Category Archives: Bordeaux

Entre-Deux-Mers: Drink Responsibly

Could it be because Pete just returned from Bordeaux, or that it’s Earth Day and I am thinking about human stewardship of the planet? Or is it because it is a wine I have frequently purchased for my own personal pleasure that I have selected to write a few words about the lovely white Entre-Deux-Mers from Chateau Ferran? For all the above reasons and more, I have the 2015 Chateau Ferran Entre-Deux-Mers on my mind. Entre-Deux-Mers is a expansive Bordeaux appellation but within it are a few choice sub-appellations. One of note is Haut Benauge and this is where you will find Chateau Ferran. Haut Benauge is directly across the Garonne River from Graves and because it is on high ground it is considered a choice location to grow wine grapes.


Chateau Ferran is a family-run estate that converted to organic and biodynamic farming nearly ten years ago. In preparation for this write-up, I visited Chateau Ferran’s website. The website has plenty of information about the winemaking, the farming philosophy and such, but there is practically no mention of the people who make the wine or run the estate. I think this is a deliberate exclusion. It suggests to me that the Ferran family places more importance on the land, the soil, the biodiversity of the vineyards, than on human intervention.

This Entre-Deux-Mers is a blend of equal parts Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon with 10% each of Sauvignon Gris and Muscadelle. I am drawn to the yellow fruit flavors, reminiscent of peaches and apricots, that linger long on the palate. It has no pungent, grassy flavors so often associated with Sauvignon Blanc. All tank fermented, with some time on the lees, it has gorgeous floral aromatics that bring to mind citrus blossoms and acacia. The finish is slightly creamy and is very fresh. It has filled in very nicely as my Friday Night Fish Fry wine, making a lovely match with baked, breaded Petrale Sole.


Julien Ferran is the current winemaker who took over from his father, Alain. Julien is a biologist by trade, so his interest in biodynamic farming is not unexpected (check out
this video of Julien discussing geobiology in the vineyard
). I know for many the principles of biodynamic farming are controversial and verge on the cult-like, but in my anecdotal experience with wineries who embrace biodynamics, I see a direct connection between the exhaustive, conscientious work down in the vineyard and the quality of the wine. This under $15 Bordeaux blanc is impressive because of the effort that went into it and the final outcome, its deliciousness.


Samples of Chateau Ferran were sent to us by another French winery who included them among their own samples. We had no prior relationship to Chateau Ferran when we tasted the samples. We knew nothing of them other than they were friends of a wine family with whom we were starting to do business. Based solely on the quality (and price) of the samples, we purchased a pallet of Chateau Ferran. This is atypical of TWH to pull the trigger so quickly, but good wine is good wine – we recognized it immediately, so we felt there was little risk.

The last few weeks have had a recurring theme for me that centers around the question, “what do you believe in?” I have been asking myself a lot of questions about what I am willing to stand up for personally, socially and spiritually. I’ll spare you my existential angst, but if I’m comparing two wines of equal pleasure to me and one is made by a small family who farms organically and/or biodynamically and the other is mass-produced, industrially made, I am going to pick the former every time. The 2015 Entre-Deux-Mers is coming home with me tonight. I am not sure what is on the menu, but I’ll start the evening with a chilled glass of it. Tastes good and it’s good for you! – Anya Balistreri

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Filed under 2015 Bordeaux, Anya Balistreri, Entre-Deux-Mers, fish-fry wine, Petits Chateaux, Sauvignon Gris, Semillon, Value Bordeaux in San Francisco, White Bordeaux

Taking Pics On The Bordeaux Trip & A Great Futures Deal!


“Take more pictures!” We say it each time one of us travels to any wine region. We say it because no matter how many pictures any of us take, we can always use more. So when I left for Bordeaux back at the end of March, I had this phrase stuck in my head. It’s not easy to take oneself out of the moment in order to capture an image or two, but I made an effort. I found myself with a couple of free hours in Saint-Emilion last Friday morning, and the bulk of my images were snapped then and there. I will try to scatter a few of my faves from this year’s Bordeaux trip throughout this write-up. This is one avenue in which all of us here at TWH could use a little encouragement! If you would like to see more on-location pictures from us, don’t hesitate to tell us, “Take more pictures!”

