Some Thinking About Bordeaux

Writer Ethan Fixell sent me (in my role as the fine wine buyer for Spec’s) some questions to answer for his upcoming article on “Selling Bordeaux Today” for Beverage Media. I answered them but I have no idea how much of or even if he’ll use the information and opinion I gave him. Nevertheless, his questions with my answers offer a good look at how I (and, by extension, Spec’s) look at the wines of Bordeaux.

Q. Spec’s carries a lot of Bordeaux. Why do you believe in the region’s wine as a good buy for 2018? What do you feel it offers to customers?
A. Chateau-bottled Bordeaux wines offer the customer site specificity and the personality of an owner or winemaker or estate manager (who is the motive force behind the wine) – so person and place – at all price points (including even lower – as in under $10 – price points where many new-world wines can be pretty “corporate” in nature). So a chateau-bottled Bordeaux wine can offer a value and a story to the customer as well as a potentially delicious, food-friendly experience.

Q. Where is the most value in Bordeaux? Are there particular appellations or producers you think offer consumers the most bang for their buck.
A. Assuming that by “value” you mean moderate price points or wines for everyday consumption, the most value in Bordeaux can be found outside the classified growths and biggest names. There are lots of chateau in the Haut Medoc, Pessac Leognan and Graves, the Bordeaux Cotes (especially Francs and Castillon), and the satelites around St. Emilion and Pomerol, and even basic St. Emilion and St. Emilion Grand Cru that over-deliver on bang-for-your-buck under $30.00 per bottle. The best of these wines offer fruit and flavor and a story and a sense of place to go with their value price points. Of course this ignores the value to be found in Bordeaux when you compare fine Bordeaux at whatever price point (pick one) to comparably priced wines from around the world.

Q. How do you go about selecting the Bordeaux that you buy? Are there particular qualities of wines that you think resonate the most with today’s consumers?
A. I taste. In Bordeaux. In every vintage. When I taste, I look for fruit first, then quality and balance, and then consistency and value. I look for a clean package and a story to tell my customer. I look for wines I am happy to drink because I know I can sell those wines. I also look to buy those wines from trust-worthy, ethical people. Further, I think that each market in the US is unique. Texas is a more Cabernet Sauvignon-centric than most so, while we carry a good selection of Merlot-based wines from Bordeaux, we’re always on the look out for new Cabernet-based (read Left Bank) wines from Bordeaux. Most of those wines come from the Haut Medoc, Pessac Leognan, and Graves. I also think that our customers (when given the option) generally prefer fruit and balance to over-extraction and over-ripeness – so I look for more elegant but still flavorful wines.

Q. How do you position Bordeaux to consumers?
A. Simply put, Bordeaux offers the best experience at the table at the best price. Bold statement? Yes. But many value-priced new world brands either don’t taste good or don’t taste like anywhere. Many (not all) are over-ripe, over-blended, over-sweet, unbalanced messes more suited to standing-around-drinking (wine in lieu of cocktails) rather than drinking with food at the dinner table. If you’re looking to drink wine with dinner at $10 per bottle, there is a Bordeaux wine for you that will stack up well in comparison to wines from anywhere else in the world. The same is true at $15 and at $20, and at $30 and so on up to over $500. Chateau-bottled Bordeaux is real wine from real places made by real identifiable people from specified grapes grown using increasingly environmentally friendly practices in styles that work well with a variety of styles of food. Even if US consumers haven’t tasted Bordeaux, they know the name and know Bordeaux is one of the classics. And that often makes them willing to try a new (to them) Bordeaux wine.

Q. Any overall thoughts / suggestions on how to sell Bordeaux on the retail level?
A. The easiest way to sell Bordeaux is to give the customer a proper pour in a proper glass in a relaxed environment and let them taste it. Proper pour means a sample that is fresh, has been shipped and stored properly and is being served at the correct drinking temperature in an amount conducive to tasting (about 1.5 ounces). A proper glass is just that, a proper stemmed wine glass that is the right size and shape to taste from (A plastic cup that holds 2 ounces is not a proper glass) or the sort of glass the customer might use as an everyday wine glass at home. A relaxed environment means seated at a table with good (but not harsh) lighting in a comfortable room with a controlled level of noise and extraneous activity. Even better if food is involved. Tell them what they’re tasting and why it tastes like it does. Let them engage their brain as well as their senses of smell and taste. There is an intellectual appeal to the finer things and Bordeaux wine is one of those finer things. This is not snobbery; rather, it is reality. It ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up.

