BORDEAUX 2016: Day Two

Christina with Champagne looking awed by the Plat du Mer

After a business meeting in Talence this (Wednesday) morning, I headed to BOD (aka Bordeaux Merignac Airport) to pick up the rest of my Spec’s crew: Christina Walther and Jim Cubberley from Austin and Mirek von Springer from Dallas. After a quick lunch involving an enormous Plat du Mer and a bottle of Champagne, we dropped their bags at the hotel and got to work. First stop Ch. Ducru Beaucaillou where we were warmly greeted by Bruno Borie followed by stops (in the company of Noel Richard of negoçiant Borie Manoux) at Ch. Pontac Lynch and Ch. Batailley. So on our first less-than-half-day together, “Team 2016” tasted a not insignificant 31 wines.

Best Wine of the Day: Ch. Ducru Beaucaillou St. Julien 2016 (98)
Favorite wine of the day not from Ducru: Ch. Pontac Lynch Margaux, 2015 (95)
Best Value of the Day (Tie): Ch. Pontac Phenix Haut Medoc 2016 (92)  and Les Hauts de Lynch Moussas Haut Medoc 2015 (92)
(Both should be close to $20 when they arrive)

The visit to Ducru Beaucaillou started off with a lovely Ch. Ducluzeau 2016 (91) from the southern part of Listrac which offers an incredible mouthful of richer more modern style, Merlot dominant red Bordeaux that ultimately should sell around $25.00 per bottle. We also tasted the more elegant and riper Ch. Forcas Borie Listrac (91+, a wine that is raking the bar for Listrac), Ch. Lalande Borie St Julien 2016 (92, an elegant balanced Cabernet-dominant red from the team at Ch. Ducru Beaucaillou), Croix de Beaucaillou St. Julien 2016 (93+, a more elegant and refined cuvee from a single contiguous block on the Ducru Beaucaillou estate), and the afore mentioned ethereal grand vin, Ch Ducru Beaucaillou 2016.

We finished at Ducru with rarest wine from the estate: the Croix de Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou Cuvee Colbert 2016 (93+). This lovely elegant expression of the estate’s terroir is a unique selection made even more unique as it was aged in a special Foudre commissioned by Borie from the wood of what is thought to be the last living oak tree planted in the time of Louis XIV’s naval minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert (who also has had 6 French naval ships named after him, most recently a cruiser).

The late Marie Christine Bondon and Bear Dalton in March of 2016

After Ducru, we headed to Ch. Pontac Lynch in Margaux where I saw my old friend Bijoux the bull dog, made the acquaintance of the new owner, the sister of the late owner Marie Christine Bondon, and tasted the 2014, 2015, and 2016 vintages of both Ch. Pontac Lynch Margaux and Ch. Pontac Phenix Haut Medoc. This all are pure focused old school (in the best sense of that term) wines showing fruit and place and a refreshingly non-interventionist style of winemaking. The Pontac Phenix wines come from two parcels just outside the appellation of Margaux. One is behind and below Ch. Margaux and the other is behind Ch. d’Issan. The wines are the closest thing you will find tot he flavor and style of classic Margaux at a $20 or under price point. All three vintages sparkled. Ch. Pontac Lynch is a jewel of a Margaux estate on a mix of gravel and sand touching Ch. Margaux, Ch. Rauzan Segla, Ch. Palmer, and Ch. d’Issan (how’s that for a fancy address). All three wines were excellent with the still developing 2015 edging the others for the best wine of today’s visit. This was a tough visit for me because it was my first time back since the passing of Madam Bondon, a friend I liked and admired despite our not speaking the same language. And I am afraid that I won’t see Bijoux again as at 11 years old he seems to be sliding down hill. Nevertheless, these are wines I love and this is a place where I feel at home.

Bijoux of Ch. Pontac Lynch and Bear Dalton

After Pontac Lynch, we headed to Ch. Batailley Pauillac to taste the 2014, 2015, and 2016 wines from all the Left Bank properties of Borie Manoux including the wines of Beau Site, Haut Bages Monpelou, Lynch Moussas, and Batailley. Everything was better than good and the Ch. Batailley wines have moved to the next level (2014 – 94, 2015 – 95, and 2016 – 96) showing more charm and elegance along with their classic Pauillac Cabernet-Sauvignon-and-gravel-terroir character.

