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Warming up for #Cabernet Day with a Big Bordeaux Tasting

I’ll admit that it was a bit of a coincidence that I put together a big tasting of red Bordeaux yesterday, just two days before #Cabernet day. But, it was great timing nonetheless. The tasting, for my WSET Diploma study group, was designed to give us a quick overview of the most significant appellations of Bordeaux.

Because the tasting is prep for a future blind-tasting test that could include wines from anywhere in the world, but won’t include anything older than 2004, I had to pour wines that were quite a bit younger than would normally be preferred for red Bordeaux. On the bright side, 2005 was a great year for Bordeaux. Here’s what we tasted along with some a few of my notes (bear in mind that prices I mention for these wines are based on what I paid en primeur or at release):

2006 Chateau Le Fleur Morange Mathilde
This is a rich and thick (for Bordeaux) garagiste wine from St. Emilion, the Right Bank where Merlot is king. This wine was made in the modern “international” style that aims for more extraction and heavier use of oak than one would normally expect from the region. The wine was completely opaque in the glass and its legs were deeply pigmented. I got some spiced Merlot plum on the nose, but the palate was all about dense black cherry and oak. That said, the oak wasn’t obnoxious and wouldn’t seem unusual to most drinkers of California reds. The body is rich and the tannins fairly silky, though they do clamp down on the fruit and stops the finish. It will be an enjoyable wine for the next few years and is reasonably priced at under $30. There are better deals below though, read on. Recommended.

2005 Chateau Petit Village
Robert Parker called this wine “superficial, straightforward” and gave it an 87. I don’t agree. I tasted it in January of 2008 at the UGC event in San Francisco and again in Bordeaux that summer. Both times, I said two things to myself: a) This is good and b) This may be the best value out of Pomerol for 2005. The top Pomerol wines aren’t cheap. Petrus is stratospheric. For well under $100, Chateau Petit Village delivers rich fruit and complexity, nearly full-bodied richness, decent structure and a nice finish. And, unlike the Chateau Le Fleur Morange Mathilde above (Parker 89), this wine will last a while and should reward patience with actual terroir. I bought some of this after my Bordeaux trip of ’08 and, having tasted it yesterday, I’m glad I’ve got bottles in the cellar. Highly Recommended.

2005 La Fleur de Bouard
This wine is from Lalande de Pomerol which is just north of, and somewhat larger than, the more famous Pomerol. It’s an “up and coming” appellation where results are highly dependent on the willingness of proprietors to spend big bucks in the winery and, perhaps especially, in the vineyard. I understand that some properties are going halfway; hiring successful winemakers and buying a lot of new oak but not focusing enough on the fruit itself. Two phrases one hears a lot in Bordeaux are “we are wine growers, not winemakers” and “great wine is made in the vineyard.” You probably won’t hear them often in Lalande de Pomerol though.

Le Fleur de Board, however, is owned by Hubert de Bouard de la Forest who is also the owner/winemaker of Chateau Angelus. His focus on winemaking and winegrowing have helped Angelus become one of the most sought-after wines of St. Emilion. La Fleur de Bouard gets similar focus and is thus one of the best wines coming from Lalande de Pomerol. Parker calls it “the ultimate reference point for what can be achieved” there. It’s a very good wine and, at around $35, not a bad value. It offers tasty, if leathery, fruit, spice and floral notes. Yet, it’s still a bit heavy-handed and oakified. The finish is fairly long but tastes predominantly of oak-derived espresso. It will drink well for five plus years. Recommended.

2005 Haut Nadeau
The 2005 vintage in Bordeaux was such a good vintage that it floated almost every boat. Haut Nadeau is a good example. This wine is a Bordeaux Superieur, not a classified growth nor even Cru Bourgeois from a specific region. But it’s good and I bought a case upon release for $10 a bottle. It is dark ruby, more intensely colored than one might expect for what could be a fairly generic wine. On the nose I got red ropes, licorice and cherry. The wine showed good balance of tannins and alcohol with enough acidity to make it food friendly. It even offered a fairly long finish though the tannins are somewhat bitter. All in all, it’s a good representative of Bordeaux. The entire tasting group, including our guest expert who is an authority of Bordeaux with 30 years of focused experience in the area, preferred it to both the Chateau Le Fleur Morange Mathilde and the La Fleur de Bouard. It doesn’t have the stuffing of a classified growth though. Drink it now through 2015. Recommended.

2005 Chateau Potensac

This is a Medoc AOC wine but belongs to the same ownership group that holds Leoville Las Cases. As a result, its routinely among the best wines in its class and a good bargain bet. I picked this wine up at release for less than $25. It’s a solid and refined Bordeaux with sweet fruit and a good backbone. It’s drinking well now but will continue to improve for at least another five years. Recommended.

