On the Trail

More Bordeaux Fruit From Our Labor

Clyde Beffa Jr.

As I mentioned in my last post, half of traveling to Bordeaux involves previewing the most recent vintage and the other half involves tasting wines already bottled with negociants at their warehouses. One of the annual negociant meetings each April is with Company Medocaine. We have been attending this private tasting since the early 1990s, just after the AXA Insurance company and Jean Michel Cazes (Château Lynch Bages) took an interest in Château Pichon Baron and Medocaine itself. We actually do two tastings with them per visit. Usually the first Monday of our trip we taste at Pichon Baron with the Medocaine crew very early, around 8 AM when the sun is just hitting the face of the château. There we sample the new wines from the Pichon Baron, Petit Villages, and Suduiraut properties respectively. This past trip we quickly tasted (“quickly” meaning only an hour and a half) at their headquarters from an assortment of just thirty wines which I had picked out ahead of time—a piece of cake compared to the mega tastings of 100-300 wines we often sit down to. We managed to find five great values that day and after a lengthy journey across the Atlantic, they have now arrived into our stores. A few are old standbys and some are new wines we discovered this time around. In between the big name châteaux and the classified growths are the real values. When we're able to sniff out five super bargains from a seemingly endless array of bottles, there's a tingle of excitement that runs down my spine! Especially after we import them directly and really cut down the retail prices!

Chateau Haut Vigneau from Pessac-Leognan has been a staple at K&L since the 1998 vintage when we first brought it in. The 2014 vintage is another superb wine and a great value from what is turning out to be a solid year. The fruit is both sweet and elegant with plenty of mineral notes both on the nose and palate. Composed of 70% cabernet sauvignon and 30% merlot. the property is owned by Eric Perrin (son of Anthony Perrin of Château Carbonnieux fame) and is located in Martillac, not far from the famous Château Smith Haut Lafitte. Haus Vigneau was completely renovated in the 1980s and the wines today are vastly improved. People often think it's the second wine of Carbonnieux, but actually it's a separate property and château. The winemaking crew at Carbonnieux does help with the vinification though (and perhaps a little Carbonnieux juice makes its way into this beauty?). Production is 8000 cases and I highly recommend a bottle for a dinner of roast pork or chicken.

Château de Pitray from the Cotes de Castillon is a new property for us at K&L. In fact, I had never seen the property until we went to play golf at the newest golf course in Bordeaux later on during our trip. It is situated next door to the modern and flashy new links, but has actually been around quite a long time. The property dates to the 14th Century, so it seems they've learned to make excellent wines over the last 700 years or so. It was once owned by the Segur family of Calon Segur fame. The château makes solid value reds from what we've gathered and while we had tasted previous vintages, the 2012 is the first we have purchased for the store. It's a charming Bordeaux with a juicy core of middle fruit and a lingering finish of black fruits. Try it with a roasted leg of lamb. You can't go wrong for $12.99!

Domaine Grand Ormeau, from Lalande de Pomerol, is another new face for us and yet another Right Bank wine caught my attention this time over. My long-time colleagues at K&L tell me we never bought enough Pomerol or St. Emilion wines back in the old days, so it looks like I'm overcoming any unconscious prejudice! Today we have many of these merlot-based wines, so I have to think my palate may have changed a bit. Maybe at my advanced age I'm looking for fruity rather than tannic, structured wines meant for long-term aging? At this point in my life I definitely don't want to wait thirty years for a heavy cabernet to come around. I need wines to drink now! The 2012 Grand Ormeau is 80% merlot and 10% each of cab sauv and cab franc. It's a tad spicy and a bit new wave on the palate, but I found it well-balanced and pleasantly opulent. For $20 it's a real bargain for those looking to switch over from drinking heavy cab-dominated clarets or those who enjoy the ripeness of California. Drink it now, or cellar it for a few years. Prime rib anyone? 

For those of you who appreciate Sauternes (which we all do at K&L), the 2014 Haut Charmes follows a string of great value-priced stickies from this property. We started buying these wines around 2001 and for twenty bucks or less, we've tasted few competitors who could match the bang for the buck here. At one point the fruit was coming from Château d'Yquem, but this is the first vintage where the grapes came from Chateau Suduiraut (no slouch either in the Sauternes world). Our allocation of 2014 Suduiraut sold out very quickly as the scores were through the roof and the price was much more reasonable. The Haut Charmes itself is a very special wine as well, made from the younger vines at Suduiraut that aren't quite ready for prime time. The flavors are pretty and charming (hence the name), elegant and pleasing. It's also an exceptional value for what's in the bottle: a rich wine with fine acidity and length. The wine has these wonderful pineapple and coconut aromas that carry through onto the lush palate. Just like its big brother to me represents the best of Sauternes's heavy hitters, I think the Haut Charmes is the best value Sauternes there is. At one third the price of Suduiraut, you can really stock up for Thanksgiving!

The Reserve de Leoville Barton always has held a warm spot in our hearts ever since we first bought the wine in 1995. This is the second wine of the famous Leoville Barton (see Lilian Barton pictured above at the château), a property that has developed an unparalleled reputation for crafting astounding wines both highly rated and still reasonably priced. The 2012 Reserve is more powerful than the aforementioned Haut Vigneau, but also more elegant than most other vintages of this wine. There's this great middle fruit that really fleshes out on the palate after some decanting. It can be drunk now with a few hours of air and it will most certainly age well for another twenty years.  Deep garnet in color with ripe-currant and mineral aromas along side a good core of fruit that finishes sweet and long on the palate. This begs to be paired with a thick New York Steak. There's depth and balance here, but what else would you expect from the Bartons?

Look for these wines in the store now!

-Clyde Beffa Jr.