On the Trail

The (Humbling, Generous, and Unexpected) Wines of Bordeaux

Ryan Moses

One of the challenges of working in the wine industry, or collecting in general, is that I’m often chasing some wine experience that always seems slightly out of my reach. For all of these brilliant wines that I get to discuss on a daily basis, or experience second-hand through tasting notes and blogs, it is still seldom that I find myself sitting in front of these bottles that we cherish and revere. So it is with no hesitation that I say I have been deeply humbled by the wines that we’ve experienced this week as part of being around the En Primeur campaign. It feels like I’ve tasted about five years worth of incredible wines in the past eight days. Fueled by the generosity of Clyde Beffa and those in Bordeaux that cherish his visits, the wines opened in the past week have perhaps matched some of the finest wines of my career (a few times over).

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Sometimes you never know where it is going to happen next. During our trip to the Graves region we visited Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte where we tasted one of the more brilliant 2017s we tried that day. In the company of owners Florence and Daniel Cathiard, we were treated to a typical Bordelais lunch of three courses (a “light lunch”, noted Florence). Paired with the meal we enjoyed the luxurious 2000 Smith Haut-Lafitte, poured from a double magnum. In the larger format, from such a strong vintage, the wine has many years ahead of it yet, but on that day it was singing. I didn’t mind not having to wait.

Thursday evening found us in the company of the inimitable Frédéric Engerer of Chateau Latour. Over a dinner of classic bistro fare, he presented six red wines to us, tasted blind. The only information we were given was that they were all from the same vintage. Blind tasting with Frédéric is akin to sitting the French Baccalauréat, the English A Levels, or the US SAT exams. While we struggled to reach a consensus on the vintage, there was absolute agreement on the best wine of the flight. That wine turned out to be the 1999 Chateau Margaux. Its competition?  Every other first growth from the vintage, along with the second label from Latour. In an extremely gracious and thoughtful gesture, Frédéric attributed the winning quality of the ‘99 Margaux to the brilliance of the late Paul Pontallier, who oversaw production at the chateau for over three decades. It is probably one of the few times he’ll concede second place for Chateau Latour. Like 2017, 1999 was a vintage complicated by late rains during harvest. Engerer was not merely being extremely generous in pouring a flight of first growths for us. He wanted to make the point that brilliant wines of great quality could be made in such a vintage. Point well taken.

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Another fun blind wine was the 1996 Chateau Léoville-Las Cases — largely considered one of St-Julien’s all time greats. When we were served it on Wednesday night, it took a long while to circle our way to the vintage and producer.  You might think that’d make it easier when the same wine was served blind two nights later, but we were still at a loss. Perhaps it was the 2000 Pichon Lalande before it that threw us off track. We did get the vintage on the 1982 Haut Brion, but it took a bit to identify the producer there.

That said, we weren’t always put to the test. A marathon tasting on Friday was complemented by 2009 Pape Clement at lunch.  2009 Pontet Canet and 1989 Leoville Las Cases made a showing on Saturday night. Dinner on Tuesday was graciously paired with 2000 and 1990 Pichon Baron. Pavie 1989, 1998, and 2010 made appearances on another memorable evening still, all brilliant bottlings for their own distinct reasons.

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One of the most striking and memorable moments was foreshadowed by a visit to Pavie Macquin.  While tasting the 2017s, our host mentioned briefly that the Thienpont family owned Troplong Mondot for a short time in the late 1920s. With pride they showed us a cherished bottle they had of the 1928, their last vintage prior to selling the chateau.  Clyde was stunned, not for the fact that he was shown a ninety year-old piece of history, but more for the fact that he had brought the same wine with him! And it showed as one of the best wines of the trip - amazingly young and fresh, and a simply tremendous wine even if you can somehow forget the ancient vintage.

