JJ Buckley at the Grand Jours de Bourgogne: Update from Chablis

Grand JoursThe Grand Jours de Bourgogne tastings began a few days ago with the traditional start to the event held in the northern region of Chablis. While our preferred focus was on the famed chardonnays of this famous region, one can easily be immersed (or most likely distracted) by the diversity of wines that come from the northern reaches of Burgundy.

Consumers and the trade are guilty of thinking that chardonnay and pinot noir represent the entirety of what is produced there. But there are intriguing subregions in the north including the Grand Auxerrois that sees minerally and racy sauvignon blancs emanating from the chalk soils of Saint-Bris, aligote wines that are more frequently found further south in the Cotes Chalonnaise and even some sturdy pinot noirs from the cold area of Irancy.

We just received an update from JJ Buckley’s Burgundy specialist Jeff Loo who is our man on the scene at this year’s Grand Jours tastings. He will compile tasting notes for the top wines of each commune while offering commentary on how each village fared with the 2012 vintage. The best of his on-the-scene reporting will be summarized along with his notes in a JJ Buckley report on the 2012 Burgundies to be published shortly after his return.

In the meantime here are a few observations from Jeff on his visit to Chablis:

“In 2012, it’s not just the grand cru or premier cru bottlings to look for. In this vintage, the village level wines and the lesser appellations found amazing success. The 12′s are very good compared to the 2010′s. They have an incredible roundness to them as though they already had enough bottle age to develop that ‘fatness’ that comes out in white Burgundies with age. Many winemakers considered the 2012′s as a combination of the styles found in 2009 and 2010 Chablis melding the fineness and acidity from ’10 and the richly textured fruit from 2009.  There really wasn’t a dog at this day’s tastings.”

The Tuesday tastings will be one of Jeff’s toughest days of the Grand Jours as he shuttles between four communes in the northern Cotes d’Or. He’ll be jostling and fighting for tastes of the crus of Vosne Romanee at the historic chateau of Clos Vougeot and then running up north to Marsannay to sample the wines from the commune of Gevrey Chambertin. In between he has tastings of wines from Nuits St. Georges, Morey St. Denis, Chambolle Musigny and more. Wow, I’m just tired writing about it.

Stay tuned!!

Drink with Jeff by enjoying these tasty Chablis:

2011 Domaine Louis Michel Chablis “Grenouilles”

2009 Domaine Laroche Chablis “Blanchots”

2007 La Chablisienne Chablis “Bougros”

St. Patrick’s Day and Wine: Maybe a Connection After All?

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Peter Rosback of Sineann Winery

When it comes to holidays and wine, some combinations just make sense. We all know how much French wine gets consumed on Bastille Day, even here in the States. We have yet to see a similar celebration of wine connected to July 4th, something that would actually make sense given that wineries now exist in every state of America. But wine and St. Patrick’s Day? It’s all about Guinness and poitin on March 17th, not the pleasures from the vine.

But is it really? Ireland and the wine industry actually have extensive connections that go back centuries. The English wine trade’s first connections to Bordeaux and the Port wine region began in the 1600s with Irish merchants starting their initial forays into Bordeaux later in the 18th century. Back then, Irish citizens founded such notable wineries as Leoville Barton, Lynch Bages and Boyd Cantenac. Ireland’s role in Bordeaux’s economy is so deep that almost a dozen streets in the city refer to Irishmen.

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An ancient Irish castle on a label from Owen Roe Winery

Developing wineries was not the only focus of Irish businessmen. Some of Bordeaux’s oldest and most revered negociants were founded by Irish businessmen and still conduct business today. The oldest negociant in Bordeaux, Tastet & Lawton, was founded by Abraham Lawton who emigrated to France from County Cork shipping their first wines in 1739. The firm remains in the family’s hands today with members of ninth generation guiding operations.

You might be even more surprised to find out that there are wineries growing vitis vinifera grapes in Ireland. This has all happened quite recently and the action has been centered in Cork. There are only a handful of domaines in existence and they are reputedly more likely to make whites than reds. Thanks to global warming, there has been a strong upsurge in grape plantings in England so more wineries in Ireland could be possible.

In the meantime, there are plenty of American wineries that celebrate their Irish heritage, particularly by using Gaelic in naming their wineries or for individual wines. Peter Rosback’s Sineann Winery has been producing exceptional pinot noirs from Oregon while the labels on the reserve wines from David O’Reilly’s Owen Roe Winery showcases stunning photographs of old Irish castles. The Concannon Vineyard in Livermore was founded by an Irish immigrant who was actually born on St. Patrick’s Day. Other wineries may not have such intimate connections to Ireland. Instead, you might find Irish references such as Limerick Lane with their popular zinfandel.

St. Patrick’s Day and wine? Not so far fetched after all!

Here’s a selected list of some Bordeaux properties that have longstanding connections to Ireland.

1990 Chateau Lynch Bages (Pauillac)

2009 Chateau Phelan Segur (St. Estephe)

2010 Chateau Kirwan (Margaux)

2000 Chateau Pichon Lalande (Pauillac)

Our featured California wine with an Irish connection is:

2010 Robert Keenan Merlot (Napa Valley)

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…)

Where to Wine & Dine: Bordeaux

Grand Bar Castan: Oldest Bar in Bordeaux

Grand Bar Castan: Oldest Bar in Bordeaux

Where to Wine & Dine: Bordeaux

Post by Chuck Hayward | May 1st, 2013

For anyone traveling to the wine regions of France, it’s assumed (and rightly so), that an immersion into local cuisine should be part of the experience. After all, what is a trip to Burgundy without eating escargot or fine dining while visiting Champagne? So it goes without saying that a trip to Bordeaux will be incomplete unless you dip your toes into the local dining scene.

But the geography and the way business is conducted in Bordeaux conspire to make it difficult to indulge your appetite as thoroughly as your palate. And while the wines of Bordeaux resonate across the globe, the local cuisine has yet to achieve such recognition. A recent check through the latest Michelin Guide reveals far fewer starred establishments in Bordeaux than in Burgundy or Champagne.
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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…)