Time flies. That’s what it does. I’m not going to get philosophical about that, though I struggle getting my head around the fact that it is October. I was reminded of this first thing this morning as I awoke with the morning sun beaming down on my pillow. This biannual occurrence lasts for around a week each time, and it is a reminder that the next time the sun plays its wake up game with me it will be time to head to Bordeaux for Primeurs! And though the barrel tastings are the primary focus of my annual visit, there is so, so much more. I typically hang out in the city for the first few days, but once the weekend hits, I take a stroll under the tracks at Gare Saint Jean and pick up a rental car. This year, I picked up the car and drove for 90 minutes out near Saint Foy la Grande and headed north. Up in the rolling hills north of Saint Foy is the appellation of Montravel. That’s where you find Château Puy-Servain and its owner/ambassador, Daniel Hecquet.
Daniel is not new to us. We are well into our second decade of stocking the wines from Puy-Servain. We first carried his wines via our association with importer Robert Kacher, but their mutual relationship ended around 10 years ago. That was when Daniel paid us a visit. He knows we love his wines and he likes that. His English skills are more than adequate and he informed us that we could continue our relationship by importing his wines directly. To hear Hecquet speak about his wines is extraordinary. Talk about passion! After you taste the wines, you can’t help falling for them. So we agreed to move forward and import them. I visited him and tasted through the line the following spring, but we hit a snag with our follow-through. Nothing was done and time passed, and I was a little apprehensive about scheduling a visit with him the next time I was in Bordeaux thinking that he would not be so receptive to the idea. I was wrong. He was as cheerful and charming as always and invited me to his home to have a meal and meet his wife, Catherine. All went well, the conversation was upbeat and informative and their hospitality was greatly appreciated. After I returned, there were no snags, the wines arrived in the fall, and I continue to visit Daniel and Catherine each spring when I’m nearby.
I made great time this year and got to Puy-Servain a little early, as Daniel was not yet there. I don’t mind, I’ve got patience. I did owe him, as I was around an hour late the very first time I visited. The views from his hilltop winery are beautiful. When he arrived he was apologetic and I reminded him of the time that I was an hour late, so we let that all go with a good laugh. (I would be happy to share the story behind why I was so late, but not in print.) I tasted through his line-up as he makes around a dozen different wines, all very well priced for their levels of quality. His signature bottling is his Montravel Rouge Vieilles Vignes, and I’ve got to say, the newly arrived 2012 version is spot-on delicious! I have always felt that 2012 was an underrated vintage in Bordeaux, and Montravel is Bordeaux’s neighbor. And as the bottled 2012’s arrive and are tasted, this sentiment is spreading. Made from 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc (that’s what the label says, Daniel told me it was 90/10), it’s got that brambly Merlot fruit in the aromas and on the palate with elegant expression. What I mean by that is that it doesn’t knock you on the head or overwhelm you in the fruit department. It spends a year in large casks, of which 30% are new, so you get a little bit of spice and texture from the wood. There is an earthy note that complements the brambly fruit and the faintest hint of gamey leather. All in all, it’s the real deal. Here’s the best part: It tastes like fine, Right Bank Bordeaux. But it’s not Bordeaux. That’s why it’s less than $20 per bottle.
So many people, friends and family included, rib me about traveling to Bordeaux each spring. “It must be nice,” or “Someone’s got to do it,” are common statements, but it’s a work trip. Driving alone for 90 minutes gives me no pleasure whatsoever, even if it’s through the French countryside. What does give me pleasure is when I see a pallet of wine arrive in our warehouse, knowing that wine is both delicious and a great value. How do I know? Because I tasted it. You can count on the fact that I will be looking to uncover more wines just like this one right around the next time the sun wakes me up with it’s blinding rays. – Peter Zavialoff