I’m still reeling from all of this. It is a wonderful gift to be able to participate in something that is so educating and at the same time an astounding luxury. For me, it helped highlight a few things — even those with a wonderful depth of knowledge might still be scratching the surface of this expansive and historical region, that perspective on a vintage comes from more than just barrel samples, and that the community in Bordeaux is truly unique. For someone like myself who is always trying to find the next great bottle, every single one of these wines will leave an indelible mark. Not only are they humbling and inspiring, but exemplify why many of us continue to pursue and collect wine with such a passion —  to find these bottles and moments when we can, and be thankful when we do.

- Ryan Moses

Fireworks

On the Trail

My wine career started a little differently than most as it started in the kitchen of a pizzeria bussing tables and washing dishes. There was a long journey from working there to working the grill in a fine dining restaurant, but what kept me going was my passion for food and making people happy. I have always loved the connection and memories people make while sharing a meal together and that eventually brought me to the dining  room in restaurants. I was able to witness and contribute the joy food brought to people. And then, inevitably, I was introduced to wine.

In a classroom back at culinary school we tried some of the most mediocre and some of the best wines under the sun, or, rather, the ceiling of our classroom. We did food pairings that were purposely terrible and some that were magnificent. That is when I knew pairing food and wine was for me. It was the art I had been looking for. I think of it like the scene in Ratatouille when Remy is trying to teach his brother about food. That it isn't just there to eat, but to be savored. Then the fireworks start going off behind him.

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Every time I pair food and wine, whether it is for customers, friends, or just myself on a Tuesday night, those fireworks in the background are my goal.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to share my passion with my colleagues at our "Tuesday Morning Wine School." On Tuesday mornings, the staff takes an extra 30 minutes to really dive into a grape, region, or theme. On this particular Tuesday... I brought snacks!

While we all have been told that red wine goes with meat and white wine goes with fish; there is room for a lot more creativity and personal preference. You just need a few guidelines to help you through.

There are five tastes that we can perceive when tasting food: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. Umami is a sort of recent addition in last few years. The Japanese use this word to describe “deliciousness.” Back when I first learned about this word, I enjoyed thinking of it as my fancy way of adding “je ne sais quoi,” but in a more humble way.

When you taste a wine you can only taste the sweet (sugar), bitter (tannins), or sour (acidity). Most of the time we are stuck with these three flavors. However, there are always exceptions to every rule, like a Jura Chardonnay or a dry Sherry, both can seem salty. There is also texture, temperature, and spiciness to play with and along with those finite flavors (aromas, however, are a totally different ballgame.)

The key to pairings is to either complement or contrast those three main flavors in the wine. Depending on your choice of food they will enhance or tone down each other’s characteristics. One good guideline is that power goes with power. So the texture of the food and wine is always important.  The cooking methods matter here. Steamed, poached and cold dishes will have a lighter texture, something roasted or grilled will have more depth and power. However, if you have a fattier dish, you may want to contrast the dish, instead of complementing it- how delicious is Champagne and French Fries? High acid vs high fat!

The spiciness of a dish is very important. Very salty and spiced foods highlight the tannins and alcohol of wine. It is more harmonious to contrast spice with low alcohol wines with a bit of sweetness. Also, richer sparkling wine goes well with spice or salt (again with the Champagne and French Fries! But if bubbles aren’t your style, a Chablis or an Entre-Deux-Mers and oysters!)

Sour is acidity. In this area, you can play a little more. How do you want to express the dish? Let's say you are having crab legs with butter — do you want a lighter style wine to cleanse the palate and focus on the freshness of the seafood? Or do you prefer a fuller bodied white wine to complement the butter sauce by keeping the richness and opulence of the dish? Either way, it is always a good idea to have the food be slightly richer than the wine. Oak flavors are enhanced by food, so a tiny bit of acidity in the wine will help cleanse the palate and keep the meal from seeming greasy or monotoned.

