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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.

DE SOLIDES AVANTAGES 

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 !

Marc

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 !


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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. 

Cheers,

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.

Cheers,

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 @ Decanter.com), 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.

THE LOIRE VALLEY

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.

BORDEAUX

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.

BORDEAUX

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 !

RHÔNE

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 !

Nadia

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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Bill’s Best Bets – September

A look at the September 4th Cellier Release
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

The Cellier magazine is back after a summer off, and as usual, a number of wines are accompanying its release. While a few of these wines have already been sold at the SAQ, there are a number which will be making their first appearance at the store level. This seems to be the new formula for the magazine – a mix of new releases and some classic wines. It’s a pretty good idea as a few of these wines which have already been available are pretty damned good.

As always, the 30 featured wines will be split between two release dates – September 4 and September 18. So what’s worth picking up from the first release? Overall, there are a number of very worthy wines, but a few are truly spectacular.

Château La Fleur Du Casse 2010Château Tour Haut Caussan 2010The new releases are all French and from classic regions like Bordeaux, Rhône and the Languedoc, and mostly red wines. So let’s get to it, and start with a few wines from Bordeaux, where the focus is on one of my favourite of recent vintages, 2010.

Despite it not even being close to the most expensive wine in the line-up, try the 2010 Château Tour Haut Caussan. This Cru Bourgeois from the Médoc has been around for over a decade on Private Import and when I worked as a sommelier, was always on my list. This is classic Bordeaux in the best, and most traditional sense of the word. (199 cases available)

Also from Bordeaux, but this time Saint Émilion, the 2010 La Fleur du Casse is as seductive a merlot as you’ll find out there. For those of us who found the 2009’s a touch over the top, especially for the merlot dominated wines of the right bank, this Grand Cru puts the accent back on drinkability over raw power. I would give it at least another 3 years before starting to drink, but its already a pleasure. (126 cases available)

Château Larrivaux 2010Château Les Ricards 2010Going back across the river, the 2010 Haut Médoc from Château Larrivaux is another great buy, especially considering its $25 price tag. Despite it being dominated by merlot, rare for an Haut-Médoc, this is no softy. The tannins have extra bite, probably due to almost 10% of petit verdot in the blend. The estate has another particularity in that it has been run by women of the same family since vines were first planted there in 1861. If you are looking for an inexpensive Bordeaux that will easily cellar up to 10 years, this is it. (300 cases available)

And while I am talking Bordeaux, although it was not part of this release, I recently drank the 2010 Château Les Ricards. For $20, this Côtes de Blaye might be the bargain of the year for Bordeaux. Supple fruit and so ready to drink. I’m not the only one who thinks so as it is flying off the shelves. If you can get your hands on this bottle, then you won’t be disappointed.

Moving south into the Rhône, there are three wines that are musts. Topping the list is Jean-Louis Chave’s 2012 Côtes de Rhône Mon Coeur. One of the great vignerons of Hermitage, Chave also runs a négoce which he treats with equal care. Every year, this wine flies off the shelves and the 2012 should as well, as it might be the best I have ever tasted of this cuvée. Gulp it, drink it slow, age it a bit – no problem. For the price, exceptional. (500 cases)

Clos Bellane Les Échalas 2010Crozes Hermitage Les Pichères 2011J.L. Chave Sélection Mon Coeur 2012I was equally impressed by Ferraton’s 2011 Crozes-Hermitage Les Pichères. But rather than the juicy fruit and ease of the Chave, Les Pichères is about the earthier side of the syrah. Dark-fruited, granitic, mineral, and with tannins that reminded me of a Cornas. This is a huge step up from most Crozes, and at $30, you are getting your money’s worth. Keep a few in the cellar for the future as this will gain with some cellar time. (419 cases)

I am also a big fan of the white wines of the Rhône. While much of the wine drinking world has embraced white wines with high acidities and exuberant aromatics, the Rhône has continued to make richly textured, and at times, phenomenally interesting wines. The 2010 Côtes du Rhône Villages, Les Échalas from Clos Bellane is one such wine. Vigneron Stéphane Vedeau works biodynamically, and this blend of marsanne and roussanne has exactly what I love about the  Rhône style – stone fruit, a dense texture and lots of intriguing spice on the finish. I would pull this from the fridge and never put it back as it will start to shine above 12C. (200 cases)

Back next week with some great buys from the September 18th release. With the focus being on the Languedoc, there’s a few that you don’t want to miss.

