On the Trail

A Frosty Outlook

David Driscoll
frenchvines (1 of 1).jpg

It's no secret in the wine world that the Bordelais are always looking for a reason to raise their costs. Every year when we make the trip out to Bordeaux to taste the latest vintage, our owner Clyde pleads with the producers to "keep the prices down" in an effort to combat that ever-present itch, but he's not always successful. In the mind of the wine marketer, there's always another "vintage of a lifetime" just around the corner. When the press about Bordeaux's incredible 2016 vintage began breaking, we knew to expect an increase in price over what we saw with the 2015 wines. However, when the 2017 growing season began with a terrible frost, decimating huge portions of Bordeaux's vineyards and throwing the vintage's potential yields into doubt, some producers used the threat of an upcoming shortage to continue raising the costs of the sixteens. There's no doubt that production levels for Bordeaux—if not most of France—will be down in 2017 as a result of the early season weather. But in Bordeaux, the April headlines were screaming about how vineyards had lost up to 90% of their vines. Was it really that bad? Bad enough to start jacking up prices for the previous vintages as a result? Knowing what we know about the tendency of château owners, we would have to wait and see. Like Joe Montana's 49ers, Bordeaux is known for its epic comebacks.

As someone who has worked in the wine business for ten years now, I'm well aware of the utility of blanket statements. I hear vintages summarized and compacted into descriptions like "good" and "bad" on a daily basis. The first question customers ask when asking about a particular Bordeaux bottle on the shelf is: "Was this a good year?" Much like the quality and flavor of Bordeaux's wines, the weather of any vintage varies from vineyard to vineyard and from producer to producer, so one word summations do a complete disservice to those in search of precision. In the case of 2017, as the information continued to flow we began to get a better picture about greater specifics. At the end of May, on Jancis Robinson's website, château owner Gavin Quinney provided a handy map about where exactly the frost was worst. Parts of the Right Bank and Entre-deux-Mers were indeed obliterated as reported, but Quinney writes that: "It would be perfectly reasonable to assume that if 50-70% of Bordeaux vineyards have been hit, the famous names have been similarly affected. This isn't the case, however. The most prestigious wines – and the ones that feature prominently in the en primeur or 'futures' sales campaign - come from the appellations of Pauillac, St-Julien, St-Estèphe, Margaux, Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes on the left bank, and St-Émilion and Pomerol on the right. The first three appellations were mostly spared, while significant parts of the other appellations were hit. The vast majority of the top 150 chateaux, as it turns out, were largely unaffected thanks to the location of their hallowed ground. (Another reason, of course, why these places are so sought after.)"

Could it be that the best wines of the Médoc—the wines that make up the bulk of collector consumer desire—escaped the worst of the frost and might end up with a reasonable harvest? That's apparently what Quinney thinks, but why speculate when I can go straight to the source? If Pauillac was relatively unscathed by comparison, why not ask one of the region's top properties about where the harvest is currently at? I reached out to Château Lynch-Bages owner Jean-Michel Cazes this past week who told me: "The harvest seems to be of a satisfactory size. The flowering went well and the maturity is even. For the harvesting plan, we are about one week ahead of schedule which is rather favorable for now. That being said, it is too early to draw conclusions. All we can say today is that it looks good and everything so far is fine. The final result will depend on the weather over the last five to six weeks." 

As we know with any Bordeaux vintage, the conditions during harvest time can affect the quality of the resulting wine, but—again—that doesn't separate 2017 from any other previous vintage. While the original word about 2017 from Bordeaux was panic, it may turn out that a number of the region's best properties turn out just fine. We'll keep our fingers crossed until then.

-David Driscoll

Return to 1989

David Driscoll
borduosuonm1 (1 of 1).jpg

If you search among the annuls of wine criticism, vintage guides, and general hoopla surrounding all things Bordeaux, you’ll find a varying group of opinions concerning the level of respect we should have for the 1989 vintage. Before the grapes were even harvested from the vines, people were calling it one of the best vintages of the century, so you might understand how that could lead to some debate down the line once the wines had actually been made and matured. In 1999, James Sucking, while still with the Wine Spectator, called 1989 a better harvest than 1982 ten years down the line, while Robert Parker considered it inferior to 1990, the vintage he claimed was also better than 1982. There’s no debate about whether 1989 was a great Bordeaux vintage, only about exactly how great it was. While most critics use Latour and Haut-Brion as their ballasts, I’ve always found that the measure of a fantastic Bordeaux harvest can be found in how some of the less-renowned properties perform in the long run. Not so much in how the first growths (which taste pretty good in just about any vintage) hold up, but rather the cru bourgeois. Seeing that a number of value-priced specimen from 1989 just landed at the store, I figured we should go through them and see how they're drinking.

