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Bordeaux, France – Official Opening of La Cité du Vin

Spenser Massie, of Similkameen Valley’s Clos du Soleil winery was on the ground today in Bordeaux for the official opening of La Cité du Vin, a new museum based on the culture of wine. Massie was the Canadian representative for wineries from coast to coast, and the participating regional bodies. Here is a brief release from him ~ TR

Bordeaux, France – Official Opening of La Cité du Vin
May 31st, 2016

Canada’s fine wines and emerging regions were part of the excitement around the opening of La Cité du Vin today here in Bordeaux. French President Hollande, who opened this major new museum dedicated to wine and the world’s wine regions, noted that one-third of tourists who visit France come for wine and gastronomy.

©Anaka – La Cité du Vin


Spencer Massie, Founder of Clos du Soleil Winery in Keremeos BC, an artisan winery focused on a small production of ultra-high end fine wines, was in attendance at the Inaugural visit.

“It was fantastic for us to be invited here as an industry – based on the budding international recognition for the quality of wines coming from our country. Very honoured to be the Canadian representative, on behalf of all the wineries that participated in the vanguard of this relationship:

©Anaka – La Cité du VinBlack Hills Estate Winery – Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Cave Spring Cellars – Niagara Escarpment Ontario
Château Des Charmes – Niagara on the Lake Ontario
Clos du Soleil Winery – Similkameen Valley British Columbia
Culmina Family Estate Winery – Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate – Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Laughing Stock Vineyards – Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Legends Estates Winery – Niagara Escarpment Ontario
Nk’Mip Cellars– Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Painted Rock Winery – Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Pelee Island Winery – Pelee Island Ontario
Sea Star Winery – Gulf Islands British Columbia
Summerhill Pyramid Winery – Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Unsworth Winery – Vancouver Island British Columbia
Vignoble Carone – Lanaudière Valley Quebec
Vista D’Oro Winery – Fraser Valley British Columbia

These wineries stepped up to the plate on behalf of the industry and are hopefully just the initial wineries participating, with the objective of introducing the estimated 450,000 Wine Tourism visitors expected to visit La Cité annually, to learn about Canadian Wines, appreciate them, and eventually come visit us.”

Just north of the City of Bordeaux, this impressive, architecturally significant building set adjacent to the Garonne River is stunning – and reminiscent in form of a fine wine decanter. La Cité opens to the public tomorrow.

For more information


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Regions, sub-regions and appellations in France

The Caveman Speaks
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw: Image credit Jason Dziver

Bill Zacharkiw

If you have ever checked out a French wine label and have very little idea as to what everything means, I get it. It’s confusing stuff. Take the Burgundy region for example. Within the region of Burgundy, you will find 100 different appellations, which include regional appellations, village appellations, Premier and Grand Cru appellations, as well as lieux-dits and Monopoles.

To illustrate, Réné Bouvier’s Bourgogne, Le Chapitre, is a regional appellation (Bourgogne), while Jean-Claude Boisset’s Côte de Nuits Villages, Au Clou, is a village appellation (Côte de Nuits-Villages) with the distinction visible on the labels below.

Though on the surface this seems very complicated, and admittedly it is, the idea behind all these different classifications is to give the wine lover an idea as to what’s in the bottle. In theory, all wines which share a similar classification or name should also share a similar taste profile. The more precise the appellation, the more one should find things in common.

Domaine Rene Bouvier Bourgogne Pinot Noir Le Chapitre 2012 Jean Claude Boisset Côtes De Nuits Village Au Clou 2013

Region, sub-regions and appellations

So let’s start with the difference between region, sub-regions and appellations. A region, simply put, is a large territory which groups together a large number of vineyards. In France, the country is divided into 13 wine producing regions: Alsace, Bordeaux, Beaujolais, Burgundy, Champagne, Charentes, Corsica, Jura-Savoie, Languedoc-Roussillon, Loire Valley, Provence, Rhône Valley, and the South West.

These regions, for the most part, share a relatively similar climate and grow a limited number of grape varieties. But aside from the smallest regions, like Champagne, Burgundy or Beaujolais, where every wine is similar in style – Champagne is always bubbly, Beaujolais is always a red wine made with gamay, and Burgundy is for the most part pinot noir or chardonnay – it’s hard to get more than a very general idea as to what a wine will taste like by looking only at the region.

Louis Roederer Brut Premier ChampagneDomaine Laurent Martray Brouilly Vieilles Vignes 2014Marchand Tawse Pinot Noir Bourgogne 2013 Domaine Vincent Girardin Émotion Des Terroirs 2013

It is when these regions start getting sub-divided that you begin to see more commonality in the wines. These sub-regions group together vineyards which share similar climates and soil types, as well as grow the same grape varieties.

For example, here is how Bordeaux is divided into sub-regions:

Region: Bordeaux

Sub-regions: Médoc, Graves, Libournais, Blayais, Entre-deux-Mers

This sub-dividing continues. Within each sub-region, even smaller vineyard areas are grouped together. Basically, the smaller the sub-region, the more all the vineyards in that area will share similar soils and climates, grow the same grapes, and in theory, produce a similar style and quality of wine.

Continuing with the Bordeaux example, the Médoc sub-region is divided into two smaller sub-regions: Bas Médoc (lower) and Haut-Médoc (upper). Within the Haut-Médoc, there exist six even smaller sub-regions, called communes, which were deemed to have even more similarities from one vineyard to the next: Margaux, Saint-Julien, Saint-Estephe, Pauillac, Listrac-Médoc and Moulis.

Maison Blanche Medoc 2011Louis Roche Grand Listrac 2010

So then what is an appellation? An appellation is a legally defined growing area with distinct rules designed to assure that every winery using the appellation name make a similar style of wine and quality. In France, if a region or sub-region produces what is considered to be distinctively good wine by the Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité (INAO), then the area is granted appellation status.

The appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) system was designed to recognize and regulate each of these regions, sub-regions, and if you permit me, sub-sub-regions. So each of these growing areas which have been granted appellation status have rules to follow if the winery wants to use the appellation name on the bottle. You may see the letters AOP rather than AOC in recent vintages. Appellation d’origine protégée (AOP) is the new European classification system, replacing AOC, and essentially meaning the same thing.

Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) or Appellation d'origine protégée (AOP)

Back to Bordeaux and the Médoc. Each of the sub-regions I listed above are considered an appellation. So if the vineyard is located in the area of the Haut-Médoc, but not in one of the even smaller sub-regions, the wine can be labelled Haut-Médoc AOC. If the vineyard is in, for example, Margaux, then the wine can be labelled Margaux AOC. This is providing the winery follows the rules governing the appellation with respect to grape varieties, yields, and minimum ripeness (alcohol) levels.

So if I am a winery owner in Margaux, the permitted grapes are cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec. If I want to grow syrah, I can, but I cannot use the appellation name Margaux on my label. What I can use however, is another classification called Vin de Pays. While in general this classification denotes lesser quality wine, that is not always the case. The Italian version of this, IGT or Indicazione Geografica Typica, is where one finds Supertuscans, which are Italy’s most expensive wines.

As AOP is becoming the defacto European classification, replacing AOC in France and DOC in Italy, a new streamlined classification called IGP will replace Vin de Pays and IGT.

Once you learn the ABC’s (or AOPs, DOCs, IGPs, etc.) of the wine world, your knowledge of what’s in the bottle will increase, and hopefully your buying and drinking pleasure as well.



“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

Editors Note: You can find Bill’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Premium subscribers to Chacun son vin see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see newly posted critic reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon

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Bill’s Best Bets – January 2016

Left Bank, Right Bank: Rediscovering Red Bordeaux for $30 or Less
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

I’ll be straight up with you – I took a long break from Bordeaux. All the reasons for this hiatus were not necessarily fair but many were justified.

My two chief reasons were that I found the prices exorbitant for the higher end cuvées, putting them so far out of reach that only a select few were able to buy them. The other was that I found many of the wines overly manipulated and overly concentrated to feed the thirsts of a market that wanted big red wines and those critics pumping up that style of wine.

Manipulated in what way? Talk to any winemaker who is willing to be honest, and they will tell you that it is not hard to find a reverse osmosis machine in the region. This machine is used to artificially concentrate the must by removing water. I found as alcohol levels rose and textures became richer, that many of the wines no longer resembled what I felt was the true character of Bordeaux – wines that show great power but tempered by restraint. Bordeaux, for me, is synonymous with elegance.

The region was once the archetype of what is cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and its take on cabernet franc was equally distinctive. But dropping Bordeaux from my shopping list was unfair to many worthy vignerons. For all of its prestigious Chateaux and other monikers of wealth, the region does produce some great wines that are fairly priced and exhibit those qualities that I think make the region so unique.

But first, here is a little primer on where to find which grapes, and why they are grown there. In keeping with the idea of value, all wine suggestions are approximately $30 or less.

The Bordeaux blend is primarily different percentages of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc, with petit verdot, malbec and carmenère being of lesser importance.

Bordeaux is divided in two by the Gironde River and its tributaries. The Left Bank is home to the cabernet sauvignon-dominated Médoc wines. The Médoc is divided into two large appellations: Bas Médoc (lower) and Haut-Médoc (upper). It is in the latter that one finds such famous communes of Pauillac, St. Julien, Ste. Estèphe and Margaux. The Graves region, further south, has its most prestigious appellation in Pessac-Léognan. Both regions benefit from a maritime climate, being so close to the Atlantic as well as the rivers.

The primary difference is the soils. In Graves, the soils are poor and gravelly. As you move up the river into the Médoc, there are richer soils with more clay. The clays yield more powerful, heavier wines with cabernet sauvignon dominating the blends. Graves wines tend to be lighter, more finessed and mineral. And here you will find more of an equal split between the three grape varieties.

A great example of power and restraint is the 2010 Haut-Médoc from Tour Saint Joseph. An almost equal split between merlot and cabernet sauvignon brings good complexity of fruit, but with all the finesse one would expect from 2010. A rare 100% merlot from the same appellation, the 2010 Château L’Abbaye offers great value in a supple and fruit driven wine.

From the Graves, the 2010 Haut-Selve is drinking superbly and shows the delicate florals and minerality that one can find in the region. If you want something with more punch, with its 50/50 split between merlot and cabernet, the 2010 Graves from Villa Bel-Air will do the trick.

Château Tour St. Joseph 2010 Château de L'abbaye 2010 Château Haut Selve 2010 Château Villa Bel Air 2010

The Right Bank is merlot and cabernet franc country, perhaps best represented by Pomerol, Saint- Emilion, and Fronsac. But there are a number of lesser known appellations, like Côtes de Bourg and Côtes de Castillon for example, that offer fantastic wines for much less. Because they are further inland, the climate is more continental. The growing season is generally shorter, which is why they rely more on early ripening grape varieties like merlot and cabernet franc. But with global warming trends, more wineries are planting cabernet franc as opposed to merlot which can suffer from a lack of acidity during warmer years.