2005 Chateau Giscours
A chateau that’s seen a lot of improvement in the last 10 years, Giscours represented Margaux well last night. It was the most elegant and the prettiest of all of the night’s wines. It was smooth and creamy with powdery tannins but plenty of freshness. There was fruit, but also dark chocolate and more dark chocolate. I won’t open my next bottle for at least five years and it’ll be fine for fifteen. Highly Recommended.

2005 Clos du Marquis
Clos du Marquis, from St. Julien, is usually considered to be the second wine of Leoville Las Cases. When I was there, however, they made a point of saying that it’s not really a second wine since it comes from wholly different vineyards. It’s hard to change perception though and the wine is always priced at least five times lower than the Grand Vin. That makes it a screaming bargain most of the time. How much do you want to pay for an extra point or two? I used to bought at least a case of Leoville Las Cases each year from 2000 through 2004, along with a similar amount of Clos du Marquis. In 2005 though, the Grand Vin went up very substantially in price while Clos du Marquis was still available for less than $50. I haven’t bought any Leoville Las Cases since, but have continued to grab the “second” wine.

The 2005 is a bold wine showing herb, dark cherry, raspberry, cassis and coffee. It’s wonderfully balanced with smooth tannins and a long finish. It’s going to be excellent for another twenty years and I’m not going to open another bottle for ten. Highly Recommended.

Clos du Marquis on the Bottling Line
(photo by Fred Swan)

2005 Chateau Lynch Bages
Pauillac is the big daddy of the Left Bank. With stars such as Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Mouton Rothschild and the now sky-rocketing (qualitatively) Chateau Pontet-Canet, it’s probably the primary destination for visitors to Bordeaux. Lynch Bages doesn’t reach the same levels of quality as those mentioned above, but it usually sells for less than $100 rather than up to $2,000. Again, how much do you want to pay for the extra points? If you insist on investing, read speculating, on Bordeaux, then you should buy Lafite and Latour en primeur. But if you want to drink the wine and you don’t have Meg Whitman money, then you should be buying Lynch Bages along with the odd bottle of Pontet-Canet for special occasions.

Lynch Bages usually puts out a robust wine. The 2005 fits the mold but, in keeping with the 2005 vintage overall, is a tad more elegant than most. It’s a dark, but not quite opaque, wine with very bold flavors of leather, tobacco, dark fruit and black olive. It’s on the verge of drinkability now, but you should wait five or ten years and can safely hold it for fifteen to twenty, depending on how you like your wine. Highly Recommended.

2005 Les Pagodes des Cos
The second wine of Cos d’Estournel in St. Estephe, this is another great bang-for-the-buck choice. While the company has been successfully driving up both the quality and price of the first wine, the second has also improved in quality but remained affordable. Available for less than $50 at release it has aromas and flavors of licorice, plum, sour cherry and earth. It’s smooth and tasty now but will be good for another decade. I’m a bit sad because the bottle I tasted was the only one I had. Highly Recommended.

Pagoda-inspired Towers at Cos d'Estournel (photo by Fred Swan)

2005 Chateau Cantemerle
For a good twenty years, this Haut Medoc producer didn’t offer much to get excited about. But, in the past five to ten, they’ve come a long, long way. The 2005 isn’t the best of their recent vintages but its still a solid wine and, when I consider that I paid well under $20/bottle for it, I’ll be happy to watch it develop over the next ten or more years. At the moment, it’s tight and burly. Recommended.

2007 Chateau Cantemerle
We threw this wine in to contrast the 2005 and 2007 vintages. Whereas the Bordeaux weather in 2005 was unbelievably perfect, 2007 offered rain, fog and more rain. And fog. 2005 was touted as the “vintage of the century” (as was 2000 and now 2009 — someone needs to explain to the pundits what “...of the century means), 2007 was pegged as lousy. The more optimistic call 2007 “good for early drinking.” I fall into that camp. I tasted a bunch of 2007s out of the barrel in June of 2008 and many were flat out delicious, though not geared for long-term aging.

When it comes to Chateau Cantemerle, the 2007 might actually be better than the 2005. It’s certainly a younger drinker but I also think that I’ll enjoy the 07 more today than I will the 2005 in five or ten years. The lower ripeness of the 2007 vintage has given the wine herbal notes, but I find them pleasant, even engaging. There’s also a lot of cherry, coffee and espresso plus ample acidity and structure. Recommended.

Proprietor Philippe Dambrine at Chateau Cantemerle
(photo by Fred Swan)

I plan to spend some quality time in Napa Valley Thursday for #Cabernet day. Having tasted through all of these Bordeaux Tuesday night and resampled them as I write on Wednesday, tasting Napa will be even more interesting. I’ve never been to the Ceja tasting room downtown, so I’ll definitely stop in there. We’ll also be at St. Supery to taste their latest and visit with #Cabernet Day organizer Rick Bakas. And I’m going to visit Signorello Estate, because I’ve never been there either. What are you doing for #Cabernet Day? Wherever you are, remember to use the #cabernet hashtag if you’re drinking Cab and tweeting.