Château Gressier Grand Poujeaux isn't a household name in the wine world, but it's been a property I've been selling to in-store customers for years now, especially the sub-$20 values from 2009 and 2010. Originally part of Chasse-Spleen before it was divided in 1822, the properties were reunited in 2003 when the Merlaut family (owners of Chasse-Spleen) purchased the twenty-three hectare estate and began revamping its deep gravel soils as part of the Grand-Poujeaux plateau. I'd never tasted anything older from Gressier until the 1989 showed up this past week and I was well impressed. The wine has held up impeccably with fleshy, grippy tannins, a rich body, and a finish that shows a balance of earth and subtle dark fruits. I had no idea the Gressier wines could hold up this well, which makes me think twice about some of the aforementioned bottles I still have in my cellar! 

Most Bordeaux drinkers see 1989 Margaux for $59.99 and they start getting suspicious, but don't let the price fool you here (or with the magnums for $120). One of the oldest properties in Margaux (dating back to the 1200s), Tour de Mons has always been respected for its tremendous terroir, a mixture of gravel over limestone subsoil. Tasting this graceful and elegant 1989 vintage today it's clear that the wine has all the stuffing for the long haul because everything about this wine is in sync. Delicate dark fruit, weightless tannins, and pure silk in texture, this has sleeper written all over it. That same skepticism might apply to 1989 Pauillac for $69.99, but again we're digging deep for value here. The 1989 Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste has a reputation for superb quality, so in typical K&L fashion we went right after the property's second wine: the Lacoste Borie. Named for the Borie family, of Ducru Beaucaillou fame as well, the second wine lives up to the hype of the vintage. Still showing fruit after almost three decades, the tannins are soft, integrated, and the palate is like pure silk. Those looking for underrated value from Bordeaux should take note.

I always enjoy getting the chance to taste older vintages from the Right Bank because there's a huge gap in my knowledge there, especially with the properties that no longer exist. L'Arrosee was purchased in 2013 by Haut Brion who merged the vineyards with Tetre-Daugay and called the new estate Quintus. Those who like their old school Bordeaux, both in historical and flavorful sense of the word, will really dig this. In the 1989, the flavors are savory with plenty of secondary development and soft tannins that flesh out on the finish. 

-David Driscoll

The Points of Wine Critics – A Post-Parker Era

Ryan Moses

Once a comfortable monarchy, the landscape of professional wine critics is evolving at a pace that is nearly outpacing the market’s ability to record of those all-so-elusive points they doled out over the years. We’re witnessing a sea change in the industry, and every wine lover who buys on recommendation or appreciates an expert opinion should be plugged in to what’s going on. And no, this isn’t a crowdsourcing or social media driven uprising, but a slowly evolving changing-of-the-guard that is giving some of the industry’s great voices a new platform and supplanting a decades-long regime.

It was confirmed this week that Robert Parker will not review Napa this Fall. Not a new thing (he handed the reins to Antonio Galloni for a time) but this does mark the first time in the thirty-nine years of the Wine Advocate that he won’t contribute any major article to the entity that originated with his voice alone. It is a quiet announcement that adds to a snowball of chaos at the once great, reference-point publication. That doesn’t mean that the Wine Advocate is no longer relevant – voices like Luiz Gutierrez and Neal Martin are some of the most candid and insightful journalists you’ll find covering any topic. But the platform that supports them is a shadow of what it once was. Ads have invaded the website that once had ad-free independence as a cornerstone. Articles like “Perfect Wine and Cheese Pairings from Trader Joe’s” signaled the dumbing-down of a narrative that before had catered to only the most devoted and demanding collectors out there. You’re more likely to see tumbleweeds than new comments on the once-infamous bulletin board. And now, even long-time subscribers are hard pressed to know who is reviewing their wines and any semblance of what their palate is attracted to.

Recently, Jeb Dunnuck jumped ship to start his own eponymous website. Until his departure he was the leading voice for the Rhone, Languedoc, Central Coast, Washington State at the aforementioned Wine Advocate. Before that it was Antonio Galloni who went solo – once the industry’s under-the-radar expert on Piedmont, he now influences not only Nebbiolo but Bordeaux and Napa on his ever-growing site called Vinous. Both took a cadre of devout followers with them and have continued to grow since. And perhaps it was James Suckling who made the same jump nearly a decade ago that cleared a path for a name (his) over a publication (Wine Spectator). Say what you want about Suckling’s generous scores – he was a trailblazer for how we began to consider the individual over the brand and ushered in a new age of professional wine critics.