Bill

“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 30 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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The Successful Collector – The Haut-Médoc

Stomping grounds for value
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

If there’s one problem Bordeaux has yet to overcome, it’s convincing enthusiasts that great claret need not break the bank. Yet many less-esteemed appellations throughout one of France’s most celebrated winegrowing areas are nowadays consistently able to combine both quality and ageability with youthful scrumptiousness and value. Of these, the Haut-Médoc is arguably at the forefront.

The largest appellation on the Left Bank of the Gironde, the Haut-Médoc surrounds the far more renowned appellations (excluded like a jigsaw puzzle from the map shown right) of Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac, and St-Estèphe, each home to the lion’s share of the most famous estates in Bordeaux. The others are situated further upriver, just south of the city of Bordeaux, in the appellation of Pessac-Léognan. As a result, the finest estates of the Haut-Médoc are routinely overlooked.

But this has begun changing for some time, particularly in parts of the Haut-Médoc most blessed with higher gravel mounds on which to plant vines. As with the finest sections in the more celebrated appellations mentioned above, these gravel mounds represent one of the most significant characteristics of the greatest terroirs on the Left Bank. While regrettable, estates with vines sourced from lower-level locations simply cannot make the same wines.

The boundaries of the Haut-Médoc are extensive. Extending only several kilometres into the hinterland, the appellation begins just northeast of the city of Bordeaux along the Left Bank of the Gironde. It concludes several kilometres north of St-Estèphe, where the gravel mounds finally give way to lower-lying vineyards located in an appellation known simply as Médoc. Merlot tends to play a much greater role in the blends at this point along the river, with Cabernet Sauvignon habitually used in much smaller amounts.

Throughout much of the Haut-Médoc, Cabernet Sauvignon is used in fairly generous proportions, reinforced by Merlot and small percentages of Cabernet Franc. Petit Verdot may be found from time to time, while Malbec may turn up in extremely small sums here and there. While the most illustrious estates may employ hand pickers at harvest time, many estates will often bring in their grapes via mechanical harvesters. Unlike the most famous estates of Margaux or Pauillac, many establishments in the Haut-Médoc are unable to afford such a luxury. The use of new French oak barriques will also vary according to financial constraints and/or quality of the grapes.

Of rankings, the Haut-Médoc contains only five estates belonging to the famous yet contentious 1855 Classification, each varying in quality and typically ranging in VINTAGES and the SAQ from $45-100. In terms of overall value, better examples may be found among the numerous estates ranked as Cru Bourgeois, the chief ranking category of the appellation. With the odd exception, prices in this category usually range from $20-40.

In the past, the majority of such wines were excessively lean and required years of cellaring in order to blossom. Not anymore. As a result of better winegrowing techniques and changes in climatic conditions (think global warming), the best Cru Bourgeois wines nowadays routinely offer immediate, concentrated appeal, and may be kept for up to ten years or more in the cellar. What’s more, their prices are strikingly reasonable, unlike their counterparts in St-Julien or St-Estèphe, where estates included in the 1855 Classification have all but been cordoned off except to the most well-heeled of buyers.

In the twenty-first century, never before has the winegrowing region of Bordeaux made such sizeable quantities of excellent wine. Yet the consequences of celebrity have grown all too apparent in appellations like Margaux or Pauillac, where wines once considered reasonable have become anything but. For diehard claret lovers, therefore, the fast-improving Haut-Médoc could not be more of a lifesaver.

My top choices:

Château Peyrabon 2010 Haut-Médoc is situated in the commune of St-Sauveur (just to the east of Pauillac) and represents terrific value for money. Although a rather oak-driven affair, all the component parts of this sumptuous claret are in marvellous alignment. Drink now or hold for up to ten years or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Sénéjac 2009 Haut-Médoc is situated in the commune of St-Pian (located in the southern part of the appellation) and is easily the most serious vintage I’ve tasted from this estate to date. Regrettably, only a handful of bottles are left in VINTAGES at time of publication. Drink now or hold for up to eight years or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Peyrabon 2010Château Senejac 2009Château Larose Trintaudon 2010Château Moulin De Blanchon 2009Château De Gironville 2009

Château Larose-Trintaudon 2010 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of St-Laurent (just to the east of St-Julien) and is the largest estate on the Left Bank. Though quality has been limited for many years, recent vintages such as the ’10 have been excellent. Drink now or hold for up to eight years. Decanting is recommended.

