On the Road with Ralph

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As I look in the rear-view mirror at my 52 visits in 28 years of traveling to my beloved Bordeaux, I have had more great memories, fantastic wines and great meals than one man deserves and I’ve enjoyed every minute. My experience with the fantastic quality but stylistically very different vintages of 2009 (ripe and silky) and 2010 (powerful and concentrated) will always hold a very special place in my heart.

In April of 1990 I was a raw rookie, but confident in my ability to taste, and I loved the 1989 Château Camensac. I lobbied Clyde hard to buy this wine and he finally relented, and I have kept an eye on this quiet fifth growth ever since. The 2009 Camensac, Haut-Médoc ($39.99) has a lot in common with the 1989 wine; a very warm and great vintage, loaded with bold, opulent fruit. I include Château Camensac firmly in the company of the Bordeaux greatest values alongside wines like Château Cantemerle, Château Poujeaux, Château Chasse-Spleen and Château Meyney.

On April 13, 2011 we walked out of our downtown hotel to find our car had vanished; in fact it was towed. The retrieving process took quite a while and left me and my pal Alex Pross plenty of time to taste the wide range of wines made by Bernard Magrez and Michel Rolland at Château Pape-Clement. We both agreed the 2010 Fombrauge, St-Emilion ($49.99) was an outstanding wine offering phenomenal value; 80% Merlot with great freshness, sweet, exotic fruit but with good, firm structure. We took a big position and sold over 1,600 bottles, so the wait was worth it! 

From Ralph:  This picture went viral in France. It is after the Joanne tasting of about 175 wines as well as my last tasting of the visit, and I was really DONE! I was in the office with Clyde and this young negociant, and when she saw me she said, “You’re the guy in the picture!”

From Ralph: This picture went viral in France. It is after the Joanne tasting of about 175 wines as well as my last tasting of the visit, and I was really DONE! I was in the office with Clyde and this young negociant, and when she saw me she said, “You’re the guy in the picture!”

For us road warriors, Tuesday, April 1, 2014 was no joke! We attended four different Union des Grand Cru tastings and tasted 59 wines there, visited seven other estates and tasted another 35 wines. By the time we arrived in Listrac at 5:30, at Château Fourcas Hosten, we were very tired and beat up. Our contacts told us the stunning renovation here was a must visit and taste experience, and they were correct. The renovation of the entire estate took four years and the results were immediate. The 2010 Fourcas Hosten, Listrac (1.5L $49.99) was the first wine made in the new vinification facility and cellar and we loved it. I bought six bottles for my cellar as soon as it arrived. This lovely value, 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Merlot, is still young and fresh and features plenty of dark, round fruit, and is firm and fresh with harmonious tannins. Clyde just scored some magnums of this 2010, as well as some magnums of 2009 Coufran, Haut-Médoc (1.5L $44.99) which is 90% Merlot and a perennial favorite here at K&L. To quote the great Anthony Barton from Château Leoville-Barton: “A magnum is the perfect size bottle for two people.”

While the above ’09s and ’10s give you some early drinkability, the “Big Dog Wines” from these vintages—wines like 2010 Grand Puy Lacoste ($119.99), 2010 Pichon-Baron ($209.99), 2010 Pichon-Lalande ($249.99), 2010 Haut-Bailly ($199.99) and 2010 Mouton Rothschild ($999.99)—will require 20 years plus in the cellar to show you their greatness. That will also be worth the wait!

I don’t know many people in the business of Bordeaux that would argue this statement: If you want to find out why Bordeaux is considered so famous for its wine, all you have to do is buy and taste a bottle of either 2009 or 2010 Pontet-Canet, Pauillac ($289.99). Especially 2009, as 2010 needs some time, and as much as I despise the numerical scoring of wine, they are both well-deserved 100-point wines that will spoil you forever.

I tell everyone, young and old, to not miss out on the great wines made from the commune of Margaux in 2015. Almost every wine I tasted showcased beautifully elegant, tasty Cabernet Sauvignon in perfect balance with no hard edges, and I bought a wide selection for my cellar. The wine I did not buy but would love to own is Château Margaux, not so much for the wine, which is 100 points, but for the commemorative bottle paying homage to our friend Paul Pontallier. Paul was a brilliant winemaker who made the wine here for 26 years and passed away in 2016. As the 2015 Margaux, Margaux ($1,499.99), his last wine, arrives here, I will leave you with a quote from him about the wine at Château Margaux I jotted down in 2012: “The Château Margaux smoothness is the gift of the terroir. Just like a father, if you identify a gift, you must guide and create an environment for your children to thrive, and you do your best.”

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We hit the road to Bordeaux on March 29 and will give you a full report on the 2018 vintage upon our return.

Cheers, Happy New Year, Toujours Bordeaux and—Go Warriors!

- Ralph Sands