To sum up, I think chateau-bottled Bordeaux across all price ranges offers some of the very best values in the wine world today. Add in it’s ability to pair well with a wide variety of foods and ready availability, Bordeaux becomes an even more obvious choice. Do I drink wines from other regions around the world? Of course I do. I love Champagne and German Riesling, red and white Burgundy (and other well made Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays), Rhone wines, Zinfandel, Rioja, Napa Cabs, and more. But Bordeaux is my reference standard for most of the dry red wines and much of both the dry and the sweet white wines I taste from else-where in the world. And as much as I love a good glass of Burgundy (and I really do), Bordeaux generally offers a better-bang-for-my-wine-buying-buck.

Vintage 2015 (Mostly) Cru Classé Bordeaux Tasting

Tuesday, January 16, 2018 at the Crystal Ballroom at the Rice

Spec’s will host over 30 Bordeaux chateau owners, directors, and/or winemakers presenting 62 mostly Cru Classé Bordeaux wines all from the suberb 2015 vintage in a standup- and-walk-around tasting format. This is our seventh time to host such a delegation from Bordeaux and each of the previous events have been smashing successes.

The list of well-known and highly regarded Bordeaux wineries includes …
Pomerol: Chx. Clinet, Gazin, Croix St. Georges, and La Pointe (along with 2nd vin Ballade de La Pointe)
St. Emilion: Chx. Canon la Gaffeliere, Clos l’Oratoire, Daugay, Grand Corbin Despagne, La Confession, Larcis Ducasse, and Pavie Macquin
St. Georges St. Emilion: Ch. Cap St. George
Castillon: Chx. d’Aiguilhe and Ampelia
Francs: Ch. Puygueraud
Bordeaux: Chx. Croix Mouton and le Conseiller
St. Estephe: Chx. Phelan Segur, Lafon Rochet, and les Ormes de Pez
Pauillac: Chx. Pichon Lalande (with 2nd vin Reserve de la Comtesse), Pichon Baron (with 2nd vin Les Griffons), Pibran, Lynch Bages (with 2nd vin Echo de Lynch Bages), Grand Puy Lacoste (with 2nd vin Lacoste Borie), Clerc Milon, d’Armailhac, and Haut Bages Liberal
St. Julien: Chx. Branaire Ducru, Leoville Barton and Langoa Barton, Leoville Poyferrre, and Talbot
Margaux: Chx. Giscours, Cantenac Brown, Ferriere, du Tertre and Brane Cantenac (along with 2nd vin Baron de Brane)
Haut Medoc, Moulis, Listrac: Chx. Cantemerle, Chasse Spleen, Camensac, Mauvesin Barton, and Senejac
Pessac Leognan Reds: Chx. Carmes Haut Brion, Carbonnieux, Domaine de Chevalier, Smith Haut Lafitte, Clos Marsalette, and Haut Bailly with 2nd vin La Parde de Haut Bailly
Dry Whites: Domaine de Chevalier, Smith Haut Lafitte, and Blanc de Lynch Bages (2014)
Sweet Whites: Chx. Suduiraut (along with 2nd vin Lions de Suduiraut) and Coutet

As you can see, We’ll be tasting great wines from every Major appellation in Bordeaux.
The tasting will open at 4:30pm and run until 8:30pm, giving you ample time to taste the wines and visit with our guests from Bordeaux. The tasting will include a spread of artisanal cheeses and breads chosen to help absorb the wines and refresh the palate. We will taste from Riedel Degustazione (tasting) glasses. The Vintage 2015 Mostly Cru Classé Bordeaux Tasting will cost $100.00 per person (including a 5% discount for cash or check, regular price is $105.26). To purchase your ticket, please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

The Crystal Ballroom at the Rice is located in downtown Houston at 909 Texas Avenue between Travis and Main. Valet Parking will be available.