 


This year’s trip to Bordeaux was a very good one. I can sum it up briefly: Flights went well, weather was great, and the new vintage’s barrel samples were great. I made all of my appointments, was only late to two of them; I shared some great meals and wines with friends and associates, and experienced zero stress. Maybe I didn’t take as many pictures as we would have wanted, but that’s just gravy.


You will doubtless be hearing all about the 2016 vintage in Bordeaux very soon as the futures campaign has officially begun. We don’t envision any of the region’s famous producers to be releasing their prices this coming week, nor the next, but since the city of Bordeaux will be hosting VinExpo come mid-June, it is likely that the campaign will be finished by then. In the meantime, I will be working as hard as I can to keep you all up on our purchases and offers as quickly as possible. Whether by emails like this one, links on our website, or articles in our paper newsletter, we will be sure to alert you to our offers for 2016 Bordeaux futures. With the recent experiences of these tastings in my mind, please feel free to contact me should you have any specific questions about any of the wines.


These are exciting times, as the new futures campaign is in its infancy. We have noticed that several suppliers in Bordeaux have put a moratorium on sales of any 2015 wines in the past few weeks. Perhaps they are waiting for the new vintage to be received by the public, and will adjust their prices accordingly. Unfortunately, these adjustments seldom tend to be favorable for consumers. Anyhow, WE will continue to offer our 2015’s, and believe it or not, there are still some bargains out there. One of my favorite wines, vintage after vintage, for over a decade, is Château Larrivet Haut-Brion. I don’t think it’s in print anywhere, but in my personal cellar, my broadest vertical of red wine is of Larrivet Haut-Brion. Why? Quality. Price. Period.



Picture from Panoramio.com


Many years ago, I penned an email about (what was then) a recent experience tasting the 2005 Larrivet Haut-Brion out of half bottle. I still remember the enthusiasm I had for that wine, and if you take a peek in my cellar, and into the cellars of my Bordeaux drinking pals, you will find several bottles from this fine Pessac-Léognan château. Slowly but surely, each year I taste the wine from barrel and also the most recently bottled vintage. And coincidentally, my cellar grows each year we receive new wines from Larrivet Haut-Brion. I fondly remember visiting the property 9 years ago when they hosted the UGC Pessac-Léognan tasting, and John and I had lunch there after the tasting. A week ago Tuesday, I drove right past it as I had a late appointment at Château Haut Bailly, just across the road. Say what you wish, terroir is terroir, and having a neighbor like Haut Bailly is a good thing! Tasting the 2015 Larrivet Haut-Brion from barrel last year was another excellent display of dark, complex fruit, herbs, and earthiness. The palate was silky and seamless; with the finish displaying immense potential for the young, coiled barrel sample.

The Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin had this to say about the 2015 Larrivet Haut-Brion: “The 2015 Larrivet Haut-Brion might be overlooked against some startling other 2015s with “Haut Brion” in their name, which would be wholly unfair because this is a potentially great wine. It has an outgoing bouquet with plenty of bright and bushy tailed red fruit that is well defined and very nicely focused. The new oak is carefully used here and gives it real lift. The palate is medium-bodied with fine grain tannins, fleshy in the mouth with crisp acidity and a nicely composed, lightly spiced finish. This is an excellent Pessac-Léognon and it will hopefully will be well priced.”



If you’re still reading all the way down here – I thank you! As I said above, this year’s Bordeaux trip went very well. I tried to take more pictures, and I sure hope these are to everyone’s liking. I’m no photographer, but I like to give these kind of things a shot when I can. I was able to taste the 2016 version of Larrivet Haut Brion out of barrel, and I must say, I continue to be impressed by the efforts made by the winemaking team. As my vertical continues to grow, I encourage any of you who enjoy fine quality Bordeaux for a reasonable price to join me!Peter Zavialoff


Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments about taking pictures while on location, the 2016 Bordeaux futures campaign, Bordeaux in general, Château Larrivet Haut-Brion, or English Football: peter@wineSF.com

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Filed under 2015 Bordeaux, Bordeaux, Pessac-Leognan, Peter Zavialoff, Value Bordeaux in San Francisco

Boots On The Ground In Bordeaux And 2014 Chateau Couronneau


Bordeaux – 1 April 2017. After two reasonably smooth flights, I arrived in Bordeaux on Wednesday afternoon, preparing to take part in the annual En Primeur tastings. If you follow these kind of things, you probably have heard some pretty good news so far. As I type this, I have only tasted six of them, so I will reserve judgement, at least until after tomorrow, where a warehouse full of barrel samples awaits. In addition to the barrel samples, I am also here to taste already bottled wines and to take in the zeitgeist of this year’s proceedings.


