Bordeaux Feature -Union de Grand Cru Tasting Santa Monica

The UGC swept through Santa Monica/LA on its way to San Francisco this week and gave local enthusiasts and professionals a chance to try dozens and dozens of Bordeaux Superieur and Blanc from the 2014 vintage. The attendance was fabulous as all but the most ratified producers were there (so no Mouton, Latour, Cheval, Montrose etc).

2014 was a tough vintage at first, with cooler weather through the summer before a more favorable harvest. Most agree the wine to emerge was quite fine, though quantity was lower. Comparisons to 05 and 06 have been made, while others think it is too distinctive to reliably compare to any other year.

I will attempt to transcribe my notes below, on each sub-zone as well as specific bottles that leaped out. The trouble with such a tasting is that many of the wines were quite tight, and few tables used a decanter. For much of the tasting, what I was assessing was structure and body rather than aromatics, for that you must simply know the Chateau and their house style to make any predictions. This will be a good, but not great vintage, with classic qualities that should reward fans of Left Bank and Sauternes in particular, with reliable drinkers.

Overall Impressions

Reds

Much of the Right Bank reds from Pessac-Leognan, St Emillon, and Graves were quite dull at this stage, without mid-weight texture, and poor balance. The quality seemed to fall with the greater percentage of Merlot, an earlier ripening grape. 2014 was cooler it the summer and autumn, and thus it seems the Merlot suffered in quality. Those with greater Cabernet Franc in the assemblage were far better.

The later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon benefited from the late vintage uptick in weather quality, and as we moved to the Left Bank, such as the Haut-Medoc and Margaux, greater balance and some emerging aromatics were evident. Better fruit and concentration was notable in Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wines, such as St Julien and Paulliac. This is not to say these wines were universally better, but generally more accessible.

I believe the better wines this year to be those left bank wines, as well as Cabernet Franc, while right bank and Graves were quite savory and gripping, showing more of the cooler vintage

Whites

While I was unable to devote myself entirely to the whites given the shortness of the evening, the overall impression was of greater consistent quality than the Reds, with particular success for Sauternes, which were some of the more marvelous young bottles I have had. The Chateau Guiraud was in particular a mesmerizing experience.

Pessac-Léognan

wp-1485559705156.jpg

For the first portion of the room, the dry wines of Graves and Pessac-Leognan were on show. The very first wine I tried ended being one of the better in attendance, the Chateau Les Carmes Haut-Brion. An unusual blend of 45% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon  was likely the reason for this, as the aromatics of the C. Franc were in better form. This region suffered for me because many of the finer sites (Smith Haut-Lafite) were either not present or were drunk dry quite quickly. The Chateau Carbonnieux was also particularly fine, though outshone by their fresh and balanced white wine.

wp-1485559688666.jpg

Saint-Emillon

A difficult portion of the evening for me, but the St. Emillon were disappointing, the most I can hope for is that they unfold in 5 years or so into something more elegant. The tannic structure was certainly present in many of these but little texture, and poor concentration. As before, those wines with greater Cabernet Franc in their assemblage fared better almost every time, including Ch. La Gaffeliere (with 30% C. Franc) and Ch. Canon-la-Gaffeliere, with a whopping 40% C. Franc. Canon-la-Gaffeliere was particularly pure and well structured with a textural balance that presaged an elegant future

Pomerol

wp-1485559695275.jpg

Pomerol suffered from much the same weakness as Saint-Emillon, with higher Merlot % forecasting a poorer showing. Ch. Beauregard was a favorite of many in front of the table, and with 30% C. Franc, did show greater complexity than its neighbors, showing some garden herbs, plum, and chocolate aromas. Others like Le Bon Pasteur lacked any real weight or fruit to counteract the currently un-integrated oak, which I hope will soften.

 

 

Listrac/Moulis En Medoc

Here was the first inkling of good things to come with the poorly named Ch. Clarke, at 70/30 Merlot/C Sauvignon, it showed some under ripe black fruits and cedar in a surprisingly accessible stage for such a young wine. Simlarly Ch. Maucaillou had a denser, but still ripe fruit profile, with chocolate and cigar wrapper giving a greater sense of balance. It was no surprise that the assemblage for Maucaillou was 51% C Sauv, 42% Merlot, and 7% Petite Verdot. While not to my taste, it was certainly refreshing to see some complexity and ripeness.