At some point I will follow this up with some detail on these vintages from these northern Haut Medoc properties but right now the bed is calling my name.

Tomorrow will find us soon enough on the Right Bank with my friend Ivanhoe Johnston (of negoçiant Nathaniel Johnston) as our guide for the day.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, 2016 (at least so far) is living up to its hype.

BORDEAUX 2016: Day One

Starting the week off slow, I just had two appointments today with negoçiants Thibault Lacoste of Duclot and Jean Rouge (aka Austin Powers) of Barriere. Between the two, I tasted over 50 wines today. While 50 wines would not be an unusual number to taste on a normal day in my office, today pretty well kicked my butt because I am singing the jet lag blues. Tomorrow WILL be better. God Willing. Of those 50-plus wines (about 1/3 were 2016s), there were no dogs and a few where glorious.

Best Wine of the Day: Ch. Beychevelle St. Julien 2015 (95).

Best 2016 of the day: Ch. Beychevelle St. Julien 2016 (94).

Biggest Surprise of the Day (Tie):  Ch. Beaumont Haut Medoc 2016 (92 and hands down the best Beaumont I have ever tasted) AND Ch. Taillefer Pomerol 2016 (91+ to an elegant, balanced, red-fruit Pomerol that is a pleasure in the mouth).

Had lunch today at an excellent new Italian restaurant called Murano located just off the Boulevard in Bordeaux. It’s a hidden jewel with a beautiful setting including a fabulous courtyard for al fresco dining and (at least what we ordered) excellent food and friendly service. I will go back.

The rest of my crew (Posse? Bordeaux Posse?) arrives tomorrow about noon. We’ll get them started with visits to Ch. Ducru Beaucaillou and a few of the Borie-Manoux properties (Chx. Pontac Lynch, Batailley, Lynch Moussas, and Beau Site).

Here We Go Again

Here it is, the last week of March, and I am – predictably – back in Bordeaux for my 21st vintage in a row, this time to taste the already highly touted 2016s. Three of my Spec’s colleagues will soon join me on what should prove to be an often joyous tour while sometimes a bit of a scramble to taste as many of the good, better, and best 2016 wines Bordeaux has to offer, all while soaking up the place and the culture and interacting with the people, all three of which (people, place, and culture) make Bordeaux Bordeaux. As always, we will also be looking at bottled wines that are ready to purchase and I’ll share what we find there too. As I did last year, I’ll be blogging regularly as we experience Bordeaux. Follow along as we find out the style of the vintage and if the wines live up to the early hype. Personally, I’m not off to a great start. Air France (who I usually LOVE) didn’t get my checked-bag on my flight from Paris to Bordeaux so it was late and finally delivered to the hotel. Which is great except that someone got into it and stole my Kershaw knife, my corkscrew and and my Swiss Army pen knife. Things are improving: I just had my official first dinner in Bordeaux: a Plat du Mer, Soup de Poisson (Bordeaux Gumbo – Les Poissons, Les Poissons, How I love les Poissons … ), a big bottle of Badoit, and a bottle of 2016 Bordeaux Clairet. Ladies and Gentlemen, start your livers.

Seeing Through Propaganda

A highly intelligent friend of mine who has had a long career in the wine business in Texas sent me (and apparently a large number of “undisclosed recipients”) the following by email. I was at first surprised and then appalled and then driven to respond.

The Pitiful Selection of Wines Distributed in Texas

March 8th, 2017. Filed under State LegislationThree Tier System.

Perhaps the primary reason consumers benefit by access to out-of-state products is that the traditional three-tier system that puts products on the shelves in most states is terrible at providing consumers with choices.  Consider the state of Texas.In the past 24 months, the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission, which overseas alcohol sales and distribution in the state, approved the sale of 27,500 wines for sale in Texas. The majority of those wines are made in the United States by the wineries located in a variety of states.

But consider this. In that same time period, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved 140,000 wines for sale in the United States…and those are just the imported wines the TTB approved in that 24 month period.

That means that there are more than 100,000 wines approved for sale in the United States in the past two years that consumers in Texas have absolutely no access to unless they are are able to buy and have shipped to them wines from out-of-state wine stores—the only places those 100,000 wines absents from the Texas market could possibly be found.