One of my favourite merlot based wines is from Château Bujan. This Côtes de Bourg is always good, and the 2012 is one of the best I have tasted. Try it with lamb chops. And any discussion of right bank satellite appellations must include the Bordeaux Côtes de Francs’ Château Le Puy. The 2010 is once again one of the best Bordeaux bargains at the SAQ.

Château Bujan 2012 Château Le Puy 2010 Côtes Rocheuses 2011

From the better known appellations, but still around $30, try the 2011 Saint Emilion Grand Cru, Côtes Rocheuses. Merlot dominated, it shows good power. Or for a touch more, the 2011 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru from Château Haute-Nauve is wonderfully elegant.

If you want to taste the power of merlot in Pomerol without paying the price, try the 2012 Lalande-de-Pomerol from Château La Croix des Moines. If you think merlot is wimpy, then try this!

If you are looking for bargains, then look no further than the more general Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellations. These wines can be made over the entire region of Bordeaux and while they can age, can be drunk and enjoyed right way.

Château Haute Nauve 2011 Château La Croix Des Moines 2012 Château Fillon Cuvée Première Bordeaux 2010 Château Saint Antoine Réserve 2012

Two of my favourites are from Château Fillon, whose 2010 is so classy and highly drinkable, and the 2012 from Château Sainte-Antoine, which is so richly fruity yet manages to maintain superb freshness.

Stay warm and drink well folks,


“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to Chacun son vin see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Wolf Blass - Here's to the Chase

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 3rd Part One

Musings on Bordeaux and Global Indulgences
by Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

While John Szabo is on the lam, in Hunter Valley (or so we think), in pursuit of semillon with a team of Canadian sommeliers as part of a scavenger hunt for Wine & Spirits Magazine, David and I have been tirelessly tasting away at a selection of new wines that are about to appear on your local VINTAGES shelves.

This week we delve into that great intimidating abyss, the giant that is Bordeaux. However, instead of talking about the region’s guts and glory, I’d rather talk about modern Bordeaux. Although it has fits and fads, it is a region that wavers remarkably little in its style, in its tenacious grip on aristocratic holdings and its class system – a bubble that is perhaps less of a “republic” than the rest of France. This has in some measure to do with its historical success and the world reverence it has built but also to the price it can still (to some degree) command.

Bordeaux’s upper class of wine can secure some of the world’s highest prices and it inevitably turns its head to the highest bidder, even if that bidder takes it away from more traditionally supportive markets. Relatively recently, the movie “Red Obsession” had us talking about Asia’s influence on Bordelaise pricing in the upper echelons and highlighted the dangers of focusing so much interest in one market.  In the spring of this year, a group of respected UK wine merchants wrote an open letter to owners of négociants and Châteaux asking for a return to more “reasonable” pricing with regards to the 2014 en primeurs – to prices similar to those of 2008. What they got was not exactly what they were asking for.

While top Bordelaise producers are busy creating new roles and positions in Asia to deal with its recent boom, as well as funding the planting of Bordelaise varieties in foreign soils, more traditional markets are certainly feeling neglected. However whether these top ranking bottles be sold in China or elsewhere, there is still the problem that they have unfortunately become commodities rather than beverages. The highly lauded back-to-back stellar vintages of 2009 and 2010 in Bordeaux really broke the bank and highlighted the out-pricing of great Bordeaux in many markets. For many, this most vividly brought to light the fact that brand and status had become more important (to some at least) than the holy grail of French wine: terroir.

However, modern Bordeaux is not only about big names and big games, but rather the struggling underbelly: the mass of Bordelaise wine at affordable price points. These lesser ranking producers and growers, of which there are many, must sell their glut of wine. I use term glut, not disparagingly, however, but as a testament to the spirit of perseverance of an industry in the shadow of its upper class.

There is a common misconception that great Bordeaux is never cheap, which may have been true five even ten years ago. But as I have been tasting, year to year, almost every new entry into our VINTAGES tier of wines, I am more and more pleased by the offerings at relatively low prices. Why might this be so? Competition from the new world is steep especially from regions that have more flexibility in changing their styles and methods of production. There is also a great deal of lower ranked and more humble Bordelaise wine on the market that must be sold. Bordeaux has been therefore forced to compete by the only means at their disposal – an increase in quality and value. It is a very Darwinian world now in Bordeaux with “arrachage” (or “vine pulling”) on the increase as well as the collapse of smaller houses. If you can’t sell you must then fold. The only option open now is a forced increase in quality – dare I say this is a benefit of a global capitalist market (my inner socialist self cringes at this statement).

Its commodification aside, Bordeaux is a region that produces a unique wine with plenty of diversity. The apparent lack of emphasis and appreciation of terroir and quality of the wines of Bordeaux is merely a result of circumstance, of literal situation. Located on a tributary leading to one of the most important of European ports, the trade value of the wines of Bordeaux was easily established. The marriage of Eleanor d’Aquitaine to King Henry II in the 12th century made Bordeaux British and the wine a lucrative export commodity. The coupling’s son Richard’s ascension to the throne of England solidified this very important trade relationship. As Bordeaux was the wealthy, controlling region of this great port, its wines were given preference over nearby regions – one of the reasons that wines of Bergerac have had so little international recognition even to this day. Dutch traders were responsible for yet another phase of the agrandissement of Bordeaux – the arduous task of draining of the marshlands around Médoc made planting vines north of Graves possible. This had the added benefit of increased accessibility to those wines with better roads. It is thus money, trade and power that are responsible for overshadowing what is beneath the label, within the bottle.

Its situation and its history established, what has become of modern Bordeaux? Undeniably, Chateaux and négociants suffer from the loss of important markets due to the pressure of increased prices but also international competition. Its future and international reputation may just lie in its less expensive, less known, less important regions, appellations and price points.

As much as I had mentioned previously that Bordeaux likes to hold on to tradition, it is secretly a very progressive part of the world. In fact, it is probably one of the most progressive wine regions of the world in terms of pushing the boundaries of the usage of new oenological technologies and biological innovations.  Just because it doesn’t show it outwardly like the flashy stelvin caps of Australia and New Zealand, it doesn’t mean magic doesn’t happen behind the curtain. Of course such assistance from the new happens discretely, if not downright covertly. French wine culture asserts that terroir is the key element to making great wine and in one of its greatest wine regions; it must also uphold that belief. However, the Bordelaise have a unique way of blending respect for terroir with ways of improving quality to for greater marketability.

Many have heard of Vinexpo, one of the most important international trade shows in the wine world and an international platform on which the great wines of Bordeaux may show their stuff. However, between the years of Vinexpo, biennially, there is one of the most important wine tech fairs in the world held known as Vinitech – a marvel of new advances in the world of wine showcasing everything from new types of machine harvesters to carefully engineered yeasts. It is at this time of year that Bordeaux takes off its veil and shows, at least to the industry, its inner workings.

Beyond the history and prestige, there is a great deal to appreciate about Bordeaux. From left to right bank, it produces distinctly differently wines, each putting rival varietals cabernet sauvignon and merlot on pedestals showing what makes them both gutsy and elegant. Beneath its classification systems, producers are being forced to live up the grandeur of the region for their very survival. It is fight or fail now for those that make up the majority of wine production in Bordeaux. And in these times of stress, that creativity, innovation and competitive nature may just be responsible for producing exceptionally exciting wines.

Without further ado, here is a selection of our top picks from a modern Bordeaux. In addition, we’ve included our favorites from the rest of the release from both the new world and old.

Bordeaux Feature

Château De l’Orangerie 2013, Entre deux Mers, Bordeaux, France ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Literally “between two seas”, Entre deux Mers is the wide open space that lies between the rivers Gironde and Dordogne.  Good value can be found in this expanse such as this perky white with notes of lemongrass, honeydew and passion fruit. A more interesting than average weeknight white.

Château Le Caillou 2009, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France ($52.95)
Sara d’Amato – The 2009 vintage is developing beautifully and is just beginning to shed some of its tanninc aggression to reveal its complex under layers. A wine that will prove widely appealing, its right bank origin make it a little more friendly at present that its neighbors from across the bank. Saline and an abundance of voluptuous fruit are brimming within its constraints.

Château De L'orangerie 2013 Château Le Caillou 2009 Vieux Château Gachet 2000 Château Donissan 2011

Vieux Château Gachet 2000, Lalande-de-Pomerol, Bordeaux ($29.95)
David Lawrason – This is fully mature 2000 merlot based red from a very hot vintage, so its delivering more weight and plushness than I would expect from Lalande de Pomerol.  Also mature flavours on the edge. I recommend it as an education in mature Bordeaux at an affordable price, and it scores on complexity and balance. Drink up.

Château Donissan 2011, Listrac-Médoc ($19.95)
David Lawrason – The 2011s lack the depth and structure of 2010s, but this scores on complexity, tension, fragrance and just a bit of intrigue with cranberry-raspberry fruit, violets, mild green pepper/veg and creative, nicely honed oak. There is a certain unique sensuality.

Château Lagrange 2011 Lussac-Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux ($18.95)
David Lawrason – Again, at this price point you can’t expect Bordeaux of depth and structure, but I am not missing that when there is so much charm to be had. This is a lighter, pretty, youthful merlot-cab franc blend with lifted aromas of violets, raspberry and fresh herbs and nettles.  Bordeaux might want to think of rebranding as a source of fresh, delightful young wines instead of pompous, over-priced grand crus that languish in cellars of the rich.

Château Lagrange 2011 Château Les Tourelles 2010 Château De Lisennes Cuvée Tradition 2010Château Guiraud Sauternes 2011

Château Les Tourelles 2010, Bordeaux, France ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Although Tourelles has a solid reputation for white wines it also produces some exciting and well-priced merlot/cabernet franc blends. This is a very peppery, aromatic version from 2010 with good intensity and little notable oak.

Château de Lisennes 2010 Cuvée Tradition, Bordeaux Supérieur, Bordeaux, France ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – This terrific value 2010 offers compelling floral and herbal notes with tomato leaf and lavender at the forefront. An everyday Bordeaux poised for immediate consumption.

Château Guiraud 2011, Sauternes, 1er Grand Cru Classé, (375ml), Bordeaux, France, ($39.85)
Sara d’Amato – The lush, southern wines of Bordeaux are not only head-turning but can prove greatly distracting in a tasting of three or more. Lucky for it, the Chateau Guiraud was the only offering from Sauternes in this release – but it does not disappoint! Hold on for another decade for optimal enjoyment.

Other White

2027 Cellars 2012 Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block Chardonnay, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($30.00)
David Lawrason – From one of the best Niagara “virtual wineries” by Kevin Panakapka, this is a delicious, demure, tight and elegant chardonnay – very sleek and well balanced, not as blowsy as expected from the warmer 2012 vintage in Niagara. The nose shows finely woven hazelnut, smoke, vanilla and pear fruit. Niagara needs to aim for this kind of restraint and elegance in chardonnay.

