The Architectural Magnificence of Tannins

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Tannins are one of the most intellectually engaging facets of wine, and also one of the most misunderstood. So what exactly is tannin? Tannin is a naturally occurring polyphenol that can be found in walnuts, almonds, dark chocolate, espresso, tea leaves, clove, quince, pomegranate, and of course, grapes. When considering the structural components of a wine, tannin—like acidity— is one of the most important. Tannins strongly influence the pairing ability, aging potential, and mouthfeel of a wine. But, tannins are often confused with the dryness level of a wine, because tannins dry out your mouth. When attempting to communicate what they like, many guests will tell you some variation of, “I like a wine that’s not too dry.” Generally when you hear this, you can assume they are not referring to a wine with some residual sugar—instead, they mean a wine with more restrained tannins. Some grape varieties that are naturally low in tannin include Pinot Noir, Gamay, Barbera, and Grenache. Varietals with naturally high amounts of tannin include Nebbiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Syrah, and Mourvedre. To make things even more obfuscated, the perception of tannin on the palate can vary quite a bit depending on the other structural elements of the wine, and what you or may not be eating at the time. Grape tannins are present in the skins, the seeds, and the stems of the vitis vinfera plant, and oak barrels also contribute tannin to a finished wine. Since white wines often have very little contact with their skins during the winemaking process, tannins are really only relevant when discussing red wines, orange wines, and longer skin-contact roses.

 

The Architecture of Happiness: Tannins and Structural Integrity

Structure can be a difficult thing to describe; the French will sometimes refer to a wine’s ‘skeleton,’ or ‘backbone,’ and when I think of structure, I think of the texture and architecture of a wine. The amount (and quality) of tannins are the most critical determining factor of this architecture, and from a sensory standpoint, they contribute a taste and a feeling that is distinct. Tannins dry out the tissues of your mouth and taste astringent, or bitter. When the tannins in the grapes have reached physiological maturity, the finished wine’s tannins may not jump out at you right away, but the wine will possess a commanding structure. Likewise, if the tannins did not reach physiological maturity before the time of harvest, the wine will ultimately taste unpleasantly astringent and harsh. In an ideal world, all wine grapes would receive enough sun and a long enough hang-time for the acidity to drop, the sugar levels to rise, and the tannins to reach full ripeness. However, this doesn’t always happen, as we all know from tasting wines that are thin, herbaceous and astringent (think cool-vintage Bordeaux when there was too much rain) or overly-ripe, fruity wines that feel cloying on the palate (mass-produced blends from Paso Robles get the point across). To be a more discerning taster, think not just about the level of tannin in the next wine that you taste, but also the ripeness and quality of the tannin. With a clearly delineated architecture, a wine seems more impressive on the palate and also possesses a formidable beauty. Need tangible proof? Try a bottle of Corison—it’s the Angelina Jolie of Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

Built to Last: the Relationship Between Tannins and Aging Potential

It’s no coincidence that most collectors gravitate towards Bordeaux, Super Tuscans, Barolos, and Napa Cabernets. These are all wines that have higher tannins, and thus a better chance at aging more gracefully. Tannin, like acidity and sugar, is a natural preservative. As wine ages, the tannins become mellower and precipitate out in the form of sediment. This is one of the reasons why you’re likely to get more cellaring time out of a Barbaresco than you are a Burgundy. A shack with a thatched roof may provide shelter in the short term, but it’s solid stone castles that stand the test of time—the same is true with wine.

 

Marrying Well: How to Pair Tannic Wines with Food

Some wines are the libation equivalent of Clint Eastwood, and some are more akin to Don Draper. The chemical reason behind why some wines possess so much grip is because tannin molecules bind to the proteins in your saliva. So it’s not technically the tannins that dry your mouth, it’s the fact that your saliva can no longer adequately lubricate your palate, causing the tissues in your mouth to rub together and feel dry. Tannins are easily influenced by food, which is why eating a steak with a glass of Cabernet can help to ‘resolve’ the tannins. Tannins help to ‘cleanse’ the palate of fattiness, and also provide a ‘tenderizing’ effect for foods with lots of muscle fiber. Just be careful pairing tannic wines with salty or spicy foods—salt and heat are a magnifier that make wines taste even more tannic.

 

 

By Amanda Woodward, Wally’s Sommelier

Common ‘Wine Terms’—and What They Really Mean

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Sometimes talking about wine can seem like dancing about architecture: impossible. Many people don’t quite know what they want or are looking for in a wine, and worse still, they may not use the right language to convey their meaning.

Corked wine – Wines become corked when they get infected by a bacteria called TCA (Tri-Chloro Anisole). It imparts a musty, cardboard-like flavor. Some people describe it as ‘wet dog’ or ‘moldy basement.’ TCA can affect a wine to varying degrees—sometimes a corked wine will display ‘earthy’ aromas that are not entirely unpleasant to the drinker, but the lack of fruit aromas and flavors is a good indicator that the wine has Cork Taint. Even though a corked wine has a defective aroma and flavor, it will not harm the drinker. Any wine regardless of its quality or price can be corky. There are several faults that can ruin a wine, and TCA is only one of them.

Fruity wine – This can be perceived as dry-floral or sweet-floral. Dry wine refers to a wine that has no residual sugar. But again, a fragrant or ripe white can be perceived as being sweet (even though the wine is fermented
dry). Someone might refer to a soft and fruity wine like Pinot Noir as sweet, and the same person might consider a tannic Cabernet Sauvignon as dry. Some guests refer to ‘dry wine’ as being tannic (or a wine that dries their mouth).

Tannic wine – This is a common phrase used in most restaurants. Tannin is the harsh (and sometimes bitter) element in red wine, derived from grape skins, pips, stems and from aging in oak barrels. It acts as a preservative and is essential for a wine’s long-term aging. Tannins vary depending on the individual grape varietal. Pinot Noir, a thin-skinned grape, will always have lower tannings than Cabernet Sauvignon, a thick-skinned grape. Even if a wine has a lot of tannins, it can be round and soft (like most California Cabernet Sauvignon).

 

By Amanda Woodward, Sommelier at Wally’s Beverly Hills 

The All-Stars Were Shining…

Posted on Posted in Tasting & Events, Wine

By Gary Fishman, Wally’s Domestic Wine Buyer
 
The buzz keeps buzzing about the success of Wally’s latest staging of its incomparable Napa/Sonoma All-Stars Tasting.  The event, held from 2-5pm on April 23rd in two spacious ballrooms of The Olympic Collection, drew an appreciative audience of nearly 700 serious wine aficionados who swirled and sipped their way through an array of more than 200 sensational wines. Iconic names such as Opus One, Dominus Estate, Darioush, Paul Hobbs, Shafer and Pahlmeyer led the way, providing the leading edge to a vinous embarrassment of wine tasting riches. Live music and wonderful food provided by Cowgirl Creamery and Wally’s Chef David Féau (Short Rib Sliders!) and others complemented the wines being poured. And we even snuck in the Southern California debut of Napa Valley’s latest new brewery, Barrels & Sons, with its thirst-quenchingly crisp Pilsner. Amid all the great wines, this was one of the most popular tables at the entire event.