This situation put the lie to the claim often heard by opponents of wine shipments by out of state retailers that the three-tier system provides consumers with “unprecedented” choice. In fact, compared to what is available in the U.S. marketplace as a whole, the Texas three-tier system provides a nearly unprecedentedly pitiful choice of products.

 

I replied to him as follows:

This is an obvious propaganda piece (I wouldn’t call it an article) that uses some seemingly impressive numbers while ignoring several truths about those numbers. The posters have an obvious agenda as they site information that supports their goals but leaves out most of the story. Please remember that:

1) In the first paragraph, they use the word “Majority.” “Majority” only means over 50%. They don’t specify how much over 50%. Is it 50.1%?

2) A great many any of those “approved labels” are actually duplicates because a particular producer (often with several wines) often has more than one US importer and each importer has to have a federal Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) for each wine. (How many COLAS exist for each chateau in Bordeaux? For many, more than a dozen and sometimes many more.  How many COLAs exist for each Burgundy or Rhone producer making as many as 20 distinct wines who could have as many as 20 different regional importers in the US? Could be as many as 400.)

3) Many of those wines are “buyer’s-own-brands” (private labels) that are not ever going to go into general distribution. Most of these private label wines are either from virtual wineries or from left-over juice a legit producer has after they blend their own wines. This sort of left-over juice is often sourced, along with lower-tier juice from co-ops, to be blended by virtual wineries. And many of these labels are gimmicks such as “The Bachelor Fantasy Suite Cabernet” (currently sitting on my desk) that it might be a community service to keep out of the market.

4) Many of these COLAs are for extremely limited production wines that are never going to be sold in more than a few states. (For instance, if a Burgundy producer makes one barrel (25 cases) of something, they generally will not send more than four or five cases (if that) to the US and it will get spread around to those few markets their often boutique importer deals with and not to other markets. Texas does get its share of those sorts of wines but there are a lot we don’t see because the importer specializes in the east coast or California and the wines are and have been spoken for so there is no chance of additional distribution. There are also a fair number of wines that come to Texas that folks in California or Florida may not see.)

5) Many of these wines are “Me Too” wines (yet another Provencal Rosé or NZ Sauvignon Blanc, often from a virtual winery) that are the wine industry equivalent of throwing-shit-at-the-wall to see what sticks. Often label approvals are given that are used once or twice or sometimes not at all. A COLA does not mean the wine ever got imported and if it did, even one case requires a COLA.

There is nothing “pitiful” about the selection of well over 100,000 wines potentially available at retail in Texas.
(Where did I get that provocative number? If you pull up all the granted wine label approvals for Texas from January 1, 1997 to January 1, 2017, on the TABC on-line data-base, the number is 133,405. And many active labels in Texas go back further than that 20 years. In fairness, remember that many of these approved wines are duplicates in the same ways sited above for federal label approvals.)

And these out-of-state-retail-shipper-wannabes completely ignore how much wine is damaged-in-shipment (much more often cooked than broken) when shipped via FedEx or UPS (the two most common carriers) from state to state or even with-in states. And that in dealing with out-of-state retail shippers, Texas consumers have little recourse if something goes wrong.

Texas law prohibits only out-of-state retailers from shipping to consumers in Texas. There is a legal path for out-of-state wineries to ship to consumers in Texas. And they don’t tell you that many of these NAWR members (and others) are and have been breaking the law by shipping to consumers in Texas anyway.

An Evening with BOUCHARD Pere et Fils

7pm  Thursday March 9, 2017 at The Wine School at l’Alliance Française

Please join Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton in welcoming Bouchard Pere et Fils winemaker Philippe Prost who will guide us through a tasting of 10 of Bouchard Pere et Fils fine red and white Burgundy wines. The wines tasted will be served in Riedel Degustazione stemware. A selection of cheeses and bread will be offered.