Domaine Séguinot-Bordet 2014 Chablis, Burgundy, France ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Whereas many regions of Europe are reporting a less good 2014 vintage (especially for reds)  Chablis, with its early ripening chardonnays, is very happy indeed. From a 16 ha family domain this well-priced, tidy basic Chablis may be the proof.  It’s firm, well-structured with subtle aromas of apple, lemon, wet stone and at touch of youthful leesiness. Nice sense of brightness and focus.

2027 Cellars 2012 Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block ChardonnayDomaine Séguinot Bordet Chablis 2014 Gorgo San Michelin Custoza 2014 Carpinus Dry Furmint 2013 Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese 2013

Gorgo 2014 San Michelin Custoza, Veneto, Italy ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This demure but delicious white is a blend of cortese, tocai, trebbiano  and  garganega grown on rocky, limestone soils near Lago di Garda in northeast Italy. It offers dandy flavour depth and richness, and elegance with ripe aromas of peach, honey, fennel and marzipan – very much the signature of the Veneto whites. Huge value.

Carpinus 2013 Dry Furmint, Hungary ($14.95) (417865)
Sara d’Amato – Here is an outside the box pick for dinner with company but would also make a compelling solo sipper. Playful with brightness, verve and pleasantly unexpected viscosity on the palate. The slightly honeyed finished would make it a great match for pork Schnitzel.

Joh. Jos. Christoffel 2013 Erben Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese, Prädikatswein, Mosel, Germany ($28.95)
Sara d’Amato – A shockingly good wine in which you will overlook completely the sweetness and instead savor the balance. This is part of the In-Store-Discovery program so seek it out it in more prominent VINTAGES stores.

Other Red

Cavino Grande Reserve 2008, Nemea, Peloponnese, Greece ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – Agioritiko is the grape of southern Greece’s Peloponnese wine growing region. A gutsy wine with presence and a food-friendly attitude, this well-priced find to whom age has been kind, would pair nicely with cool-weather stews.

Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma County, California, USA ($39.95) (944843)
Sara d’Amato – A long time favourite California cabernet sauvignon of mine which benefits from higher elevation fruit and careful winemaking. There is restraint, dryness and purity in this wine that gives it an old world character. If you are impatient, decant.

Cavino Grande Reserve 2008 Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Altos Las Hormigas Terroir Malbec 2012 Tabali Reserva Syrah 2012 Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2013

Altos Las Hormigas 2012 Terroir Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is from Italy’s Alberto Antonini, one of most talented and terroir-driven of the many European winemakers working in Argentina. This is a refined, fresh and engaging, naturally produced, synthetic-free malbec with minimal old oak. Expect accentuated, ripe jammy raspberry/plum fruit, with licorice, herbs and some earthiness in the background.

Tabali 2012 Reserva Syrah, Limarí Valley, Chile ($14.95)
David Lawrason – I have rated this 90 points, almost impossible at $15. It is so pretty, so syrah, so Chile!  I don’t add points for value but if I did it would be even higher a rating. What a fine nose of violets, blackberry, wood smoke pepper and vanilla cream. It’s mid-weight, slender and quite elegant with fine tannin. Even a mineral tweak on the finish.

Fonterutoli 2012 Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($25.95)
David Lawrason – This is so stylish, nuanced, complex yet fresh – a great modern Chianti.  Very pretty, lively, firm and elegant with classic sour cherry/raspberry fruit, herbs and some minerality, nicely framed by new oak. It has fine tension and firm tannin. Excellent length as well.


Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES Oct 3, 2015

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Bill’s Best Bets – September 2015

September Cellier release

by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

It’s back to school and back to tasting the monthly SAQ Cellier release for the gang at Chacun son Vin. We will be timing these emails to give you a head’s up on the best selections from these limited release wines. The SAQ has begun offering some of these wines online prior to them being released in their stores, so if you want to be sure to be get your hands on these bottles, order them online.

The September release, where the focus is on France, is one of the strongest I have tasted. It is chockfull of both bargain wines as well as a touch pricier bottles that can fill holes in your wine cellar if you need to reload. So let’s get right to it.

Bordeaux fans have no lack of choice here with a number of bottles from the very different 2009 and 2010 vintages. These are for the most part “ready to drink”, though a few show the stuffing to be able to handle some extra cellar time.

My top three were the 2010 Château Tayet for sheer power, the 2010 Château Lacombe for its balance and restraint, and the 2009 Hanteillan, which shows surprising finesse and complexity for a wine of such a hot vintage. “Feminine with a temper” is how I described it. All of these wines are under $25, so no need to spend a fortune for a very good Bordeaux.

Château Tayet Cuvée Prestige 2010 Château Lacombe Noaillac 2010 Château Hanteillan 2009

The Southwest is well represented in this release as well. For fans of the deep and dark wines of Cahors, try either the 2009 Cuvée ‘A’ from Château Les Haut D’Aglans or the 2004  Cuvée d’Exception from Château Gautoul. Cahors typically needs some age to show what its got, and these are both primed and ready to drink.

For a white, especially if you have a cellar, the Jurancon Sec from Charles Hours, Cuvée Marie, is always a treat. While fine to drink right now, 3-5 years more of age for this 2013 is ideal. If you love whites with tension, then this is it.

Château Les Hauts d'Aglan Cuvée a Cahors 2009 Château Gautoul Cuvée d'Exception 2004 Cuvée Marie Jurançon Sec 2013Jean J. Boutin Parcelle De Jean 2012 Domaine De Beaurenard Les Argiles Bleues 2012

Rhône fans are also well taken care of with two exceptional wines. The 2012 Saint Joseph, Parcelle de Jean from J. Boutin is like a mini-Cornas with its cassis fruit and edgy mineral note. And if you love the beefy southern Rhône wines from Rasteau, the 2012 L’Argyle Bleu from Beaurenard is a treat. Hailing from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, these boys know their grenache.

Finally from the Languedoc-Roussillon, there are also a few wines to highlight. While the region’s reputation has been steadily climbing, thankfully the prices have not, so you will still find great wines at very reasonable prices.

One of my favourite wines year in, year out is the Corbières from Domaine St-Jean de la Gineste. The 2013 is as good as any I have tasted and for me, is what “table wine” is all about – infinite drinkability.

While the Gineste wine is more delicate and with great acidity, if you want a more powerful, richer wine, go for the 2014 Mon P’tit Pithion from Olivier Pithon. Sun drenched fruit without any noticeable oak.

Some of the most structured wines in the south are made in the Minervois-La Liviniere. The 2011 Natural Selection from Château Maris shows ripe fruit with firm tannins. Drinks well now but will no doubt reward with a few more years of age.

Domaine St Jean De La Gineste Corbières Carte Blanche 2013 Domaine Olivier Pithon Mon P'tit Pithon 2014 Syrah Château Maris Natural Selection Biodynamic 2011 Domaine Modat Comme Avant 2011 Michel Gassier Les Piliers Viognier 2014

One of the more interesting wines of the tasting was the 2011 ‘Comme Avant’ from Domaine Modat. So earthy and so rich, this Côtes du Roussillon is worth investigation, especially if you are a fan of eating wild red meats like deer.

And finally, if you want a good under $20 viognier, which is not easy to find considering the grape’s need for low yields, the 2014 from Michel Gassier honours what makes viognier such an interesting wine – nuanced fruit, minerality and a long, rich finish.

We also tasted a few under $15 wines, with a few that surprised. I’ll wait until the 20 under $20 at the end of the month to reveal my favourites.

Happy September folks,


There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

Editors Note: You can find Bill’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Premium subscribers to Chacun son vin can see the complete list of September Cellier New Releases here, and can see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see newly posted reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

19 Crimes "To the Banished."

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Le charme concret de la bourgeoisie

Hors des sentiers battus19 juin 2015

par Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

J’arrive de Bordeaux, où j’avais été invité pour présider le jury de la Coupe 2015 des crus bourgeois.

Quand on m’a demandé de prendre la parole lors de la remise du prix au gagnant (excellent et solide Château Lilian Ladouys), j’ai entre autres parlé du bordeaux bashing qui est à la mode, depuis quelques années.

En gros, ai-je laissé tomber du haut de ma tribune, et surtout à notre époque où le vin « nature », le plus dépouillé possible, a la cote, le bordeaux rouge, c’est ringard. Style : « Quoi ! Ta cave est pour moitié composée de bordeaux ! Arrive au 21e siècle, pépère ! »

Il est vrai qu’avec les prix éhontés commandés par les plus prestigieux grands crus classés et tout le bling-bling qui y est associé, le jet-set, la chasse à courre et tout ça, on est plusieurs à en avoir ras le bol d’être les dindons de la farce.

Sauf que… tout Bordeaux ne rime pas avec vie de château et aristocrates à gogo.

Bruno Segond - Chateau LousteauneufIl s’en trouve, j’en ai rencontré quelques-uns, qui n’ont pas l’air tout frais débarqués des pages du Paris-Match. Des vignerons ordinaires, passionnés, pas nécessairement pauvres, n’exagérons rien, mais pas hyper-friqués non plus. L’impression, quand on arrive chez eux, d’être tout sauf à Bordeaux – au sens où on l’entend souvent, c’est-à-dire dans un lieu empreint de glamour et souvent aussi d’ostentation, qui Latour, qui Margaux, qui Haut-Brion.

[photo : Bruno Segond, vigneron du Médoc et amoureux du Québec, propriétaire du Château Lousteauneuf, dont on trouve le 2010 actuellement à la SAQ. ]

Parmi ces propriétés plus abordables, plus accessibles, beaucoup de crus bourgeois. Désormais obligés de passer par la certification chaque année, alors que leurs illustres congénères grands crus classés se reposent pour ainsi dire sur leurs lauriers – depuis 1855.

On retrouve ces châteaux qui font partie de l’Alliance des crus bourgeois pour l’essentiel dans le Médoc et le Haut-Médoc, ainsi qu’en appellation communale, par exemple à Margaux et à Saint-Estèphe.

Il y en a beaucoup de ces crus bourgeois, et même trop : en 2012, le dernier millésime qui a été certifié, pas moins de 267. On s’en réjouit, le choix est légion, mais est-ce que cela ne dilue pas l’image de marque, la crédibilité ? Je ne suis pas le premier à poser la question, et un certain débat s’est enclenché là-bas, au sein du regroupement.


Quoi qu’il en soit, le terrain de jeu est grand, l’amateur a l’embarras du choix. L’avantage principal, le prix. Alors que les quelque 60 grands crus classés commandent un prix moyen plutôt olé olé, celui des crus bourgeois est de beaucoup inférieur. Ici, au Québec, il se situe dans la fourchette 20 $ à 40 $, plus ou moins.

Véronique Courrian - Château Tour Haut- CassanAutre immense atout : ils sont plus rapidement prêts à boire et néanmoins capables de vieillir une bonne dizaine d’années, voire plus. Témoin des 2005 goûtés sur place la semaine dernière ouverts, très convaincants, et des 2001 et 2000 tout à fait à point, encore bien en vie et en fruit.