My five new favorites from the event are listed below. My hope is that you will try one or all of them, and let me know how I’m doing!

(Note:  Wally’s special events continue with the Sunday, June 4 staging of our incomparable Grande Marque Champagne fund-raiser. This year marks the Silver Anniversary, so it is shaping up to be an extra-special affair. Click Here to learn more and purchase tickets, and I hope you will sign up soon.)

 

2016 Aril Sauvignon Blanc Kick Ranch $32

2013 Buoncristiani O.P.C. Red $40

2013 Ehlers Cabernet Sauvignon Estate $55

2014 Senses Pinot Noir Hillcrest Vineyard $65

2013 Iron Horse Ocean Reserve Sparkling $40

A Landmark Vintage Heralds A New Era In Bordeaux

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By Geoff Pattison, Wally’s Bordeaux Buyer

To shop our 2016 Bordeaux Futures click here!

There were a lot of new descriptors on people’s lips in Bordeaux this spring. Precise. Energetic. Transparent. Miraculous. Revolutionary.
But if there is one word that I think sums up the vintage it is: Unprecedented.

THE WINES
Overall the 2016s are intensely aromatic wines of great precision, crackling energy, and understated power marked by excellent ripeness perfectly balanced with fresh acidity and abundant, ripe, silky tannins.

Most exciting is the fact that there is a level of clarity and transparency of terroir in the 2016s that we have never seen before. Over the past several years we have seen a move by many of the chateau toward a more classically balanced style of Bordeaux with less oak influence, less extraction, and lower alcohol. This is the first truly great vintage where we are getting to see this new school of Bordeaux on display and the results are truly outstanding.

We asked many vignerons for comparisons and not one could come up with one single vintage with which 2016 can be compared. In terms of general quality 2016 there is broad agreement that 2016 is on par with top vintages such as 2005, 2009 and 2010. But the combination of classical styling, beautiful ripeness and exuberant energetic freshness are truly unique. This is a modern benchmark vintage heralding a new style of Bordeaux.

THE CRITICS
The press is out on 2016 Bordeaux and the top critics’ scores are staggering. James Molesworth of Wine Spectator, Antonio Galloni of Vinous and Neal Martin of The Wine Advocate have all given the vintage glowing reviews and between the three of them, there are FIFTEEN potentially perfect wines in 2016. Below are the top scoring wines from their reports. Note these are just the wines with a floor of 95 points or more and include nearly fifty producers. We have not seen such consistently high scores for a Bordeaux vintage since 2009 and 2010

“2016 is unequivocally a great vintage in Bordeaux… Over twenty years of tasting Bordeaux from barrel at en primeur,
this was my most pleasurable tasting experience alongside the 2009.”
-Neal Martin, The Wine Advocate

THE MARKET
While the chateaux have still yet to release their pricing, U.S. consumers are in a very strong position this year. The Euro is currently at the lowest point against the Dollar of any futures campaign in history. At the same time, the Euro has grown roughly 15% stronger against the Pound Sterling post-Brexit. As the UK is the other major en Primeur market, this exerts considerable pressure on the chateaux to keep prices close in line with last year. In short, if pricing remains close to last year, there will be a plethora of great values out there for U.S. consumers on futures in this historic vintage.

To shop our 2016 Bordeaux Futures click here!

Dispatches from Bordeaux: 2015 Vintage – Part I

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by Geoff Pattison, Wally’s Bordeaux Buyer

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There’s something distinctly different about the feeling in Bordeaux during the good vintages.  There’s a sense of anticipation as you step off the plane.  Coming into the city everything feels a bit more vibrant. There’s a spring in the step of the people you meet.  Even when it rains, people are smiling.  Having read the early weather reports I already had a sense that the wines would be special.  There were whispers from negociants and vignerons in the months after harvest.  These insiders are usually in the business of having to “sell” a vintage so when they stop spouting superlatives and say “just wait til you taste the wines,” you know they’ve got the goods.

It’s Monday morning and once again Wally’s President Christian Navarro and I are here to taste another new vintage.  It’s a special year for both of us as this is my tenth year tasting en primeur and for Christian his 25th.  And what a year it looks to be.  The early reports have been extremely promising.  Beginning in April, a warm, even spring allowed perfect flowering across the region.  As the summer arrived, June and July were extremely hot and dry which accelerated ripening and stressed the vines.  By August, many vignerons were starting to worry that they would face drought conditions, but then, at just the right time, the rain came and provided just what the vines needed to be refreshed.  At this point things were looking very good and all that was needed was a dry harvest to make the vintage.  In Margaux, Pessac-Leognan and the right bank appellations of Saint Emilion and Pomerol, they got exactly that.  A long, even September and October that allowed a relaxed harvest under ideal conditions.  In the Northern Medoc, the rain came at just the wrong time, mid to late September.  Pauillac and Saint Julien were hit with it in spots and the well drained terroirs fared much better than others.  Saint Estephe got the worst of it, double the rainfall of Pauillac, leading to inevitable dilution at harvest and making it the lone rough spot in this otherwise excellent vintage.

Our schedule this year begins in Margaux which from the early reports appears to be one of the most gifted appellations in 2015.  In a twist of fate, the September rains which ensnared the northern Medoc completely missed the southern appellations.  It seems this year has the makings of a modern day 1983, where similar weather patterns produced benchmark Margauxs that in most instances outpace the vaunted 1982s.

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We begin the morning at Chateau Rauzan Segla, which has to be one of the most beautiful properties in all of Bordeaux.  This year marks the first vintage under Rauzan’s new technical director Nicolas Audebert, who was formerly the winemaker at Cheval des Andes.  As we arrive we’re welcomed into the barrel room to taste several components directly from barrel.  While I’ve done this in many other regions around the world, it’s somewhat unorthodox in Bordeaux where we’re usually presented with a pre-drawn assemblage in a lab or tasting room.  It’s a small tell as to the new direction of the new regime here which is looking to shake things up a bit.

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Barrel tasting notes from Rauzan Segla:

New Oak Barrel #1 – Cooper: Demptos
-A pretty nose with fresh violets, primary red fruit and a good dose of polished vanillary oak.  There’s good concentrated fruit here with power.  Linear and focused.

