Bordeaux is not Napa. Most wineries are closed to tourists and the same standard applies to wine professionals, even during the busy en primeur week. Appointments are mandatory, and difficult to secure at most of the top wineries. And while a handful of chateaux like Prieure-Lichine allow visitors to rock up unannounced, Bordeaux, like much of France, remains a rather formal place.
So it was a bit disconcerting when our Bordeaux buyer impulsively decided to pull into the parking lot of Chateau Lafleur. Perhaps he was still riding the high following our incredible visit to Petrus (more on that in another post). But this is Bordeaux – you just don’t do this! (Especially at Lafleur….) Yet lo and behold, we quickly found ourselves in a small and intimate cellar, sampling some of the best wines of the vintage with Jacques Guinaudeau, the personable owner who was most generous with his time. (more…)
Shall I Compare Thee to Another Vintage? Drawing Parallels at Haut Bailly
Post by Devon Magee | April 3rd, 2012
Château Haut Bailly
After five days of touring Bordeaux, it’s clear that the burning question aimed at leading producers has been: “To what vintage would you compare your 2011s?” It’s only natural – after back-to-back “vintages of the century,” we are all looking for a foothold in 2011. The market cannot support a third otherworldly vintage here, yet early murmurs suggest that, while the industry is cautious to overtly praise ’11, it is far from panning it. In fact, the earliest critic reports – from Parker and Suckling, who both just finished tasting here – are surprisingly optimistic.
So where does 2011 fit in a fifteen-year-plus string of vintages that has redefined Bordeaux with a relative average of warmer, dryer weather? Veronique Sanders invited us into her tasting room at Chateau Haut Bailly in Leognan yesterday evening to candidly discuss. Her family has been in charge of the Chateau since 1955, and she offered, in my opinion, the most poignant remarks of anyone about 2011. (more…)
Higher Ground Offers More Than A Good View at Pichon Lalande
Post by Eddie Wolowski | April 2nd, 2012
Chateau Pichon Lalande
We arrived at Pichon Longueville Comtesse De Lalande, commonly referred to as Pichon Lalande, on a sunny afternoon for a lunch appointment. As we walked up to the estate, we nodded to former stable-mate Pichon Baron across the road (scene of tomorrow night’s dinner for some of us). The two estates were once united, but were split amongst siblings in 1850 and classified as Second Growths five years later.
After a Champagne toast with Chateau Director Sylvie Cazes, I sat down to lunch and a chat with Monsieur Philippe Moreau, the new technical director. Previously employed by Chateau de Pez and Chateau Bernadotte, Philippe completed his first vintage at Lalande last year. He was very generous in answering my questions. I have always wondered why Lalande’s wines take on a certain characteristic that is not reflected in the wines of its close neighbors Baron and Chateau Latour. The disparity between Lalande and Baron has always been particularly interesting, not just because of their proximity, but their common heritage alone should warrant more similarity. Philippe first agreed that while yes, the terrior is nearly identical for all three properties, one contrast lies in the technical winemaking style of Lalande – the way that grapes are pressed gently for finesse and not heavily extracted for power. (more…)
Terroir and the Art of Assemblage: Vieux Chateau Certan
Post by Devon Magee | April 4th, 2012
Vieux Chateau Certan
2011 is decidedly not 2010 or 2009, yet from our week of intensive tastings in Bordeaux, it is clear that Pomerol is at the least, one of the standouts of the appellation and the vintage. Might cabernet franc play a role? According to Alexandre Thienpont, Vieux Chateau Certan’s owner and winemaker, yes. Here in the gravel and clay soils of Pomerol, fully ripe cabernet franc gives the wine a distinctive violet perfume. And for the first time in more than a decade, the variety ripened fully and uniformly. Its success in Pomerol is a defining characteristic of this singular vintage.
Here in Bordeaux, two words inspire more reverence than any others: First Growth. Thanks to the 1855 classification system, there are only five First Growths (Lafite, Latour, Haut Brion, and Margaux, with Mouton added to the group in 1973), and they are widely considered to produce the finest wines from the Left Bank. We were lucky to taste all five on Monday, an excellent exercise that shed some light on the possibilities of the top end of the 2011 vintage. For many, including myself, the First Growth that inspires the most passion, even reverence, is Chateau Margaux, so it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to dining there that evening.
No One-Trick Pony: Recapturing Rusticity at Pontet-Canet
Post by Roland Hankerson | April 2nd, 2012
The cool breeze of a spring day in Bordeaux carries with it wisps of dust, which settle between the forty-year-old vines that line the gravelly vineyard of Pontet-Canet. The hoofs of horses drawing plows kicked up the dust, as they are charged with turning the earth on this stately property. The “old ways” of producing classic Bordeaux are new again in a vineyard accustomed to producing world class wine of power and elegance in a manner that preserves its piece of earth with great care.