[Photo : Véronique Courrian, du Château Tour Haut- Cassan (ses 2009 et 2010 sont à la SAQ), qui fait aussi une fameuse tarte au citron… ]

Tout ce qui précède ne revient pas à dire qu’il faut bouder les étiquettes bordelaises les plus prestigieuses, surtout si nos finances le permettent.

Mais un cellier bien construit, à côté de quelques grosses quilles à ouvrir lors d’occasions spéciales, contient tout plein de bons vins à la fois assez corsés, délicieusement tanniques, avec une acidité bien marquée et un mariage bois-fruit des plus réussis.

Pour ça, si on cherche, on n’hésite pas : la famille des crus bourgeois est toute trouvée.

À boire, aubergiste !

Parmi les crus bourgeois présentement disponibles à la SAQ et que j’ai goûtés, voici des suggestions.

Château La Branne 2009 : Un bon cru bourgeois du Médoc, concentré et charpenté, d’une savoureuse générosité. Prix (21 $) attractif.

Château d’Arche 2009 : Très bon bordeaux rouge, goûteux et aux tannins serrés, ainsi que d’une persistance notable.

Château La Branne 2009 Château d'Arche Cru Bourgeois 2009 Château Bernadotte 2009 Château Lestage 2009

Château Bernadotte 2009 : Corsé et généreux, bien soutenu par l’acidité et des tannins relativement serrés. Le bois est marqué, mais l’équilibre est là, ainsi qu’un certain potentiel.

Château Lestage 2009 : Relativement fin, concentré, aux tannins marqués mais de qualité, pas astringents. Le boisé est marqué, cela dit, soyez prévenus.

Château Loudenne 2010 : Serré et texturé, même relativement élégant, au boisé appuyé mais plutôt bien intégré. Déjà accessible, belle fraîcheur, et se conservera aisément jusqu’en 2020.

Château d’Escurac 2010 : Un médoc plus « sauvage » que, par exemple, le Loudenne, concentré et relativement tannique ainsi qu’un peu capiteux (14,5 % d’alcool). Bénéficiera d’être attendu encore deux ou trois ans.

Château Loudenne 2010 Chateau d'Escurac 2010 Château Fonréaud 2010 Château Lilian Ladouys 2010

Château Fonréaud 2010 : Fruit mûr au nez, excellente acidité en bouche, saveurs à peine corsées, légèrement astringentes, moyennement concentrées.

Château Lilian-Ladouys 2010 – le gagnant, avec son millésime 2012 de la toute dernière Coupe des crus bourgeois, et en passant, pour mémoire, on prononce la-dou-isse : Pour l’heure bien boisé, même très boisé, au point où l’on se demande si cela ne va pas s’assécher. Le nez est beau par contre, invitant, avec du fruit. Donnons-lui le bénéfice du doute.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2010UN PIRATE !

Et maintenant, je triche, mais voilà, j’avais inséré ce rouge de l’Okanagan dans la série de crus bourgeois pour voir de quel bois il se chauffait et vu qu’il ne se cache pas de vouloir en quelque sorte imiter les bons rouges du Bordelais.

Résultat ? Pari tenu pour le Osoyoos-Larose Le Grand Vin 2010, l’un des beaux Osoyoos de ces dernières années, goûté au milieu de la série de bordeaux et qui n’a pas démérité. Beau fruit au nez et en bouche, mais boisé marqué, et concentration moyenne. L’équilibre et la fraîcheur demeurent, tout de même. Devrait se conserver encore trois ou quatre ans.

Bonne dégustation !


Note de la rédaction: vous pouvez lire les commentaires de dégustation complets en cliquant sur les noms de vins, les photos de bouteilles ou les liens mis en surbrillance. Les abonnés payants à Chacun son Vin ont accès à toutes les critiques dès leur mise en ligne. Les utilisateurs inscrits doivent attendre 60 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de bons vins !

Wolf Blass - S'elever tourjours plus haut


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The Successful Collector – Bordeaux 2012 Futures

Julian Hitner reports on one of the most inconsistent and overpriced vintages Bordeaux has faced in recent years.

A question of value:
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

If there is one lesson claret connoisseurs may take from the 2012 vintage, it is that it pays to be selective. To best understand this, we must briefly turn our attention to the back-to-back vintages of 2009 and 2010. Widely hailed as two of the most luxurious, most ageworthy harvests Mother Nature has ever bestowed, most estates and négociants experienced little compunction in raising their prices by hitherto ludicrous margins. Considering the quality, collectors and casual buyers both played along, and sales went extremely well. Then came 2011, a vintage of middling quality that should have brought prices back to levels similar to 2008 – ironically the most underrated vintage of the 21st century. It didn’t, and sales were anything but vigorous.

This brings us back to 2012, a vintage of even more variable quality. For most of us, common sense would dictate that estates and négociants, smarting from a sharp decline in 2011 sales, would deign to adjust their prices to something mimicking 2008. Once again, this did not happen, leaving many claret lovers to ask, especially when considering how mediocre 2013 is purported to be: when will Bordeaux wise up?

Hence the importance of selectiveness in 2012, in patronizing only the best wines from a select few estates and négociants with the audacity to sell at reasonable prices. For the record: a surprising number of estates did in fact manage to produce some really attractive, freshly flavoured wines, making it doubly unfortunate that 2012 is most likely to be remembered along the same lines as 2011 or 2007: two deceptively average years plagued more by price gouging than precipitation or pestilence put together. In the end, only a handful of top performers got their acts right.

The Left Bank:

In terms of consistency, Margaux is the standout appellation, with more wines than naught retaining remarkable freshness, definition and fragrance. Clarity of fruit is essential in a vintage like 2012, particularly where new oak is often (and advisably) used in lesser amounts. Those that had problems with ripeness suffered in spades, not just in Margaux but in many other places. In St-Julien, many estates seem to have publicly defied the challenges of the harvest, crafting wines of impeccable fruit orientation and layering. By contrast, Pauillac is more of a mixed bag, where only the really illustrious properties seem to have produced wines of exceptional body, structure and class. More than anything, this is likely to do with problems in fully ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, a factor on which great Pauillac almost always significantly depends. In St-Estèphe, many châteaux seem to have compensated by using larger percentages of earlier-ripening Merlot, crafting some truly appetizing, approachable wines.

Château Kirwan, Margaux

For bargain hunters, however, the appellations of Moulis-en-Médoc and Listrac-Médoc rank as top picks. Without the same name recognition as their above-mentioned counterparts, prices for the best wines, crafted with undeniable scrutiny and care, seem strikingly rewarding and reasonable. Though not exactly as fulsome and cellarable as the best of Margaux or St-Julien, the most promising examples (crafted from larger percentages of Merlot) clearly possess more than enough freshness, structure and durability for both youthful enjoyment and long-term accumulation. Such is the theme of most overvalued yet underappreciated vintages: it gives underdogs a rare chance to shine.

The Graves:

Along with at least several parts of the Left Bank, the reds of Pessac-Léognan are largely hit-and-miss affairs. The whites, on the other hand, are a different matter entirely. Though I was only able to record formal notes on a handful of them (same with the reds), it seems 2012 will be remembered as an extremely successful vintage for white Graves. Crafted mostly from Sauvignon Blanc with Sémillon as accompaniment (along with a few drops of Muscadelle), a great glass of white Pessac-Léognan certainly ranks one of Bordeaux’s most under-celebrated types of premium wine. Like top white burgundy, the best examples are both fermented and matured in oak barrels, resulting in impeccable concentration, complexity and long-term cellaring potential. In 2012, many estates produced truly exceptional, sophisticated examples.

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Sauternes

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the sweet whites of Sauternes and Barsac, with several estates opting out of even declaring a vintage. This is has generated a great deal of controversy, with many arguing such a move serves only to discourage buyers from patronizing the vintage in any way whatsoever. On the other hand: there is general consensus that most estates experienced enormous difficulties in 2012, with only a small number of properties managing to craft really rejuvenating, desirable versions. Thankfully these days, prices for Sauternes and Barsac are almost always agreeable, especially when considering the amount of labour that goes into producing this type of wine.

The Right Bank:

In this neck of the woods, where wines are mostly crafted from Merlot and small amounts of Cabernet Franc, there is no question that Pomerol is the winner, with many estates producing wines of impeccable beauty, harmony and charm. Like their counterparts on the Left Bank, the best examples shall easily keep for two decades or more, though may be enjoyed now with unfettered enthusiasm. Unfortunately, many of these same properties also seem to have taken the same misguided cue in pegging their wines at markedly high prices. As a result, one must use the same level of caution when selecting from Pomerol as with Margaux, St-Julien or white Graves.

Château Gazin, Pomerol

Across the border in St-Emilion, the same generalizations regarding quality are almost impossible to make. On the one hand, there are a good number of estates that steered clear of overt Parkerization (excessive extraction), crafting wines of beautiful smoothness, opulence and pedigree. On the other, you have countless establishments that seem to have lost their way, their wines possessing more in common with port than with claret. While these same wines may be awarded high scores, their injudicious use of new oak and prolonged hang-time on the vine to promote extra ripeness and higher levels of alcohol (particularly inadvisable in 2012) serves only to distort the origins and singular qualities of the wines themselves, not to mention fails to disguise any phenolically underripe grapes that may have been picked. After all, what is the point of growing wine in St-Emilion when they all start tasting like they originated from Napa? In a year like 2012, the creation of such supercharged, overpriced wines does little to boaster long-term support for one of Bordeaux’s most dynamic appellations.

Final thoughts:

For many wine lovers nowadays, Bordeaux continues to harbour an image problem. For some, the estates and their wines are too stuffy, too obsessed with their own self-worth, charging exorbitant prices for bottles that may not even be opened for a decade or more. This makes the pricing structure of a vintage like 2012 all the more problematic, in that it only feeds into such sentiments. If claret is to remain relevant, its countless producers must never forget that its wines are unique, that it is short-sighted to produce wines like those of the Upper Douro or Napa Valley, and that it is especially important for premium estates to significantly lower their prices in non-legendary years. For an underappreciated vintage like 2012, most simply failed to recognize this.

Top picks:

Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2012 Pessac-Léognan hails from one of the most consistent, most proficient producers of premium white Graves. Retaining exemplary palate roundness, harmony and refinement, the Perrin family is yet again to be commended for its superior efforts. Drink now or hold for up to a decade. 

Château Kirwan 2012 Margaux may be easily justified as one of the top premium picks of the appellation, if not the entire vintage. A wine of remarkable purity, fragrance and freshness, it’s a miracle VINTAGES isn’t charging more for this. Drink now or hold for up to two decades. Decanting is recommended.

Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2012 Château Kirwan 2012 Château Siran 2012 Château Prieuré Lichine 2012

Château Siran 2012 Margaux comes from one of the friendliest, most accessible estates in its neck of the woods. Though not included in the 1855 Classification, this deliciously fruity and flavourful claret is easily one of the best bargains of the vintage. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Prieuré-Lichine 2012 Margaux hails from one of the most fragmented estates on the Left Bank, with as many as forty different parcels scattered throughout the appellation. Over the past several years, quality has risen considerably, its latest outing showing exceptional structure and precision. Drink now or hold for eighteen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Maucaillou 2012 Moulis-en-Médoc is unquestionably one of the best bets for the budget-minded, demonstrating outstanding precision, style and harmony. Owned by the Dourthe family since 1929, quality at this estate has risen much over the past several years. Drink now or hold for fifteen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Poujeaux 2012 Moulis-en-Médoc is capable of going head-to-head with many more famous names throughout the Left Bank. Possessing remarkable harmony, precision and build, the Theil family has every reason to be proud of all they’ve accomplished. Drink now or hold for up to eighteen years. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Maucaillou 2012 Château Poujeaux 2012 Château Sociando Mallet 2012 Château Coufran 2012

Château Sociando-Mallet 2012 Haut-Médoc comes from one of the most adept, most undervalued estates on the Left Bank. Possessing remarkable structure and class, wines from this exemplarily situated property are always reasonably priced and delicious. Let’s hope this never changes. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Coufran 2012 Haut-Médoc is a great choice for the budget-minded, containing far more Merlot than Cabernet Sauvignon in the final blend – a reflection of vineyard conditions. Owned by the Miailhe for a very long time, this is one property to watch. Drink now or hold for up to a decade or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Saint-Pierre 2012 St-Julien is definitely one of the year’s highlights, possessing extraordinary layering, structure and elegance. One of the smallest estates included in the 1855 Classification, this impeccable Fourth Growth is seldom sold in VINTAGES, only through its futures programme. Drink now or hold for two decades or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Haut-Bages Libéral 2012 Pauillac hails from one of very few estates in this vintage with the gumption to set its prices correctly. A claret of marvellous framework, balance and appellation character, a wine like this merits our patronage. Drink now or hold for up to eighteen years. Decanting is recommended.

Château Saint Pierre 2012 Château Haut Bages Libéral 2012 Château Gazin 2012 Château Lafaurie Peyraguey 2012

Château Gazin 2012 Pomerol has all the makings of an exemplary red wine, crafted at one of largest, most greatly improved estates on the appellation’s plateau. Exhibiting impeccable layering, structure and breed, it is unfortunate loyal admirers were only given a perfunctory break on the price. Drink now or hold for two decades or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2012 Sauternes regrettably represents one of few sweet wines for which I had time to write formal notes. Even so, few would deny that this particular specimen ranks as one of the most sensational, most lusciously stylish of the bunch. Reasonably priced when considering the amount of labour involved. Drink now or hold for three decades or more. 


Julian Hitner

Click here for Julian’s complete list of 2012 notes

Editors Note: You can find our critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

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The Successful Collector – The First Growths of Bordeaux

Julian Hitner reports on some of the top châteaux of Bordeaux after visiting one of France’s most celebrated winegrowing regions in 2014. Read on to learn more about the classifications of Bordeaux, a typical visit to first-class estate and an overview of some of the region’s most revered properties.

A spiritual experience:
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

A visit to a First Growth is unlike any other wine pilgrimage. The closest thing it resembles is a pseudo-religious experience: setting foot on sacred vineyards, entering sanctified estate interiors and partaking of wines officially consecrated as the best of the best, the latter a deceptively secular means of declaring such contents divine. Of course, this is mere melodramatic testament to perfectionist winegrowing, acknowledged by centuries of near-universal adulation, exorbitant price structuring and begrudged rarity of genuine appreciation by all but the most deep-pocketed of wine collectors. Yet these are the terms in which the most illustrious estates of Bordeaux must be understood, in that they are grandiose, that they are picture-perfect, and that the wines they produce are among the greatest in the world.

But how does one account for this situation? For wine historians, the success of Bordeaux’s greatest estates has as much to do with the quality of their flawless vineyards as it does with the long-standing endurance of the classification systems to which they belong. Of these, the most famous is the 1855 Classification of the Médoc (or Left Bank) and Sauternes-Barsac. This is the classification, or hierarchy, that includes the most prized châteaux of the Left Bank as First Growths: Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild (promoted in 1973), Margaux and Haut-Brion (the latter based out of the appellation of Pessac-Léognan in the Graves). All other estates fortunate enough to be included belong to four other categories: Second Growth, Third Growth, Fourth Growth and Fifth Growth. In Sauternes-Barsac, there are three categories: Premier Cru Supérieur (a status enjoyed only by Château d’Yquem), Premier Cru and Second Growth.

Château Lafite Rothschild vines and buildings

Château Lafite Rothschild vines and buildings

In the Graves, the appellation of Pessac-Léognan employs a one-category classification of Grand Cru Classé, or variations thereof, for both its red and white wines. Unlike the Left Bank, where all whites must be labeled, appellation-wise, as generic ‘Bordeaux’ and may not even mention the estate’s official ranking, those of Pessac-Léognan are permitted to state the actual name of the appellation as well as the official classification of the estate. All of this stands in contrast to the much larger, reds-only classification system of St-Emilion, the most significant appellation of the Right Bank sector of Bordeaux. Subject to revision every ten years or so, a sizeable number of estates are placed into four categories. The first is Premier Grand Cru Classé A, widely considered the equivalent of the First Growths of the Left Bank. For the longest time, only Châteaux Ausone and Cheval Blanc were ranked as such, having recent been joined (not without controversy) by Angélus and Pavie. Following this are Premier Cru Classé B, Grand Cru Classé and Grand Cru. Over the border in the appellation of Pomerol, there is no classification system in place, though few would dispute that immortal Château Petrus along with a few others may be considered equals to the First Growths of the Left Bank or St-Emilion.

Fairy Tale Second Growth Château Pichon-Longueville Baron

Fairy Tale Second Growth Château Pichon-Longueville Baron


All spiritual jargon aside, there is indeed something to be said for visiting nearly all of the First Growths of Bordeaux, along with a host of other magnificent properties, in only roughly one week. As appearances go, such properties are immaculately tended, with luxurious gardens, aristocratic exteriors and interiors and perfectly tended vines. Yet strangely enough, visiting the finest châteaux is not an entirely complicated concern, for most estates nowadays are eager to accept visitors. Advanced planning is key. Appointments must be made well ahead of time, in some cases as much as several months, and travel by car or perhaps bicycle is highly recommended. Most estates have special sections on their website on how they may be contacted for making an appointment. Furthermore, most estates, First Growths included, now retain public relations staff in their employ, many of whom are extremely courteous and knowledgeable. Excepting fellow winegrowers and professional journalists, it is highly unlikely that visitors will be greeted by the owner, chief viticulturalist or director of winemaking.

From personal experience, the course of a visit seldom varies from one château to another: a tour of the vineyards and cellar, followed by a tasting of the latest vintage, typically from barrel. The length of one’s stay depends almost entirely on one’s depth of interest. In most cases, First Growths are extremely large properties, consisting of substantial vineyard parcels, work-specific and residential buildings, elaborate garden spaces and below-ground cellars. Any self-respecting claret lover should make a point of viewing as many of these components as possible. Photos are almost always permitted.

Château Latour pigeon house and vines

Château Latour pigeon house and vines


As it so happens, those expecting an abundance of different wines to taste will be left out in the cold. Except on rare occasions, even professional journalists are only provided with a sample of the latest vintage to taste. Compared to many other types of wineries, many of which possess a vast range of wines on offer, most Bordeaux estates produce only a handful of wines every vintage. In the case of First Growths, this may consist of as a little as two wines: the grand vin (the top wine of the estate) and the second wine (usually crafted from parcels or vat selections deemed to be of lesser quality). Those that also produce white wines, such as Château Margaux or Haut Brion, seldom make these available for tasting, as they are produced in very small quantities. This said, tasting the latest vintage of Margaux or Cheval Blanc is anything but immaterial, for such wines are nowadays remarkably appreciable and understandable even in infancy, providing enthusiasts with invaluable insight into the reasons for which these estates are held in such sensational regard.

Unfortunately these days, the greatest names of Bordeaux are entirely unaffordable, demand far outstripping supply even for the second wines, a single bottle of which now cost at least a few hundred dollars. Not that such wines were ever low-cost, there was nonetheless a time, only a decade or two ago, when enthusiasts could put aside a few monies and lay their hands on a bottle or two for the cellar. This makes a pilgrimage to the First Growths all the more singular, for it is genuinely the only means nowadays of partaking of a small quantity of ostensibly hallowed wines traditionally reserved for a select few. As it appears, pseudo-religiosity knows very few bounds when discussing First Growths.

The greatest estates:

The First Growths of the 1855 Classification:

Château Latour:

Château Mouton Rothschild 2012 Château Lafite Rothschild 2001 Château Latour 2004As name recognition goes, Château Latour is perhaps the most famous of the First Growths, a name that evokes not unfounded notions of regality, grandeur and longevity. Owned by François Pinault, much of this 78-ha estate is located on the southern boundary of Pauillac, right across from Second Growth Léoville-Las Cases in St-Julien. The director of winemaking is Frédéric Engerer. The second wine is Les Forts de Latour. The estate also produces a third wine known as Pauillac de Château Latour, which has been produced every year since 1990.

Not long ago, Latour stunned the wine world by announcing that it is no longer participating in the annual en primeur (futures) programme, instead releasing specific vintages direct from the château only when they believe the wine is ready to be drunk. This is meant to discourage price speculation, bolster traditional markets and ensure the best possible quality for the connoisseur. Enthusiasts everywhere may look upon this as a positive development.

Château Latour 2004, Pauillac hails from one of the most classic vintages of the new century, possessing wondrous precision, harmony, layering and breed. Like so many other vintages before it, those fortunate enough to possess a bottle or two need not fear of carefully cellaring it for a few decades, perhaps for a child’s graduation. Drink now or hold through 2050 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Lafite Rothschild:

The epitome of pedigree and positive life forces, Château Lafite Rothschild may be considered the very embodiment of great claret production, for centuries compared and contrasted with Latour as the more aristocratic and graceful of the two. Owned by Baron Eric de Rothschild, this 112-ha property is situated on the northern boundary of Pauillac, directly across from Second Growth Cos d’Estournel in St-Estèphe. The director of winemaking is Charles Chevalier. The second wine is Carruades de Lafite.

Over the past decade, prices for Lafite have risen considerably in many parts of the world, mainly (though not exclusively) a result of its burgeoning popularity among well-heeled buyers in Asia. Although the wines of Lafite were never cheap, this dilemma has certainly shed light on the growing contrast of prices between those of the First Growths and its counterparts lower down the ladder. No solution has yet to be found.