New Oak Barrel #2 – Cooper: Sylvain
-This barrel is deeper and richer on the nose, bursting with blackcurrants.  There’s more freshness compared to the Demptos barrel and more structure too.  Excellent balance.

New Oak Barrel #3 – Cooper: San Martin
-Toasty, earthy aromas dominate the nose here.  This one is the most touched by oak, but again the balance is beautiful and there’s a great deal of power.

Neutral Barrel #1
-This is the most expressive barrel of the four.  Explosive red and dark berry fruit mixed with a kaleidoscopic array of spices.  Let’s call it spice rack.  Silky with really nice persistence on the finish, freshness melded with power.

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And now on to the full assemblage sample:

2015 Chateau Rauzan Segla
-The nose is tight and focused with blue/purple fruit (blueberries and blackcurrants).  Powerful and structured on the palate.  Linear and medium to full bodied.  Great freshness on the end.  This is a firm and serious Rauzan Segla that is more masculine than usual.  Very reminiscent of the excellent 2005.

Leaving Rauzan Segla we head to Chateau Margaux, the legendary First Growth.  This is a bittersweet vintage at the property as longtime Director Paul Pontallier just recently passed away in March at the age of 59 after a battle with cancer.  Before he passed, Paul was able to see the birth of the 2015 which looks to be very special indeed.

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2015 Chateau Margaux
-A gorgeous perfume of red fruit and milk chocolate, fine polished leather and blackberry leaf.  The texture is pure cashmere on the effortless entry.  This is absolutely seamless with beautiful, generous volume and expert balance.  Ripe and soft with very fine tannins.  Deep flavors, the spicy Cabernet character comes through more on the palate.  This is so integrated that you want to drink it already.  Extraordinarily elegant, an understated freshness carries through on the long finish.  Beautiful and pure.

I’ve been lucky enough to have tried all of the greatest modern vintages of Margaux and I think this may just be their best ever.  Talk about starting the trip off with a bang.  This is going to be very hard to beat, we’re only on our second stop and this is clearly a top candidate for wine of the vintage.

Presenting the wine is Paul’s son Thibault Pontallier.  Thibault remarks that his father described the infant 2015 as a mix of the ripeness of 2009 and the power of 2010 with the elegance of 2005.  In this vintage it seems you really can have it all.

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After leaving Margaux we head to some other top properties in Margaux and Pessac-Leognan.  Highlights of the afternoon’s tastings:

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2015 Chateau Palmer
-Lots of blackberry leaf and white mineral, this is somewhat closed on the nose today.  But the palate displays a towering frame.  This is extremely muscular and will be long lived.  There’s a strong vein of minerality underpinning the fruit here.  An intellectual Palmer that really shows more Cabernet character than usual.  I’d imagine that this will be compared to the 2010 for years as they’re rather similar in character, a true vin de garde with a 40-50 year lifespan easily.

2015 Chateau Giscours
-70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot.  Deep, dark blackcurrant fruit on the nose, almost crème de cassis.  Beautifully ripe and very pure with excellent volume.  All of this gorgeous fruit is wrapped up in a perfectly proportioned frame with soft gossamer tannins…very precise, like a tailored suit.  Wow.  What a stunning Giscours.  This is without a doubt the finest wine I’ve ever tasted from this property.  This should be one of the top values of the vintage.

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2015 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc
-Massive but with good precision, this shows notes of lemon, coconut and white mineral.  Fairly exotic without going in too tropical a direction.  There’s a lot of fruit on the palate but it’s nicely balanced.  This is soft, ripe and agreeable, and while it lacks the power of a great vintage, this is very well made and should drink deliciously on release.

2015 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge
-This has a big, broad, polished dark fruit nose that’s just ravishing.  Extremely ripe on the attack, but it’s packed with tannin and acid too.  A very forward, modern style this year but the quality of the terroir comes through clearly.  Somewhat atypical for the vintage, this is almost as big and fruit forward as their 100 point 2009.  To quote Spinal Tap, “this one goes to eleven.”

Wally’s Bordeaux Blog – Vintage 2014 Dispatches from Bordeaux – Recap and Top Picks

Posted on Posted in Uncategorized, Wine

It’s been a few months since my last blog entry and, as the campaign wraps up, I thought I’d put together a review of the top wines of the vintage and best buys now that we know all of the pricing and can take a full view of the 2014 vintage. These are my insider recommendations based on my tastings in Bordeaux during En Primeur with an eye on the wines that provide the greatest value.

Let’s take a look at a few lists, beginning with the best of the best:

The Finest Wines of the 2014 Vintage

1) 2014 Chateau Cheval Blanc ($459.99, 96-99 WS)
2) 2014 Chateau Haut Brion ($319.99, 95-98 WS)
3) 2014 Chateau Mouton Rothschild ($319.99, 95-98 WS)
4) 2014 Vieux Chateau Certan ($137.99, 95-97 WA)
5) 2014 Chateau Montrose ($114.99, 95-97 WA)

Based purely on quality I believe these are the wines that reach the highest heights in 2014. Cheval Blanc really stands alone at the top, it is a stunning wine with a level of class and luxurious sophistication that even the firsts don’t quite reach. It’s effortlessly pure and balanced, with an incredibly silky texture and extraordinary complexity. Wine of the Vintage, full stop.

While Haut Brion and Mouton are no surprises here, the obvious standouts are VCC and Montrose which represent incredible values for top 5 level wines. Montrose in particular is a stunning wine at a shockingly good price. In my opinion, which is shared by most of the critics this year, the 2014 Montrose is better than honorable mentions Lafite, Margaux, La Mission Haut Brion, Ducru Beaucaillou, the list goes on… Because of the incredible value on offer here, it’s my number one pick for this vintage. If you buy only one wine, Montrose should be it.

For the value hunters…

Top 2014 Bordeaux Quality-to-Price Ratio

2014 Chateau Barde Haut $26.99 91-94 AG
2014 Chateau Faugeres $29.99 92-95 AG
2014 Chateau Lafleur Gazin $32.99 92-95 AG
2014 Chateau Larcis Ducasse $49.99 93-96 AG
2014 Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste $53.99 93-96 WS
2014 Chateau Pavie Macquin $55.99 93-96 WS
2014 Chateau Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse $74.99 94-97 AG

These are the wines that really overachieve in the $25-75 sweet spot. Barde Haut, Faugeres and Lafleur Gazin are all stunningly good. At $25-35, these are wines that will easily drink comparably with wines in the $50 range when they arrive. For those with the foresight to buy them now, these are great candidates for house wines and should be bought by the case.

Grand Puy Lacoste is a star in the making. Long a connoisseur’s favorite, GPL exudes a purity and clarity of Paulliac terroir that is rare at its pricepoint. For those looking for the wine most likely to make the leap (ala Lynch Bages and Pontet Canet), this is the estate. It also doesn’t hurt that it is a personal favorite of new Wine Advocate critic Neal Martin.