I picked three items to pair with wine. The first was a three-month-old manchego cheese. I paired with Alexander Jules “8/41” Manzanilla Sanlucar de Barrameda to complement the nutty and salty (breaking the rules already) flavors in the cheese. The 2015 Bernabeleva "Arroyo del Tórtolas" Garnacha Vinos de Madrid was there to contrast the earthy tones of the cheese with the high toned freshness of the wine. While we all enjoyed the complement of the Sherry with the manchego, it was interesting to see how the fruit character of the Garnacha made the manchego seem even nuttier. If we had a whole cheese plate with pickles and bread, I think the Garnacha would have been a stronger pairing, but alone it overpowered the cheese.

Second, was a neutral brie (I didn't want anything too pungent) that was paired with 2013 Marimar “Doubles Lias” Russian River Valley Chardonnay. As you can guess it is a richer style chardonnay to complement the delicious creamy brie. While this is a rich wine, coming from the Russian River it had a good amount of acidity. As I mentioned earlier, you don't want to have a wine richer than your food. My coworker Thomas, hit the nail on the head as he described the pairing as creating a savory ice cream texture. To contrast that creaminess we had the 2016 A.J. Adam Dhron Hofberg Spätlese Riesling Mosel. A sweeter wine still holding onto a lot of acidity. The earthiness of the brie enhanced that sweetness of the wine while the acidity cleansed the palate keeping you ready for the next bite.

I think our favorite pairing, because the flavors were so evident, was the glazed ham. I kept the Riesling as our accompanying wine. It perfectly brought out the sweet flavor of the glaze while enhancing any natural sweetness in the meat. The contrasting wine was the Domaine du Vissoux (Pierre-Marie Chermette) Moulin-à-Vent "Les Trois Roches." Tasting the ham with the Beaujolais was like trying a completely different meal. The smokiness in the wine brought out the smokiness of the ham while the savoriness of both was enhanced to the utmost. Both pairings were so beautiful but so different. It truly showed that the pairing can be up to you. Would you rather complement and highlight that sweet glaze or do you want the savory, deep flavors to be enhanced.

That brings me to my most important wine pairing rule: experience.  What you have had that works, what you have had that didn’t and what did you love. What you have easily available can influence this as well.  ("What grows together, goes together" is one of my favorite food pairing phrases!)

“Folks in Friuli serve Tocai to accompany slices of the local Prosciutto San Daniele while those in Emilia Romagna drink the local Lambrusco with their salumi.  These are pairings based on tradition and regionality, firmly imprinted on the countries’ collective taste memory.” – Joyce Goldstein

There is never a fully wrong answer when pairing food and wine, just the guidelines that can help get you to fireworks! Try it for yourself this week at dinner or plan a wine tasting party with friends! You will be amazed at what you find you love. As always, we love to share our passions with you so come and tell us what you have tried or ask us any questions you may have!

Happy Pairing!

- Rachel Alcarraz

 

 

The Completely Unexpected at Château de la Malleret

Ryan Moses

Even as seasoned Bordeaux professionals, Château de la Malleret is on the periphery for us - a property and label we’ve heard of, but not one that we knew too much about. They were also one of the producers who lost nearly all of their 2017s, so we hadn’t seen the wines in previous tastings during En Primeur.  Nonetheless, one of our great negociants (Christophe Reboul-Salze of The Wine Merchant) told us that we should join them there for dinner last night, and off we went.

Pulling up to the property, it was surrounded by construction gates and modular pop-up offices.  The winery looked about 75% finished and we started to wonder what we were doing there. All that said we were warmly greeted and brought in for the tour. Walking in we found a custom built, state-of-the-art facility that looked impeccably detailed and designed. All gravity fed and technology-driven - it would be many a winemaker’s dream.  When finished, it will certainly bring their production to another level qualitatively.