Château Moulin de Blanchon 2009 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of St-Seurin (just to the north of St-Estèphe) and represents a sincerely beautiful outing. From a part of the Haut-Médoc with some extremely fine wineries, it’s wines like these that typify the future of the appellation. Drink now or hold for up to six years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château de Gironville 2009 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of Macau (just to the south of Margaux) and is a truly delicious affair. Containing 10% Petit Verdot (unusual for a Haut-Médoc), there are only a handful of bottles left in VINTAGES at time of publication. Drink now or hold for up to eight years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château La Lagune 2010Château Belgrave 2009Château Belgrave 2009 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of St-Laurent (just to the east of St-Julien) and is ranked as a Fifth Growth in the 1855 Classification. Though twice the cost of a standard Cru Bourgeois, the ’09 really is an outstanding claret. Drink now or hold for up to fourteen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château La Lagune 2010 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of Ludon (located in the southern part of the appellation) and is ranked as a Third Growth in the 1855 Classification. This is widely regarded as one of the finest wines of the Haut-Médoc, and is highly recommended for serious collectors. Drink now or hold for up to twenty years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Readers may want to take note that there are many other exemplary wines currently available in VINTAGES and the SAQ that have not been listed as recommendations. This is because I either do not have evaluations for them, or because they are wines from alternate vintages that are no longer available in stores.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Editors Note: You can find Julian’s complete 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 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

All Julian Hitner Reviews


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Le monde du vin avec Bill Zacharkiw

Le guide des Bordeaux « anti-primeurs »
par Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

La saison des Primeurs de Bordeaux vient de se terminer, encore une fois, et il semble bien que les prix seront en baisse pour le millésime 2013, ce qui signifiera une baisse de profits pour tous ceux qui y prennent part.

Bouhouhou.

Pourquoi parler avant tout des répercussions financières du feuilleton annuel « Une bouteille à Wall Street », plutôt que de parler de la qualité des vins ? Parce que cet événement est, d’abord et avant tout, une question d’argent.

Pour ceux qui ne connaissent pas bien le système des primeurs, il s’agit d’une grande dégustation annuelle où les châteaux les plus réputés présentent leur plus récent millésime en avant-première aux journalistes, courtiers et négociants. Les vins sont toujours en barriques, ils auront besoin de vieillir encore en barriques, puis d’être assemblés et embouteillés et de vieillir en bouteilles. Les vins sont loin d’être prêts, mais c’est loin d’être le fond de la question.

Contrairement à la plupart du vin de la planète, les vins de Bordeaux ne sont pas vendus directement par les châteaux à des agents situés dans les divers pays où les vins sont exportés. Les Bordelais utilisent un système complexe de courtiers et de négociants, des intermédiaires qui achètent et revendent les vins – ou en facilitent la vente par courtage.

St-Émilion 2Le système a été créé parce que les aristocrates qui étaient propriétaires de la plupart de ces châteaux ne voulaient pas se mêler de la basse besogne qu’est la vente des vins et qu’ils confiaient leurs vins à des négociants qui achetaient les barriques, embouteillaient les vins et les revendaient. Il est intéressant de noter que les vins ont commencé à être embouteillés dans les châteaux parce que des négociants peu scrupuleux avaient été pris à mettre de la piquette dans des bouteilles portant les étiquettes des grands châteaux. Le Château Mouton Rothschild a été le premier à le faire dans les années 20, à des fins de contrôle de qualité.

Mais revenons aux Primeurs, un système qui permet à chaque château de fixer le prix de ses vins pendant qu’ils sont encore en barriques. Bordeaux est un des rares endroits où les prix fluctuent de façon aussi marquée selon le millésime. Les courtiers vendent ensuite les vins aux négociants, qui revendent ensuite les vins en primeur, avant qu’ils soient embouteillés.

Les Bordelais sont passés maîtres dans l’art du marketing, et leur capacité à générer un « buzz » s’appuie fortement sur ces premières dégustations d’échantillons de barriques. Rappelez-vous : les échantillons ne sont pas les vins finis, alors ce qui sera finalement mis en bouteille pourrait se présenter assez différemment de ce qui a été dégusté en primeurs.

Rendu là, la distinction est sans importance, toutefois. Si certains chroniqueurs en vue confirment l’excellence du millésime, la machine de promotion s’emballe. Les domaines mettent en vente une petite partie de leur production, afin de tester la capacité du marché à accepter ces prix. Si c’est le cas, il y a de bonnes chances que le relâchement suivant coûte encore plus cher.