It’s great – each year, there are always new things to see, to learn, to taste, and to figure out. But there are also many familiar things as well. One such exercise is now bordering on ritual, and that would be the Saturday rental car pickup and the drive out to Sainte Foy la Grande to visit the Hecquets in Montravel and the Piats in Ligiuex which I did again early this morning. First stop was at Château Couronneau to visit Bénédicte and Christophe Piat.

The three of us sat in their living room pictured above and caught up on things. They’re on the fast track to becoming empty nesters, as their youngest will be leaving the family home soon to finish her studies abroad. And in the wine department, Christophe explained to me that beginning with his 2015’s, he has changed the type of filtration he uses. The net-net of this is that the wines need a bit more time after bottling before they are fully resolved and ready to drink. I tasted through their entire line of 2015’s, which were all recently bottled, save the blanc, which was bottled in late December. Change in filtration or not, the 2015’s were going to need some time in bottle regardless. We also spoke at length about the 2016 vintage, and they asked me if I had tasted any barrel samples yet. “Just six,” I said, yet still smiling, for the first three were at Château Margaux. With a chuckle and a wry smile, Christophe matter-of-factly inferred it was standard practice to taste Margaux and then Couronneau due to their similarities (his idea of an April Fool’s joke).

16th Century Château Couronneau – 1 April 2017

Yep, That’s a 16th Century Moat – 1 April 2017
Christophe went on to say his 2016’s were plentiful and the quality was outstanding. They too were going to need some time. The wines from Couronneau are usually ready to go once they’re released, but the Piats cautioned me that the past two vintages will be at their respective best five years after release. So what vintage to drink now? The 2014, of course. I asked Christophe his thoughts on the matter, and he feels that the 2014 exhibits lighter acid levels than the past two vintages, and that the fruit is more supple and silky. He admits that the 2014 Couronneau is fine to drink now, but it will be at its best 2 to 5 years from now. I popped a bottle shortly before leaving San Francisco, and I just loved the aromatic expression and the medium-full body of this lovely wine. The Piats’ biodynamic practices have obviously paid off!

The Vines Will Follow Soon, But The Vineyard Is Alive

We recently received our final drop of the 2014 Couronneau, so it’s in stock at the moment. So try a bottle today. If you like it, we’ve got a super deal for you. If you already know and enjoy this wine, the deal is good for you as well. Beginning tonight, we are offering a “special full case discount.” It’s much better than our normal discount, and we do not want to be disorderly and advertise this unheard of price in all the usual online places. If you would like to know what the discount is, simply load 12 or more bottles into your online shopping cart and you will see what it is. ***Please note: You can easily remove the items from your cart should you not wish to make the purchase.

Alors. The (semi-) mellow part of the trip is now finished. Over the next 7 days, I am going to be hit with a barrage of barrel samples from the 2016 vintage. I am ready. Should any of you be curious about any particular 2016 sample, please feel free to drop me a note, and I will do my best to taste it and report back with my observations. In the meantime, should you wish to profiter from a super deal on a fine bio-dynamically farmed wine from a seriously great vintage grab a full case (or two) today!Peter Zavialoff
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments about the 2016 Bordeaux En Primeurs, Bordeaux in general, or English Football: peter@wineSF.com

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Filed under 2014 Bordeaux, Barbecue Wine, Bordeaux, Peter Zavialoff, Value Bordeaux in San Francisco

Time, Patience, And 2011 Chateau de Fonbel


Time is flying. In a recent email back-and-forth with one of our suppliers in Bordeaux, she exclaimed, “It seems like we’re still dealing with the 2015 campaign; and now, it’s time for the 2016’s! Crazy!” That’s just how it is. Time flies. And because time is fleeting, some things must be done sooner than later, as there are finite windows of time. Wait too long and opportunities may pass. Alas, contrary to that, there are also closed windows which will open sometime in the future. That’s where patience is required. It’s funny, patience and Bordeaux just go together. One of the secrets of patient people is that we are very much aware how time flies, so every day of waiting brings us closer to whatever it is we are waiting for. Like a wine.