We will taste:
Bouchard Bourgogne Chardonnay
Bouchard Bourgogne Pinot Noir
Bouchard Meursault du Domaine 2011
Bouchard Meursault les Clous 2013
Bouchard Beaune de Chateau Blanc 2013
Bouchard Beaune de Chateau Rouge 2011
Bouchard Clos Landry 2011
Bouchard Beaune Greves Vigne l’Enfant Jesus 2013
Bouchard Volnay Caillerets Cuvee Ancienne Carnot 2011
Bouchard Chambolle Musigny 2011

An Evening with Bouchard will cost $30.00 total cash per person ($31.58 regular). The class will meet at 7pm on Thursday March 9 at l’Alliance Française. To purchase your ticket, please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

About BOUCHARD Pere et Fils:
Founded in 1731 by Michel Bouchard as a negoçiant and established as a vineyard owner in 1775 and passed through generations of the Bouchard family until this negoçiant-proprietaire was purchased by Champagne maker Joseph Henriot in in 1995, Bouchard Pere et Fils is a top land owner and leading producer of high quality Burduny wines with distribution around the world.

L’Alliance Française is the French cultural center in Houston. Located at 427 Lovett Blvd., l’Alliance is on the southeast corner of Lovett and Whitney (one block south of Westheimer and two blocks east of Montrose).

If you buy a ticket and will not be able to attend, please cancel at least 24 hours before the class or you may be charged. Later cancellations will not be charged if we can fill the seat. This is often the case as we regularly have waiting lists for these classes.

With almost 40 years experience in the wine business and 30 plus years experience teaching about wine, Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton is one of the top wine authorities as well as the most experienced wine educator in Texas.

What I’m Drinking and Why

On Monday, March 6th at 7pm, please join Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton at the Wine School at l’Alliance Française for What I’m Drinking and Why. After almost 40 years as a wine professional who tastes over 9,000 wines a year, I think I know a bit about quality and value. These are the wines I personally am drinking right now – as in these are the wines I spend MY MONEY ON. They are delicious and, at their price points, I think they offer the best values available. All of them over-deliver on price. Each of them has a story and each makes a point. I am confident that you will enjoy them as much as I do. (I did this a couple of years back and a number of you have been asking for this kind of class/tasting again.)

The line up includes:
Perelada Reserve Especial, Cava, NV
Varichon & Clerc Sparkling Blanc De Blancs, Savoie, NV
Mercat Rose, Cava, NV
Marcel Moineaux Chouilly Millesime Blanc De Blancs Grand Cru Champagne 2008
Losen Bockstanz Wittlicher Lay Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, 2015
Frey Sohler Pinot Gris Rittersberg, Alsace, 2014
Chablisienne La Pierrelee Chablis, 2014
Averaen Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2015
Domaine Jessiaume Santenay Clos de Clos Genet 2014
Ch. Senejac Haut Medoc 2012
Ch. Batailley Pauillac 2012
Yalumba Scribbler Cabernet Shiraz VT
Montmirail St. Maurice Gigondas 2014
Ridge Vineyards Pagani Ranch Zinfandel 2014
Kopke Porto Colheita 2006

What I’m Drinking and Why will cost $70.00 per person (Cash or Check) or $73.68 regular. The class will meet at 7pm on Monday March 6, 2017 at l’Alliance Française. To purchase your ticket, please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

L’Alliance Française is the French cultural center in Houston. Located at 427 Lovett Blvd., l’Alliance is on the southeast corner of Lovett and Whitney (one block south of Westheimer and two blocks east of Montrose).

If you buy a ticket and will not be able to attend, please cancel at least 24 hours before the class or you may be charged. Later cancellations will not be charged if we can fill the seat. This is often case as we regularly have waiting lists for these classes.

With almost 40 years experience in the wine business and 30 plus years experience teaching about wine, Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton is one of the top wine authorities as well as the most experienced wine educator in Texas.

MURDER HE TASTED

Something fun I wrote back in January of 2012 that recently resurfaced.

MURDER HE TASTED … or Death in the Desert

By Charles M. Bear Dalton

Monday. 10:00am. A dame walks into my office. Short dress, denim jacket, tricolor cowgirl boots. Intriguing. And she’s packing. A 750ml of “So Rare” Cabernet Sauvignon 2008. She tells me it won a Champion buckle at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition. It clicks into place. The boots, the denim …

“100% Cabernet.” she says, interrupting my thoughts.

“20 months in a 100% new oak.” she says before I can answer.

“All French” she adds.

“Rutherford” she says.

“Actually Bella Oaks vineyard that Heitz isn’t getting anymore.” she says.

“Really?” I ask, finally getting a word in.

“Really.” she answers, defiantly.

“Serve it up.” I say.

