On the Trail

Anything Less Than the Best is a Felony

David Driscoll
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Sometimes I feel like I'm beating a dead horse here, but we're still finding "classic" claret values from the 2014 harvest, one of the most underrated Bordeaux vintages since 2001, and I keep writing blog posts about why you should buy them. I put the word "classic" in quotes because I want to clarify exactly what that means: textbook, no frills, nothing extraordinary, just plain good, true to form, representative, and simple. "Classic" is a way of saying typical and varietally correct. But why do retailers and wine writers like myself use the term "classic" instead of those other synonyms when describing vintages like 2014? Because as a society we've been trained to ignore anything that isn't the best, or at the very least above average. It's the reason you only see reviews with 90 points or more; because retailers know that a B+ is worthless in the court of public opinion. As Vanilla Ice once said in his smash hit "Ice Ice Baby": "anything less than the best is a felony." That's been the case with 2014 in comparison to the "outstanding" 2015 vintage and the "unbeatable" 2016, heralded by some as the vintage of a lifetime. So how in the heck do you sell "typical" next to those two titanic harvests? Believe it or not, there are plenty of people (myself included) who value a "classic" value when they find one. Enter the 2014 Château du Retout, a "classic" Haut-Médoc claret with everything you could want from a fifteen dollar bottle of Bordeaux. 

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Château du Retout is a "classic" Bordeaux property: simple, straightforward, and true to form; just like the 2014 vintage itself. However, it wasn't until my colleague Jeff Garneau put a recent issue of Decanter magazine in my hand that I realized how much better the British view of "classic" seems to be than the American one. While the American reviewers doled out 90 point reviews across the board, the panel at Decanter bumped up that praise to 92 points. Their summation of the vintage was right alongside our own, writing: "The difficulties in 2014 put a break on hyperbole, meaning the best wines offer value for money for consumers in comparison with the 2015s. Good bottles for 20 Pounds or less are not hard to find." I loved that line about putting the "break on hyperbole" because that's exactly what 2014 represents to Bordeaux wine drinkers: no BS, just value. The Brits don't have any problem celebrating "classic" anything! The 2014 Château du Retout, in the panel's opinion, represented the best bang for your buck from a myriad of 2014 Cru Bourgeois selections. Run by the young couple of Hélène and Fréderic Soual, the small Haut-Médoc property uses an unusually high proportion of Petit Verdot (17%) to add fleshiness and body to Cabernet-dominated cépage. Unlike the ripe and plush-fruited wines of 2015, the 2014 du Retout is grittier and more rustic. It's not nearly as easygoing as what you taste from 2015, but it tastes like true-to-form Bordeaux. It's a classic claret and more importantly it's a great deal at $15.99. 

-David Driscoll