Brittany horses cultivate the vines of Pontet-Canet
Alfred Tesseron, proprietor of Pontet-Canet, is on a quest to provide a world class wine that adheres to his environmental ethics. He turns to his long-time winemaker, Jean-Michel Comme, (a 22-year veteran of the estate) to not only make the wine, but also head a program of certified organic and biodynamic viticulture on the property. No expense has been spared on this project, and Jean-Michel was handed complete autonomy with which to transform the vineyard over the course of several patient years. By now, he has transformed vineyard operations in a manner that allows the grapes to express in his words, “…the true identity of themselves in terroir while caring for the future of the earth the grapes come from.” (more…)
It’s no secret that Cos d’Estournel has been on a qualitative roll, but when Robert Parker awarded 100 points to the 2009 vintage, Cos squarely placed itself among the Left Bank elite. Delivering what its winemakers deem as First Growth quality wines from St. Estephe, Cos has worked hard to place its name on every Bordeaux lover’s wishlist.
One of several Asian elephant statues at Cos d'Estournel
With that in mind, you can imagine the anticipation was high for my third visit to Cos d’Estournel to taste the 2011s. With a private, first-look tasting of the new vintage and a special dinner invitation from director Jean Guillaume-Prats, we motored our rental Puegeot up the D-2 highway eager to spend our first night in Bordeaux delving into the 2011s.
Visiting Cos d’Estournel is always a grand affair. After parking in the gravel driveway under our honorary American flag, we found ourselves in a brand new tasting salon (finished in 2008), more reminiscent of a hip Manhattan nightspot than an historic winery (the name Cos d’Estournel dates back to 1810). After a quick trip around the nippy barrel room where we viewed the 2011s in barrel (the 2010 vintage had already been moved for blending), we popped back upstairs to taste. (more…)
Chris Ringland was surely not prepared for all of this. The popularity, the sudden attention. Working away at a rustic winery where time seemed not only to stand still but actually climbed backwards. He spent that time mentoring young winemakers as they learned the secrets of the Barossa Valley–its vineyards, its people, its history. The last thing he expected was an overflowing fax machine…100 point scores from Parker can do that.
Chris Ringland Surveys his Domain
Justifiably or not, Chris Ringland’s shiraz was catapulted into the global world of wine and things quickly got out of hand. Insane prices. Incessant phone calls. Lots of pot shots. All of this attention resulted in a wine that became bigger than the man and his vines; all thanks to a wine review. The problem is the score regrettably only reflected the wine in the glass. Where was the story? Who was this guy? Where was the information about his plot of dirt? (more…)
Adding a Little ‘Zip’ to ZAP: Improved venue breathes new life into annual zin event
Post by Chuck Hayward | February 2nd, 2012
The last weekend of January always manages to banish the mid-winter blues with its promise of three highly anticipated annual events: the impending Super Bowl, the release of Silver Oak’s Napa cabernet, and the annual ZAP tasting in San Francisco. No matter what one thinks of the grape, the red wine confab is truly one of the great wine events held in the United States. Populist in approach with its sprinkling of thought-provoking seminars to placate budding wine geeks, the annual tribute to California’s heritage grape attracts a happy crowd of consumers and industry folks alike, and not surprisingly, very few sommeliers.
The Bucklin Winery Trio
As much as ZAP has been a model of consistency from year to year, 2012 brought about a big change as its venue transitioned from the familiar confines of Fort Mason to the far more spacious San Francisco Concourse in San Francisco’s South of Market district. The event certainly benefited from the change, as the new digs seemed to infuse everyone with renewed energy. Incredibly, all the wineries were housed under one roof and with plenty of room to spare. The carpeted floors helped to keep the noise down, especially the cheers that inevitably follow the occasional broken glass. Most importantly, there was plenty of room to maneuver about and tables were noticeably less cramped. (more…)
Finigan’s Wake: What Robert Finigan Meant to the Wine World
Post by Chuck Hayward | October 7th, 2011
While I never imagined using this blog to write an obituary, Robert Finigan was one of those people who made a powerful impact on me as my passion for wine grew and my career took off. Therefore, it seems appropriate to remember him here.
Robert Finigan's Private Guide to Wines
Finigan’s success began on a trip to Bordeaux where he declared the 1969 vintage to be subpar, an opinion that proved spot on. At a time when wine appreciation in America was starting to gain momentum, wine writing was limited to books and a few columnists in the Los Angeles Times. In 1972, he was the first to publish a wine journal—his influential newsletter, Robert Finigan’s Private Guide to Wines—years before Parker began the Wine Advocate in 1978 and well before the rise of the internet. Finigan set the standard for periodicals that came afterwards, including Charlie Olken’s Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wines (1974) and Nick Ponomareff’s California Grapevine (1973).
In tasting the 1982 Bordeaux from barrel, Finigan found the wines to be too rich and lacking the classic style of the region. Robert Parker, however, lavished praise on the wines, which later became immensely successful. Thus, the Wine Advocate began its ascendency, some would say at the expense of Finnegan’s newsletter, which ceased publication in 1990. (more…)