I cannot say enough about the amazing work done by Nicolas Thienpont and Stephane Derenoncourt at the trio of Saint Emilion properties they manage: Larcis Ducasse, Pavie Macquin and Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse. It’s beginning to sound like a broken record at this point, but the fact is no one else in Bordeaux comes close to making such consistently fantastic wines at very fair prices year in, year out. These wines are always incredibly exotic and expressive in their youth in an attractive modern style. What is baffling is the fact that they do so without any sense of overripeness or overt oak influence as so many modern styled wines do. They always clearly express their terroirs, show good balance and age extremely well. At $50-75 they deliver the quality of wines double their price and get my highest recommendation as the best bang for the buck wines in 2014 Bordeaux.

Now a look at some familiar names with not too familiar pricing…

Best-Selling Favorites at Their Lowest Prices in Years

2014 Chateau Calon Segur $57.99 93-96 AG
2014 Chateau Haut Bailly $59.99 93-96 AG
2014 Chateau Leoville Barton $60.99 92-95 WS
2014 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte $62.99 93-96 WS
2014 Chateau Lynch Bages $83.99 93-96 WS
2014 Chateau Pichon Lalande $88.99 93-96 AG
2014 Chateau Pichon Baron $89.99 95-96 WCI
2014 Chateau Pontet Canet $89.99 93-96 AG
2014 Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou $107.99 94-97 AG
2014 Chateau Cos d’Estournel $114.99 95-96 WCI
2014 Chateau Leoville Las Cases $129.99 94-97 WS
2014 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion $194.99 95-97 WA
2014 Chateau Palmer $214.99 93-96 WS
2014 Chateau Margaux $319.99 94-97 WS
2014 Chateau Lafite Rothschild $414.99 94-97 WS

For those who have followed the prices of these wines from the heights of 2009 and 2010 (vintages where these wines are easily double or triple these prices), you can see just how striking the value of this vintage is. The scores are high, not far off the quality of those blockbuster vintages. And the prices are the lowest of any vintage currently available on the market. For so long it has been impossible to find Lynch Bages below $100, Leoville Las Cases below $200. And First Growths below $350. Yet here they are, and with incredible quality to boot.

Take Smith Haut Lafitte, a perennial favorite that usually lands around the $75-100 range. A pedigreed, single estate Cabernet blend with the highest level of winemaking. The wine is excellent this year and it’s available at $63. Try to get that sort of value from Napa Valley, it’s impossible. More and more, Bordeaux is producing excellent values that outpace the rest of the world.

For those with an eye on investment, I’ve grouped my targets into three categories providing the greatest opportunity for appreciation:

Limited Quantities on First Tranche
Lynch Bages
Margaux
Mouton Rothschild
Pichon Lalande

Undervalued/Room to Appreciate
Grand Puy Lacoste
Smith Haut Lafitte
Calon Segur
Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse

Great Wines and Underpriced Compared to Other Vintages on the Market
Ducru Beaucaillou
La Mission Haut Brion
Leoville Las Cases

My top three investment targets are Lynch Bages, Margaux and Ducru Beaucaillou. Lynch and Margaux are major, in-demand labels that are fairly priced and in more limited supply than their peers. Both wines will go up as stocks are exhausted, these two are can’t miss buys. Ducru Beaucaillou is a spectacular wine this year and likely a candidate for an upgraded score from bottle. At $107.99 it’s just criminally underpriced compared to other good vintages of Ducru. I could easily see it selling for double the current price within 5 years.

Looking at the lower end of the spectrum. Grand Puy Lacoste, Smith Haut Lafitte and Calon Segur are interesting investment plays in volume. Their combination of name-recognition, low prices and high upside make them clear candidates to double in value in a 5-7 year window.

Buying well-known Bordeaux labels from a great vintage at bargain prices is always a strong investment and the opportunity is there this year. If you have the ability to put these away now, they will repay you in spades when they are ready to drink.

As always, please feel free to reach out to me personally if you have any questions about Futures or are seeking advice.

Geoff Pattison
Wally’s Wine & Spirits
Director of Imports
(310) 475-0606 Ext. 131
geoff@wallywine.com

Read up on previous dispatches from Bordeaux:
Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 5

Wally’s Bordeaux Blog – Vintage 2014 Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 5

Posted on Posted in Wine

Thursday, April 16th 2015

Today is the last day of the trip and our morning is reserved for a comprehensive tasting at one of Bordeaux’s largest negociant firms. While we always try to make it to as many properties as we can, it’s just not possible to visit them all in person, so this sort of “cattle call” tasting is a necessity to get a full picture of the vintage. Prior to the tasting we’re able to request barrel samples from a list of hundreds of chateaux throughout the region. The day before our tasting the samples arrive fresh in 375ml half bottles, ready for our consideration. I usually try to schedule this at the end of the trip so we are able to form a general opinion of the vintage “on the ground” and then fill in the gaps, as it were.

Over the course of 2 ½ hours the parade of half bottles both confirms and fleshes out our early impressions of the vintage. Some of the top highlights include:

2014 Chateau Gazin
-Charming nose of earth and blueberries, firm and structured on the palate, medium bodied. A nicely balanced expression that should age well.

2014 Chateau Beychevelle
-51% Merlot this year, the nose is pure red fruit with hints of gravel and iron. Nice fruit on the attack, good ripeness and density. Long finish, this is an excellent Beychevelle, clearly their best since the 2010.

2014 Chateau Faugeres
-A very ripe, polished nose of chocolate covered cherries. Very modern on the palate with ripe dark fruit and espresso. Still there is a great sense of weight and density for the pricepoint. Once again this will be a very attractive QPR.

2014 Chateau Le Gay
-A pretty nose of cedar and perfumed berry fruit. Lithe and elegant on the palate. Medium bodied and very nicely balanced. A lighter expression of Le Gay but everything is in good proportion, the volume is just dialed back a bit. This will likely drink well relatively early.

2014 Chateau Larcis Ducasse
-As per usual, very flamboyant on the nose, kirsch, crème de cassis, strawberries. Sweet and ripe on the attack, medium bodied, doesn’t have the density of its big brothers but there’s no denying this is a hugely attractive wine and very well made. It will be interesting to see where the price lands, this could be one of the best QPRs of the vintage.

2014 Chateau Pavie Macquin
-Seductive nose of Mocha, earth and plums that is textbook Pavie Macq. Again ripe, round and sweet on the palate with excellent richness. A very good vintage for them if perhaps lacking the structure of the best vintages.