Les châteaux et les négociants adorent ce système, puisqu’ils reçoivent des dépôts sur les vins bien avant que ceux-ci soient mis en marché. Ce qui survient ensuite dépend de l’état de l’économie et de l’intérêt des consommateurs : c’est le consommateur, en fin de compte, qui prend tout le risque. Est-ce que les bouteilles vaudront plus ou moins cher à l’avenir ? C’est comme jouer à la bourse, et pour plusieurs grands crus du millésime 2005, quand les marchés boursiers se sont effondrés en 2008, les prix des vins n’ont pas tardé à suivre.

St-ÉmilionIl y a deux ans, le Château Latour s’est retiré du système des primeurs, en se figurant qu’ils serait plus avantageux pour eux de retenir leurs vins et de les mettre en vendre quand ils seraient prêts. Au fond, ce qu’ils disaient, c’est qu’ils préfèrent garder une plus grande part des profits qui proviennent de l’augmentation de la valeur du vin au fil des ans.

Ce retrait a suscité bien des inquiétudes chez ceux qui participent à ce marché des grands vins. Dans le magazine britannique Decanter, on apprenait récemment que Patrick Bernard, du marchand de vin de Bordeaux Millésima, a déclaré à un groupe de journalistes et de propriétaires de châteaux qu’il allait boycotter Latour.

« Nous croyons que Latour nuit à tout le système, et qu’un château qui ne vend pas en primeur ne respecte pas la manière de faire de Bordeaux », affirmait-il alors.

Pauvre Patrick. Si on ajoute à cela le fait que les prix des 2013 s’annoncent beaucoup plus bas que les millésimes précédents, à cause d’une vendange très difficile, on constate que les profits seront beaucoup plus bas pour tout le monde. Remarquez, le système essaiera bien de se reprendre et de profiter de nous une fois de plus l’année prochaine…

Château Fougas Maldoror 2010Vieux Château Champs De Mars 2009Château Le Puy 2008Je prends un plaisir certain – et pervers – à voir ces profits tomber. Mais il faut bien se rappeler que les prix de ces vins sont hors de portée pour la plupart des amateurs de vins. Aussi, les bilans financiers des corporations qui sont propriétaires des grands châteaux et des négociants ne sont pas les seules victimes, ici. Je connais beaucoup d’amateurs qui ont tout simplement arrêté d’acheter du bordeaux. Dans certains cas, c’est qu’ils croient que les vins sont tous trop chers, dans d’autres, c’est plutôt à cause du caractère manipulé et lisse à l’excès de plusieurs vins.

Mon Bordeaux à moi comprend des vins produits par des gens qui font et qui vendent eux-mêmes leurs bouteilles. Pour leur rendre hommage, voici donc mon guide des « anti-primeurs ». Des vins prêts à boire, qui ont de l’âge et du caractère.

Un de mes vins de prédilection vient de l’appellation Bordeaux Côtes de Francs, le Château le Puy. Fait à partir de raisins bios, le 2008 est prêt à boire et offre une finesse et des notes florales exceptionnelles. À 27$, c’est aussi un excellent rapport qualité-prix.

Le Château Vieux Champs de Mars est un autre solide producteur bio. Leur 2009 Côtes de Castillon ($23) montre bien le caractère de ce millésime bien mûr, mais sans excès. Et un soupçon de brett plaira à tous ceux qui aiment l’animal.

Château Maison Blanche 2009Château Cailleteau Bergeron 2011Château Rauzan Despagne 2011Si vous voulez un vin pour la cave, le 2010 Côtes de Bourg, Maldoror du Château Fougas ($30.50) offre déjà beaucoup de plaisir, mais pourra gagner en complexité sur une dizaine d’années. Bio, lui aussi, il montre un fruit mûri à la perfection, une acidité rafraîchissante et une note minérale vibrante.

Pour les chasseurs d’aubaines, j’ai également déniché deux vins sous les 20$ qui montrent que Bordeaux peut bel et bien livrer des vins d’entrée de gamme tout à fait satisfaisants. Tous les deux tirés du millésime 2011, le vintage, Château Rauzan Despagne’s Bordeaux Reserve et le Blaye du Château Cailleteau Bergeron, sont de jolies cuvées qui mettent l’accent sur le floral, les fruits rouges et la fraîcheur typiques des 2011.

