As usual, the crazy month of January has come to a close with a visit from the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux. Some members arrived Thursday, and others early Friday. We were very fortunate to co-host a dinner with Marie-Hélène Dussech from Château Brane Cantenac at Chef Gerald Hirigoyen’s “West Coast Basque” restaurant Piperade on Thursday evening. A small gathering of customers joined Marie-Hélène, Anya, a négociant, and myself and we were treated to some wonderful wines, courtesy of the Second Growth Margaux property. Served alongside Chef Gerald’s excellent pairing menu, the event was a smashing success! As was reported in a past email about New Year’s resolutions, we are already brainstorming our next event, stay tuned.
The main event for the UGC was, of course, the unveiling of the 2012 vintage, now in bottle, to the wine trade of California and the West Coast. On Friday afternoon, hundreds of wine industry folks packed a crowded Palace Hotel for the tasting. Now remember, these wines are mere babies, just beginning their respective lives, and many need time before they show their best. The chatter around the room seemed reflective of my own observations that the wines from Margaux, St. Julien, Barsac, and Pessac-Léognan (both red and white) showed best. As it worked out, the last dry wines I tasted were the dry whites from Pessac-Léognan. I fondly remembered tasting them out of barrel at Château Olivier back in April of 2013, and I can now say that my instincts served me well as many of them turned out to be fine specimens of one of Bordeaux’s somewhat unheralded breeds of wine. The thing about white Bordeaux? There’s just not a lot of it. David Peppercorn MW wrote back in the 1980’s that more and more Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon vines were being uprooted in favor of red varieties and that would severely impact supply of dry white Bordeaux for decades to follow. If you’ve ever checked into the going rates for the finest white Bordeaux, you know what I’m talking about. But just as with the reds, there are values among the dry whites, and one need not drift too far from the heart of the appellation to find them.
Whether from bottle or barrel, when I am at a UGC tasting, I have a general idea of the approximate price of the wines I’m tasting. So when I tasted the 2012 Château Carbonnieux blanc back in 2013, I was particularly taken by it. So much so that it stayed in my mind all day, availing itself for an exercise later that evening. After the long day of appointments and tastings, I braved the traffic on the rocade for a dinner at a château. Joining me were around 10 staff members of an American chain of wine & liquor stores. I can’t remember when during the dinner this occurred, but at one point the ringleader of this group asked everyone at the table to “defend a wine” amongst the barrel samples we tasted. They graciously went first, giving me an idea of what exactly this exercise entailed. The wines some of them “defended?” Margaux, Latour, Léoville las Cases, Cheval Blanc, and Haut-Brion. Not judging here, but I didn’t quite understand why some of Bordeaux’s most famous names needed defense. When my turn came, I stood up and proceeded to “defend” the 2012 Carbonnieux blanc. I formulated my defense initially on how dry white Bordeaux may be a bit underappreciated, and how complex and age-worthy the wines can be. Further explaining their scarcity and the lofty prices demanded by the elite, I cited the 2012 Carbonnieux as a great example of the freshness and complexity that can be found in a great dry white Pessac. Factoring in what I believed the price would be (under $50), I declared it a steal and an example of everything a dry white Bordeaux should be. Dinner’s main course was duck confit and Pauillac. At least it was until said ringleader saw what wine was to come and requested we drink gold wine from Barsac with the confit. I certainly was elated! If you haven’t tried it, just know that a wine from Barsac or a fresh Sauternes will accompany duck confit perfectly. After dinner, the large group was reunited with their driver and left the party. I said my goodbyes from the table and remained there as our hosts escorted the group outside. Once back in the château, the first words I heard were, “You know, you were the only one that defended a wine.” Perhaps I was at the time, but after having tasted the 2012 Château Carbonnieux blanc from bottle yesterday, I don’t think it needs any “defense” either!
Looking back at my tasting notes from the barrel sample that inspired this (sorry) lengthy write-up, they read:” Classy Sémillon aromas – fresh, fresh, fresh – citrus, yeah – wood in check. Palate: Zippy, comes to life, intensifies, … OFF THE CHARTS!!! Very nice. I buy. Squiggly line.
For something more formal, here are Robert Parker’s and Neal Martin’s respective takes on the 2012 Carbonnieux:
Robert Parker: “Another full-throttle 2012 dry white, this 2012 offers lots of honeysuckle notes as well as a full-bodied mouthfeel and beautiful purity, elegance and length. Lemon zest, grapefruit and subtle wood characteristics are found in both the aromatic and flavor profiles. Drink this stunning Pessac-Leognan over the next 6-10 years.”
Neal Martin: “The Carbonnieux Blanc has a well defined bouquet with lovely scents of lime flower and orange blossom that is very well defined – more complex than recent vintages. Hints of custard cream emerge with aeration. The palate is well balanced with a pleasant fatness in the mouth. This is certainly a concentrated Carbonnieux and although I would have liked a little more acid bite on the finish, this is certainly one of the best white wines from the estate in recent years.”
Whew! January is always the most hectic month for me and this year was no exception. I’m just glad our Bordeaux dinner went well, and that I had a toothbrush and toothpaste handy after the UGC tasting. Today started with a huge match pitting #1 vs. #2, which ended in a draw, but in English football, a five point lead going into February is a good thing to have. If it’s your thing, have a great Super Bowl Sunday!! May the best team win. Today’s footy was the sports highlight of the weekend for me! Tomorrow will be all about commercials and Katy Perry. – Peter Zavialoff
Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about 2012 Bordeaux, dry white Bordeaux, future events or dinners, and of course English Football: peter@wineSF.com