2014 Chateau Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse
-Somewhat similar nose to the Pavie Macquin, mocha, earth, but more toward the cassis end of the spectrum. More complex and exotic with spice elements. Big and powerful on the palate with mocha, blueberry and animale flavors. This is a top notch terroir that has been firing on all cylinders under the watch of Nicolas Thienpont. Still one of the best values in Bordeaux, this could hold its own blind with Pavie, Angelus, Troplong, etc… and can still be had for a fraction of the price.

2014 Chateau Haut Bailly
-Nice ripe red fruit nose with herbal and mineral notes. Taut on the entry with mineral laced cherry and tobacco flavors. This is medium bodied but well-structured with a nice sense of tension. A precise Haut Bailly that should unfurl nicely in 5-10 years.

2014 Chateau Les Carmes Haut Brion
-50% Cabernet Franc. Deep, spicy, herbal berries and dark chocolate. Hints of violets. Lush and silky on the palate, ends with a drying persistent finish. Not a huge vintage but very elegant. This is one of the most exciting new projects in Bordeaux. Rhone inspired winemaking, stem inclusion, high percentage of Cabernet Franc in Pessac Leognan. What a strange and wonderful wine.

2014 Chateau Doisy Daene
-Very floral with white flowers and stone fruits. Rich, seductive and powerful, a decadent Doisy Daene. This is such a great value every year.

2014 Chateau Doisy Vedrines
-Honey, ginger and apricot jam on the nose. This is rich and sweet but has a nice line of acid running through it. Great quality for the price.

2014 Chateau Coutet
-Complex on the nose, mandarin orange, pineapple, honeysuckle, gingerbread. Strikingly sweet and intense on the palate, this is a monster Barsac. While one might wish for a bit more tension and finesse, the level of concentration and power on display here is impressive and frankly this is better that Rieussec and Suduiraut in this vintage. What a showing from this perennial value!

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Leaving the negociant’s offices we hop in the car and head to Saint Emilion. First stop is the imposing new compound at the newly anointed “Premier Grand Cru Classe A” Chateau Pavie. Gerard Perse has shepherded this estate’s rise from relative obscurity to become one of the jewels of the appellation. As of 2012 it joins Ausone, Cheval Blanc and Angelus as the only “A” designated wines in Saint Emilion. There are two obvious standouts from their stable of wines:

2014 Chateau Monbousquet
-Funky nose with truffles, turned earth and coffee grounds. The palate turns more red fruit driven than usual here with a lovely underpinning of acidity running through. This is polished but well balanced. Shows the high level of winemaking of the Perse stable and should be a top value.

2014 Chateau Pavie
-A classic Pavie nose, ripe, plush and sexy but fresh. Nice balance on the velvety palate, powerful with no holes. Rock solid midpalate. The overall sense is still medium bodied, this is a dialed back Pavie that shows a bit more sinew and tension than usual. Quite good.

Leaving Pavie we head to Chateau Troplong Mondot where we will taste the first vintage since the passing of the incomparable Christine Valette. There is only one wine to taste:

2014 Chateau Troplong Mondot
-Rich, ripe, powerful nose full of espresso and macerated black cherry. Deep, rich, powerful, suave and round. 85% new oak this year. Very good volume, a beautiful Troplong.

In addition to being one of the great terroirs of Saint Emilion, Troplong Mondot is also home to a charming on-site boutique resort called Les Belles Perdrix which happens to have one of the best restaurants in the Right Bank. We settle in for a delicious 3 course prix-fixe lunch. The cooking is market driven, creative and at a very high level. If you find yourself in Saint Emilion make sure you make a reservation here, it is a must. Our lunch is paired with the excellent 2006 Chateau Troplong Mondot

Leaving lunch it’s a full afternoon of appointments in Pomerol and Saint Emilion. Highlights of the afternoon:

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2014 Chateau Ausone
-60% Cabernet Franc. Framboise, lovely red fruit, ripe tannins and very long. This feels so effortless on the palate but you really sense the power on the end. Sneaky good structure. Excellent acid balance, a very elegant Ausone.

2014 La Fleur de Bouard
-A ripe, deep jammy nose. This is big and round on the palate but fresh with a nice underpinning of acid and good volume. Well done.

2014 Chateau Angelus
-Plush, round floral infused dark chocolate on the nose. Very concentrated chocolate and berry compote on the palate. Excellent freshness and very tannic as this usually is at this stage.

2014 Chateau Cheval Blanc
-55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Franc. A markedly complex, deep, luxurious herbal nose with considerable fruit and charm. Lovely silky texture, medium bodied with zen-like balance. Elegant, long and aromatic, there’s something Burgundian about the sense of inner perfume here. A tour de force, this is likely one of the top wines of the vintage.

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2014 Chateau Figeac
-Dark chocolate, berry fruit, somewhat herbal. The Cabernet Sauvignon is ripe and lends nice muscle. Good freshness. A masculine, sinewy Figeac reminiscent of the 1995 or the 1988.

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2014 Chateau L’Eglise Clinet
-Dazzling, knockout aromas of boysenberry, kirsch, wild flowers and cherry heering. Just stunning. Rich, ripe, sexy berry fruit on the palate. All of this exoticism is buttressed by a huge structure with good volume and muscle. This is a fabulous, pure L’Eglise Clinet that will likely be rather affordable. Highly recommended.

Dinner tonight is at a local negociant’s home where we enjoy a laid back meal among friends. Our good friend Thomas Duroux of Chateau Palmer (who will be in LA for our Palmer Vertical Dinner this fall) has come to join us and we start off the evening with the 2011 Vin Blanc de Chateau Palmer, a rare bird indeed. Not commercially released and limited to just 100 cases per year, this is an odd blend of Muscadelle, Loset and Sauvignon Gris. Very fresh and full of white orchard fruit on the nose. The palate is rounded and airy with nice acidity. As dinner unfolds we open spectacular bottles of 2000 Chateau Cheval Blanc and 1998 L’Evangile. Wonderful conversation on Bordeaux, Hollywood and Jazz end the trip on a high note.

Now off to bed. And tomorrow on to Paris for a bit of fun before the flight home. Looking back on the trip this is a truly excellent vintage and given the outlook on prices and the currency exchange rate, this should be a very exciting campaign indeed.

-Written by Geoff Pattison, Director of Imports

Read up on previous dispatches from Bordeaux:
Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 4

Wally’s Bordeaux Blog – Vintage 2014 Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 4

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Wednesday April 15th 2015

Another early morning today as Christian, Michael and I head out to the Right Bank for the first time in this vintage. The reports around Bordeaux are that this vintage is stronger in the Left Bank than the right. More substantial rainfall in Pomerol and Saint Emilion coupled with the fact that Merlot did not benefit from as much of the Indian summer mean that things are supposedly less uniform on this side of the Gironde. Today we will see for ourselves if these wines can match the stunning 2014s we’ve tasted thus far in the Medoc.