Château Lafite Rothschild 2001, Pauillac is quite possibly the greatest wine of the vintage. Retaining indomitable authority, harmony, structure and gorgeousness, every claret enthusiast should discover the means of appreciating, if only once in a lifetime, a wine such as this, preferably on an occasion lending itself to quiet reflection and the company of one or two good persons. Drink now or hold through 2060 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Mouton Rothschild:

First Growth Château Mouton Rothschild has the extraordinary honour of being the only estate to have ever been promoted in the 1855 Classification, a status to which few would dispute it is rightly entitled. Owned by Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, this 84-ha establishment is bordered next to Lafite in the northern sector of Pauillac, where wines of miraculous depth, exuberance and breed are produced to worldwide acclaim. The director of winemaking is Hervé Berland. The second wine is Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild. The estate also produces small amounts of white wine known as Aile d’Argent, largely regarded as a work in progress.

For every vintage since 1945, Mouton has commissioned some of the world’s most famous artists to design the front label of the bottle, including Salvador Dalí, Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and acclaimed director John Huston. Few châteaux are as creative and dynamic as Mouton Rothschild.

Château Mouton Rothschild 2012, Pauillac is a wine like few others, delivering unbelievable structure, radiance, harmony and breed. For decades, Baron Philippe de Rothschild (1902-1988) worked tirelessly to have Mouton promoted from Second to First Growth, finally achieving his dream in 1973. Nearly forty vintages later, wines like ’12 prove precisely why this advancement was necessary. Drink now or hold through 2065 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Haut-Brion:

Château D’yquem 2011 Château Margaux 2008 Château Haut Brion 2007Based out of the appellation of Pessac-Léognan in the Graves, Château Haut-Brion is the only estate outside of the Left Bank to be included in the 1855 Classification. Owned by Prince Robert of Luxembourg, this 46-ha estate is by far the oldest of the First Growths in terms of name recognition and quality. Long-established hallmarks for both reds and whites (the latter produced in extremely small quantities) are precociousness of texture, sophistication and fragrance. The director of winemaking is Jean-Philippe Delmas. The second wine is Le Clarence de Haut-Brion.

In 1983, Haut-Brion managed to acquire the 26-ha Château La Mission Haut-Brion from across the road, running the property as a separate entity yet with the same perfectionist standards. In some ways, La Mission may be rightly deemed a sixth First Growth, for the quality of its wines, both red and white, is virtually identical to that of Haut-Brion (to which it is most often compared) and the four others. For now, however, the estate is only included in the one-category classification system of Pessac-Léognan. The second wine is La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion.

Château Haut-Brion 2007 Pessac-Léognan is very possibly the most inspiring claret from this difficult vintage. Tasted twice (most recently at the estate), it is probably the most ‘backward’ of the graduating class, featuring mindboggling layering, texture, elegance and harmony. With almost as much merlot as cabernet sauvignon, it is approachable even at present, though it will cellar for an extremely long time. Drink now or hold through 2060. Decanting is recommended.

Château Margaux:

Unequivocally the most sensual of the First Growths, Château Margaux is renowned for is unsurpassed spirituality of fragrance, elegance and structural dimension. Owned by Corinne Mentzelopoulos, this 92-ha estate is located in the appellation of the same name, with vineyards scattered among the choicest locations. The director of winemaking is Paul Pontallier. The second wine is Pavillon Rouge, and the estate also produces very small quantities of a miraculous white wine known as Pavillon Blanc.

Like many of the other First Growths, Margaux has spent the past several years tightening up quality, in the process creating a third wine, Margaux du Château Margaux. Now that two of five estates have launched such a label, it is likely only a matter of time before the rest of the pack does the same. Reactions to this development have been mixed. While quality of the Grand Vin and second wines are bound to go up, prices are likely to ascend just as rapidly.

Château Margaux 2008 Margaux is a claret of sensational layering, precision, harmony and grace. In many ways, it is a testament to the colossal aptitude of Paul Pontallier, Margaux’s managing director for nearly twenty-five years. Yet even Pontallier is the first to admit that his role at Margaux comes at a distant second to the estate’s unmatched terroirs. A very modest individual. Drink now or hold through 2050 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château d’Yquem:

Not only the greatest sweet wine producer in France, Château d’Yquem is easily one of Bordeaux’s most lauded and legendary institutions. Owned by luxury goods group LVMH, this 110-ha property is the only estate in Sauternes to be designated as Premier Cru Supérieur, its wines considered, at least historically, to be so much finer than any of its peers that to rank them as equals was unthinkable. The director of winemaking is Sandrine Garbay. Although there is no second wine, a small amount of dry table wine, known as Ygrec, is produced every vintage.

For the extremely challenging 2012 vintage, d’Yquem generated a great deal of controversy by announcing that it would not be producing a sweet wine. This has placed other estates in Sauternes and Barsac in a difficult position, with many winegrowers lamenting the effect d’Yquem’s decision has had on the market and overall expectations. While some producers have stayed the course and claim to have made excellent wines, others such as Rieussec, Suduiraut and Raymond-Lafon have gone the way of d’Yquem. Instead, many will only be bottling a wine under their second label. Was d’Yquem’s course of action justified? Time will hopefully tell.

Château d’Yquem 2011 Sauternes clearly reflects the quality of this magnificent vintage, delivering astounding glamour, harmony, energy and decadence. Put simply, few other estates in Bordeaux, France or any other part of the world are capable of routinely crafting wines of this type at such a stupendous level of excellence. A shame one vine at d’Yquem averages only a single glass of wine. Drink now or hold through 2060 and beyond.

Other illustrious estates:

Château Léoville-Las Cases:

Château Palmer 2004 Château Ducru Beaucaillou 2001 Château Léoville Las Cases 2008Were the 1855 Classification ever revised, Second Growth Château Léoville-Las Cases would likely join the ranks of the First Growths in a heartbeat. Owned and operated by Jean-Hubert Delon, this 98-ha institution is located in northern St-Julien, just opposite Château Latour in Pauillac. For decades, its wines have overwhelmed connoisseurs with their immaculate sense of structure, refinement and capability. The second wine is Le Petit Lion du Marquis de Las Cases, while another, more famous wine known as Clos du Marquis is sourced from extremely high-grade parcels adjacent to the main holdings of the estate.

The Delon family is also the proud owner of Château Potensac in the appellation of Médoc, one of the greatest overachievers in this rather northerly part of the Left Bank. Planted on atypically gravelly soils at slightly higher elevations (unusual in much of this appellation), wines from this 84-ha property are routinely of extremely high quality and are rarely overpriced. If only more entities were as perfectionist as Léoville-Las Cases and its sister property.

Château Léoville-Las Cases 2008 St-Julien is one of the most affordable wines I have ever encountered from this estate in modern times, at least judging by the profound reverence for which this Super Second is held. Sustaining spectacular harmony, layering, style and pedigree, it begs the question why the 1855 Classification has only once been meritoriously revised to accommodate Mouton Rothschild. Drink now or hold through 2050. Decanting is recommended.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou:

Along with Léoville-Las Cases, Second Growth Château Ducru-Beaucaillou is the pride and joy of St-Julien, an appellation with no First Growths yet possessing an awfully impressive résumé of revered properties. Owned and operated by Bruno Borie, this 50-ha establishment nowadays yields wines of prodigious finesse, harmony and excitement. The second wine is La Croix de Beaucaillou.

An overachieving Second Growth, Ducru-Beaucaillou is one of the most sought-after of the ‘Super Seconds,’ a nickname used to describe estates in the 1855 Classification that either perform well above their rank and/or are much more expensive than their peers. These include: Léoville-las Cases in St-Julien; Second Growths Cos d’Estournel and Montrose in St-Estèphe; Third Growth Palmer in Margaux; and Second Growths Pichon-Longueville Baron and Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac. Also worthy of mention are Lynch Bages and Pontet-Canet, two Pauillac Fifth Growths of Super Second quality and cost.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 2001 St-Julian is now entering its peak, possessing uncanny sophistication, harmony, refinement and breed. From one of the most underappreciated vintages of the new millennium, wines like these serve as a valuable reminder that premium clarets need not nowadays be aged for decades on end in order to be fully appreciated. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Palmer:

Though only ranked as a Third Growth, Château Palmer has been known to eclipse even neighbouring Château Margaux in some vintages. Owned by the Sichel and Mähler-Besse families, this 55-ha property has for decades produced wines of irrepressible beauty, profoundness and harmony. The director of winemaking is Thomas Duroux. The second wine is Alter Ego.

Although cabernet sauvignon is usually the most significant grape throughout the most prestigious appellations of the Left Bank, some estates like Palmer prefer to use near-equal amounts of merlot in the final blend, contributing extra concentration and beguilingly velvety textures to the wines. As of 2014, the estate also switched to 100% biodynamic farming. The future of Palmer has never shone brighter.

Château Palmer 2004 Margaux is already ten years old and yet only just beginning to open up. Endowed with astounding posture, refinement, harmony and style, its best days are still well ahead of it. For claret enthusiasts with the means of acquiring a bottle or two, it is thus a prime candidate to lay aside for the birth of a grandchild or long-awaited natural passing of a reviled in-law. Drink now or hold through 2050 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Cheval Blanc:

Vieux Château Certan 2012 Château Cheval Blanc 2006Along with Château Ausone (not visited), Château Cheval Blanc has long been recognized as the leading estate of St-Emilion, ranked as Premier Grand Cru Classé A in the appellation’s classification system. Owned by luxury goods group LVMH, this 37-ha establishment is situated on the border with Pomerol, and is known for wines of extraordinary pedigree, durability and envelopment. Prices are routinely equal or higher than the First Growths of the Left Bank. The director of winemaking is Pierre Lurton. The second wine is Le Petit Cheval.

In 2011, the estate completed a major renovation and expansion of its main building and adjacent facilities. Reactions to its unapologetically ultramodern design have been mixed, with some (mostly Cheval Blanc affiliates) lauding its savvy technological features, while others have bemoaned its outward ostentation and contrast with the traditional appearance of neighbouring estates. So long as quality remains the same, or is even enhanced, such developments are likely of small consequence to claret enthusiasts.

Château Cheval Blanc 2006 St-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé A is one of the most majestic wines I have tasted from this estate to date, conveying spellbinding structure, pedigree, texture and balance. Containing 55% merlot and a whopping 45% cabernet franc, it is unquestionably the qualitative equivalent of a Left Bank First Growth, albeit one derived from a distinctly different set of winegrowing criteria. Drink now or hold through 2055 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Vieux Château Certan:

With absolutely no classification system, claret aficionados are entirely left to their own devices when ranking the estates of Pomerol. Even still, few would disagree that Vieux Château Certan is one of a handful of estates meriting highest standing. Owned and operated by Alexandre Thienpont, this 14-ha property has for decades borne wines of magnificent stature, elegance and authority. The second wine is La Gravette de Certan.

Unlike other prestigious appellations in most other parts of Bordeaux, châteaux in Pomerol are often small-scale affairs, with vineyards typically only adding up to several hectares. Usually family-owned, there is an almost peasant-like mentality in how winegrowers view their properties. At Vieux Château Certan, Monsieur Thienpont takes a very hands-on approach, personally receiving visitors and sharing his ideas with them. If only top estates elsewhere could assume a similar attitude, though property sizes in many cases renders this unrealistic.