Five years ago, I tasted a barrel sample from the 2011 vintage. I liked it a lot. While not from a famous, high-pedigree chateau, the winemaking team is high-pedigree. I liked that too. We bought it. After it arrived, we tried it. While it continued to display the structure and balance which first attracted me, it had shut down and was not expressive. This is not uncommon with red Bordeaux wines. Patience would be required. That was over three years ago. We waited. Patiently. The window is now open on the 2011 Château de Fonbel.


I still remember it well, though visiting Château Ausone is always memorable. Yes, Château Ausone. The Vauthier family who own and make the wine for Ausone also own and make the wine from de Fonbel. The property was acquired by Alain Vauthier in the early 1970’s and it sits just down the hill from Ausone. Alain’s daughter, Pauline manages the property these days. So yes, it was the first appointment after lunch on the Wednesday of En Primeurs, and after tasting the de Fonbel, I was particularly impressed by its herbal/forest floor aromas, not to mention its bright red fruit meets cassis notes, leading me to jot down a particular nod to Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes up 20% of the blend. The palate was quite lively with bright acidity balanced by the red fruit, cassis, and sturdy tannins. Balance and expression are two important things to recognize when tasting barrel samples, and this wine displayed both in fine fashion. When the wine arrived, I was excited to taste it because I remembered that barrel sample well. Let’s just say that I was mildly disappointed that it had shut down. I knew all we needed to do was to wait a while and this wine would someday spring to life.


For anyone who purchased the 2011 de Fonbel, from that day forward I strongly recommended that if they were to be opening the wine shortly thereafter, to allow for a couple of hours of decanting. This obviously helped, but the wine still needed time. We opened a bottle just before our Anniversary Sale last fall, and immediately after I opened it, I poured out a glass. Still closed? It seemed so, but I revisited it just 15 minutes later and happily proclaimed it was beginning to fulfill its potential. I opened another bottle last night, and that is why I am writing today. A little air will still enhance the tasting experience, but straight after opening, the 2011 Château de Fonbel is open for business! The nose is complex with bright red cherry fruit with hints of cassis, blackberries and thicket; forest floor and fallen apple tree leaves, and there’s a tar-like note in there too along with the slightest note of cedar. The palate entry is soft and medium bodied, the acid kicking in mid-palate to project the various fruity, herbal, and earthy complexity on to the blank screen of the palate. The finish is carried by the fruit/acid interplay with fine, delicate tannins. It has blossomed into a classic, honest claret which can be drunk now or cellared for at least another decade. In fact, I would love to taste this wine in 2027!

It’s that time of year again. The annual En Primeur tastings will take place in Bordeaux from April 3rd through April 6, and I am proud to represent TWH to taste the 2016 wines from barrel. My schedule is shaping up with appointments and tastings for the majority of my 10 day visit, as I always choose to visit suppliers and taste back vintages in search of values for both our Cru Classé and our petits chateaux sections. I also usually allow room for the serendipitous, and I’ve managed to continue this practice. All in all, I’m excited to taste the new vintage, meet old friends, make new friends, find new back vintage wines, and take part in the city of Bordeaux’s recent renaissance. Who knows which windows will open for me this year? – Peter Zavialoff

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Filed under 2011 Bordeaux, Peter Zavialoff, St. Emilion, Value Bordeaux in San Francisco

New Arrival – 2014 Chateau Carbonnieux Blanc


Last weekend we mentioned the fact that we have had several visitors from Bordeaux drop by over the past week and a half. This is an annual occurrence, as this has been the week that the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tastings of the 2014 vintage, now in bottle, take place across the continent. They started last Friday in Miami, and have now moved through Philadelphia, New York, Toronto, Chicago, and they are in Los Angeles tonight. The traveling junket arrives in our fair city tomorrow for a tasting at the Saint Francis Hotel. UGC Tastings are usually well attended affairs, and this one promises to be packed. Large crowds are not exactly my cup of tea, but I am eagerly anticipating the opportunity to taste the 2014’s now that they’re bottled.