 

Haut-Medocwp-1485559671624.jpg

Here we had some of my first real wows since the Le Carmes Haut-Brion at the very beginning! A perennial modern favorite, the Ch. Cantemerle was in fine form, with an exceptionally balanced and elegant structure, but robust too. Gravely with pencil shavings, cassis, and leather, this appears certain to age well. In contrast to many previous wines in this tasting which were impossible to suss. There was some disagreement as to the assemblage, while the notes said 60% Cabernet, the gentleman at the table claimed it was 47%/38% C. Sauv and Merlot.

 

wp-1485559656846.jpg

wp-1485559664989.jpgCh. Citran was a new one for me, and had very attractive citrus peel, graphite, and herbaceous aromatics. La Tour Carnet was highly structure with an elegant spicebox profile, certainly this was as old-world as it gets, but one wonders if any fruit will emerge in a few years.

My overall impressions of the Haut-Medoc were positive, with more evident quality being apparent among the wines.

 

Margaux

Here in Margaux we found wines that showed the most individual personality of any wp-1485559639901.jpgsub-region so far. Most had tell-tale notes of violets and oyster shells, with the greater maritime influence thanks to the proximity to the water. The texture on these wines were generally quite soft and elegant, and the aromatics more generous (though still tight).

Ch. Dauzac was a good value and quite an early drinker with the least amount of tannin and most expressive nose. Ch. Siran was quite a pretty wine with higher toned red fruit and softer tannin, while Ch. Kirwan and Desmirail were favorites of the crowd, showing violets and sea shells, with stronger tannic backbone elevating it all.

Saint Julien

Saint-Julien marked a continuing trend towards greater consistency. Ch Beychevelle had aromas of citrus and red fruits, and filled the mouth with acidity and tannin. While the oak was a bit too present, I imagine that will integrate well. Ch Leoville Poyferre had more upfront creme de cassis and accompanying textural richness to make for a very taste wine. Gruaud Larose had the greatest freshness of the wines, with black fruits, coffee grounds, and chocolate making for a rich, darker profiled Bordeaux. The Chateau Gloria was also a nice surprise, quite accessible with fresh fruit, menthol and vanilla. I imagine it will drinking well somewhat earlier. Not Pictured is Ch. Talbot, which did quite well though incredibly tightly wound at this stage. Unlike the Saint-Emillon I imagine the Talbot will open up into something quite lovely in 5-10 years.

Pauillac/St Estephe

wp-1485559587362.jpg

I was sad that by the end of the evening, Ch. Lynch-Bages, and others, were all tapped out, however concentration and power associated with Pauillac and St Estephe were on full display with the remaining tables. Lynch-Moussas was more herbal in character, with subtle dark fruits, while Ch. Le Ormes de Pez was quite raw and clumsy, though youth might be to blame.

I was disappointed I couldn’t give a greater account of these two regions. Unfortunately after 2.5hrs and dozens of wines, having these at the end proved disastrous.

 

Sauternes

It is no mistake that many proclaimed the 2014 Sauternes as the winner of the tasting. Not a one was showing poorly, though a range in depth and concentration was evident. Many almost came across as off-dry, with such fabulous acidity and freshness that you wanted to gulp down a large glass right on the spot. Ch. Guiraud was a possible wine of the night for my own taste. The Guiraud Sauternes had none of the syrupy gloopiness that some over-eager examples had. It was all fresh orchard and tropical fruits, honey and flowers with a long elegant finish.

 

Final Notes

Tasting young Bordeaux is a difficult task, many of the best will get lumped in with the worst due to being inaccessible in youth (like the Talbot), while others will be rewarded by early assessments for being easy. The clear strategy here is the tough one, find the house style you like and buy some bottles, waiting patiently.

That said, from this disadvantaged standpoint, The clear stars were St Julien, Sauternes Et Barsac, and Margaux. All three zones featured wines of balance, freshness, and concentration. What aromatics peaked through had great typicity. As one producer noted, 2014 will be one of the best of the ‘lesser’ vintage, and hopefully full of good values compared to the 2015s. If you already know which Chateaus you prefer, this is a wonderful year to stock up on some reliable Bordeaux for mid-term enjoyment.

 

Advertisements

Find the “best” Thanksgiving wine, by embracing contradictions

So I have decided to leap into thanksgiving talk a bit early, and go over this well covered but confusing topic: that is how to choose a wine for Thanksgiving. There are as many options in the world of wine there are people. The true question of what to serve at Thanksgiving is actually two separate questions that I will try to break down clearly: What wine goes well with Turkey and the standard accompaniment  , AND how to serve wine for a larger group with varying tastes.