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Which is nice and all, but a common story to many burgeoning properties in Bordeaux - new tanks, designer cellars, etc, etc. So...up we went to the Chateau proper.  Passing through the gate we saw a wonderful expansive property surrounding a traditional Bordelaise estate. There were even two horses roaming the grounds to which we gave a passing compliment.  Our tour guide said, “thank you. We have more up at the property.” How many, we asked. “Oh...I think 57 right now.” And all of the sudden we were transported to what seemed like another world.

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As an extension of the Chateau, Malleret has a world class stable, indoor dressage arena, equine rehabilitation equipment, and a team of dedicated and devoted riders. The property is even more massive than we originally imagined, with grounds expanding to over 375ha.  Stepping into the stables we were greeted by curious horses sticking their heads out of the stalls to check out the new company, and a perfectly groomed horse being prepped for a routine. Off to the balcony we went where, with Champagne in hand, we were treated to a wonderful show in the arena below. To say none of us saw this coming is an understatement. What an out-of-this-world type experience, and cleverly done by our hosts.

The evening melted into conversation, dinner, the lovely ‘14s and ‘15s of Chateau de la Malleret and their small Margaux property concisely named Le Margaux de Malleret.  But three decanters loomed large on the bar, brought by Christophe. More surprises were in the works. The wines were all revealed to be 2011s - a difficult vintage for sure, it is one that is not currently on the collective consciousness of the Bordeaux customer, and Christophe had a point to prove.  It was clearly made when it was revealed that the wines were Vieux Chateau Certan, Pichon Lalande, and La Mission Haut Brion, and they all were superlative examples of the respective labels. One last decanter was pulled out and we guessed our way to the brilliant 1996 Leoville Las Cases.

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One of the surprising parts of travelling like this is finding these moments - the “how did I get here” - indelible slices of life that are completely unexpected and simply stunning.  Standing on a balcony over an indoor equestrian arena, half a world away, with a glass of bubbly in hand we found that place, and looked at each other trying to figure out how we got there.

The wine itself, however, is one to follow and highlights that in a world of established classifications and familiar labels that there are still discoveries to be made in Bordeaux.  It is easy for us to walk in the same footsteps of past year, but the region is always evolving and finding these gems is what it is all about. All it takes is an open mind, a sense of adventure, and perhaps some riding boots.

- Ryan Moses

Fill In the Blanks

Ryan Moses

“We’re really happy with what we have for Chateau ________ in 2017.”

This is what we have heard, and will hear, from everywhere.  Perhaps that is because we need convincing this year. I’m sure most winemakers in 2016 could just smile and nod during the tasting because all the evidence of a tremendous vintage shows in spades in the glass.  But 2017 is a vintage that needs a conversation, a little salesmanship, and for sure a deeper understanding of process and conditions. But either way, we’re constantly greeted with how “happy” folks are with their wines.

And most proprietors have a right to be proud of what they produced - these charming, accessible, and sometimes great wines are a true accomplishment given the challenges at hand.  What is interesting is that those challenges have become more broadly discussed as the week goes on. For us, the shine is off a bit and we’ve found ourselves with a vintage that is removed from any conversation having to do with its two preceding vintages.

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The issue is a bit more about timing - the conversation is so heavy towards the enthusiasm of 15/16 that everyone is trying to use that lens.  Instead the vintage should be seen for what it is in isolation - one that dealt with frost, heat spikes, and a harvest that saw decisions made and hands forced over multiple rains.  Ripeness was not an issue, but in some places phenolic ripeness didn’t quite happen. The wines are not hard or angular, but instead immensely accessible in an early-drinking type way.  What we have is a large amount of endlessly charming wines that are worth pursuing because skipping out on the vintage would mean missing some gems. And depending on pricing, early action might be limited to a select few.

Variety in Bordeaux is not unexpected. While those of us in the wine trade are more guilty than most of likening one vintage to another, the truth is that each vintage is genuinely unique. And one of the great things about this treasured region is the ability to have a long-term conversation about a wine, one that can not necessarily be as easily had with any other region.  How often do you get to broadly taste, evaluate, and experience multiple decades of the same region or label with such immediacy?