The 2014 vintage in Bordeaux was a very good one … with very fair prices! It was a homogenous vintage, as each of Bordeaux’s appellations turned out well-balanced, classically styled wines. In the scheme of things, tasting the red wines from 2014 out of barrel was not as challenging as in some other vintages. But still, the debut of bottled 2014s promises to provide us with purple teeth and plenty of tannins tomorrow, though the tasting is not confined to red wines only. The dry whites of Pessac-Léognan will be represented; and I may be in the minority here, but out of barrel, I preferred the 2014 dry whites to their 2015 counterparts. I’ve gone on the record declaring my admiration for dry white Bordeaux on several occasions, and one of my favorite dry white producer’s 2014 wine has just landed here at TWH: Château Carbonnieux!
Like I said, the vintage was a very good one for the reds and dry whites, and Carbonnieux turned out another tempting barrel sample. I picked up some fleshy yellow fruit and melon on the nose, its palate entry was bright and zippy, with the acidity and complexity expanding mid palate. There were hints of chalky minerals present, framing a promising barrel sample. And tomorrow, I will have an updated tasting note which begins, “From bottle, UGC SF 1/27/17.” I’m excited.

I’m guessing Neal Martin has tasted this from bottle by this point, but here are his words about 2014 Carbonnieux Blanc from barrel: “The Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2014 has a pretty nose in the making: precise apple blossom and blackcurrant leaf aromas that gently waft from the glass. The palate is crisp on the entry, the acidity not as shrill as some of its peers, thus rendering it a more “languid” Pessac-Léognan. There is already a very elegant, gravelly finish that lingers in the mouth-a very promising Carbonnieux Blanc that may merit a higher score after bottling.”

Tomorrow’s tasting promises to be a great event! It’s always educational to discover how the finished wine is a couple of years after tasting its respective barrel samples. And if the young red wines get to my palate with their youthful structures, it sure is good to know that there will also be an array of high-quality dry white Bordeaux in the house! – Peter Zavialoff

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Filed under 2014 Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Leognan, Peter Zavialoff, Semillon

2012 Château Teynac, Saint-Julien – A New Favorite!


A belated Happy New Year, all! I can’t believe this is my first Saturday evening email of 2017 – the flu hits hard, and I was recovering from the repercussions of said flu last Saturday. And now that it has passed, there’s no mistaking what time of year it is. The parade of Bordeaux personalities has begun to pass through our doors, and there will be more to come next week, culminating with the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting of the newly bottled 2014’s next Friday! With so many folks passing through here, I am being constantly reminded to get a move on making my arrangements for early April’s En Primeur tastings in Bordeaux. A new container from France just arrived, and on it is a wine which also reminds me of one of the reasons I make this trip each spring – a super deal!

As I may have mentioned in the past, En Primeur week begins on a Monday and lasts through Thursday; with wine people from all over the world scrambling around in our rental cars frantically trying to make all of our tasting appointments on time! I like to arrive in the middle of the preceding week, giving me a few days to adjust to the time, cuisine, and language. It also allows me time to visit suppliers and taste several bottled wines, all the while seeking value. The value wine that took the gold during last April’s visit has now arrived, and we all just tasted it last week: 2012 Château Teynac, Saint-Julien.

teynacgate

Saint-Julien has the lowest average production of the five major appellations of the Médoc, yet it also has the highest proportion of classified growths, producing over 80% of the appellation’s annual output. So, with over 80% of the appellation classified, we must ask ourselves are there any non-classified Saint-Julien bargains out there? The answer is a resounding yes. It was at a negociant tasting last year where I tasted the 2012 Château Teynac, to call it a big hit would be an understatement. It showed aromas of black cherry fruit and cassis, with the signature underlying forest floor, chalky mineral, and hint of leather that I usually associate with nearby Château Gruaud Larose. The palate is medium bodied, and the acid component of the wine’s structure is bright and lively. There are some spice notes which come from a little oak barrel in the mix, and the finish is bright and complex. Impressed as I was with the tasting, I fully jumped on board after checking its price and hearing its story.

chateauteynac2016
Château Teynac sticks out like a beacon on the main road that connects the village of Beychevelle with Gruaud Larose and Chateau Lagrange beyond that. The negociant mentioned that the vineyards lay between Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou and Chateau Beychevelle, though after I returned from the trip, I read somewhere that they were more specifically between Beychevelle and Gruaud Larose, which makes a lot of sense to me, as I was reminded of the latter’s aromatic profile when tasting the wine. This negoce also told me that the vineyards continue to be sought after by neighboring classified growths, but that Teynac’s owners, set with their “tech money,” refuse to sell. They enjoy their wine, so they keep a lot of it for themselves.

