JJ Buckley Meets

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.

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!

JJ Buckley at the Grand Jours de Bourgogne: Update from the Cotes de Nuits

JJ Buckley's Jeff Loo took his trademark cowboy hat to Burgundy but this producer had him beat!

JJ Buckley’s Jeff Loo took his trademark cowboy hat to Burgundy but this producer had him beat!

Following the introductory tastings in Chablis that start the Grand Jours de Bourgogne week, the wine industry entourage turns their attention southwards and begin their immersion into the wines of the Cote d’Or. The day focuses on the wines of the Cote de Nuits which are presented in four different locations from the village of Marsannay in the north down to Nuits St. Georges. There are over 200 tables at the four tastings and each producer can easily pour 4-6 wines, often pouring multiple vintages of the same wine. So basically, you’re looking at almost 1000 wines being poured on Tuesday. And there are three days of tastings to go. And folks in the trade say that tasting Bordeaux en primeur is hard……

Starting the day, you have to come to grips with the fact that there’s no way to taste all the wines you hope to try and that time management is essential. Knowing all this information from our visit to the region two years ago, it was probably rather cruel of us to send JJ Buckley’s Jeff Loo to fend off the crowds all by his lonesome. But we figured that his enthusiasm for Burgundy was all that he needed to handle the moshpit at each tasting.

Here’s a brief synopsis of his thoughts after tasting the day’s wines.

“As a whole, the village of Vosne Romanee is the most successful in 2012. They were simply the best wines I encountered today and that’s saying something given the sheer number of wines that were available to try. The amount of stunning wines that I tasted, whether grand crus or simple village wines, was simply incredible. These bottlings will be among the best candidates for long term cellaring. 

I found the 2012s from Gevrey Chambertin to be extremely fruit forward and strong. They were almost modern in style, yet still exhibited a significant measure of restraint. The best examples showed grippy tannins that are typically encountered in wines from this commune that also showed off some mouthwatering acidity. Some years in the cellar will be essential with Gevrey’s top cuvees.

The day wasn’t just about the most famous crus of the Cotes de Nuits. Part of this tasting included wines from Marsannay and Fixin, two appellations that can offer some of Burgundy’s best values. While the 2011 vintage was delicious in Marsannay, the 2012’s will easily outlive them.  Fixin also had a strong showing in 2012, with most producers making wines easily in the 88-92 point range. Look to this commune when looking for well priced pinots from the Cote d’Or.”

Look forward to Jeff’s final report from the Burgundy’s most important trade event as he travels south to taste through the wines of the Cote de Beaune.

Click here to read our blogpost about the 2012 wines from Chablis presented at the Grand Jours.

Can’t make it to the Grand Jours de Bourgogne? JJ Buckley brings the Cote de Nuits to you.

2010 Domaine de l’Arlot Cote de Nuits Villages “Clos du Chapeau”

2003 Faiveley Gevrey Chambertin les Marchais

2010 Domaine Tortochot Clos de Vougeot

2010 Bouchard Pere et Fils Vosne Romanee

The World of ZAP Changes, The Vintage Insights Remain the Same

zin 1If there’s one thing that the wine industry can once in a while guarantee, it’s a bit of consistency. The vines wake up in the spring, champagne sells like crazy as the holidays approach and the annual ZAP tasting is held during the end of January. In fact, ZAP has traditionally occupied the weekend before the Super Bowl just so zin enthusiasts don’t have to sacrifice football to enjoy their favorite wine.

After more than 20 years of the same tasting format, ZAP undertook some radical changes in the structure of this year’s event. Instead of the “Grand Tasting”, which has usually been held at the pavilions at Fort Mason in San Francisco, the day’s festivities were spread amongst three nearby buildings. Re-branded as the “Zinfandel Experience”, ZAP created three themed tasting sessions which lasted two hours with each session held three times over the course of the day.

Most importantly, “this revolutionary new format” was also significantly downsized with each of the nine tasting sessions allowing only 350 people. Compare this with the almost 9000 people who showed up each year under the old format and we are talking a big reduction in the number of people who can attend.

A lineup of Bedrock zinfandels

A lineup of Bedrock zinfandels

Not only was there a decrease in the number of attendees (and the long lines waiting for the tasting to start) but there was a significant decline in the number of wineries who poured their wines. This slimmed down tasting had about 30% fewer wineries sharing their wines and even fewer available for the trade portion tasting a few days earlier. It’s pretty clear that the ZAP of old is changing.

In addition to providing consumers the opportunity to immerse themselves in the pleasures of zinfandel, ZAP’s traditional January date has also allowed some folks in the trade to gain a look into the latest vintage coming to market, in this case, the wines from 2012. While zinfandel and cabernet don’t have much in common in the vineyard or the glass, over the years, the ZAP tasting has provided an insight about the style of the soon-to-be released California cabs. Generally, the basic qualities of a zinfandel’s bouquet and palate are a good indicator of what can be expected in cabernets from Napa and Sonoma from the same vintage.