This is perhaps a good time to take a minute to consider an important question…why does any of this matter? There is nothing truer than one’s own taste buds and every wine collector should be empowered to have and trust their own opinion. But for those that collect wine, tasting everything they want to invest in is a luxury that few can afford. Not to mention a marketplace that often demands taking a position in wines – pre-arrivals, allocations, mailing lists – before there’s ever a chance to get to pop a cork. Expert opinions are massively valuable, and their guidance has led thousands of wine lovers to new discoveries. And sure, sometimes a wine review can oversimplify a wine or hyperbolize the potential that bottle actually has, but hits and misses are always going to be part of any wine journey.  Reviews aren’t vital because they’re “right”, but instead they are essential for the ability to distill, communicate, and give perspective on a wine, and those who are good at it should be celebrated.

Now that we find ourselves in a post-Parker era, what are we left with? I would venture to say that the trend is very positive – the voices that are becoming the most prevalent in the industry are those that also provide a depth and insight that you won’t find anywhere else. They are accessible, real people that understand what the buyer wants to know. Parker was great at this in his prime. Galloni, Dunnuck, Martin, and Gutierrez are all of the same breed – they’ll call a spade a spade, write essay-length reviews on wines that truly move them, speak thoughtfully about the market and pricing for those who actually have to buy the wines, and speak at length about not only the wine itself, but the producer, context, and evolution of the brand. Whether or not you agree with the score, the depth of knowledge conveyed cannot be denied.

At the end of the day, professional wine critics get paid for their opinions and by no means do you have any imperative to agree with them. But when the best of them write with insight and depth beyond the points that they award, their voice is more and more vital to collecting and finding the most rewarding wines in an extremely crowded marketplace.  Hopefully in a sea of publications new and old, essential individuals like the ones mentioned here are the cornerstone of a continually evolving, robust, and thoughtful critical landscape.  We’ll all be drinking better for it.

-Ryan Moses

Bordeaux 2007 – A Restaurant Vintage

Jeff Garneau

Each year, before the last grape is even picked, the Bordeaux marketing machine swings into action. The best aspects of every vintage are highlighted, and the worst ignored entirely. It is easy for the consumer to become cynical about vintage reports, wondering where the hype ends and the truth begins. So, in the name of full transparency, here is one truth: not every vintage is the “vintage of the century”. OK, so you knew that. Here’s another (and this may shock you): no one in the business of selling Bordeaux – Chateau owners, negociants, wholesalers, retailers – wants every vintage to be outstanding. Surprised? Don’t be. Extraordinary vintages command extraordinary prices. And usually a lot of patience. The best wines may need a couple of decades in the cellar to reach maturity and continue to drink well for decades more. There is little appetite among collectors for outstanding vintages every year. No one could afford them. No one has room enough in their cellars. Ideally, one hopes for a couple of such vintages a decade, preferably decently spaced with a good five years in between. Every other vintage is allowed to be merely ordinary, of good to very good quality.

For a couple of years now, I have thought that 2007 might be one such vintage. The weather that year was…how shall I put this...not great. Conditions were cool and humid throughout much of the spring and summer. August was especially rainy. Thankfully, September and October were hot and dry, creating the conditions for a successful harvest if growers had the patience to wait. Not everyone did, and the quality of the red wines varies greatly. The best, however, offer ripe, sweet fruit and fine tannins, and should make for very good near-term drinking. For its combination of drinkability and affordability, we like to call 2007 a “restaurant vintage" because wines like this are what most diners want to purchase when eating out. It's therefore fitting that I first had the 2007 Tronquoy Lalande, St-Estèphe during lunch at a famous restaurant in Bordeaux, the reservations made by none other than my boss, Clyde Beffa. We traveled to Bordeaux last April to taste the 2016 vintage en primeur. What followed was eight days of non-stop tastings, often on little or no sleep. Clyde’s reward to us was a Saturday afternoon off and reservations at his favorite bistro, La Tupina. The wine list is exclusively from Bordeaux, and the menu classic Bordelaise: lamproie à la bordelaise (local eels in red wine sauce), roast pigeon, etc. The fried potatoes (frites) cooked in duck fat alone are worth the journey. Not wanting to abuse Clyde’s generosity, we selected from the wine list the 2007. This was the first vintage produced by the new owners, who also own neighboring Chateau Montrose. It was the perfect complement to our meal, and an ideal choice for lunch à la Bordelaise. We were so taken with the wine that we begged Clyde to ask our negociant partners to find us some, and he promised to do so. He was as good as his word, and the wine has just arrived in our stores here in California.

