to get the wine to market quickly by fermenting in stainless steel. This low cost winemaking style popularized by wineries in Chablis are crisp and fresh appealing to those consumers who like a more elegant style of wine. Or they can invest in a more serious style that mimics the great wines of Burgundy using oak barrels and malolactic fermentation creating wines with greater texture and complexity.

Australia's Moss Wood Winery specializes in chardonnay

Australia’s Moss Wood Winery specializes in chardonnay

But chardonnay’s popularity also stems from the fact that the grape can communicate a wide array of flavors that are easily understood by novices and experts alike. For those new to wine, the language in wine descriptions can be hard to decipher, frequently scaring people away from a greater appreciation of wine. But the ability of chardonnay to easily transmit specific flavors makes it easy for consumers to identify specific flavors. Words like buttery, tropical and oaky are easy to identify in chardonnays. With that knowledge comes the confidence to tell a sommelier, “I’d like a buttery, oaky chardonnay with flavors of pineapple” and get a chardonnay from Monterey or Santa Barbara. For many. chardonnay becomes the first step to understanding the language of wine and a doorway to exploring other varietals.

But the chardonnay grape also serves an important function, creating a wine that appeals to a broad range of customers who may want something special or as an everyday beverage. It is an easy grape to like, for the consumer, the grower and the winemaker. Which is why it has been America’s most preferred wine for decades. It’s clear that just about everyone loves chardonnay, this is a day as good as any to show the grape just a bit more love. You know you want to!

Some of our favorite chardonnays at JJ Buckley:

2012 Failla Chardonnay Sonoma Coast

2009 La Follette Chardonnay Lorenzo Vineyard

2012 Mer Soleil Chardonnay Reserve

2011 Ridge Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountain Estate

2011 Shafer Vineyards Chardonnay Red Shoulder Ranch

10% off Mix & Match Wine Case

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Mix & Match Wine Case: Put Your own case together! Any 12 bottles from any of our White Bordeaux Selection. Once you’ve selected your bottles reply to this email and receive10% off the lowest JJ Buckley web price. Having trouble putting your case together? Contact a JJ Buckley Wine Specialist who can assist you in the process.

Click Here to view our selection of White Bordeaux Wines.

Once you’ve selected your wines send an email with your selection to marketing@jjbuckley.com or give us a call at 888.859.4697.

A few terms and conditions do apply. This is a limited time offer and it is subject to availability. Offer applies to White Bordeaux in-stock inventory only. Minimum 12 bottle purchase. Mixed cases. Valid from May, 21 2014 at 6:00AM PT- May 28, 2014 at 12:00 am PT. While supplies last. In the unlikely event of a wine becoming unavailable, a substitute of similar style and of equal or greater value will be suggested. This offer must be completed with a valid ship or pick-up date and is not eligible for storage. Offer does not apply to, and may not be combined with, previous or pending orders. You must be 21 years old. Licensed retailers have the right to refuse orders should an advertisement not comply with your state laws. Sale available to all states where shipping permitted from California. Geographic restrictions may apply. Offer subject to change as JJ Buckley Fine Wines reserves the right to modify or cancel this promotion with or without notice. Valid only for destinations/addresses within the continental U.S. where it is legal for JJ Buckley Fine wines to ship wine. Void where prohibited by law.

The New Faces of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Sarah Burton of Cloudy Bay Winery

Sarah Burton of Cloudy Bay Winery

In celebration of International Sauvignon Blanc Day, it seemed like an opportune time to look at where New Zealand sauvignon blanc is going. And when we talk about kiwi savvy, we’re really talking about Marlborough savvy…

It’s pretty incredible to think that just over 30 years ago, NZ was more known for muller-thurgau than sauvignon blanc. The first New Zealand sauvignon blanc was released in 1979 and it was only six years before that when grapes were first planted in Marlborough. Back then, just about all the wine made in New Zealand was consumed by kiwis, there was virtually no exported wine. Today 70% of all the wine made in New Zealand is exported and 83% of that is sauvignon blanc. And of all the sauvignon blanc produced in NZ, about 3/4 is grown in Marlborough. So its easy to see why Marlborough and kiwi sauvignon blancs are often considered to be one and the same.

Just about anyone who drinks wine is familiar with the Marlborough style. Its’ easy to identify the fresh, vibrant aromas and crisp flavor profiles that are quite unique in the world of sauvignon blanc. So popular is the style that wineries in other countries try to copy the recipe, as if there really is one.

Yet while Marlborough sauvignon continues to dominate the globe, there’s a quiet revolution happening in the region that seeks to change the face of the varietal. Maybe change is too harsh a word but it’s clear that wineries are seeking to add new interpretations of sauvignon blanc to the classic style. In short, Marlborough sauvignon blanc is being reinvented and the changes are slowing coming ashore.