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Our first appointment is 9:15 am at one of our favorite properties in the world: Vieux Chateau Certan. This is a magical terroir is located directly adjacent to Chateau Petrus and one could make a case that they have surpassed their neighbor in several recent vintages. We are welcomed warmly by our old friend Alexandre Thienpont who has shepherded VCC since he took over for his father in 1986. There is only one wine to taste:

2014 Vieux Chateau Certan
-Pure, deep, soft red fruit on the nose. There is a lovely purity to the red fruit and fine mineral driven flavors here. Good weight on the palate with a powerful, structured, building finish. A muscular VCC with amazing depth and great precision, this has to be one of the top wines of the vintage.

Leaving VCC we head to the offices of JP Moueix in nearby Libourne. This legendary negociant firm is headed by Christian Moueix, proprietor of Chateau Petrus. Today we will be meeting with Christian’s son Edouard who is in the process of taking over the reins of the family business. Edouard leads us into their drawing room where their illustrious stable of wines are laid out for us to taste at our own pace. Leaving us to taste in private we now get to try the 2014s from some of the greatest terroirs in the right bank. The highlights include:

2014 Chateau Plince
-Lovely, harmonious nose of berry fruit with complex herbal tones. There’s a current of sweet tobacco running through the silkly, elegant palate that displays nice volume and texture. A very good Plince, best since 2009.

2014 Chateau Bourgneuf
-A fairly ripe, deep nose of red fruit with mocha tones. Muscular and tannic with nice length and good persistence of the mocha-driven flavor profile which follows through on the palate. Recommended.

2014 Chateau Gazin
-Dark Chocolate and blackberry fruit on the nose. This has a sweet balanced palate with a vein of minerality running through. Nice power.

2014 Chateau Latour A Pomerol
-A complex, resonant, spicy nose leads into a balanced ripe berry fruit driven palate with hints of truffle and spice in the background. Great texture and a long, nicely integrated finish. Harmonious and seamless. Not a big wine but totally complete and well-balanced.

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2014 Chateau Lafleur
-Complex, powerful, class nose. Deep. Sweet silky flavors of pure red berries with nice weight and texture. Elegant and feminine but keeps pumping through on the finish with serious muscle and length. Textbook Lafleur. Excellent.

2014 Chateau La Fleur Petrus
-Wow, this has a gorgeous polished nose of high toned plum and raspberry. Merlot driven. Great texture, medium bodied, good structure. Harmonious and long.

2014 Chateau Trotanoy
-Smoky and spicy with lovely plum fruit and truffles on the nose. Long, powerful and buttoned up. There’s something aristocratic about this Trotanoy’s personality. The palate is seamless and supple with great purity and depth. Excellent.

2014 Chateau Belair-Monange
-Expressive, powerful nose that leaps out of the glass with ripe herbal toned dark fruit. Slightly more modern than the Pomerol stable tasted before. Nice structure, good balance and freshness. Finishes long with pepper and dark chocolate tones. We are just starting to see what this property can do with the addition of the former Magdelaine vineyards. A fascinating estate to watch that could one day be one of the top estates in Saint Emilion.

After concluding the tasting, we head to Saint Emilion with Edouard to tour the vineyards of Chateau Belair-Monange. Since the Moueix family took over this historic estate in 2008 they have vastly upgraded the chateau and vineyards. There is currently a massive effort underway to replant several large parcels and we are struck by how many hectares are fallow at the moment. For Edouard this is a lifelong project, it will be decades before we really see what this well situated terroir is truly capable of.

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Edouard leads us down into the limestone quarry beneath the vineyard. This labyrinth of caves, carved out over hundreds of years, just completed a retrofit to strengthen and stabilize the limestone. It’s a reminder of the history of the place (much of the limestone harvested was used to build the town’s buildings, streets and walls) as well as the truly ideal soil composition here in Saint Emilion.

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Leaving Saint Emilion we head to Pomerol and Chateau La Fleur Petrus where we enjoy a wonderful lunch paired with the beautifully mature 1989 La Fleur Petrus and an absolutely delicious magnum of 2000 Trotanoy (just entering maturity, full bodied, plush and deep). Saying our goodbyes, it’s a long journey back across the Gironde to some afternoon appointments in Pessac-Leognan.

Highlights of the afternoon visits include:

2012 Domaine de Chevalier Rouge
-Deep, dark fruit on the nose with a lactic element. The palate is midweight and beautifully silky. Soft, plush and very accessible early.

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2014 Domaine de Chevalier Rouge
-Reticent nose, wow this is very tannic and muscular. Slightly austere but with amazing structure, one for the cellar.

2014 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc
-A gorgeous nose of citrus, pure mineral and melon. Very expressive aromatically. Rich on the palate but with plenty of racy acidity, finishes very long.

2014 Chateau Le Thil
-Primary red fruit and floral notes, very sweet on the attack, port-like. Pure Merlot. Finishes smoky and decadent.

2014 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge
-Dark fruit and the essence of stones. A touch of blackberry leaf. This is tannic, but midweight with excellent volume, rock solid midpalate. Finishes with nice freshness that balances the considerable fruit here. An excellent Smith Haut Lafitte that will likely be one of the best values of the vintage.

2014 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc
-Reticent nose, soft on the entry but the acid pumps through on the end, very good for the vintage, but not at the level of the stunning 2013. A very nice, midweight vintage of SHL Blanc.

2014 Le Dragon de Quintus
-Ripe, well defined red fruit on the nose. Punchy, intense flavors, primary, slightly jammy and exotic but with nice tension. A very attractive second wine, well done.

2014 Chateau Quintus
-Lovely nose of plum compote, sexy and liqueur-like on the palate but balanced and with good tension. Very well made, can’t wait to see where this property goes over the next 5-10 years under Haut Brion’s ownership.

2014 Le Clarence de Haut Brion
-Very pretty blackcurrant pastille with hints of scorched earth. Black fruit and incense. This is substantial but expertly balanced. A great second wine with lots of Haut Brion character, this should be more accessibly priced this year and is recommended.

2014 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion
-Slightly closed nose with graphite and herbaceous notes. Sweet and silky on the attack with blackcurrant and licorice, finishing with persistent flavor and lots of freshness.

2014 Chateau Haut Brion
-Deep and opaque with dark fruit, tobacco and spice. Palate is pretty with a strong notion of scorched earth. Midweight with good acid and a strong tannic backbone.

2014 Chateau Haut Brion Blanc
-Gorgeous white flowers, lanolin and pure grassy, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc fruit. Incredibly focused with laser sharp acid on the attack, midweight and seamless. Very fine.