The hype surrounding California’s 2012 vintage has been building since the grapes were crushed. Following a dismal 2011 harvest, winemakers were keen to have some good news to tell the trade and the drumbeat has been fairly insistent ever since. Not only was the quality deemed exceptional but there was going to be plenty of it.

Tegan Passalacqua of Turley Wine Cellars

Tegan Passalacqua of Turley Wine Cellars

With that background, I was looking forward to tasting as many 2012s at ZAP’s trade tasting as possible and was ready to be impressed. Maybe I arrived with high expectations but there was clearly nothing among the zinfandels I tasted that made the 2012s stand up and be noticed. The bouquets were moderately intense with soft expressions of pure fruit. There wasn’t much complexity to be found aromatically but that can be expected at this early point in their development. The palates of the best 2012s mimicked the aromatics with medium bodied flavors of dark red fruits. While pleasant, there was something missing, that wow factor that separates the best vintages from the rest.

It’s important to remember that this is just a small window on what the 2012 vintage has to offer. It’s interesting to note that similar observations have been made about the 2012s that were recently poured at the Premiere Napa Valley Auction. There will be opportunities to taste 2012 cabernets will be coming soon during the next few months. Check in with JJ Buckley’s blog to get the latest on the vintage!

Host your own ZAP tasting with these zinfandels from JJ Buckley!!

2012 Brown Estate Zinfandel

2011 Ridge “Ponzo Vineyard” Zinfandel

2010 Tofanelli Family Zinfandel

Torbreck’s ‘The Laird’ – Pursuing Perfection in One of Australia’s Greatest Wines

Torbreck’s ‘The Laird’ – Pursuing Perfection in One of Australia’s Greatest Wines

Post by Chuck Hayward | May 10th, 2013

Not one, but two (!) vintages of 'The Laird'

Not one, but two (!) vintages of ‘The Laird’

So what is it like to drink perfection? It’s a question frequently asked by consumers and the trade. The following story is about tasting 100-point ‘perfection’. And it begins many years ago…

In the summer of 2010, I heard that Torbreck, one of the Barossa Valley’s leading wineries, had released a new wine from the 2005 vintage called ‘The Laird’. The textured black label stood in stark contrast to the winery’s classic white paper label, indicating a significant departure from Torbreck’s usual range of wines. Indeed, ‘The Laird’ was exactly that, a wine geared for the super-premium market, occupied by legends like Penfolds ‘Grange’ and Henschke’s ‘Hill of Grace’ – with a price to match. I needed to know more. (more…)

In 2012, The Right Bank Gets it Right

In 2012, The Right Bank Gets it Right

Post by Chuck Hayward | April 17th, 2013

Definitely not running late to an appointment...

Definitely not running late to our appointment…for lunch

Visiting en primeur is not only a test of mind and palate – it’s also a trial in organizational skills (or occasionally, lack thereof). With so many tastings and wineries to visit, all spread across the wide swath of land that makes up Bordeaux, it’s imperative that appointments are scheduled in such a way that one spends more time tasting than travelling. It can take an hour to go from Bordeaux to Chateau Calon Segur in St. Estephe. If your next appointment is at Chateau d’Issan in Margaux, you’ll need 40 minutes – more if you get stuck behind a tractor. A lesson learned the hard way…

So JJ Buckley makes sure to focus our appointments on each bank to lessen travel times. Once we finished with our cabernet-themed Left Bank travels, we zoomed off to our base in Libourne to sample the merlot-dominant wines of St. Emilion and Pomerol. And thanks to the fact that we could leave our hotel and arrive at Petrus’s door in about ten minutes, we were confident we could taste more during the second half of en primeur. Good thing too, because early reports had indicated that the best wines would be found on the Right Bank.
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Pontet-Canet ‘Saddles-Up’ in 2012

Pontet-Canet ‘Saddles-Up’ in 2012

Post by Alex Fondren | April 16th, 2013

Vast Pontet-Canet vineyard view from the tasting room

Pontet-Canet vineyard view from the chateau

In a variable vintage like 2012, it’s often hard to find consensus on which appellations and wines showed best. Our first official day tasting up and down the Haut Medoc proved no different, with some very spirited debates regarding the success of several big name properties. One estate that proved incapable of rousing much controversy, however, was Pontet-Canet.

Probably one of “the” wines of the Left Bank in 2012, the majority of us left impressed with what the chateau was able to achieve given the hand it was dealt. But after visiting, it was clear (as is always the case with Pontet-Canet) that this success was no mere accident. (more…)