Vieux Château Certan 2012 Pomerol was grabbed right off the bottling line by Alexandre Thienpont during a recent visit. Possessing tremendous harmony, attitude, elegance and breed, it almost singlehandedly defies the difficulties many winegrowers faced throughout this troublesome vintage. From one of Pomerol’s most historically renowned estates, if only there were more of its wines to go around. Drink now or hold through 2048 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Stay tuned next month for my report on the 2012 vintage. Plenty of choices for both the budget-minded and serious collectors alike.


Julian Hitner

Click here for Julian’s massive list of Bordeaux red wine recommendations

Editors Note: You can find our critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

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A History, a Lesson and a Tour…

Whites from Loire & Bordeaux
by Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

While Bordeaux may be better known for its classified growth red wines and the Loire Valley for Sancerre, both regions have long been producing white wines, across a range of styles. Dry white blends from sauvignon blanc and sémillon are found throughout Bordeaux and the “other whites” from chenin blanc and melon de bourgogne are common in the western end of the Loire Valley.

I revisited both regions this past spring after a long absence and many changes in the French and global wine industry. Although France is now again the largest wine producer in the world, with 46 million hectolitres (more than 6 billion bottles) in 2014, according to latest International Organisation of Vine & Wine (OIV) figures (see infographic @, this news comes amid a decline in global and French wine consumption and the lingering economic crisis of the last decade. In spite of this, dry white Bordeaux blends and wines from chenin blanc are experiencing renewed interest among both wine producers and the wine cognoscenti around the globe.

What follows is a brief history of these storied and savoured white wines of the Loire and Bordeaux, plus suggestions where and when you can pair these whites throughout the winter season.


Chenin Blanc, Queen of the Loire

Chenin blanc is currently one of the darling white grapes among sommeliers, due in part to the quality wine focus in places where it is widely planted like South Africa and the US, as well as along the western reaches of the Loire Valley from Blois to Savennières, where chenin reigns.

Chateau Angers Chenin vines

Chateau Angers Chenin vines

The Anjou region is south and southwest of the city of Angers, where Château d’Angers houses the hauntingly beautiful Apocalypse Tapestry series of the late 14th century. Here, 140 chenin grape vines were planted atop and within the fortressed walls as a testament of King René the First of Anjou’s interest in this noble grape. It is in this part of the Loire where chenin blanc, known locally as pineau de la Loire, is made into a range of wine styles including the fascinating dry Savennières, the long-lived botrytis-affected sweet wines from Bonnezeaux, Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume, and méthode traditionelle sparkling wines known as Crémant de Loire.

Chenin when it Sparkles

Bouvet Ladubay, of the adjacent Saumur appellation, has been making sparkling wine since 1851 when the family purchased eight of the hundreds of kilometers of underground tunnels resulting from excavations to build the Loire’s famous castles and palaces. These passageways now house the maturation cellars for the chenin blanc-based sparkling wines of the region. In the late 1800’s, Bouvet Ladubay was the largest shipper of sparkling wine in the world and has continued with a specialization in sparkling wine in a range of styles. In addition to a visit and tasting at the winery, visitors can get a sense of history and space thanks to a guided bicycle tour of their sparkling wine cave carved deep into the tuffeau limestone underneath the winery and vineyards. Bouvet Ladubay Brut de Blancs Saumur is a great introduction to this house.

While a number of grape varieties can be used to make Crémant de Loire, chenin blanc is the most common. Naturally, sparkling is well-suited to festive occasions but because crémant tends to be well-priced, it is also a perfect everyday wine and ideal as an aperitif. Crémant blanc matches well with seafood such as oysters and crab, while crémant rosé is a good partner for spicy Chinese dishes, salmon carpaccio and vegetable or meat terrines.

Dry and Complex Loire Whites

Beyond bubbles, chenin blanc is also responsible for the region’s impressive dry and sweet white wines. Domaine des Baumard, whose property has been in the family since 1634, produces a series (Clos de St. Yves and the Clos du Papillon) of dry, structured and nervy whites from the Savennières appellation, sweet wines from the Quarts de Chaume and Coteaux du Layon, along with Crémant de Loire – white and rosé, in both dry and off-dry styles. Like many estates in this part of the Loire, the majority (80%) of their production is dedicated to white wine, with sparkling comprising over half of overall production.

Others such as Pithon-Paille are newer to the scene and since 2008 have been negociants in addition to wine growers, producing predominantly dry white wines from chenin blanc, with a smattering of red from cabernet franc and grolleau. Although their production is small (approximately 7000 cases a year), they export slightly more than 50%; Quebec is their largest market with the 2010 Chenin Blanc and 2011 La Fresnaye available.

Chateau-de-La-Roche-aux-Moines---Coul-e-de-SerrantSavennières is also home to famed biodynamic producer Nicolas Joly of Château de la Roche-aux-Moines. Originally an investment banker in the US and UK, he took over the family estate in the late 1970s and produces just three wines: Les Vieux Clos from the Savennières appellation, Clos de la Bergerie from the Savennières-Roche-aux-Moines appellation and Clos de la Coulée de Serrant from the Savennières-Coulée-de-Serrant appellation, a seven hectare appellation d’origine protégée (AOP) of its own, under vine since it was planted by Cistercian monks in 1130 and belonging all to Joly. A vertical tasting of Clos de la Coulée de Serrant in the 1990s was my first Road to Damascus moment in wine, so it was a special treat to taste recent vintages and meet the man behind the wines. In recent years Joly has handed over much of the winemaking and management of the estate to his daughter Virginie.

The whites of Savennières show depth, concentration and richness and with higher levels of acidity, can definitely benefit from longer aging in bottle, These are rich, medium-to-full bodied, dry white wines, with no oak and a backbone of palate cleansing acidity. Because of this, they are well suited to hearty winter dishes such as fish in cream or butter sauces, grilled and roasted pork dishes or veal in a creamy mushroom sauce.

Maritime Muscadet

Just west of Anjou near the mouth of the Loire River is the Pays Nantais. This is France’s largest white wine appellation and the region known for Muscadet made from the melon de bourgogne grape. In contrast to the full-bodied dense whites of Savennières, Muscadet is lighter in body and style, displaying a tangy crispness and salty (some would say maritime) influence. Due to the process of aging on the lees or sur lie, many of the wines like the Château du Cléray Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre et Maine are crisp but layered with good complexity though often overlooked in favour of similar trendier wines like Albariño. A newer generation of winemakers, such as Rémi Branger of Domaine de la Pépière, are also making complex and age-worthy Muscadet using a combination of new and traditional techniques and lower yielding clones. Standouts include the Cru Clisson and Château-Thébaud, benefitting from older vines, stony well-draining soils, 2 to 3 years of lees contact and stirring.


Boosting Bordeaux

Bordeaux is an historic area for premier wine production in France. Unfortunately, this history also works to its disadvantage; the region is often thought of as being too complex, with too many appellations, and in the case of North American consumers, no varietal labelling to indicate what grapes are in the bottle. Though the region is better known for red blends, ranging from good value generic Bordeaux to stratospherically priced first growths, dry whites have been made in Bordeaux for centuries and outpaced red wine production up until the 1970s. Currently, dry white wine production represents around 8% of the total of AOP wines in Bordeaux.

As with other wine regions in France and throughout the world, the Bordelais are interested in attracting new consumers, in particular, seizing new-found market opportunities in China and throughout Asia. A new international promotional and branding campaign focused on authenticity, diversity and innovation aims to stimulate curiosity and a re-discovery of Bordeaux as a world reference in terms of wine quality and expertise. While much of the focus centers on the region’s red wines, there is a tacit acknowledgement that dry Bordeaux whites are not as well-known as they could be. Since consumers have globally embraced sauvignon blanc the goal is to promote the “original” white Bordeaux blends from sauvignon blanc and sémillon as exceptionally food friendly and emulated by winemakers from Australia to Canada.

Sauvignon blanc is the main white grape planted in Bordeaux (55% of all white plantings), followed by sémillon (34%) and muscadelle (7%). It is thought that sauvignon blanc originated in Bordeaux. Furthermore, the Faculty of Oenology at the University of Bordeaux, led by Denis Durbourdieu, has conducted extensive research on sauvignon blanc aromas and the ways in which viticultural and wine making practices can enhance quality wine production and aging potential.

Back to (Bordeaux) School

A good start to learn about Bordeaux whites, or any of the wines from this region, is by going to wine school. Bordeaux’s École du Vin de Bordeaux in the city centre is where professionals and consumers alike can learn about the region, history, grape varieties and winemaking, while tasting examples of the main wine styles.

Ecole du Vin Bordeaux

Courses at the École du Vin range from two-hour workshops to intensive multi-day technical courses that include vineyard visits and dinner at a wine estate. If you can’t make it to the École du Vin, check out their partner schools and global tutors and find out more information on their website.

Winter Weight Whites from Bordeaux

While most shift to heavy, full-bodied reds during the cold winter months, there is still a place at the table for the two main styles of dry Bordeaux whites. The first is the fresh and vibrant whites such as Bordeaux Blanc, Entre-Deux-Mers and Cotes de Bordeaux. These generally are unoaked, light in body and made to be drunk young with lighter lunchtime fair such as salads or grilled fish or platters of oysters from the nearby Bay of Arcachon.

The second style is the richly textured and well-structured dry whites from the Graves and Pessac-Léognan appellations. They tend to be medium to full-bodied, usually vinified and aged in oak and can benefit from aging as well as decanting when served. This type of wine makes a great accompaniment to creamy soups and fish in cream sauces.

A Sea of Lively Whites

Entre-Deux-Mers is a pretty region located between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, hence the name meaning “between two seas”. After Bordeaux Blanc, it is the largest appellation for dry white wines, which are made predominantly from sauvignon blanc with sémillon added for weight and complexity and muscadelle for aroma. Producers like Château Sainte-Marie also add some pink-skinned sauvignon gris to their Entre-Deux-Mers for mouthfeel and aromatics. Most Entre-Deux-Mers are fermented and aged in stainless steel, resulting in dry, crisp and fruity wines with floral and citrus aromas. They are meant to be uncomplicated and consumed within a year or two of release. Chateau Sainte-Marie Entre Deux Mers Vieilles Vignes 2013 is a more stately example, not to be missed.

White Graves and Pessac-Léognan

The region of Graves and the well-known appellation of Pessac-Léognan lie to the south of the city of Bordeaux, encompassing some of its southern suburbs and on the left bank of the Garonne River. While Graves is considered the origin of red Bordeaux wines, dating back to the Middle Ages, the appellation of Pessac-Léognan is a relatively new addition created in 1987. Both reds and whites are produced in Graves and Pessac-Léognan, with white grapes accounting for approximately 20% of the vineyards of the latter.