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Dinner tonight is at Chateau Haut Brion with Director Jean-Philippe Delmas. After a long day of tasting we relax over Champagne in the chateau’s beautifully appointed drawing room while talking of the campaign, the recent rise in popularity of La Mission Haut Brion and Wally’s plans for growth. Dinner is elegant and beautifully paired with 2011 La Mission Haut Brion Blanc (Astonishingly precise with beautiful minerality, salinity and laser like acidity), 2003 La Mission Haut Brion (very youthful for an 03, definitely showing the decadence of the vintage but with plenty of room to age) and 1999 Chateau Haut Brion (In a great place for drinking, substantial but with resolved tannins, this is a pure Haut Brion with lots of incense, licorice and truffle). Being presented with a humidor full of Habanos is tempting after dinner but we decide we’ll have to pass if we are going to make it through tomorrow morning’s comprehensive tasting of nearly 100 wines! Heading back to the hotel we marvel at the incredible day we have just had…from lunch with a Moueix to dinner at a First Growth. Just one more day to go!

-Written by Geoff Pattison, Director of Imports

Read up on previous dispatches from Bordeaux:
Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 3

Wally’s Bordeaux Blog – Vintage 2014 Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 3

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Tuesday, April 14th

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Another early start today, heading out of Bordeaux at 7:45am to return to the Medoc. Today we will visit the rest of the major Left Bank chateaux, beginning with morning appointments at Leoville Barton, Montrose, Calon Segur, Latour, Leoville Poyferre and Rauzan Segla. Highlights of this morning’s tastings:

2014 Chateau Langoa Barton
-A complete, deep, open knit nose of dark red fruit with hints of spice box. This is medium bodied but classic Langoa with accessible exuberant fruit for a St Julien. Very nice.

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2014 Chateau Tronquoy Lalande
-A somewhat reticent dark fruit and dusty stone driven nose. Really good weight and richness on the powerful palate, tannic. This is a more muscular Tronquoy Lalande, really shows the quality of St. Estephe in this vintage, clearly their best since the 2010.

2014 Chateau Montrose
-A lovely beguiling nose. Pure, fine dark fruit and crushed stones, sensual on the seamless palate. Velvety with very good weight, but not overly heavy. Gorgeous texture, the tannin and oak are well integrated. Powerful, terroir-driven and polished. Montrose has really gone to another level over the past few years and this is nearly as good as the 100 point 2010. Clearly one of the wines of the vintage, it’s astonishing the way Montrose has been able to make substantial improvements while retaining an un-erring purity of character. Bravo!

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2014 Chateau Calon Segur
-Expressive dark berry fruit and kirsch on the nose, nice texture, but very tannic at this stage. Good freshness, this has a somewhat perfumed, feminine profile but with power. Marked by a more modern style than in years past. We are starting to see the new direction of the new ownership and it appears they are taking their stylistic cues more from Cos than Montrose. Rather flamboyant with little of the rusticity of the old regime.

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2014 Chateau Latour
-Reticent with hints of iron, cassis and gravel. Nice fruit on the attack. Powerful, muscular and tannic. Midweight and somewhat austere at this point, but the finish is very long. Not offered en Primeur.

2003 Chateau Latour
-Sexy, musky, truffles and sous bois. Decadent oak tones, walnuts, leather, cigar box on the nose. Sweet on the attack, nicely mature at this stage. Finishes soft, but well wrapped up with good length. A rather exotic, hedonistic Latour but certainly providing a lot of pleasure right now.

2014 Chateau Leoville Poyferre
-Dark color, sexy, crème de cassis on the nose. Plush and ripe. Nice mid-palate weight with a good amount of fat along a tannic backbone. Forward, round and charming. This is very generous and seems somewhat atypical for the vintage. A lot of sweet tannin and rather low in acid. This will likely drink well relatively early.

2014 Chateau Rauzan Segla
-Sweet and earthy on the nose, lovely silky palate with excellent volume and a strong tannic backbone. Medium plus body. This has a floral red fruit character on the palate that is classic Margaux, but its serious and long.

Lunch today is at Rauzan Segla with the chateau’s longtime Director John Kolasa. This will be John’s final vintage at Rauzan as he is retiring later in the year. Joining us for lunch is new winemaker and director Nicolas Audebert who was previously the winemaker at Cheval des Andes in Mendoza. We have a fun lunch discussing the history of Rauzan Segla and the new direction of the estate. Nicolas’ sensibilities are very closely aligned with John’s so it seems the chateau’s trademark style will remain elegant and classical. Lunch is accompanied by some treats from the cellar. 2001 Segla (a nice mature vintage of Rauzan Segla’s second wine, tannins are completely resolved and this is drinking really well 13 years after release), 1998 Chateau Canon (barely an adolescent, this shows the fantastic quality of ‘98 in the right bank. Earthy and powerful but very elegant), 1983 Chateau Rauzan Segla (beautifully mature, another sleeper vintage that is legendary in Margaux. Drinking perfectly right now.) and 1966 La Lagune from magnum (a real treat, completely resolved but this shows no signs of fading, delicate with fine fruit from the warm ’66 vintage.)

After saying our goodbyes we head back up to Pauillac to continue our appointments. Highlights of the afternoon’s tastings:

2014 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild
-87% Cabernet Sauvignon. A dark opaque color, this is dense and inky with that classic Lafite graphite and gravel buried under black and blue fruit and toasty oak. Very concentrated and muscular, this is somewhat austere at the moment but with lots of potential. Should be long-lived.

2014 Chateau Pichon Baron
-80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot. Pretty, ripe dark fruit with cedar and pencil lead on the nose. Classic Pauillac. Excellent volume in the mouth, good concentration. Nice tannic structure and good freshness in a midweight style. A very zen expression of Pichon Baron, the muscle is there, it’s like 2010 just with the volume turned down a bit. Like so many in this vintage, it’s like a welterweight fighter as opposed to a heavyweight.

geoffff2014 Chateau Palmer
-Very dark, plums, earth, mineral and animal on the nose. Delicate and silky in the mouth but finishes with substantial structure. Fresh with crisp acid. Lots of length, chewy and taut on the finish. A dark, muscular, masculine expression of Palmer, should be quite age-worthy.

Dinner tonight is at the brand new La Grande Maison Joel Robuchon with Frederic Engerer, Director of Chateau Latour. Walking in it’s clear this is the finest restaurant in Bordeaux aiming squarely at three Michelin Stars. The stunning tasting menu is an intricate parade of Robuchon’s trademark dishes with beautiful presentation and the highest level technique. Service is at the highest level of professionalism and attentiveness. A bottle of 2008 Domaine d’Eugenie Clos Vougeot is showing beautifully, just beginning to shed its tannin with lovely fruit, displaying the pure, transparent character of the 2008 vintage. The 2000 Chateau Latour on the other hand is unbelievably youthful. Guessing blind I’d almost peg it as the 2005 it’s so primary and tightly wound. A massive wine, it will need another 10 years before thinking about touching it, but it’s fun to check in on its evolution tonight.