While there seems to be an impression that there is only one Marlborough style, a lineup of wines will quickly show that there is considerable variability in the category. Rather than being uniform geographically, Marlborough is quite diverse and has a number of microclimates. The variation in wine styles comes from differences in temperatures and soil types throughout the region.

Tasting a barrel sample from Brent Marris' Marisco Vineyards. 2013 is an excellent year for Marlborough sauvignon blanc.

Tasting a barrel sample from Brent Marris’ Marisco Vineyards. 2013 is an excellent year for Marlborough sauvignon blanc.

Most Marlborough sauvignons are blends that incorporate fruit from an variety of different subregions. But some wineries are now isolating individual plots and making wines from vineyards that have some unique attributes. This started with Saint Clair Estate back in 2005 when they introduced the Pioneer Block program. Over the years, they have made wine from ten different sites and the differences are striking. Other wineries, including Brancott Estate and Mahi, have followed suit and are producing an array of vineyard designated wines, each offering unique statements that are distinctly different when sampled side-by-side.

The biggest changes in Marlborough sauvignon blanc, however, have come from the adoption of new winemaking techniques which have helped to add a new dimension to Marlborough savvys. The classic winemaking procedure is to crush the fruit, ferment cold in stainless steel tanks and bottle in 5-6 months. If a winemaker wanted more complexity, the fruit could be picked at different ripeness levels or an assortment of yeasts could be used for fermentation. But basically the winemaker had little to do in making the wine.

To create a more complex wine (or to counteract what might be called “Bored Winemakers Syndrome”) winemakers began to experiment with production techniques more closely associated to making chardonnay. As was done a few years earlier by California wineries such as Chalk Hill and Murphy Goode, Cloudy Bay winemaker Kevin Judd used wild yeasts for fermentation, aged the wine in a combination of new and used oak and allowed the juice to go through malolactic fermentation. Cloudy Bay’s “Te Koko” sauvignon blanc, released in 1996, was the first wine of this style and it slowly changed the way some Marlborough wineries make their wines.

Today, many winemakers incorporate some if not all of these techniques in an effort to make a richer, more textured style of Marlborough sauvignon. Many are striving to make a wine that will also benefit from short-term cellaring. Most interestingly, wineries are not trying to build complexity by blending with semillon as done in Bordeaux and Western Australia. It’s clear that wineries see that the future of Marlborough sauvignon blanc will lie entirely with the grape itself and that should provide for some exciting wines ahead.

Here’s a selection of Marlborough sauvignon blancs showing the varied approaches to the grape.

Classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

2012 Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc

2012 Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc

2012 Lawson’s Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough

Vineyard Designated Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

2010 Mahi Sauvignon Blanc Ballot Block

2013 Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc Pioneer Block 1

Wild Ferments, Oak Barrels

2012 Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc “Wild”

2010 Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc Section 94

2013 Bordeaux: Seeing What the Right Bank Holds

A quiet tasting at the offices of J.P. Moueix

A quiet tasting at the offices of J.P. Moueix

After visiting wineries in the Medoc and the offices of negociants in and around Bordeaux, the JJ Buckley team traditionally turns towards the estates scattered outside the small town of Libourne. Located about a half hour east of Bordeaux, it’s in the communes of St. Emilion, Pomerol and their neighboring villages where merlot is king.

Heading there, we were reminded of the successes of many wines in the great vintages of 2009 and 2010. But what proved to be even more impressive was the quality that emanated from the Right Bank in the more difficult years that followed. Some of the top wines of 2011 and 2012 came from the Pomerol with many St. Emilions trailing closely behind in quality. Given the Right Bank’s ability to be successful when the weather creates problems, we looked forward to seeing what these communes produced in 2013.

Looking out at some vineyards of St. Emilion from Chateau Barde-Haut

Looking out at some vineyards of St. Emilion from Chateau Barde-Haut

And as it turned out, the wine regions of the Right Bank shared much in common with what we concluded from our tastings on the other side of the Gironde River earlier in the week. And so it is that the uniform theme to be found in the wines of both regions is that there is no uniformity. In other words, each commune had their share of successes as well as others that missed the mark. This is in stark contrast to the better harvests in ’09 and ’10 where all wineries benefited from the excellent weather raising the quality level for everyone.

Introductory tastings at St. Emilion and Pomerol revealed a slew of wines that were acceptable but missed that extra level of excitement that separates the great wines from the middle of the pack. These wines had a shared style about them: medium bodied palates with darker red fruit flavors, a firm structure with noticeable tannins in support. These were not the exuberant high-alcohol styles that proved to be so controversial back in 2009 and 2010. Instead, we saw classically shaped wines of moderate alcohol levels and with just enough acidity to add a bit of levity to the fruit. However, there was also a sense that the wines were one and the same, lacking the unique signature that defined each domaine’s terrior.