Since 2008, they had employed the daughter and granddaughter of Spanish winemakers, Diana Garcia Gonzalez to make their wines. Obviously, winemaking is in her blood. She set off immediately and went about improving things. New harvesting machines, stainless steel tanks (in order to vinify seperate parcels), and a new cellar were all brought in under her watch. Her magic touch extends beyond the winery, as she is a nurse and a bit of a vine-whisperer out in the vineyards. Diana was the winemaker for the 2012 Château Teynac, though has since joined Chateau Petit Village in Pomerol as Technical Director. She now goes by Diana Berrouet Garcia. Keep your eye on that property — we sure will!

teynacentrancelabel
A Close Up Of The Small Label Sign To The Left Of The Gate Above

In the excellent timing department, my health is back just in time for this evening’s festivities, for tonight is TWH’s Holiday Party. We can’t exactly schedule such a thing during the period known as “The Holidays,” due to high stress and other obligations, so we’ve had these events in January before. You can bet there will be wine from Bordeaux at this dinner; Chris and I even lobbied hard for a second bottle of Sauternes to be brought because, in his words, “I like the idea of having a glass of Sauternes in front of me to taste with everything that comes to the table.” That makes two of us!Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about Bordeaux, Saint-Julien in particular, the upcoming UGC Tasting, or English Football: peter@wineSF.com

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Filed under 2012 Bordeaux, Peter Zavialoff, St. Julien

Holidays, Favorite Wines, and Memories


Twas the night before Christmas … and the first night of Hanukkah too! Pretty cool, if you ask me, as I’m all for celebrations. Considering the timing of my fortnightly ramble, I’m not expecting as wide an audience to be reading this evening. That takes all the pressure off, as there’s really no need to speak of any specific wine tonight. I figure that we’ve all got our wines for the holiday weekend in place, ready to be shared and enjoyed. So, for the sake of exercise, and since it’s the time of year to break out the good stuff, I will reminisce about some of my very favorite wines.