I took a bottle home late last week to enjoy as part of my usual Friday night ritual – steak and claret – and the wine did not disappoint. It is aging a bit precociously; at ten years old, there are already captivating savory notes emerging on both the nose and the palate, hints of truffle and licorice. This is clearly not a wine for the ages but it is showing very well now. The blend - 58% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 12% Petit Verdot – has a bit more Merlot than is typical for the property. The immediate impression is of lively acidity and bright fruit giving way to more sweetness and richness with time in the glass. Plenty of red and black fruits, red cherry and blackberry. There is a lovely weight and ripeness evident here, a positively silky texture and very fine tannins. Overall, this is an exceptional value and everything one might hope for from the vintage, one that we should all be enjoying right now whether we're dining out or eating at home.

-Jeff Garneau

The Legacy of Léoville-Barton

David Driscoll

In his book Bordeaux, wine writer David Peppercorn describes Château Léoville Las Cases as a “wonderful value—a wine enabling connoisseurs to enjoy claret of first-growth quality at half the price.” In my experience working with Bordeaux at K&L, Las Cases has always held that lofty reputation among the industry’s professionals. In backroom dialogues and dinner table conversations, there’s a frequent and popular topic concerning which properties would likely be elevated to first-growth status were the 1855 Médoc classification ever to be restructured. In most of these what-if, fantastical scenarios, Léoville Las Cases comes out on top as the would-be sixth grand cru. In the days before the French Revolution, the grand vin of the Marquis was considered one of the best in the world and the estate stretched all the way from Château Latour to Château Beychevelle. During the revolution, however, a quarter of the property was sold to Hugh Barton at auction after Las Cases was sequestered by the government due to the Marquis’s immigrant status. While Barton kindly purchased the vineyards with the intention of returning them to their rightful owner, the Marquis was unable to pay him back so Barton took over the estate in 1826 (ironically, Barton’s family was from Ireland, but had been in-country for 100 years at that point). Since then, the château has been known as Léoville-Barton, even though it was originally part of what we now know as Léoville Las Cases (also part of the original property was Château Léoville-Poyferré which was quartered off and sold in 1840). 

If a bottle of Léoville Las Cases represents first growth quality at half the price, I’d like to add that Château Léoville-Barton offers a chance to taste the Léoville estate quality for half the price of Las Cases. Let’s look at the 2014 vintage offerings as an example. A first growth bottle of 2014 Margaux will run you about $450, and a bottle of the 2014 Las Case originally sold for $150; however, the outstanding 2014 Léoville-Barton will only cost you $70 in comparison and if you look at the reviews from the industry’s most renowned critics, I think you’ll see raves across the board. It's because of this understanding of the Léoville property's history that insiders gravitate to the Barton expression. To use a whiskey comparison, the so-called “first growth” of Bourbon at the moment is Pappy Van Winkle, but since it’s either prohibitively expensive or hard to find, customers have gravitated over to the Weller 12 year—a whiskey made from the same stocks, but at a much lower price. In my opinion, a bottle of Léoville-Barton represents the same sort of secret value for true Bordeaux lovers who can’t afford Latour, appreciate Las Cases, but want to stretch their money as far as it can go. When putting together my shortlist for 2014 cellar contenders, the Léoville-Barton was right at the top of the list with Haut-Bailly and Domaine de Chevalier. 

The other endearing fact about Léoville-Barton is that it still remains in the Barton family’s hands, run today by Anthony Barton while his sister Lilian handles the Langoa estate. According to Peppercorn, both châteaux have been in the ownership of a single family for longer than any classified growth in the Médoc. In an age where a number of prestigious properties are being snapped up by foreign investment groups and corporate luxury conglomerates, it’s nice to know that some producers are continuing a family tradition put into place hundreds of years ago. I was thinking about this legacy when tasting the 2014 Léoville-Barton again earlier this week, the dark color brooding in the glass, representing the lifeblood of one of Bordeaux’s most historic dynasties. The wine is absolutely brilliant on the palate with dusty tannins, understated minerality, and a lush layer of hoisin, dark cherry, and grippy graphite. There’s a lot to wrap your head around in every bottle of Léoville-Barton, from the history of the terroir to the heritage of the Barton family's stewardship. For those looking to expand their understanding of Bordeaux, you get a lot of wine and wisdom for your hard-earned money.