 

For the traditional thanksgiving fare, Turkey is in the fore, yielding some difficult flavors and textures to work with. Turkey tends to soak up pretty any flavor you match with it, which makes it easy to run roughshod with a bold wine. The fixings tend to be quite full flavored and rich. So delicate flavor that won’t overwhelm, and enough food friendly acidity is key. Hence, the full bodied white or light red. I will also cover some great outliers that will satisfy the fans of big California red wines.

To start as people lounge around a kitchen, the smells antagonizing the stomachs, start with Sean Thackrey’s Pleiades XXIV (22$), it’s light enough for an aperitif, but could pair with a lighter meal too. For a crowd that appreciates the earthier, tarter wines that transform a meal, you could choose a nice Southern Italian Etna Rosso, even Palari’s Faro (70$) from that volcanic region if you wanted to spend a little extra. The impeccable balance and intense minerality make it one of the best food reds I can think of.

If you have to have that classic Pinot Noir and nothing else will suffice (or keep your guests in line) Oregon’s Cristom makes Pinot at several price points (20-40$) that will satisfy any group. Also look at Soter’s North Valley Pinot Noir (20$) from Northern Willamette. Its robust and earthy and can stand up to anything short of Pumpkin pie and sibling rivalries.

 

But Poultry being Poultry, your guests might clamor for chardonnay, while a lean Chablis would cut through the stuffing and a fine Mersault would impress, more flavor and body is going to serve you well for a white wine, so go with an Oregon Chardonnay from Big Table Farm (45$). The humble farmers at Big Table are out Burgundying Burgundy with this 2013 bottling featuring full lush notes of lemon meringue and crushed gravel. Best of all it doesn’t need to be served ice cold, and will improve as it warms up on the table in front of the family. You can also go out on a limb and pick up an outstanding Verdicchio from either Villa Bucci (20$) or Fattoria La Monacesca (30$). Classico or Riserva, These wines have all the minerality and structured you need for each and every course.

 

So these light reds and full whites cover a lot of territory in taste and food, but there are plenty of full ripe red wines from California for those who just don’t give a s%&t about what goes well with Turkey, and I would be remiss if I ignored that demand. What’s going to taste good and get everyone prepared for a long holiday season? Limerick Lane from Sonoma has made waves with their old vine Zinfandel, but its their outstanding Syrah/Grenache (30$) blend that is a force to be reckoned with. It is decadent, its ripe, and can be drunk alone or with the meal. Across the Atlantic, the previously reviewed (here) Domaine du Gour de Chaule Gigondas (25$) is a nice old world alternative with rustic acidity and herbaceous aromas. You could go a step further with another high level offering from Sean Thackrey, either his Petite Sirah (45$) or even his Pinot Noir (45$), which is fairly full bodied as well.

 

Maybe at this point you are shouting at the screen, “Rory! I have 25 people coming over, I can’t serve them these wines, they’ll drink me to the poorhouse!” Ok first, I occasionally feel that way with just one guest (me), but there are wines abound that you won’t feel bad about serving (or paying for). My favorite options are the Felsina Chianti (16$), which is earthy, fruity and infinitely variable, or Planeta La Segreta (11$) from Sicily, with its rustic minerality and sun drenched fruit.

Whatever your go-to wine is for thanksgiving, you’re going to end up balancing the needs of a group of family member’s and the meal that they are gathering around. When in doubt, open two. Good Luck.

 

New-Age Australian Wine, is this the real life?

Like many who walked these roads before, I had my share of Yellowtail back in…let’s call them the good old days. While the attractive price and

easy style drew me to it, the other side of that double-edged wine was that my own opinion of Australia and wine was pretty well perverted. As far as New World wine regions go, Australia sort of led the pack in Ultra-big high alcohol wines. Between those knockouts and the jug wine behemoth of Yellowtail the Australian wine scene was as barren as the outback…right?

Well I’ve had my words handed to me on a plate haven’t I? In my glass tonight is a 12.8% Grenache/Syrah blend called The Green Room from a small family winery Ochota Barrels. What is surprising is not just the ABV on a wine from a hot climate, made from high-alcohol grapes, but that the texture still manages to be quite lush and rich, but instead of gobs of fruit we smell baked blueberry and damp earth, and Instead of toasted oak I smell lemon-grass and black pepper.