*I will go on the record here and declare any 1982 red Bordeaux ineligible from this list; much like the Beatles’ exclusion from favorite musical acts lists.
1985 Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac
This wine was served as the final act of a dinner/tasting with some very good friends, and we formed a Bordeaux tasting group that evening. The concept was a good one. Back in the days when one could purchase First Growth Bordeaux for less than $200 per bottle, I was thinking out loud to a couple of friends. “I would love to try a bottle of Mouton, but wouldn’t necessarily want to splurge and just have the one bottle. But if you chipped in $200, and you chipped in $200, and we got a couple more friends to do the same, we could taste 6 bottles of great Bordeaux, and that would be worth it!” This idea caught fire and Carsten and I were in charge of acquiring the special bottles. The evening’s lineup, in order: 1978 Pontet Canet, 1985 Pichon Lalande, 1985 Margaux, 1982 Leoville Las Cases, 1978 Lafite Rothschild, and 1985 Mouton Rothschild. Such a memorable evening with close friends, great food, and amazing wine. The 1985 Mouton took the blue ribbon for its amazing complexity and sublime mouth feel. I hope to taste this wine again someday.
1985 Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard
My all-time favorite California wine. I have been lucky enough to have tasted ’85 Martha’s a handful of times. The very first was with some trader buddies back in my days as a NASDAQ marketmaker at The Little Nell in Aspen. But the most memorable tasting was at “A Taste For Life,” which was a charity tasting put on by Wine Commune in 2001. Due to the generosity of a good friend, I found myself seated at the 1982 Bordeaux table with several Bordeaux enthusiasts. Our conversations were free-flowing and full of passionate stories about Bordeaux. The lineup at our table was: Lafite, Margaux, Mouton, Latour, Petrus, Cheval Blanc, Pichon Lalande, and La Mission Haut Brion. At some point after I tasted the aforementioned, I caught Shaun Bishop walking through the crowd with a bottle sporting that unmistakeable 1985 Heitz Martha’s label (well, it could have been the 1974). You don’t get what you don’t ask for, so I asked if I could possibly have a taste. Not only did he oblige, he was quite generous about the pour. I took the glass back to the table and shared it with the rest of those seated. Not only did the Heitz hold its own, it stood out with its abundance of cassis, earth, spice, and that quintessential Martha’s Vineyard menthol/mint/eucalyptus. I didn’t think a wine from California could stand up to some of Bordeaux’s legendary wines from a legendary vintage. I was wrong.
1988 Chateau Margaux
Back to my trader days here. A trader buddy (and one of the boys from the ski trip) from New York recommended I stay at the Eden Hotel when I visited Rome. He strongly advised me to eat in the hotel’s top floor restaurant, which sported a panoramic view of Rome’s skyline. The Colosseum, the Vittorio Emanuele Monument, and St. Peter’s were all visible from the dining room. My guest and I dined there the very first night and had such a blast during and after dinner that I tracked down the maitre d’ and asked if we could eat there again on our last night in town. “For you, Mr. Zavialoff, the finest table in Rome.” That’s what he said; no kidding. Two nights later, that’s what we got. That special table in the corner window with the view. Wow. So I decided to go for it and get the Margaux. This experience had a lot to do with why I’m here typing today. It was my first Bordeaux epiphany. Never, at that time, had I tasted such a complex red wine. It had depth, richness, silky tannins, and aromas galore. Our server was wise to keep the decanter out of arm’s reach. This way it lasted all through dinner. It was more spectacular than the finest table in Rome.
1985 Leoville Las Cases
I consider myself very lucky to have tasted 1985 Leoville Las Cases. I was given a bottle as a gift several years ago, and I was saving it for a special occasion. In 2014, my boyhood baseball team won its third World Series in five years, so that was special enough to pop the ’85. (I’ve got a thing for 1985 red Bordeaux.) I brought the bottle to Restaurant Picco in Larkspur, where I pop in fairly regularly. The complexity, mouth feel, and aromatic sensations that I experienced with the 1985 Las Cases, I would put up against anything I’ve ever tasted. My friends and I shared tastes with the manager, assistant manager, several servers, and Chef de Cuisine, Jared Rogers. Every single one of us were completely blown away. 30 year old Bordeaux, still tasting rather fresh, yet showing layers and layers of Bordeaux goodness which comes from time in the cellar. We collectively shed a tear when the bottle came up empty. All we had was a memory. A very happy memory. And the good news is that the generous gent who gave me that bottle has given me another. Thank you! I look forward to that special occasion.
2005 Chateau Coutet, Barsac
Not even a short list of favorite wines would be complete without the 2005 Coutet. It all started when someone came to our shop on Carolina Street and spent a long time in our Sauternes section. I engaged him in conversation and it turned out he was with Chateau La Tour Blanche. He was in town for a 2005 Sauternes tasting at Fort Mason. David made a couple of phone calls, and I went to the tasting. The lineup included Doisy Vedrines, Doisy Daene, Rayne Vigneau, Clos Haut Peyraguey, La Tour Blanche, Coutet, Guiraud, Suduiraut, and Climens. Each wine was tasted by the group at the same time, and all the wines were showing very well. I will never forget what happened when we all tasted the ’05 Coutet. The noise level in the room erupted and smiles and praise beamed from all the tasters. It was quite incredible. My own notes concluded with “Cover off the ball.” It gets better. I put my staff pick sign on this wine and somehow it got back to Chateau Coutet – to Aline Baly specifically. Together, we have hosted three awesome all-Sauternes tasting dinners, and Aline and her uncle Philippe have treated me like family ever since. Having grown up in the Boston area, Aline suggested I try it with lobster. What a great idea. I have very fond memories of 2005 Coutet and lobster shared with my sister for several years. This will always be a special wine for me.

Well, if you made it this far, I thank you. Without reason to flog a wine, I thought it fun to remember some of the great wines I’ve tasted. I don’t mean this to appear as a brag of any sort; but in writing this, I’ve come to remember the people and occasions which got these bottles open in the first place. For me, the most important thing about a good bottle of wine is sharing it. 2016 has been a tumultuous year; we can all agree with that. As I grow older, I become painfully aware that life is short. Some of the people with whom I shared the above wines are no longer with us. Well, we’ve all still got each other, so let me raise a glass and toast: To all of us, may we enjoy the company of friends and loved ones, share some good times, wonderful meals and fine wine, may we live in good health and in peace. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about Favorite Wines, Bordeaux, Holidays, or English Football: peter@wineSF.com

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Filed under Barsac, Bordeaux, Margaux, Napa Valley, Pauillac, Peter Zavialoff, St. Julien