-David Driscoll

Revisiting the Past

David Driscoll

I started the morning in Hollywood, but after a quick flight from Burbank to San Jose, a thirty mile jaunt back home with a quick stop at the Redwood City store, and another two hour drive into the Central Valley, I was finally able to pop the cork on a couple of bottles I'd been wanting to try for months. I just needed the right occasion and dinner with my parents at their house in Modesto was that necessary motivation. My dad had steaks on the grill, I had the claret. He seasoned the meat, while I decanted the wine. Teamwork.

While the 2005 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains was in fine form, I was much more excited to dive into the Clos du Marquis because I wanted to get a sense of where the 1986 vintage was at. The harvest has always been a heralded one, but the wines were powerful and tannic in their youth and reportedly have been refusing to loosen up that grip as the decades have gone by. I haven't tasted dozens of wines from 1986 like I have with other Bordeaux vintages, so I can't personally validate that evolution, but I understand the concept. I've had a similar reaction to the wines from 2000, another outstanding vintage that stands with 2005 and 2009 as the top from the millennium's first decade. Unlike 2005 and 2009, however, I've found little enjoyment thus far from 2000. Every time we open a bottle at a K&L function, or taste another specimen as part of our ongoing education, the wines seem closed and tightly-wound. That's not to say I won't enjoy them later down the line. At some point, they should eventually come around, right? That's exactly the reputation that 1986 has going for it. It's a vintage that collectors have been waiting on patiently (or maybe not so patiently), anticipating greatness from their previous investments. Seeing that the 1986 Leoville Las Cases is widely considered one of the best wines of the vintage, I was hoping some of the property's magic might have trickled down into their Clos du Marquis label (for more info on Clos du Marquis, check out my colleague Jeff's recent article).

Luckily enough, that appears to have been the case. The wine absolutely delivered, but more importantly the tannins were fully integrated and that textbook Marquis elegance was on full display. Every sip brought with it an effortless sophistication; especially when tasted side by side with the more bombastic and fleshy 2005 Ridge. The Marquis was soft on the palate and beautifully balanced from front to back. Bordeaux critic Neal Martin recently referred to 1986 as a vintage for Bordeaux die-hards; "for those who appreciate the affect that long-term ageing has upon a wine." As someone who is asked to recommend ready-to-drink bottles on a regular basis, I'm much more confident with where the vintage is at after this experience. We have a number of options from 1986 in stock right now with pedigrees much greater than the Clos du Marquis, such as 1986 Ducru-Beaucaillou, described by the Wine Spectator as "a monster in its infancy" and a wine that "may last forever." The 1986 Domaine de Chevalier would be the insider pick, as we all know here at K&L that the château makes great wine in every vintage. I'd love to do a comparison with the Chevalier and the 1986 Pape-Clément, another beast from Pessac-Léognan that may finally have reached peak maturity. 

If the idea of long-aged Bordeaux meant for "die-hard" Bordeaux drinkers sounds exciting to you, 1986 might be worth digging deeper into. Although you might be competing with me for some of these bottles!

-David Driscoll



New Champagne Horizons

Gary Westby

This spring, I visited the Trudon estate in Festigny for the first time and - after a long wait - the Champagne has finally arrived. Jerome Trudon is very different than most of the growers we work with as he has spent half of his career outside the family business. After receiving his diploma of enology at Reims, he left for California and spent two years making the wine at Roederer Estate in Anderson Valley. He then returned to Champagne and worked in Reims for Champagne Louis Roederer making wine for the next twelve years. When his parents decided to retire, Jerome returned to the family estate to take over the operation. The two wines that we have from him now and the special bottling that is coming for the club in October were all made by him.

The Trudon estate is 18.5 acres and entirely in the village of Festigny, half way to Château Thierry from Epernay—about a half hour out. It is in its own little valley set back from the Marne with several streams, notably the Flagot, creating good drainage for its rolling slopes of mixed soil. This is ground zero for Pinot Meunier in Champagne and Jerome Trudon is a true specialist. He has fifteen plots of vines that average about thirty-eight years of age. The vineyard is planted to 90% Meunier, 6% Pinot Noir and 4% Chardonnay. He is still selling some of his grapes to negociants, and his production is approximately 65,000 bottles a year.