Finalement, pour ceux qui aiment les textures plus douces et les vins de style plus moderne, le Médoc Château Maison Blanche’s 2009 offre le fruité, le boisé et les textures qui plairont au plus grand nombre, sans sacrifier pour autant ses racines bordelaises.

À la prochaine,

Bill

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!

IMG_4138

Crédits photos de Bordeaux: Nadia Fournier et Rémy Charest; Traduction: Rémy Charest


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Bill Zacharkiw’s World of Wine

The “Anti-primeur” Bordeaux guide
By Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

“En primeur” has wrapped up for another year, and the news out of Bordeaux is that the 2013 vintage will likely mean a drop in profits for all those involved. Boo-hoo. Why am I reporting on the financial repercussions of this year’s version of “Wine meets Wall Street” instead of the quality of the wines? It’s because this whole event is mostly about money.

For those of you unfamiliar with “en primeur,” it’s the annual tasting event where the top 5% of châteaux in Bordeaux give critics, brokers and négociants a sneak peek at their most recent vintage. The wines are still in barrel, mind you, so they still need to be aged more, blended,  bottled and then aged some more. They are unfinished wines, but that’s besides the point.

Unlike the rest of the wine world, top end Bordeaux are not sold directly by the châteaux to agents in their respective countries. They use a tiered system of courtiers and négociants, essentially resellers and middlemen, who buy and resell or simply broker the wines.

St-Émilion 2This system was created because the nobility that owned many of these châteaux wanted little to do with the dirty work of selling their wines, so négociants would buy the wines while in barrel, bottle them and then resell them. Interesting to note that one of the reasons wines started to be bottled at the châteaux was in response to unscrupulous négociants who were caught putting crap wine in bottles and sticking labels of the top châteaux on them. Château Mouton Rothschild was the first to do this back in the 1920’s for quality assurance.

But back to “en primeur.” The way it works is that the château will set the initial prices of their wines while they are still in barrel. Bordeaux is one of the few places where prices fluctuate dramatically dependent upon vintage. The courtiers will then resell to négociants who will then take these wines, and resell them as futures.

The Bordelais are masters of marketing their wines. And much of this hype is based on these initial barrel samplings. Remember that these are unfinished wines so what you, the client, are ultimately getting when the wines are eventually released might not be truly representative of what was tasted.

But at this point it doesn’t matter. If certain critics confirm that the vintage is indeed excellent, the hype machine kicks into high gear. Wineries will release small amounts of their production, testing the market to see if it will accept these prices. If they do, there is a good chance that the next release will cost even more.

St-ÉmilionBoth the châteaux and négociants love this system as they are paid deposits on their wines well before the wines are sent to market. What happens afterwards depends on the economy and consumer interest, so the consumer at this point is taking all the risk. Will the bottles be cheaper or more expensive in the future? It’s like paying the stock market, and as happened with many 2005 bottles, as the market crashed in 2008, so did wine prices.

Château Latour pulled out of “en primeur” two years ago, deciding that they would be best served to hold onto their wines and release them when they felt they would be ready. In effect, they were saying that they want a larger part of the profits that come from the appreciation of their wine’s value.

This has many business interests concerned. As reported by Decanter magazine in the UK, Patrick Bernard of Bordeaux wine merchant Millésima, told a crowd of journalists and châteaux owners that they were boycotting Latour.

“We believe what Latour is doing undermines the whole system, and that a château that doesn’t sell en primeur does not respect how Bordeaux works,” he said.

Poor Patrick. Add to this that initial prices look like they will be significantly lower than in previous years due to a poor vintage in 2013, profits for all will be lower. Maybe the system can go back to screwing us next year.

Château Fougas Maldoror 2010Vieux Château Champs De Mars 2009Château Le Puy 2008While I take a certain morbid pleasure in their losing profits, the reality is that these wines are priced way out of most wine lover’s comfort zone. But the balance sheets of the corporations that own these Châteaux and négociants are not the only victims here. I know many wine lovers who have simply stopped looking to Bordeaux for their wines. Some because they perceive the wines being over priced, some due to the manipulated and overly-polished nature of many of the wines.

My Bordeaux includes very good and affordable wines, made by people who make and sell their own wines. So in their honour here is my “Anti-Primeur” guide. Finished wines, with age, and character.