She pulled the cork. It pops like a .38 snub-nose fired through a feather pillow. She pours the wine into my glass. A drop falls to my desktop blotter – a stray droplet of scarlet blood. As it splatters, I think of DNA evidence. Is it really Bella Oaks? Is it really all Cabernet? Is the oak really all French? And then she pours into her own glass. I swirl my glass and look at it against bright white backdrop of my desk blotter. Surprisingly, the wine is more red than purple. There’s a hint of black in the red and there’s a little haziness. Nothing unusual there but not exactly what I expected. I swirl it some more and then sniff. Red fruit. Now I’m surprised. I think about the judging panel. How did a red fruit-dominant Cabernet make it past the judging panel in an over $50 per bottle Cabernet class in Houston? Seems unlikely at best. I taste. I swish the wine around my mouth. Yes, red fruit – some tobacco, some black pepper, a bit of dust. The fruit is muted, the wine lacks complexity. A mystery. This is a $70.00 bottle of Cabernet? Not in my Cabernet section. I tell her. She sighs – but she knows the wine isn’t there. Then I notice she has another bottle.

I ask: “You want to open that other bottle?”

“Sure” A dame with nothing to lose. She gets fresh glasses.

This time the cork really pops out of the bottle. Not muffled but clear like the bark of .22 on a cold January morning. She pours. The wine is purple. A drop hits my blotter and the contrast is evident. More evidence. But of what?

I tilt the glass and the color is richer and more saturated but at the same time both darker and brighter. The wine glistens with dark richness in the glass. I swirl some more and sniff. Dark purple-black fruit with hints of red fruit. More alive. Accents of tobacco and cedar … and dark spice. It grows richer in the mouth. Dark red and black fruit perfume. Vivid. Vibrant. I could see how a Houston panel would give this wine a Champion buckle. I could see how a Texan would pay $70.00 to drink a bottle of this winner. It was worthy.

Could these two bottles be the same wine? I notice the labels are numbered. Only fifteen apart.

I question her.

She says “I don’t understand. They’re the same wine. Maybe its bottle variation…”

I say “Bottle variation?! Not likely. Something else is wrong here. Show me the cork.”

She hands me the cork from the second bottle. It looks perfect. A dark stain on the bottom where it had touched the wine and pristine on the sides. As it should be.

“No.” I say. “The cork from the first bottle.”

She reaches under the desk.

I wait for it.

She brings her hand up to reveal the first cork. The other cork. The cork with the stains running up the side of it. The piece of evidence that makes all the rest of the evidence irrelevant. As I looked, she looked too … and she knew what I knew. The first wine had been killed. Murder. Somewhere in the desert between California and our slice of heaven on earth – Texas as we call it – the bottle had gotten hot. Cooked. Baked. Fried. Roasted. Fricasseed.

In the moment, she starts to say something. She stops. She begins and stops again. Her memory defeats her as she yields to the obvious. She confesses. The first bottle had been shipped to her via FedEx or UPS ground. She had used both. She blamed it on the winery but she knew. She was complicit. She had let it happen. And it didn’t matter which. Both are notorious for taking the life away from innocent wines in their prime. That bottle had been cooked and its fruit – its very life – had slowly ebbed until only the husk of red fruit was left. The second bottle had come via refrigerated truck to the wholesaler in Texas. It was intact, enticing, perfect. Why had she done it? Why had she scorned the first bottle? She had played Russian roulette and the wine was lost.

I asked her “Why’d you do it?”

She answered, “I needed the sample.”

I replied “But you had to know …”

She pleaded: “But it was in December. It’s OK to ship in December. Everyone ships in December. It’s not too hot in December …” She whimpered. All platitudes, but now she knew. She was wrong. They were all wrong. The dice had rolled and she had crapped out. The risk had always been there and now a bottle was dead. It could have been a case. Or several cases.

It would never come to trial. Did it happen in Nevada? Was it Arizona? New Mexico? West Texas. Could it have happened in a broiling tin-roofed, non-climate-controlled Houston warehouse under an unforgiving sun? We’d never know for sure. But I knew. And she knew. Her lack of regard for that villain packing heat – whether in a metal trailer crossing the desert or a Houston warehouse, heat had killed that bottle.

Murder in the desert. A sad and sordid tale. And so unnecessary. If only she had shipped the wine the right way using temperature control. If only …