Jerome is much more flexible than most of the Champenois that I have met when it comes to the wine making. I expect that this comes from his work at Roederer, and his travels abroad. He works mostly with stainless, but also with barrels for the primary fermentation. He decides on a tank by tank, barrel by barrel basis whether or not to do malolactic fermentation, based on the cuvée that the wine is destined for. The bottles are aged on the lees for a minimum of three years.

The Trudon "Emblematis" Brut Champagne is the bulk of his production, but feels like a specialty cuvée. It is composed of 70% Meunier and 30% Pinot Noir and is aged three and a half years on the lees. I love the exotic, pure Meunier fruit in this Champagne and the way that it marries with the creamy, delicately toasty aromas and flavors. The wine has no trace of sherry like oxidation or bruised apple malic character that Meunier based Champagnes sometimes have. On the contrary, this is very clean and bright given the level of concentration and character in the wine. At the price, I don’t see any reason for any Champagne fan not to try it (unless you only drink zero dosage blanc de blancs!).

Jerome’s Trudon "Rosephile" Brut Rose Champagne showed the charming, elegant side of his craft in the best possible light. It is entirely Meunier, with 7% vinified red from a massal selected plot of over 60 years of age. I wrote Luxardo cherry in all caps in my notebook and this wine has fantastic purity of fruit, but a finish that is dry and balanced. He decided to do only 30% malolactic fermentation on this batch to preserve its snap and refreshment. Be careful, this is very easy to drink and the second glass tastes better than the first!

For the Champagne club in October, we will feature the Trudon "Monochrome" Brut Champagne, which is 100% Meunier from some of his best plots. This Champagne has been aged three years on the lees, but has 1/3 reserves from past vintages added in for complexity and roundness. I found this wine to be strikingly pure, with generous aromas of white flowers framed by a touch of freshly baked bread. The finish is very bright, maybe the brightest I have ever tasted from an all Meunier Champagne, and has yet to cross over into the savory mushroom like character of other Meuniers.

These wines were all purchased with a dollar that was at a peak of its strength, and the retails are very fair because of that. I hope that K&L’s Champagne fans will enjoy them as much as I have.

-Gary Westby

A Chance For You to Preview Bordeaux 2015/2016

David Driscoll

When I made my first official en primeur trip to Bordeaux in 2016, I was most taken and impressed by the wines of Hélène Garcin-Lévéque, the owner of chateaux Barde-Haut, Clos l'Eglise, Poesia, and d'Arce on Bordeaux's Right Bank. Based in St. Emilion, she was my Bordeaux counterpart—a person firmly interested in tradition, but willing to buck the old ways when necessary in the interest of inclusivity. She was the only person who didn't serve us beef when we visited her home, and her youthful approach to wine enjoyment captivated me immediately. 

Because of the instant connection I had with Hélène, I've put together one of the coolest dual events I can think of, in the hope that our customers might get the chance not only to taste some great wines, but experience a bit of her magical charm. On Thursday, August 31st we'll have a Redwood City in-store tasting with Hélène between 5 PM and 6:30 PM where you can walk in and taste previews of the fantastic 2015 vintage (still not yet released!), along with a few other gems for a mere five bucks. Pretty cool, right? I had to fly all the way to France to taste those samples, but you can drive over to the Redwood City store and taste them for only a few dollars.

That's not it though. 

If you want to go even further, you can join us at Donato afterward at 7:30 PM for a pre-fixe dinner where Hélène will unveil advance samples of the even more heralded 2016 vintage, one that has been heavily lauded for the last few months during our en primeur campaign. You'll get the chance to taste wines that so far only wine writers and retailers have had the chance to taste, and you'll get to compare them with the 2014 vintage, as well as library editions from 2000 and 2005. 

Here are all the details:

August 31st - special Redwood City walk-in tasting - 5 PM to 6:30 PM - $5

2015 Clos d'Eglise (sold for $80 on pre-arrival)

2015 Barde-Haut (sold for $35 on pre-arrival)

- 2015 Poesia (sold for $40 on pre-arrival)

2015 d'Arce (sold out at $17)

- plus a few other gems

August 31st - special K&L dinner at Donato - 7:30 PM - $50

2016 Clos d'Eglise $99.99

2016 Barde-Haut $37.99

2016 d'Arce $14.99

2014 Clos d'Eglise $64.99

2014 Barde-Haut $29.99

2014 d'Arce $16.99

2005 Clos l'Eglise $169.99

2000 Barde-Haut $69.99

- all of the above wines, and dinner for fifty bucks. 