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-In the meantime, we found a few gems today.  Our visit to Malescot today shows that they are holding strong on their title of the best collectible value in Margaux.  The 2017 is one of the few wines that needs little introduction or conversation. Labegorce also continued an amazing streak that started in 2014 and will certainly continue with 2017 (albeit with production down 35%).  And the down to earth folks at Leoville Barton made another honest and complex wine in this vintage.

Next we will start to come to some real conclusions with Pessac on the docket (Haut Brion, La Mission, SHL, Chevalier), meaning we’ve hit every major region.  This will round out the grand tour, but certainly not the tastings. We will take the time to re-evaluate many of what we’ve tasted so that we can come home with some conclusions before the En Primeur campaign starts in earnest.

- Ryan Moses

 

The Elephant in the Room

Ryan Moses

When we (and many other folks) came to Bordeaux the conversation was about frost. Beyond the bold figures that the community was putting on their overall losses, the real pain was seen in those who had to deliver the news that they were losing an entire harvest. Saying “a percentage is wiped out” is one thing, but when the proprietor of a small family-run estate tells you their wine will not exist this year is pretty devastating.

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But as we’ve travelled to the Left Bank. and have heard less and less about frost losses, there is a story that is being revealed about the season for those who survived the frost. Today we visited a chateau that told of the intense heat of the summer, and the refreshing and revitalizing rains that fell in September. But when tasting, the wine had us looking at each other for confirmation that we weren’t missing something. All of us agreed that this particular wine came up short, and, in quick order, it became apparent that it was the September rains that played a big part.

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In fact, the next property we visited, Calon Segur, dealt with the issue head-on. There was an immense concern at the chateau about the September rains that left them accountable for the shortcomings this might produce. And without much surprise...the wine was brilliant, had a bright and lively mid-palate, and showed a completeness that was absent in those who didn’t address this challenge so directly. Throughout the day, those that discussed the rains seemed to be more and more capable to handle Mother Nature's curveball.  

The issue with 2017s isn’t ripeness. Even though it was an early harvest, the wines had time in a warm summer to get to a level that allowed for a plush, deep, and inviting profile. Hearing “you could drink this now” is common this year since, the refinement of modern Bordeaux still allows accessible and delicious wines even without the wine being elite. But the difference in the vintage seems to be those that can take that to another level with detail and complexity, and in 2017, it often comes from the strangest places. La Gaffeliere, Pavie Decesse, and Duhart Milon aren’t names that tend to float a vintage, but they were wines that seem to have the right formula in this variable vintage. Perhaps another reason that it’ll be handy to have a friend at K&L in the know.

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Next, we’ll explore more of the northern Medoc and then get into Margaux. Some of the usual suspects are looming large in 2017 — Pichon Lalande, Montrose, and Pontet-Canet just to name a few.  Past that, Pessac and Graves are on the list, and then extended tastings that help verify that the true gems of the vintage are the real thing. We’ll be back to give a more comprehensive report on each region and the big winners shortly, but for now we have a short rest before we’re back on the trail...

- Ryan Moses

A New Entrant into Old-Vine Winemaking

On the Trail

A couple of weeks ago, I gathered with the K&L Redwood City staff to taste through a series of new domestic wines. Two wines from a new label named Precedent stopped me in my tracks. The first was an Evangelho Vineyard Zinfandel. Rich, layered and complex, it was a field blend of several varieties grounded in Zinfandel from a legendary vineyard site. The second, a White blend from Wirz Vineyard, had the soaring aromatics of a Riesling with bright acid and an incredibly expressive minerality. Both wines retailed for under $25. My next thoughts were: “What the hell is this?” and “Who the hell is making this?” Which is how I found myself navigating a steep, treacherous, one-lane road to the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains. At Thomas Fogarty Winery, I met Nathan Kandler, winegrower for Fogarty, and owner and winemaker of Precedent Wines.