This is an area of powerful, complex and aromatic dry white wines that spend a considerable time aged in oak barrels and continue to evolve and deepen in colour as they age in bottle. Sémillon and sauvignon blanc make up the blend, with appellation rules stipulating that sauvignon blanc must comprise at least 25% of the blend.

André Lurton is the owner of Château La Louvière, one of the key figures driving change in the area and behind the creation of the Pessac-Léognan appellation. Château La Louvière was the first winery to use screw caps in Bordeaux and they currently bottle their wines under both cork and screw cap, depending on the market of sale. The Château La Louvière Blanc is predominantly sauvignon blanc, with a small portion of sémillon depending on the vintage. The 2009 is 100% sauvignon blanc and though barrel fermented and aged, manages to retain a crisp freshness set against a backdrop of spicy, toasty notes with good depth and finish.

Although plantings of sauvignon blanc are more recent in this region, sémillon vines and vineyards are considerably older, with some reaching 120 years of age. Château Latour-Martillac oenologist Valerie Vialard explained that only the sémillon portion of the blend will undergo skin contact during fermentation to extract more flavour and add concentration, a move that has proven great success. So much so that Denis Dubourdieu, consultant to the winery, is considered responsible for the widespread use of skin contact for sémillon for white Bordeaux wines.

Old Vine Chenin Chateau Latour Martillac

120 year old sémillon at Chateau Latour Martillac

Bordeaux’s Golden Whites

Not all of the white wines from the Graves are dry and lovers of sweet wines are likely familiar with the golden elixirs of Sauternes and Barsac. The same grapes used for dry white Bordeaux are also used here, with sémillon being the principal grape, since it is particularly susceptible to “noble rot” Botrytis cinerea. Due to the grape’s desiccation, the shrivelled grapes produce intensely flavoured juice that results in concentrated sweet wines. The yield is much lower than for dry wines and the production process more labour intensive; botrytis does not affect each vine or bunch at the same time or way, so wineries are required to hand-pick the affected bunches or berries by passing through the vineyard up to a half-dozen times to complete the harvest.

100ml Sauternes tubes Chateau Guiraud

100ml Sauternes tubes Chateau Guiraud

Sweet wine production here dates back centuries though most Sauternes producers also make a dry white, which takes the first letter of the name of the Château, such as the Le G de Château Guiraud 2013. Although the golden sweet wines are revered by wine lovers across the globe, sales and exports have shown a decline since the financial crisis. According to Caroline Degrémont of Château Guiraud, the effect of the crisis seems to have been longer for Sauternes because these were “the first wines that you stopped drinking and the last that you start to drink again”. To make the wine accessible and affordable, the Château sells 100ml “tubes” of Sauternes in their tasting room which go over well with visitors.

Holding a slightly different view, Fabrice Dubordieu, a fourth generation family member of Château Doisy-Daëne in Barsac, hasn’t felt the impact of the crisis as much. He believes that the “sweet wine consumer is not your average wine consumer and is less concerned with showing off and more concerned with pleasure”. Dubordieu also explained that “to create a market for sweet wine, you need to create a ritual around it and a ritual for the food served with it”. Seems like timely advice as many of these wines have intense flavours that shout out for rich foods that you might only eat on special occasions and holidays. Think about Sauterne’s classic pairing with foie gras or Roquefort cheese, the less conventional pairing with sweetbreads that I once had in Sauternes (delicious!) or with a roasted pineapple tart to end a meal.

With the long winter ahead there are many whites from the Loire and Bordeaux, dry, sweet and sparkling and in a range of price points that will make your winter a little warmer.

Stay warm!

Janet Dorozynski

Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names above. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

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Les bons choix de Nadia

Cellier septembre 2014 (1ere vague)
par Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier - New - Cropped

Nadia Fournier

Depuis une dizaine d’années, plusieurs consommateurs, particulièrement ceux de la nouvelle génération, ont tourné le dos à Bordeaux. Moi-même, peut-être en réaction à la flambée des prix des années 2000 ou par désir d’explorer d’autres régions de monde, j’avoue avoir un peu boudé les vins de la Gironde – en tant que consommatrice, s’entend.

Mais depuis un an ou deux, sans trop savoir pourquoi, je me surprends à regarnir ma cave en crus bordelais ou à en commander au verre, dans les rares établissements montréalais qui osent en proposer.

J’ai toujours un intérêt très très modéré pour les bordeaux modernes, produits dans le but à peine dissimulé de plaire aux critiques américains. Mais lorsqu’il est élaboré sans trop d’artifices et fidèle à ses origines, qu’est-ce que je me régale ! Car avec leur caractère un peu austère et empreint de fraîcheur, les clarets et autres vins rouges du Médoc, des Graves, de Fronsac, de Pomerol et même d’appellations secondaires semblent conçus pour la table.

Ça tombe bien puisque dans la nouvelle édition du magazine Cellier (dont les vins sont commercialisés en deux vagues, soit ce matin et le 18 septembre prochain), la SAQ ramène Bordeaux au premier plan et rappelle qu’en dehors du cercle fermé des crus classés, il existe encore une foule de bons vins vendus à des prix terrestres.

Dans le lot, on voudra surtout retenir les vins rouges des châteaux de Villegeorge, Tour Haut Caussan, Mayne Guyon et Larrivaux, ainsi que l’excellent vin blanc du Château Graville-Lacoste.


Propriété de Marie-Laure Lurton, le Château de Villegeorge 2010 (24,75 $) provient d’une parcelle située près de l’appellation Margaux. Plus élégant que charpenté. Un excellent vin en devenir, à prix pleinement mérité.

Deuxième succès consécutif pour le Château Tour Haut Caussan 2010 (26,50 $), un cru bourgeois situé sur la commune de Blaignan, à une douzaine de kilomètres de St-Estèphe. Aussi étoffé et plein en bouche que le 2009 commenté plus tôt cette année, avec un supplément de fraîcheur.

À prix d’aubaine, l’amateur de bordeaux de facture classique se régalera avec le Château Mayne Guyon 2011 (17,95 $). S’il y avait plus de Bordeaux comme celui-ci, l’économie viticole de la Gironde se porterait sans doute bien mieux.

Château De Villegeorge 2010 Château Tour Haut Caussan 2010 Château Mayne Guyon 2011 Château Larrivaux 2010

Dans le même esprit, mais un peu plus cher, le Château Larrivaux 2010 (25,45 $) se signale par ses goûts caractéristiques de fruit noir et de boîte à cigares. Rappelons que ce vignoble appartient à la même famille et est transmis de femme en femme depuis plus de trois siècles. Un fait plutôt rare dans la France viticole…

Plus ambitieux, sans être vraiment complexe, avec un nez de fruit confit et un boisé bien appuyé, L’esprit de Chevalier 2010 (42,50 $) est l’occasion pour les fans de cette maison prestigieuse de flirter avec « l’esprit » du domaine, à moindre coût.

Le Château Belgrave (48,50 $) a connu une importante revitalisation depuis son rachat par les Vins & Vignobles Dourthe (Le Boscq, Pey La Tour, Reysson). On y produit maintenant un vin sphérique et charmeur. Même si je ne suis pas vraiment friande du genre, je suis convaincue qu’il fera plusieurs adeptes.

L’esprit De Chevalier 2010 Château Belgrave 2010 Château La Fleur Du Casse 2010 Château Taillefer 2010 Château Graville Lacoste Graves 2012

Tout aussi flatteur et accessible dès maintenant, le Château Fleur du Casse 2010 (38,50 $) est assez représentatif de l’appellation Saint-Émilion par sa trame tannique veloutée et séduisante.

Propriété des enfants du regretté Bernard Moueix et de leur mère Catherine, descendants d’Antoine Moueix, la branche cousine des propriétaires de Pétrus, le Château Taillefer est la source d’un très bon Pomerol 2010 (34,75 $) élaboré sous les conseils du professeur Denis Dubourdieu.

Enfin, j’ai particulièrement aimé le savoureux Château Graville-Lacoste 2012 (21,35 $). Un vin blanc sec comme on en trouve encore trop peu dans les Graves : minéral, distingué et misant davantage sur la pureté du fruit que sur les parfums de la barrique. Très typé et vendu à prix juste. Personnellement, je ne demande pas mieux !


Pour vous permettre de faire le plein de soleil avant l’automne, le Cellier propose aussi plusieurs belles cuvées du midi de la France. Dans le lot, une poignée de très bons vins du Languedoc-Roussillon (commercialisés le 18 septembre) et quelques belles découvertes de la vallée du Rhône, dont le Clos Bellane, Les Échalas 2010 (29,95 $), un somptueux vin blanc élaboré par Stéphane Vedeau, sur le plateau de Vinsobres. Le vignoble, acquis en 2010, est certifié en agriculture biologique à compter de cette année.

L’orientation et l’altitude du vignoble – juché à 400 mètres et tourné vers l’est – et la composition calcaire des sols expliquent peut-être la grande sensation de fraicheur qui émane de cette cuvée de marsanne et de roussanne. Parmi les bons vins blancs du sud de la France goûtés cette année.

En plus de produire des vins légendaires sur la colline d’Hermitage, Jean-Louis Chave a mis sur pied une petite affaire de négoce haut de gamme. Les raisins qui entrent dans l’élaboration de la cuvée Mon Cœur 2012, Côtes du Rhône (22,70 $) proviennent d’une poignée de vignerons situés sur les communes de Rasteau, Cairanne, Vinsobres et Visan.

Clos Bellane Les Échalas 2010 J.L. Chave Sélection Mon Coeur 2012 Crozes Hermitage Les Pichères 2011 Domaine De Fontbonau Côtes Du Rhône 2010 Château De Nages Vieilles Vignes 2011

Ferraton appartient à Chapoutier, mais est mené de façon autonome. Question de goût sans doute, mais je n’ai pas d’atomes crochus avec le Crozes-Hermitage Les Pichères 2011 (31,50 $). Costaud, mais surtout un peu pataud et rudimentaire.

Propriété de Jérôme Sarda-Malet (Roussillon) et de Frédéric Engerer, directeur technique au Château Latour à Pauillac, le Domaine de Fontbonau élabore un Côtes du Rhône générique hors norme, tant par sa puissance que par son prix (37 $). Majoritairement composé de grenache et complété de syrah, élevée dans les fûts de Latour. Peut-être taillé à gros traits pour le moment, mais une chose est certaine, il ne manque pas d’envergure.

Pour une fraction du prix, le Château de Nages Vieilles Vignes 2011 fera plaisir à votre portefeuille, peut-être déjà largement sollicité par la rentrée en classe. Beaucoup de vin dans le verre pour 20 $.

Santé et bonne rentrée !


Note de la rédaction: vous pouvez lire les commentaires de dégustation complets en cliquant sur les noms de vins, les photos de bouteilles ou les liens mis en surbrillance. Les abonnés payants à Chacun son vin ont accès à toutes les critiques dès leur mise en ligne. Les utilisateurs inscrits doivent attendre 30 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de grands vins!

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