If you buy a ticket and will not be able to attend, please cancel at least 24 hours before the event. No shows and later cancellations will be charged.

Idiosyncratic Champagne

You may know that I sometimes (ok, regularly) put on classes that indulge my passion for a particular sort of wine. This is one of those times. I am getting-my-geek-on so please join me at 7pm on Tuesday, January 23rd at The Wine School at l’Alliance Française for an indulgence in unapologetically Idiosyncratic Champagne. We will taste and discuss a range of unique Champagne wines arranged in five flights (see below) as we look at how (and from what) they are made and how that formed their flavors and styles. Each of these wines offers a particular and sometimes peculiar look at place and style. This is about as Burgundian as a Champagne tasting can get. All wines tasted will be served in Riedel Degustazione stemware. A selection of cheeses and bread will be offered.

The lineup includes:
Blanc de Noirs – Pinot Meunier
Serveaux Fils Brut Cuvee Pinot Meunier Champagne NV
Egly Ouriet 1er Cru Brut les Vignes de Vringy Pinot Meunier Champagne NV
Godme Brut Blanc de Noir 1er Cru Les Romaines Pinot Meunier Champagne 2006

Blanc de Noirs – Pinot Noir
Godme Brut Grand Cru Champs Saint Martin Pinot Noir Champagne 2006
Egly Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru Vv Champagne NV

Rosé
Jean Vesselle Oeil de Perdrix Champagne NV
Egly Ouriet Brut Rose Champagne NV

Brut
Egly Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru Champagne NV
Jean Vesselle Le Petite Clos Champagne 2003
Egly Ouriet Grand Cru Les Champagne NV

Blanc de Blancs
Lancelot Royer Cuvee de Chevaliers Champagne NV
GH Mumm Cramant Blanc de Blancs Champagne NV
Godme Brut Blanc de Blancs 1er Cru Alouettes St. Bets Champagne 2006
Henriot Cuve 38 Brut Champagne NV

Idiosyncratic Champagne will cost $160 per person (cash or check) or $168.42 (regular). To purchase your ticket, please contact Susan Coburn at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

L’Alliance Française is French Cultural Center in Houston. Located at 427 Lovett Blvd., it 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.

BEAR on BUBBLES: The Current State of Champagne

The older I get, the more Champagne I drink. Well, Champagne and other sparkling wines. Those others include other French Fizz, Cava, British Bubbles, California sparklers and even sparkling wines from Australia. It all has a place at the table but the undisputed king of sparkling wine is Champagne. To really understand all the others, you have to understand Champagne.

And Champagne has gotten more complicated than it once was. If you were a US consumer 30-40 years ago (which is when I was getting started in and learning the wine business) and you knew 12-to-15 brands (all grand marques), understood the difference between vintage and non-vintage, were aware that there was pink Champagne (which no one then much drank),  and knew the names of a few luxury  Cuvées (Dom Perignon, La Grande Dame, Comtes de Champagne, Cristal, Grand Siecle …), you were on top of your Champagne game. Much has changed.

Today’s informed Champagne buyer needs to know some things: How Champagne is made (Methode Champenoise), How dry is Extra Dry? Does Size Matter? Do Glasses Matter? Just who’s Brut is it? Other hot topics in Champagne include Grower Champagnes vs. Grand Marques, Sur Lattes (Champagne’s dirty little secret), the new wave of sweet Champagnse, Rosé Champagne, and Champagne with food.