Now the wine suffers a bit on a technical level, with some tartaric acid precipitate near the end that had to be filtered off, but the style and quality of the fruit is unimpeachable and it means I’ll take a closer look at Australia from now on.

wp-1453404005914-e1453420503231

Price 37$

Cellar Rating- *1-5 years

Food pairing – Chicken with an earthy sauce, Game, grilled veggies

A Response to a WSJ Article on Millennials and Wine

Why is it morally better to be the generation paying hundreds of dollars for 100pt Napa Cabernet, than to chase down mediocre wine because it has a compelling narrative or a rare grape? Trends are trends, markets change and evolve, and while they are often driven by the newest generation to come of age, they are chased by people of all ages.

 

Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal posted an article last week taking a look at how a new generation of technology enabled drinkers might be shaping the wine industry. After touching on some interesting ideas ‘confirmed’ in an unscientific focus group, she came to an odd conclusion:

“[T]o truly claim their position as the most powerful consumers in the world, [millennials] need to develop a broader context and a deeper understanding of the entire world of wine…”

One thought tugged at my brain as I came to the end of her WSJ ‘post.’ Teague rather bluntly seems to conflate the natural trends of a rapidly evolving marketplace with her own broad-stroked criticism of an entire generation. Try as she might to give an analytical yet personal touch to her piece, she can’t avoid coming off as whiny and bigoted. When a Gen X blogger writes this cynical clickbait aimed at millennial bashing snobs, who is really exemplifying the worst qualities of a generation?

Reference: http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-millennials-are-changing-wine-1446748945

bn-lc926_winewe_g_20151105132445

Maybe it is unfair to bash a WSJ ‘blogger’ because of her unscientific and brash claims about millennials, after all in the modern age everybody online can publish an opinion. But her article came off as a digital age equivalent of “can you believe kids these days?!” and that she writes for the WSJ seemed incredible. The article is riddled with such beautifully ignorant generalizations such as “I bought wines that millennials were purported to like” (purported by who?) and “a millennial might answer ‘Yaaaasssss!’”(I just can’t even…). Her world-view seems dominated by a couple quotes from two young wine directors (her expert witnesses) and some new data released by Wine Opinions. But Teague is not able to make these anecdotes and data match and instead falls back on the former to make whatever claim feels right for her.

Personal anecdotes can be called up and molded for any purpose. For instance, my experiences with Boomer/X Generation diners while a Sommelier at an upscale establishment, showed a huge lack of “broader context and … deeper understanding” of the wine they drink; those with money ordered what was the most expensive or well known, and those without ordered the cheapest or the second cheapest, and both tended towards whatever regional identiy was part of their cultural comfort zone (napa cab, Provencal rose, Moscato). But is that a sign of moral degradation? And more importantly, is that a feature of just one generation? Choosing a wine based on what you are familiar with or what is in your price point is no more ignorant or wrong than choosing a wine because of a nice story or because its the next big ‘discovery.’

The ability of an entire generation to exert a powerful economic impact has little to do with their intelligence or understanding.  I would observe it is only natural within a large segmented industry for “gaps in knowledge” to occur based on a consumers personal interest and investment in an industry. Teague’s shallow examination leaves any kind of critical understanding behind in favor of routine generation bashing.

 

I want to step back a little to the entire approach that Teague and other major new outlet bloggers share. The silliness behind these trending articles, now picked up and flung far and wide by WSJ, NYT et al, is exacerbated by plain sloppiness. Teague claimed her focus group supported the Wine Opinions research, yet that same research claimed “[Millennials] all like Moscato”, which none of her group did, and none of them found the wine from the “obscure grape” with “hipster cred” compelling, which happens to be the whole crux of Teague’s broad-based critique! As for Moscato, that wine has absolutely no compelling story and is certainly not a rare undiscovered grape. Its popularity has certainly exploded recently (thanks Nicki Minaj), just as white Zinfandel and sweet Lambrusco did before…in the 1970s, driven by boomers. Ascribing the ebb and flow of trends in cheap sweet bubbly to a critical fault that can be pointed to in a single generation is a rookie mistake by a writer who probably feels left behind herself. Teague’s research and anecdotal claims clash in every paragraph as she attempts to force both into a clickbait worthy narrative.

After all, why is it morally better to be the generation duped into paying hundreds of dollars for 100pt Napa Cabernet, than to chase down mediocre wine because it has a compelling narrative or a rare grape? Trends are trends, markets change and evolve, and while they are often driven by the newest generation to come of age, they are chased by people of all ages. My parents and grandfather are far more likely to go looking for a wine that is dry farmed, bio-dynamically grown, and featuring an elegant label with extensive backstory on it than they would have 30 years ago. I hope we can roundly reject the ageist hate mongering that these articles stoke and just like what we like in peace.