One of my “go to” wines is from the Bordeaux Côtes de Francs appellation, from Château le Puy. Made with organically grown grapes, the 2008 is ready to drink and offers exceptional finesse and florals. And it is for $27, a bargain.

Another great organic producer is Château Vieux Champs de Mars. Their 2009 Côtes de Castillon ($23) shows the hallmarks of the ripe vintage, but without going overboard. A touch of Brett will make you animal lovers happy.

Château Maison Blanche 2009Château Cailleteau Bergeron 2011Château Rauzan Despagne 2011If you want a wine that will cellar well, the 2010 Côtes de Bourg, Maldoror from Château Fougas ($30.50) offers immediate pleasure, but will easily gain complexity over the next 10 years. Organic as well, it shows perfectly ripe fruit, refreshing acidity and a grooving mineral note.

For you bargain hunters, I found two under $20 wines that show that Bordeaux can make very satisfying wines at the entry level. Both from the 2011 vintage,  Château Rauzan Despagne’s Bordeaux Reserve and Château Cailleteau Bergeron’s Blaye, are pretty wines, accenting the florals, red fruit and freshness that are the hallmarks of the 2011 vintage.

And finally, for those who like a softer textured, more modern-styled wine, Château Maison Blanche’s 2009 Médoc offers the fruit, oak and texture that will please all, without sacrificing it’s Bordelais roots.

Until next time.

Bill

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

Editors Note: You can find our Bill’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

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Bordeaux photo credits: Nadia Fournier and Rémy Charest


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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for October 26, 2013

2013 Ontario, 2010 Bordeaux, Oregon & Top Ten Smart Buys

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

There are still lots of red grapes hanging in Ontario vineyards, but producers are already talking about the quality of the vintage. I’ve canvassed growers from Niagara and Prince Edward County for a sneak preview of what we can expect from 2013. In the meantime, the annual Taste Ontario event last week provided an opportunity to taste current releases, and I share a handful of my favorites in this week’s report. The VINTAGES October 26th release features 2010 Bordeaux, heralded as a great vintage, and I’ve highlighted the best values, as well as a pair from the Oregon mini-feature and the usual Ten Smart Buys.

Top Ten Smart Buys

This week’s top ten includes a candidate for wine of the vintage in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and a gorgeous 2008 Barolo at the premium end of value; a pair of glorious fortified wines for cool weather enjoyment from opposite ends of the price spectrum, as well as brilliant white Burgundy, zesty grüner veltliner and a South Australian roussanne with complexity well above what the price category demands. See them all here.

Oregon

Elk Cove Pinot Gris 2012Evening Land Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2011Oregon is the minor feature of the October 26th release, with a handful of wines hitting the shelves. Of these, two caught my attention: 2011 Evening Land Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, ($33.95) and the 2012 Elk Cove Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley ($24.95). Canadian-born winemaker Isabelle Meunier makes the wines at Evening Land’s Oregon operation (wine is also made in California and Burgundy) with the consultation of Burgundian guru Dominique Lafon, and the wines feature elegance and finesse across the board. The 2011 is a pretty, red fruit flavoured pinot with supple but dusty tannins, succulent acidity and a marked savoury edge. This is classy stuff, for fans of old world style pinot with minerality and depth without heaviness.

I’ve recommended wines from Elk Cove in the past, one of Oregon’s oldest vineyards planted in 1977. Pinot Gris is the state’s signature white grape, and this 2012 is classically styled (in the Alsatian sense), just off-dry with fine flavour intensity and length. It would make a great match with lightly spiced fare or dishes with a sweet-sour-salty profile (think Chinese sweet-sour sauces).

2013 Ontario: “A long, Cool Season with the Potential For Excellence”

It’s of course premature to make any definitive statements about a vintage that isn’t even finished yet, but if you believe in the adage that great wines are made in the vineyard, then the majority of the work is done, and the initial reports are highly positive. Growers still have their fingers crossed for fine weather to bring the later ripening reds like cabernet sauvignon and syrah to full ripeness, but with much of the harvest already fermenting, there are smiles about.

Niagara Peninsula

“Overall, 2013 resembles 2011 and 2009. It was a bit cooler than ’11 and a bit warmer than ’09”, reports Tom Penachetti from Cave Spring Vineyard. “Riesling is still a work in progress, but appears to have the potential for true excellence, with great balance of sugars and acids and very complete flavour development. And Cabernet Franc is also shaping up beautifully. If all goes well, the wines will be ripe and aromatic, with a good balance of tannin and ripe yet still bright fruit character”, says Penachetti. And even more good news is that there will be plenty of wine to go around: “Yields are larger than average, like in 2011, but the flavours are complex and quality excellent.”