After an absolutely flawless dinner it’s time to head home and get some rest before we head for the right bank and Pessac-Leognan tomorrow. I can’t help but marvel at what Robuchon has done here in Bordeaux. La Grande Maison is truly as good as any 3-Star in Paris. Wow!

-Written by Geoff Pattison, Director of Imports

Read up on previous dispatches from Bordeaux:
Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 2

Wally’s Bordeaux Blog – Vintage 2014 Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 2

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Monday, April 13th

8:15am…Christian and I head out from the center of Bordeaux up the D2 toward the storied chateaux of the Medoc.  This morning we are in Pauillac and Saint Estephe with appointments at some of the most famous estates in the world:  Grand Puy Lacoste, Lynch Bages, Pichon Lalande, Cos d’Estournel, Mouton Rothschild and Pontet Canet.  Highlights of the morning’s tastings:

2014 Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste

-A deep, classic Pauillac nose of gravel, fine leather and pure cassis fruit.  Sleek and balanced in the mouth, satin textured with excellent freshness.  Medium bodied.  Lovely.

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2014 Chateau Ormes de Pez

-A round, seductively spicy nose of earthy dark fruit.  Good volume on the palate, this is big with a lot of dry extract.  A great Saint Estephe.  This chateau gets better every year and is really delivering well above its asking price.

2014 Chateau Lynch Bages

-A classy, polished nose of ripe cassis.  Suave on the palate, huge tannic structure as usual.  This is generally one of the more backward wines to taste en Primeur, but it has really nice texture this year with unusually silky tannins.  A classic vintage of Lynch Bages.

2014 Chateau Pichon Lalande

-65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot.  Slightly reductive and muted on the nose.  With some coaxing, some soft plum and cassis fruit with floral notes in the background.  Silky and elegant in the mouth, medium bodied.  This wine was often made in too light a style in the mid to late ‘00s, but they have really come back strong under the direction of new director Nicolas Glumineau.  This has beautiful texture and excellent weight in the mid palate.  A complete and effortlessly beautiful expression of Pichon Lalande, clearly their best since 2010.

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2014 Chateau Mouton Rothschild

-81% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The nose is pure class with cassis, subtle spice and vanilla.  The palate is seamless and silky with nice texture and volume in the mouth.  There’s good weight here but still a sense of delicateness with excellent balance.  Claret styled.  Finishes long and complex with spice box notes.

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2014 Chateau Pontet Canet

-Gorgeous, striking, exuberant cassis, blackberry, Darjeeling tea and exotic spice leap from the glass.  Wow, what a knockout nose.  Dense on the palate with intense flavors.  Middleweight but very fruit forward and dynamic in the mouth.  Excellently judged acidity and good length.  As usual this is an exotic style but there is incredible raw material here.  Best since the 100-point 2010.

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It’s early, but we can start to get a sense of the vintage.  The spring of 2014 was extremely promising with warm, dry conditions leading to early flowering and the look of an early harvest.  But then July and August brought unusually cool, overcast, humid weather.  Around the end of August many exasperated vignerons thought this vintage could be even worse than 2013.  Given the coolness of the summer, there seemed very little chance that the grapes would ever achieve full ripeness.  But then, miraculously, the weather turned.  September and October were exceptionally warm and dry.  An “Indian Summer” that allowed the grapes to ripen late into the season and be harvested under absolutely ideal conditions.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the northern Medoc, Saint Estephe, Pauillac and Saint Julien. Cabernet Sauvignon was especially comfortable with the late ripening season and the vineyards on gravel relished in the late season warmth.

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Lunch today is at Chateau Pontet Canet with our good friend Alfred Tesseron who has managed the ascent of this incredible terroir since the 1994 vintage.  Alfred has pulled some amazing bottles from the cellar to share including 2010 Haut Brion Blanc (one hell of an aperitif, majestic and powerful but completely seamless, intensely packed with flavor but impeccably refined.  In a perfect place for youthful drinking, clearly a 100 point wine), 2005 Pontet Canet (muscular, brooding and already showing some secondary character) and 1958 Pontet Canet (a real treat, fully mature but still completely alive and not fading at all, lovely mature Pauillac).  It’s hard to pass up the offer of some Tesseron Cognac as a digestif, but we’ve got a whole afternoon of appointments lined up, so we unfortunately have to head out.

Bidding a fond farewell to Alfred we continue on to Ducru Beaucaillou, Leoville Las Cases, Branaire Ducru, Malescot St Exupery and Chateau Margaux.  Highlights of the afternoon’s tastings:

2014 Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou

-A sweet, dark, dense nose leads into big, muscular, concentrated dark fruits that are tightly wound for the moment.  This has good grip.  Very well balanced, this benefits from the midweight character of the vintage.  In some bigger vintages you could argue that Ducru can be almost overwhelming with its bombastic style, but this 2014 seems just right, everything in proportion.  A platonic ideal of Ducru Beaucaillou?

2014 Chateau Leoville Las Cases

-The nose on this is full of pencil lead and very red fruit driven, different from LLC’s usual jet black fruit profile.  On the palate this is fairly soft, finessed, already approachable dare I say pleasurable.  The tannins are ripe giving this a lot of charm.  Beautiful midweight balance.  An atypical Las Cases but very well made and should be approachable relatively early.

2014 Chateau Branaire Ducru

-Earthy, spicy red fruit on the primary nose.  65% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Sweet and silky on the attack.  Juicy, pretty, nice structure.  This is a very pure Branaire with nice density.  An excellent expression with almost zen-like balance.

2014 Pavillon Blanc du Chateau Margaux

-Very pretty white flowers on the nose, demure and understated.  Fresh and clean with lots of acid pumping through on the long finish.  Excellent.

2014 Chateau Margaux

-90% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Gorgeous, understated, elegant nose of mineral driven red fruit.  Pure, silky, complete and seamless on the palate.  Extraordinary balance.  An utterly beautiful, ethereal expression of Margaux.  Pure class, this has to be one of the wines of the vintage.

Dinner tonight is at local hotspot L’Univerre which boasts one of the best wine lists in the city with a focus on Burgundy.  A delicious country French menu is paired with Champagne Roses de Jeanne, 2002 Brenot Batard-Montrachet and 2001 Sylvain Cathiard Vosne Romanee Les Suchots .  A fantastic meal that’s a brief break from a week of Bordeaux.  Off to bed, tomorrow we hit the rest of the Medoc!

-Written by Geoff Pattison, Director of Imports

Read up on previous dispatches from Bordeaux:
Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 1