On the Trail

The Bordeaux Boss

Clyde Beffa Jr.

While I’ve been doing the paper version of the K&L news since 1978, I figured it was about time I stepped into the modern era and began communicating electronically. Apparently this internet thing is here to stay (back in the nineties we called it “the information super highway”). You may have seen my name in a staff review for Pichon-Baron, or a photo of my face at a Bordeaux-related dinner or event. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Clyde Beffa. As K&L’s head buyer and one of the company’s principle owners, I have been going to Bordeaux to taste every new vintage since 1985. Since 1989, I have always taken a K&L staff person or two along for the ride. The main purpose of these trips has always been to taste the previous year’s wines and evaluate them as to their quality and potential as a pre-arrival offering. Two other very important reasons to go are: 1) to renew relationships with the negociants, and more importantly the Chateaux managers and owners; 2) to taste older vintages and find wines to buy and sell on a regular in-stock basis. That means each Spring when we land in the Medoc, we’re balancing our schedule between sampling new wines for future sales, and buying bottles that are currently available to fill our shelves.

In Bordeaux, there are a number of negociant warehouses where we can taste back vintages and make offers directly, so you can often find deals if you put in the work and get out there. They often have hundreds if not thousands of different wines in stock, as well as thousands more on a pre-order basis. This past April, I had five of K&L’s finest with me as we thought the quality of the newly-released 2015 vintage would spawn a successful pre-arrival campaign (and we were right). Since we only had around ten days to taste, we crammed in many appointments as we could.

We arrived on Sunday April 3rd at 2 pm and rushed to one such negociant’s warehouse for a 3 pm tasting (by the way, you can follow my assistant David’s blog posts about our entire trip starting here). We tasted about eight new selections from the 2015 pre-arrival release and about thirty older vintages where we found some exciting selections—mostly in the bang for your buck category (which is my favorite!). A few of the gems from this tasting have just now landed at our warehouse, so I thought I should share the news of their arrival and my thoughts about each one:

Chateau Bel Orme Tronquoy de Lalande, Haut Medoc (not to be confused with the St. Estephe property of Tronquoy-Lalande) was presented to us and we loved both the 2001 and 2010 vintages, especially for twenty bucks a piece. We have rarely carried this property over the last forty years of K&L, but we all agreed that these were slam dunk buys for the money. Bel Orme was classified as a rustic Cru Bourgeois in 1932 and is located in the northern part of the Medoc. If you’ve been shopping for Bordeaux at K&L over the past few years, you’ll likely have noticed a plethora of 2001 selections. That’s because it’s one of the best value vintages of the last two decades. The 2001 tasted like old school Bordeaux, much like the old school label, but it had great texture and plenty of that 2001 fruit without the 2001 tannins. The 2010 is a wine to keep for a few years. You can put this one in your cellar while you’re drinking the 2001. It’s bright and fruity with round tannins and I really liked the pure red fruit flavors. Those looking for real Bordeaux character with the riper fruit of 2010 will be thrilled, especially for the price.

Another winner was a wine none of us had ever tasted before: the 2010 Domaine Andron, an overachiever from a rather unknown Haut-Medoc property of only seventeen acres that is run by the former winemaker at Beausejour-Duffau-Lagarosse. Their wines have been slowly catching the eye of savvy critics in-the-know, so we were excited to finally sample them. The 2010 was the clear winner, more modern in style, but sweet and sexy for a such a powerful vintage. It’s drinkable now or can fit into your cellar for future enjoyment. Again, it’s another twenty dollar value wine with real bang for the buck. No sooner did we get home and do some research on the press when we saw the Wine Spectator shared our enthusiasm.

Yet another delicious wine we tasted and bought was the 2012 Chateau Marsac Seguineau, Margaux, a property we have followed off and on over the past ten years. It’s a small, 25 acre property right in heart of the Marsac Plateau near La Tour de Mons. It is indeed rare to find bargain-priced Margaux, but 2012 (like 2001) is another underrated vintage that continues to yield some pretty great deals for those who know where to look. The wines are on the whole fruity and easy to drink, especially in the short term. The Marsac Seguineau, in particular, is structured while also full of that aforementioned ripe fruit. There are also some pretty aromatics—violets and raspberries. This is a steal at $20.

Speaking of La Tour de Mons, we figured the neighbor of Marsac Seguineau might have also made good wine in 2012, and it turned out we were right! The 2012 Tour de Mons, Margaux is a few dollars more, but who’s counting at these prices? We had great success selling their 2010 vintage and this wine was just as fabulous—perhaps a little softer, but still dense and rich with a long life ahead of it. The finish was long and lingering. More delicious Margaux for you to drink now!

As we were walking out of the tasting, tired from the flight and knowing we had to prepare for a dinner at Haut Bailly that evening, one of my eagle-eyed compatriots saw a label he did not recognize. It turned out to be the second wine of Vieux Chateau Certan, Pomerol—one of the top properties in all of Bordeaux and one of the best 2015 wines we tasted on our entire trip We asked the guys at the warehouse if we could taste it and—WOWEE WOW!—the 2014 La Gravette de Certan was just stunning. We later ran into the winemaker, Alexandre Thienpont at the château (pictured above), and he reiterated our enthusiasm for the wine. Fresh raspberries, first on the nose and then on the palate, with some toasty oak undertones and a surprisingly lush finish for 2014. We kept drinking it without spitting, which probably wasn’t the best idea considering the time and the circumstances. This wine is a must buy for serious Bordeaux fans (and fans of serious value!). This is the first time we’ve carried this label and the property makes very little of it each vintage. We were only able to buy 180 bottles, so don’t sleep on this one.

While scheduling a negociant tasting in between the leaving the airport and checking in at the hotel might not have been the best idea for our general health and stress levels, I believe in instilling a serious work ethic in my K&L staff members. It’s that little bit of extra effort and elbow grease that ultimately pays dividends in this business (heck, in any business). In this case, we found six great deals for our customers back at home. We hope you appreciate their value, their quality, and the dedication that went into finding them.

-Clyde Beffa Jr.