Paul Pender of Tawse is equally enthusiastic: “I am loving what’s coming out of the 2013 vintage. It’s definitely my kind of vintage. The longer, cooler growing season has produced some remarkable flavours in the Pinot, Chards and Rieslings. Acids are great and alcohols moderate”, he says.

Full flavour development alongside moderate alcohol levels, at least for white varieties, seems to be a common thread across the province, a feature that I find particularly exciting about 2013. Rob Power from Creekside Estate confirms: “the whites have great flavour intensity and classic Niagara acidity. This physiological ripeness was not matched by super-high grape sugars, so the wines will have good old-fashioned alcohol levels in the low 12s.” Bruce Nicholson of Inniskillin agrees on the strength of the whites: “Aromatic whites look very good with the help of some nice September sunshine”.

Growers were initially concerned about the late start to the growing season – bud burst came a couple of weeks later than the average – though warm weather in June, and additional warm periods again in August and September allowed grapes to catch up. And while there was a lot of precipitation during the growing season, according to Penachetti, “it came in short bursts and was never followed by hot, humid weather. Instead, it was almost always brisk and sunny after the rain, which minimized disease pressure and allowed for quick drying”.

It remains to be seen how the later reds will fair. “We are enjoying a great fall that has helped us catch up with a cool summer, but patience is still the name of the game this year especially for reds”, cautions J-L Groux of Stratus, well known for harvesting his reds into November even in warm years. “We now have great Chards, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and Rieslings in the winery but reds will be a November affair”. Michèle Bosc of Château des Charmes is optimistic: “thus far we have been delighted at the maturity of the fruit, and if the forecast is to be believed we could be equally as delighted with the late reds as we are with the whites/early reds.”

Prince Edward County

In Prince Edward County where virtually all varieties (early ripening grapes like pinot noir and chardonnay) have been picked, Rosehall Run’s Dan Sullivan reports a more challenging growing season. Frequent disease pressure required attentive canopy management, but Sullivan has similar enthusiasm regarding quality, thanks to a late season period of warm, dry weather. “Although the year started late with a bud break 10-14 days later than 2012, the season really picked up speed and the generally glorious weather over the last month has made the vintage” he says. Bruno François of The Old Third describes conditions in September and early October as “absolutely perfect for viticulture”.

The ever optimistic Norm Hardie makes the claim that 2013 is “the best yet”, while Sullivan, although reluctant to make as definitive a prediction, states that “it’s fair to say we expect the 2013 vintage to be very good to excellent. Our Chardonnay and Pinot (667 clone in particular) are some of the best I’ve seen in my 10 crushes at Rosehall Run.”

Stay tuned, and join winemakers in a little prayer for sun.

Taste Ontario

While we’re waiting for our first tastes of the 2013s, here are some recommended current releases available at the LCBO or direct from the winery:

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De BlancCharles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 20122012 Charles Baker Wines Charles Baker Ivan Vineyard ($27.00)

Baker has done a fine job with the Ivan Vineyard in 2012, the best from this site to date. He seems to have coaxed an extra dimension of minerality from the vines while maintaining freshness, vibrancy and verve. I like the palpable astringency, from low yielding vines and genuine concentration no doubt, capturing the ripeness of 2012 without any hint of heaviness or sweetness. The finish lingers on admirably. This might just give the generally superior Picone Vineyard bottling a run for the money this year. Best now-2020+.

2008 Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc de Blanc ($44.95)

A fine, tight, bracing, dry bubbly that takes its place alongside the best of the province, but patience required. The 2008 is considerably more tart, lean and austere then the inaugural 2007, accurately reflecting the far cooler vintage conditions, and I suspect this will continue to age, and improve, slowly in the bottle and ultimately outlast the first edition. I’d tuck this in the cellar for another year or two minimum to allow some softening and evolution.

Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2011Rosewood Select Series Semillon 20122012 Rosewood Estates Winery Select Series Semillon ($18.00)

The 2012 Semillon from Rosewood steps it up a notch (or two) from the 2011, offering considerably more ripeness and depth, with fruit moving into the tropical spectrum: pineapple, melon, and guava. There’s also a fine blast of fresh lime-citrus to freshen up the ensemble, along with a plush and flavour-rich mid-palate. A top-notch effort from Ontario with this rather rare and difficult grape, but one that proves that it can be done in the right sites with the right handling.