The new cellars at Cheval Blanc

The new cellars at Cheval Blanc

But just as the terroirs of the first growths on the Left Bank clearly shined in 2013, it wasn’t until we visited many of the smaller, more exclusive estates that we were able to witness some of the region’s success stories. Those estates that were the most successful in 2011 and 2012 managed to make wines that rose above the fray showing exceptional concentration and balance. Some estates in St. Emilion showed a more masculine profile emphasizing the structural elements of their wines while the top examples of Pomerol were more lithe and supple, effortlessly gliding across the palate in a silky manner.

The best wines in both appellations rivaled those of the Medoc. They were complete wines with layers of flavors and the nuance and complexity that separates the exceptional from the ordinary. What was most exciting in tasting the best wines was to see the best qualities of the main varietal (cabernet sauvignon in the Medoc, merlot on the Right Bank) express themselves completely and clearly. This was not a case of merlot looking like a cabernet or vice versa.

This was just a post to wet your whistle. Look for our favorite wines from all over Bordeaux in our upcoming report!

Let the 2013 Bordeaux Futures Campaign Begin!



photo[2]JJ Buckley just wrapped up their week at en primeur where they had a chance to taste the 2013 vintage. Travelling to Bordeaux for the 8th year in a row, we once again had the privilege to catch up with negociants and interview winemakers about this controversial vintage. Tasting the new wines on site allowed us to shape our own perspective.

So what can be said about the 2013s?

The vintage holds its surprises. Some bottlings exceeded expectations and there are worthy candidates for your cellar; most will provide exceptional drinking over the next 8-10 years. As with any vintage, a few domaines missed the mark; but disappointing wines? Not in the least. In sum, don’t believe the hype.

Here are a few facts and observations:

We expect prices will not decrease by more than 20% compared to last year. Overall yields were down considerably compared to last year due to poor weather. To ensure that the grand vin was of sufficient quality, many wineries declassified more wine than usual resulting in even less wine for sale. With less wine to sell, some wineries have less incentive to drop prices.

The only way to guarantee access to this year’s top wines is buying en primeur. With low yields and strict selections, many estates will have little wine to sell. Some chateaux will make 80% less wine than last year. Many negociants will miss out on allocations leaving their clients without access to the smallest domaines. JJ Buckley’s close relationships with the region’s top firms will allow us to get the wines you want.

This will be a short and quick campaign. Chateau Pontet-Cantet took the unusual step of releasing prices and allocations before the wines were presented to the trade, while the perennial “first offering of the campaign” from Chateau Gazin arrived during en primeur week. Pressure to get the wines sold as quickly as possible is evident, which means be ready to act quickly for the wines and formats you want.

If you have a favorite wine, remember that buying en primeur is your best chance to secure half bottles or large formats. Wineries traditionally only bottle as much wines as needed to fulfill orders for alternative formats placed en primeur. Do not miss this opportunity to secure the bottle sizes you want.

The whites from Bordeaux are clear standouts of the vintage – act sooner than later. The white wines of Pessac-Leognan as well as other Sauvignon-Semillon blends crafted by wineries of the Haut-Medoc are made in small quantities. White wines typically make up only 10-20% of a winery’s total production. Given the excellent quality and limited production, final releases will be miniscule.

Remember that buying en primeur is the best way to ensure provenance. Provenance is guaranteed. The wines go from the chateau to our negotiants and then directly to JJ Buckley in refrigerated containers where they land at our climate-controlled facility, ensuring that the wines remain in perfect conditions every step of the way. No need to worry about your wines arriving in nothing but the safest and most secure method.

You can look forward to:

  • 2013 Futures offerings of wines will begin shortly. All Futures offers will be centralized in a daily offer by JJ Buckley as they become available. Remember, we buy direct from Bordeaux – we will provide our comments on each wines and some of the best prices around.
  • JJ Buckley’s 2013 Bordeaux Report, including informative articles on the vintage along with our top picks and detailed tasting notes.
  • Continuing coverage of 2013 Bordeaux through social media (Twitter, Facebook, blogs).

Our team has a broad and deep understanding of the 2013 vintage and perspective from past vintages. We are fully prepared to give thoughtful and educated advice and provide a personal view on the hundreds of wines we tasted. You will not find such a depth of knowledge and experience anywhere else in the country.

Do you want to stay up-to-date with the Bordeaux Futures offers for the 2013 Campaign?  Simply sign up for our newsletter or send an e-mail to marketin@jjbuckley.com.

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