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Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook. Also check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Phillips Hill on Fire with Gary Vaynerchuk

I recently wrote about the interesting Ring of Fire wine from Phillips Hlil Estates in Mendocino. It's a Pinot Noir that was intentionally allowed to retain some flavors caused by the devastating forest fires. Shortly after I met with him, Toby Hill went to New Jersey to sit in with Gary Vaynerchuk for an episode of Wine Library TV.

Phillips-Hill has been producing some excellent Pinot Noir over the past couple of years and it was interesting to hear Toby talk about the winery. In the video, they discuss how he got into the business, his goals in winemaking and the business climate these days. Three of the latest releases are tasted and Gary shared my enthusiasm for the Ring of Fire. Check out Phillips-Hill on the “Thunder Show” here.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. Banner image edited from photo by Olivier Vanpé. All rights reserved.

Quick Sip: Tayerle 2006 Malvoisie de Viol Carneros

In honor of the beginning of Summer, let’s take a quick taste of something white, light and refreshing. I bought a couple of bottles of the Tayerle 2006 Malvoisie de Viol Carneros direct from the winery during this Spring’s East Bay Urban Wineries event. I had been impressed by the fresh flavors and the bang-for-the-buck it offered. I haven’t tasted the wine since. l am going to revisit the wine now and see how I feel about my purchase.

Blogger Corrupted by Free Winery Sample

I take pride in my integrity. I try hard to be objective. I like to think I'm above being swayed by free review samples of this or that. But all of that is in the past now. I've been bitten by an unbidden bottle.

Yes, it's true. I am obliged to disclose that this article is being written solely because of a clever marketing tactic. I am about to praise a bottle I could not possibly drink. I lay the blame on Trefethen Family Vineyards though. They found my weakness.

Yesterday, I received the bottle in question by mail. At first, I didn't even think it was a bottle. The box was small. A large label insisted, "PERISHABLE. Open by April 1st." Having accidentally let past gag mailings (onions, apples, etc.) turn nasty in their box due to neglect, I quickly opened the box. I don't want to be starting any indoor composting projects by accident.

I was shocked by the contents. It was a bottle! What kind of wine is this that has such a short shelf life? Even Beaujolais can last slightly longer than a month. And the bottle was a brand new release!

Enclosed in a tiny gift bag was a tiny sampler of Trefethen Family Vineyards newest cuvee. The back label says that this release was "bottled to capture the very essence of of the Napa Valley; light, delicate and ethereal." And it really is genius in a bottle. It is the 2009 Trefethen Family Vineyards Fallow Vineyard Oak Knoll District blend.


Since I've already admitted that they've got me hooked, I'll just lift some comments directly from their tasting notes. "This distinctive wine is brilliantly clear with delicate nuances of of the character of Napa Valley Fallow [Vineyard]. It is unfined and unfiltered, with perfect elegance, and an indescribably dry finish. Fallow will age for decades if not centuries." [Ha! I knew it couldn't have a 30-day shelf life.]

Trefethen Family Vineyards says the wine is 100% organic and Vegan. It was bottled fresh, with no malolactic fermentation, resting on lees or oak aging. They suggest pairing it with such varied dishes as puff pastry, soufflé, meringue, cotton candy or even "savory dishes topped with gastronomic foam."

"What could this blend be?" I wondered. Fresh and apparently healthful. Versatile yet representing the essence of Napa Valley. Fortunately, Trefethen listed the exact mix: "78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, 1% Argon and Trace elements."

I have to admit that I have long been an Oxygen sucker, so that particular component caught my eye immediately. I admire the restraint with it that Trefethen Family Vineyard showed though. Too much Oxygen can go to your head. The large percentage of Nitrogen makes a nice, neutral base. It softens the Oxygen but does not overwhelm. Above all, I admire their calculated and delicate application of Argon. Often overlooked, Argon is, in fact, a noble gas. It can also be used as a preservative, perhaps leading to those "centuries" of aging potential. Caution must be used though. In large quantities, Argon can asphyxiate chickens. Of course, Trefethen Family Vineyards pulled up far short of that line.

All in all, this new bottling is brilliant. I have to wonder if other wineries will follow Trefethen's Fallow with their own offerings. When replacing vines or replanting vineyards, it's good practice to allow the land to lay fallow for a vintage. It gives the soil time to recover. Yet, letting a vineyard go fallow is a costly proposition, especially in Napa where the cost of land is high. Kudos to you for your innovation, Trefethen Family Vineyards!

One last word, the winery suggests that this bottle will be ideal for an April Fools' Day dinner.

This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook.
Also check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

Tasting Notes: Lewis Cellars

Debbie and Randy Lewis were at K&L Wines in Redwood City last night pouring four of their upcoming releases. (They won’t be officially released until February 10.) We stopped in to say “Hello” and give the wines a try.