2011 Fielding Estate Winery Cabernet Franc ($21.95)

Fielding delivers a classic cool climate cabernet franc in 2011, complete with fresh cut grass, wet hay, damp earth and roasted green pepper. Wood has been used to good effect to fill in some flavour gaps, adding its smoky, spicy, meaty nuances, while the palate is medium-full, fresh and lively, with firm dusty tannins but more than enough fruit and other flavours to see this through to positive evolution. Best after 2015.

2011 Thomas Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir, St. David’s Bench ($53.95)

Bachelder’s 2011 Lowery Vineyard pinot from one of the oldest pinot sites on the escarpment offers a delightful nose of cinnamon-spiced cherries and cranberry chutney, ably integrating old barrel spice with fine fruit concentration in this challenging vintage. I think he’s nailed this one on the head with the supple, rich texture, yet structured palate, with moderate tannins fully enveloped in fruit extract. The length and flavour depth are also exceptional. Lovely wine, for drinking now, or hold up to a half dozen years or so.

Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2012Lailey Cabernet Franc 20112011 Lailey Vineyard Wines Cabernet Franc ($25.00)

Here’s a fragrant pure, complex and inviting wine from Derek Barnett that surpasses expectations for the price category. There’s a fine mix of high-toned red and black fruit, floral, fresh tobacco leaf and delicate baking spice nuances that come together nicely. The palate delivers substantial flavour and length on a light to mid-weight frame, with lively acids and fine-grained tannins. Terrific length for the money.

2012 Malivoire Wine Company Small Lot Gamay ($19.75)

An arch-typical, zesty, cold cream and tart red berry-flavoured gamay from specialists Malivoire, whose gamays are, year in and year out, among the best in the country. I love the bright, crunchy currant and pomegranate flavours, the black pepper and the saliva-inducing acids. Fine length, too. Well worth a look for fans of the grape/genre.

Bordeaux 2010

There is much hype surrounding the Bordeaux 2010s, which along with 2009 and 2005 are considered the best vintages of the last decade, if not the last thirty years. For a more comprehensive view, see Sara d’Amato and Julian Hitner’s posting from February of this year.

To sum up, the 2010s are tight, firm and unyielding. Compared to the 2009s, they are downright austere. Indeed, 2010 couldn’t be more different than 2009. Whereas the 2009s are all about plush fruit and supple tannins in an immediately seductive style, 2010 was an extreme, drought-ridden growing season influenced by the El Niño weather pattern. A cool August and September kept acidities high, while water stress resulted in shriveled berries, robust tannins, high alcohol and big concentration overall. In a positive light, these are wines that will age slowly over the long term. But for all but the most basic bottles, forget about them for at least half a dozen years.

There are just under a dozen 2010s to be released on October 26th, all under $30 and mostly from satellite appellations, so it’s not a representative collection of the top stuff. But it’s enough to get a sense of how austere and unfriendly some wines are. Raisined fruit flavours were a frequent feature, along with high alcohols (15% alc Bordeaux?) and the occasional exaggerated use of wood flavour. But to be fair, I’d say that it’s a tough period of evolution in which to be tasting these, and I had the sense that many wines, even at entry price points, were going through a ‘dumb’ (non-expressive) stage. It will be fascinating to follow them as they age.

Here’s a short list of the Château that seemed to have managed the stress well, yielding balanced, albeit well structured wines. Click to read full reviews, and note the recommended drink from and to dates.

2010 Château Rahoul, AC Graves ($29.95)

2010 Château De Maison Neuve, Montagne Saint-Émilion ($19.95)

2009 Château Reynon, AC Premières Côtes de Bordeaux ($23.85)

2010 Château La Couronne, AC Saint-Émilion Grand Cru ($24.95)

2010 Château Doms, AC Graves ($17.00)

John Szabo, A Master Class

I hope you can join me at the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo for an insider’s tour through the world of wine. I’ve selected an outstanding lineup of up-and-coming grapes, regions, producers and styles – the stuff you wouldn’t likely know about unless you are immersed in the wine trade – that are ripe for discovery. Pick up some tips on how to taste, serve and pair wine and food like a master sommelier along the way. See more details and get your tickets here.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

From the October 26, 2013 Vintages release:

Top Smart Buys
Bordeaux Selections
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find John Szabo’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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