You can reserve your spot below. We've got room for forty people at Donato while tickets last. I hope some of you can make it out, either to the in-store tasting, or the dinner, or both! This will be as close to Bordeaux as we can bring you!

A Special Bordeaux Dinner w/ Helene Garcin @ Donato, Redwood City - August 31st; 7:30 PM - $50 - Join us at Donato Enoteca in Redwood City on Thursday, August 31st as we sit down with esteemed Bordeaux winemaker Helene Garcin-Leveque for a very special sneak peak of the heralded 2016 vintage with preview samples of her Clos l'Eglise, Barde-Haut, and d'Arce properties. Also included will be a side by side look at the current 2014 releases, as well as special library editions of 2000 Barde-Haut and 2000 Clos l'Eglise. The cost of the tasting, your pre-fixe meal, and gratuity are all included for an amazing price of only fifty dollars. Space is very limited and tickets are first come, first served. 

-David Driscoll

Room for Seconds

Jeff Garneau

Before we begin it is necessary to make one thing abundantly clear: Clos du Marquis is not the second label of Chateau Léoville Las Cases in Saint-Julien. Although the wine was introduced in 1902, long before most of the major châteaux in Bordeaux even considered offering a second label (limit the production of the Grand Vin?! Jamais!), the fruit has always been sourced from separate and distinct parcels, not from a second selection of grapes from the same parcels as the Grand Vin. This is important, because in 2007 – just to illustrate the point – owner Jean-Hubert Delon introduced a true second label, Le Petit Lion du Marquis de Las Cases. And in 2015, more emphatically, he introduced a second label for Clos du Marquis (still with me?) christened La Petite Marquise de Clos du Marquis.

No matter how you categorize it, however, the fact remains that Clos du Marquis is consistently one of the great values in Bordeaux. Léoville Las Cases is one of the top deuxième crus in Saint-Julien, indeed, in all of Bordeaux, and typically sells for $200 to $300 in the best vintages. Clos du Marquis, by comparison, is sometimes available for as little as $40 and never more than $80. It is produced on the same estate, by the same winemaking team that makes the Las Cases Grand Vin. It is always very polished, unfailingly elegant, with a notable generosity of fruit. It is approachable when young, yet possesses great aging potential.

The 2014 Clos du Marquis, St-Julien $44.99 is the latest vintage to be released. 2014, with a cooler than average July and August and postcard perfect Indian summer weather in September and October, produced some spectacular red wines marked by lively acidity and ripe, sweet fruit. In keeping with the vintage, the wine is possessed of very high-toned black fruits with tart, fresh-picked blackberry notes. The late harvest favored the development of later ripening varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes up nearly three-quarters of the blend. Along with a bit of toasty new oak on the nose, there is a subtle thread of blackcurrant leaf that bears this out. Tannins are firm at this early stage but very fine.

2007 was also a late vintage, cool and humid from May through August, which was especially rainy. Thankfully, September and October were hot and dry. While the quality of the red wines varies greatly, the best offer ripe, sweet forward fruit and fine tannins, and should make for very good near-term drinking. The 2007 Clos du Marquis, St-Julien $59.99, at ten years on, is an absolute marvel. It makes an immediate impression on the senses with a nose that is both lightly floral and intriguingly spicy. This is a very charming, medium to full-bodied effort that offers plenty of sweet, ripe fruit and a quite remarkable length and persistence. Well balanced with lively acidity and a dusting of fine tannins on the finish. This is a textbook example of what we can expect from the best wines of this 2007 vintage.

Turn the clock back another decade still and you have the 1996 Clos du Marquis, St-Julien $74.99. This was another big Cabernet vintage, here making up not quite two-thirds of the blend. This is a classic claret at the peak of its powers, a masterful melding of youthful fruit and savory bottle notes. The nose is beguilingly aromatic with notes of cedar and tobacco. Still very fresh with lively acidity, yet surprisingly ripe with a slightly candied, sour cherry note. Tannins are very fine. Decant and enjoy this right now.