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Nathan comes off as earnest, soft-spoken and focused. He graduated with a degree in Enology from CSU Fresno and went on to work stints at Benzinger, Frick, Schug and Testarossa, as well as with the Australian producer Torbreck, in the Barossa Valley. As we walked through the vineyards he explained that Precedent began in 2006 shortly after being hired on at Fogarty. In his first years, he crafted Pinot Noir from Marin County and Syrah from Bennett Valley, searching to develop his voice as a winemaker. “Friends told me I should stick to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but there were plenty of people out there who were focusing on that. I was looking to add something to the conversation of wine in California,” he told me.

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The opportunity came in 2010, when Tegan Passalacqua, winemaker at Turley and an old-vine treasure hunter, turned Kandler onto Evangelho Vineyard. Evangelho is one of the most unique vineyards in California. It has some of the oldest vines in the country, planted by Portuguese immigrants on the dry alluvial sands of Contra Costa County in 1890. Around the turn of the century, vineyards were commonly planted to a mix of different varieties. Throughout the vineyard are Zinfandel, Mataro, Carignan, Muscat, and Palomino, alternating from one vine to the next. “The age, the fact that it’s on its own roots, the fact that it’s dry farmed, the mix of varieties there. It’s a dream. You just don’t find that very many places.”

Equally as compelling is his Wirz Vineyard white blend. Located in the Cienega Valley just a few miles south of the city of Hollister, Kandler’s block is dominated by Riesling planted in 1952. “It’s a really challenging site because it’s dry farmed. So there’s no water. It’s really interesting to see a vineyard that is so at the whim of mother nature, swinging back and forth. The wines from the dry years are so intense, but the ‘17 is in more of an elegant style.” Tasting the ‘17 in barrel, I was struck by gorgeous notes of kaffir lime, a brightly focused acidity and an extraordinary weight and depth on the palate. I found the wine totally unique and delicious, driven equally by minerality and fruit.

In the past few years, a number of new labels focusing on historic vineyards have been gaining popularity. Producers like Bedrock, Carlisle, and Terre Rouge have been joining the ranks of wineries such as Ridge and Turley, who have made a name for themselves by focusing on old-vine Zinfandel, as well as other mixed-variety wines from historic sites. After tasting through Kandler’s wines, I’m convinced Precedent belongs on the short list of old-vine winemakers who deliver exceptional quality.

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Looking out past the vines to the San Francisco Bay below, I asked Kandler what was next for Precedent. “There’s a lot more land left to be explored in Lodi. You can make the wines at really good price points. I want to make wines that somebody like me would want to buy.” And as for continuing to root out historic vineyards? “I’m trying, but it's becoming harder. I’m pretty selective about the sites I want to work with. Not just because it’s old, there has to be the potential for great wines.”

- Thomas Smith

The Good, The Bad, and The Of Course

Ryan Moses

Let’s get the big news out of the way. 2017 Petrus is stunning. Of course. But that’s also like saying a beachside mansion is wonderful...it should be taken for granted. It does, however, provide a harbinger for 2017, and highlights that brilliant wines have been made in the vintage, even for the rest of us.

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The good news comes from those in St-Emilion with the right touch and, in a few places, some gifted hillside vineyards. Pavie and Figeac lived up to their pedigree and are worth seeking out if reasonable prices come to fruition. Pavie delivered a powerful approach in a balanced way, and Figeac is incredibly dynamic and layered. (By the way, for those who have not plugged in to Figeac’s last few vintages, it might be now or never - they are that good and getting better). At the same time, there was a consensus with our team that Pavie Decesse, Pavie Macquin, and Gaffeliere were true head-turners in 2017. They all showed incredible minerality, texture, and refinement. Other wines that didn’t have such a consensus but showed their pedigree and potential were Canon, Belair-Monagne, Valandraud, and Clos Fourtet.