For all of this and more in a 33 page .pdf,  please click on The Current State Of Champagne

 

UTTERLY UNIQUE x 3

I taste a lot of wine and certainly more than my share of great wine. Every-once-in-a-while, I taste something really unique. Every-once-in-a-great-while, I taste a something both great and unique. Great in terms of flavor and unique both in flavor and process. These are three of those:

TRASNOCHO
Ramirez de Ganuza Trasnocho is such a wine. Trasnocho means “overnight” and the wine is aptly named. After the fermentation and maceration for Ramirez de Ganuza’s excellent Rioja Reserva is complete, the tanks are drained and the free run wine is put into barrels to age. That’s when the trasnocho process starts. Plastic bladders are inserted into each of the drained tanks which still contain skins and pulp wet with trapped wine. The bladders are then filled with warm water and allowed to gently press the skins overnight. This smaller proportion of “overnight” wine that seeps from the tanks is kept separate and aged 2 years in all new French oak barrels. The result is Trasnocho Reserva. For me, it’s easy to think of the excellent Ramirez de Ganuza Reserva as the Ch. Margaux of Rioja while the utterly unique Trasnocho fills the role of Ch. Latour.

REMIREZ de GANUZA Trasnocho Reserva, Rioja, 2009 ($109.99)
A blend of 90% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano, 5% Viura-Malvasía from average 60 years vines, transported in boxes of 12kg and thermo-regulated specially designed cooling chambers during 24 hours (4-6°C degrees) prior to fermentation. Selection of grape on tables and separation of shoulders and bunch tips. This wine is elaborated from de-stemmed cluster shoulders (the ripest part of the bunch) only (the rest of the bunch is used to make an inexpensive carbonic maceration wine). Fermentation in 7,000 liter stainless steel tanks. After the tanks are drained, a bladder is inserted into the top of each tank, filled with warm water, and left overnight (hence “Trasnocho”) to gently press the remaining wine from the skins. This unique press wine is then aged 24 months in all new French oak barrels.       Purple-red color with well-formed legs; dry, full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium-chewy phenolics. Supple, ripe, juicy with some density but still elegant with spice and subtle-newer-leather to go along with the pure red Tempranillo fruit. Delicious and innovative but still identifiably Rioja. Avoids becoming a caricature. Layered – Textured – Dimensional. Utterly unique. BearScore: 96+.

 

HENRIOT CUVE 38
In 1990 Joseph Henriot set aside one vat (a “cuve”) to which toadd a portion of outstanding Blanc de Blancs each year, capturing the essence of every harvest in a sort of solera. The idea was to create a perpetual blend of 100% Chardonnay from 100% Cote de Blancs grand cru vineyards (Mesnil-sur-Oger, Chouilly, Avize and Oger). In 2009, the first 1,000 magnums were drawn and put through the Champagne process. After another 5 years aging on the lees in Henriot’s cellars in Reims, the wine was disgorged and given a final dosage of less than 5 grams per liter. Each year, another 1,000 magnums will be released.

HENRIOT Cuve 38, Champagne, NV   ($599.97 through 12/31/17)
100% Chardonnay all from Grand Cru Vineyards aged through a special reserve wine solera bottled in Magnum only re-fermented using Methode Champenoise, aged another 5 years on the yeasts and finished with a less-than-5-grams-per-liter dosage.      Pale-gold-straw in color and fully sparkling; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and scant phenolics. Deep dense, unique wine. Pure expression of Chardonnay and chalk, mineral and yeast but most of all development. The wine evolves in the glass as if slowly flattens and warms. It really succeeds as wine, not just as sparkling wine. My first impression score was 94+. Three hours later it was 97. Two days later (the still 2/3s full magnum stored cold and tightly stoppered) it was 100.
This is stunningly good, utterly unique Champagne that almost demands decanting to help it develop in a reasonable time. Or you could keep it for a few years and then … WOW! Only three magnums came to Texas. Available only at Spec’s at 2410 Smith Street in Houston.

 

LA TYRE
Ch. Montus is the producer who put Madiran on the world quality wine map. The wines from Montus offer an elegant expression of Tannat, the red grape of Madiran and now the adopted grape of Uraguay. This La Tyre takes it to the Nth level. What’s unique here? First off Tannat as a base for a world class wine. And then, a very new world process applied with classic results.