-Jeff Garneau

Drying Out in Sauternes

David Driscoll

From my understanding, the pioneer of “dry Sauternes” was a man named Paul César Rival, owner of the famed Château Guiraud from 1932 until 1981 when he sold the estate in his old age. According to Clive Coates, Rival was a bit of a jerk and an eccentric—conceited and arrogant, but also driven by modernity. His true passion was apparently flying and he was the first winemaker in Bordeaux to put an airstrip next to his vineyard. Legend has it he once built his own plane from a DIY kit and crashed it directly into the vineyards at nearby Château d’Yquem. While that little escapade didn’t go over all that well with his neighbors, Rival’s interest in technology did result in a few positive wine-related developments. He helped to bring motorized tractors into the vineyard in place of animal-drawn carts and he also created the Château Guiraud “G” expression, the forefather of a future dry Sauternes movement. They say necessity is the mother of invention and it’s believed that, after planting too many sauvignon blanc vines, the dry wine of Guiraud was initially the result of extra produce. Many decades later, however, it’s part of a growing trend.

There was a time when people asked for “dry” wines simply because they were repeating what they had heard other people talk about. Today, however, most Californian drinkers stay “dry” to avoid sugar, whether it’s personal preference, a way to prove they understand wine’s more complex flavors, or simply part of the latest dietary fad. Sauternes winemakers aren’t the only ones fighting the anti-sugar bandwagon. German riesling producers, in danger of being phased out of this market, are retaliating by making drier, snappier versions of their historically sweet spätlese and auslese wines. But whereas riesling has always been paired with the meal’s main courses, Sauternes has historically been enjoyed as a finale, pairing with the cheese or dessert course after a long night of gluttony, posing an even bigger problem here in the states where CrossFit culture has all but cut out dessert and cheese plates are usually served as an hors d’oeuvre. 

While the French haven’t given up their culinary traditions, they have cut back on their late night drinking due to stricter alcohol limitations for drivers. A pre-meal Champagne aperitif is still very much in order, as is a bottle of claret while dining, but when it comes to that post-meal Cognac, Calvados, or glass of Sauternes, the crack down on France’s highways has forced its citizens to lighten their drinking load. I’ve seen the effects in France’s distillation capitals over the past few years, where I’ve been served well-intentioned Cognac and tonics and Calvados spritzers by anxious producers who are desperately trying to find a way to jump the line and are hoping cocktail culture might be their salvation. While I’m sure bartenders could find a creative and delicious use for Sauternes, shaking up a bit of 2001 Suduiraut over ice might be overkill at a hundred bucks a bottle. While there are a few diehards out there who enjoy sweet Bordeaux as a pairing with spicy cuisine (renowned consultant and Bordeaux weatherman Bill Blatch is well-known for his “Sausages & Sauternes” party each year), there are still facts to face, one of which being the public’s new-found desire for dryness. 

So what exactly does dry Sauternes taste like? Like crisp, clean sauvignon blanc combined with round and creamy sémillon? Yes, that’s pretty much it. The wines I’ve tasted in my career lacked the snap and drive of something like Sancerre, and they don’t have the oak influence of a classic white Graves, but what they do have is texture, weight, and a luxurious body. When balanced, the wines can be utterly ethereal. Take Château d’Yquem’s “Y” (pronounced “Ygrec”) for example, a wine that the esteemed estate has been producing during strong vintages since 1959, and every year since 2004. I brought a few bottles of the 2014 vintage to an NBA Finals pre-party and the whole crowd went nuts for it (including Kevin Durant’s mom). Using certain plots of sauvignon blanc that are harvested at the beginning of the vintage, Yquem combines that fruit with sémillon picked right when botrytis has begun to show. With ten months of lees stirring during both fermentation and maturation, the end result is a rich, heady, and supple wine that has the ripe fruit of a Sauternes, yet without all the sugar. At almost two hundred dollars a bottle, however, it’s not a bottle most can enjoy regularly.

Regular and repeated enjoyment is what Sauternes needs if its going to survive in this dry modern age, and there’s nothing like a crisp, clean, and affordable bottle of white wine to increase one’s thirst. Moving back to the “G” from Château Guiraud, we’re currently in possession of the delicious 2014 vintage, which beautifully demonstrates the merit of dry Sauternes at a much more reasonable sub-$20 price point. With stone fruit and spice on the palate, the wine has both texture and charm, finishing with a clean acidity and bit more heft than your standard sauvignon blanc. While the trend may have begun with Guiraud, many of the top estates like Doisy-Daene, Rayne, Suiduiraut, and Rieussec are now being recognized for their dry Sauternes (and have followed suit with the single letter namesakes). Because there is no official appellation for the wines, they’re typically bottled as general Bordeaux Blanc, but perhaps in time—as the appreciation for these wines continues to grow—we’ll see a greater recognition. 

-David Driscoll