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The bad news comes in two parts. First is that many of the Pomerol properties we tasted (with a few major exceptions like VCC and Petrus) struggled in 2017. Aside from any hail issues, they seemed to be a bit awkward - often either masked with excessive oak or a bit hollow in the middle. And again, just to reiterate - hail losses tell one story of the vintage, but what survived (often higher-elevation slopes) had a vintage full of other factors that tell the story. For example, we’ve tasted brilliant wines with 50% losses, and those who were unaffected by frost that struggled with their 2017s.

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The second part?  Early feedback has been that prices won’t go low enough. There seems to be an energy that’s riding a wave of ‘15/’16 successes that implies there is no urgency to drop prices any extreme amount. This is particularly problematic due to the fact that the exchange rate is 15% higher than when the previous two vintages launched. While 2017 will provide a treasure trove of gems for early drinking (there are concentrated, accessible wines) and some not-to-be-missed long-term collectibles (see above, Right Bank) there might be an initial lull in the urgency to secure the rest of the pack.

The Left Bank has the potential to tell another story - we just landed on this side of the Gironde and will knock on a few doors tomorrow including staples like Lynch-Bages and Pontet-Canet, along with a few First Growths as well. Most of Pauillac, St-Estephe, and St-Julien were spared frost so we will see what they have to say about the vintage conditions beyond April. Some quick tastings today previewed another mixed bag - delicious over-performers alongside awkward or challenging wines. But we’ll be able to get a much more detailed picture in the next 24-48 hours. Stay tuned...

- Ryan Moses

Vignobles K — A Bordeaux Trek Continues

Jeff Garneau

Our first stop on Saturday was Chateau Bellefont-Belcier in Saint-Emilion, now a part of the Vignobles “K” group. Since acquiring Chateau Haut-Brisson in 1997, Peter Kwok has managed to assemble an impressive portfolio of Right Bank properties, from St-Emilion and Pomerol, as well as Lalande de Pomerol and Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux. Tasting these wines together offered us the perfect opportunity to begin our assessment of how the Right Bank fared in 2017.

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We met with general manager Jean-Christophe Meyrou and winemaker Jerome Aguirre in the late afternoon. Establishing what will no doubt be a pattern for our visit this year, the first topic on everyone’s mind was the effect of the April frost. We discovered to our dismay that Chateau Haut Musset, Jerome’s own family property in Lalande de Pomerol lost the entirety of its 2017 crop to frost, an emotionally and financially devastating blow. Haut Musset is a wine familiar to many of our K&L customers, and it brought home in a very personal way the damage done to the region’s small vignerons by a single catastrophic event.

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With vineyards exclusively on the plateau of St-Emilion in the case of Bellefont-Belcier and Tour Saint Christophe, and of Pomerol in the case of Tourmaline, these properties suffered little to no damage from frost. Jean-Christophe did note, however, that even so, yields were down in 2017 with an average of about 35 hl per hectare. By contrast, Haut-Brisson in St-Emilion lost about 50% of its crop to frost. The chateau’s 22 hectares are split between the limestone plateau and the low hills below sloping down to the Dordogne River. In 2017, only the fruit from the higher elevations was used. Yields were a mere 20 hl/ha.

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The wines, mostly or exclusively Merlot, showed great depth and intensity of color. They were very bright and fresh in character, with notable acidity. There was uniform ripeness of fruit, with alcohol levels in the range of 14.2% to 14.7%. Tannins were quite fine with no noticeable astringency. Overall, very promising. As we continue to taste, it will be interesting to see if the style of these wines is representative of the vintage as a whole.

- Jeff Garneau

Bordeaux Day One-ish

Ryan Moses

We’ve been traveling and tasting for about 30 hours with little sleep, but every moment has been worth it.  Landing in Bordeaux on time was a blessing - not only was all of the running through terminals to catch our connection a success, but we also were on one of the few flights that wasn’t cancelled by Air France’s strike.  All in all, there were plenty of reasons to celebrate.