Ch. MONTUS La Tyre, Madiran, 2009   ($138.99)
100% organically grown Tanat from a 25 year old vineyard southwest exposure on 5 hectares at the highest point (260 meters) in Madiran. Windswept, steep slopes, highly permeable, covered with smooth large stones with subsoils of brown and red clay. The grapes are totally de-stemmed and given a cold 4 week maceration with only occasional punch-downs (no pump-overs). The juice is then fermented (both alcoholic and malo-lactic) at 28°C in all new French oak barrels. The new wine is aged 16 months with infrequent racking before bottling. It then gets another 2 years of bottle age prior to release.      Black-purple color that stains the glass with well formed legs; dry, full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium chewy phenolics. Stunning rich ripe fresh red and black fruit Tannat with spice and earth and oak. Finesse with power. Layered, textured, dimensional. BearScore: 96.

More on SOBs

No, this is not a Grinchy post about bad actors in the wine business – although that might be fun even if I had to change some names to protect the guilty. Rather this is about the good SOBs: Sustainable – Organic – Biodynamic. One her website, Dr. Liz Thach, MW of Sonoma State University writes about a consumer survey indicating that a lot of folks are willing to pay more for wines made from grapes grown using Sustainable, Organic, or Biodynamic farming. This is great but it looks like more than few of those surveyed are willing to pay more mostly because of the “feel good” associated with doing-the-right-thing.

I have zero problem with that. But I think there’s a more compelling reason to buy SOB. That reason is quality. Assuming good winemaking practices suited to SOB-grown grapes, wines made from SOB grown grapes have a much better chance of expressing terroir or site specificity than commercially farmed grapes made using commercial winemaking practices. I would argue that SOB-grown grapes produce better, more complex wines that give the geek wine drinker (which I am and which, if you’re reading this blog, you likely are, too) more of the experience we are looking for when we drink wine.

Either way, buy SOB (Sustainable – Organic – Biodynamic).

Louis Jadot 2015 Tasting and Seminar

Louis Jadot is among the very best negoçiants in Burgundy. But calling Jadot a negoçiant is a bit like calling an aircraft carrier a boat. Jadot is a proprietor with a substantial domaine and further farms most of the Cote d’Or vineyards where they source grapes. Based in Beaune, Louis Jadot was founded in 1859 by – wait for it – Louis Jadot. It is now owned by the American Kopf family (who also own wine importer and distributor Kobrand). Under second-generation estate manager Pierre Henri Gagey (the motive force behind Louis Jadot), the commitment to quality and the expression of terroir here is unsurpassed. 2015, like 2005 before it, is that great vintage across most of France sometimes referred to as “the rising tide that lifts all boats.” In this tasting we have a great producer making wine from grapes grown in great terroir in a great vintage.

On Monday, January 8th at 7pm, please join me (Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton) at the Wine School at l’Alliance Française for a Tasting of Louis Jadot’s 2015s. We’ll taste through all 15 available wines including 8 whites (1 Chablis and 7 Cote d’Or) and 7 reds (all Cote d’Or) with special attention paid to the specificity of place and process of each wine. The tasting includes 2 village wines, 8 premier cru wines, and 5 grand cru wines, all from the truly excellent 2015 vintage.

The line up:
Louis Jadot Chablis Fourchaume 1er Cru 2015
Louis Jadot Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot Blanc Clos De La Chapelle 1er Cru 2015
Louis Jadot Puligny Montrachet 2015
Louis Jadot Puligny Montrachet la Garenne 1er Cru 2015
Louis Jadot Puligny Montrachet Folatieres 1er Cru 2015
Louis Jadot Meursault Genevrieres 1er Cru 2015
Louis Jadot Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2015
Louis Jadot Chevalier Montrachet les Demoiselles Grand Cru 2015
Louis Jadot Santenay Clos de Malte Rouge 2015
Louis Jadot Savigny les Beaune la Dominode 1er Cru 2015
Louis Jadot Beaune Boucherottes 1er Cru 2015
Louis Jadot Nuits Saint Georges les Boudots 1er Cru 2015
Louis Jadot Corton Pougets Grand Cru 2015
Louis Jadot Clos Vougeot Grand Cru 2015
Louis Jadot Chapelle Chambertin Grand Cru 2015

Louis Jadot 2015 will cost $180.00 per person (Cash or Check) or $189.47 regular. The class will meet at 7pm on Monday, January 8, 2018 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 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.