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We had a whole twelve and a half minutes to unpack on arrival and off we went.  First up we’re the wines of Vignobles Kwok. Usually tasted at Tour St Christophe, they instead hosted us at their newly acquired Belfont Belcier.  Considering what they’ve done with recent additions to the portfolio we’re expecting great things from this property going forward. Our best-selling favorite, Tour St Christophe, was once again immensely delicious and accessible in ‘17 - an incredibly young but balanced barrel sample that seems almost ready for the market already.

Pavie was our other visit of the day.  One of the most impressive new estates in Bordeaux, the wines showed well across the range.  Some of the tasters that lean a bit more classical were floored by the mineral drive of the limestone influenced ‘17 Pavie Decesse.  2017 Pavie, on the other hand, is a towering wine — one of those that shows tons of depth but the potential will take years to show. Those looking for a bit more value, but have a few years to wait should take a look at Monbousquet — production was down 50%, but what remained showed tons of promise.

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But the Pavie story doesn’t end there. They surprised us with a decadent dinner at the transcendent La Plaisance. Our ambassador at Pavie (along with the fine folks at Joanne) brought some remarkable wines, but it was just a coincidence that our Bordeaux buyer Clyde Beffa nearly stole the show with a wine he poured blind. Recently checked as baggage, but still remarkable, was the 1989 Pavie.  Not only did it beautifully evolve over the course of the night, but it caught the attention of none other than Pavie’s owners Gerard and Chantal Perse, who came to share a glass.  Gerard purchased the property without the library, so pre-1998 Pavie is a bit of a rarity.

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Speaking of Pavie, the inaugural 1998 made a showing alongside the highly-acclaimed 2010.  Each decade that was represented was brilliant in its own way. The gorgeous meal, impeccably crafted by the team at La Plaisance, seemed to have endless courses  — it was hard not to feel that there could be no better way to start off our trip. The real tastings start on Monday, so we’ll get a lot busier and in depth going forward, but for now thanks for one more indulgence in sharing a truly great evening.

- Ryan Moses

 

First Impressions — 2017 Bordeaux En Primeur

Ryan Moses

It might be hard to find the bright spots in 2017 Bordeaux En Primeur. No, not the wines themselves - we’ll help you find them, and there will be plenty. I mean literally...look at this forecast:

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Still, in the middle of all the rain, tasting notes, predictions, rain, and rain there is a vintage that should be carefully considered by any Bordeaux enthusiast.  Why? Simply said, prices will inevitably go down because of the challenging conditions of the vintage, but many of the top communes were unaffected and have the potential to make brilliant wines.

2017 has a tough act to follow - 2015s are starting to hit the market and although prices are rising, they still deliver with some truly memorable wines.  2016s were pricey for sure, but it is easy to see why - it has all the signs of a tremendous vintage alongside a return to a classic, restrained profile. It had many Bordeaux collectors reminiscing about the kind of wines they fell in love with in the first place.  So how does 2017...shine?

The trick is going to be, like any other vintage that has its challenges, to have someone on the ground and get a perspective that goes beyond region generalities, and hones in more on a specific chateau and bottling.  St Julien, St Estephe, and Pauillac avoided most of the issues with hail - perhaps like St Estephe in 2014, they have the potential to produce some under the radar goodies for those in the know. That said, plenty of early reports are showing that what survived in the right bank produced some tremendous wines as well.

 

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The real story will unravel over the upcoming month.  We’ll get a first hand perspective about the wines and bring it back to K&L.  Beyond that, we will have to see about pricing. Bordeaux overall will sustain heavy losses due to overall low production, but that narrative won’t shake the fact that an affordable set of wines at  rates significantly below 2016s will be needed for En Primeur to take off in any real way. We’ll be here to guide you through it either way...rain or shine.

-Ryan Moses