Category Archives: Petits Chateaux

A Prime 2014 Bordeaux Value – Chateau Senejac


A good-sized parcel of 2014 Bordeaux has landed at TWH! Though several others are still en route, many have now hit our sales floor. I have been closely listening to Peter talk up the vintage, making a strong case for its quality and comparable value, especially on the Left Bank. With Peter’s guidance, TWH seized the opportunity to load up on high-quality, value-oriented Bordeaux from 2014 in addition to the region’s high-flyers. Only after customers who bought wines on futures were notified and the last pallet was broken down, did I buy my first bottle of 2014 to take home – the 2014 Sénéjac.


I selected the 2014 Sénéjac for three reasons:
1) It’s under $20
2) In really good vintages, Sénéjac always ends up on “sleeper of the vintage” lists
3) The crown logo and script font reminds me of another one of my favorite Bordeaux chateau, Branaire Ducru.

I took home the bottle, popped open the cork and poured a glass for myself for no other reason than to edify myself on 2014 Bordeaux. I need a reference point, a place to start all future comparisons. A sub-$20, Haut-Médoc seems like a reasonable place to start.

When I was first introduced to Bordeaux, working here at TWH, I either tasted young Bordeaux in order to acquaint myself with TWH stock or I was treated to cellared, well-aged fine Bordeaux courtesy of David and Company. I got spoiled fast and as a result liked to claim that I didn’t like young Bordeaux, only Bordeaux with some age on it. There was both truth and pretentiousness to this declaration. Over the years, I’ve come to enjoy young Bordeaux more and more. I think some of it has to do with changing wine styles as well as the overall advancement of quality in the region. In some years, 2009 comes to mind, young Bordeaux tastes great from the get-go. No need to wait, but if you find one you like in particular, buying some to cellar is a good thing too.


On Mother’s Day I hosted dinner for nine including my mother, mother-in-law, sister and spiritual mother. I promised to keep it low-key, but it was work nonetheless. I made a pork tenderloin in an agrodolce sauce studded with dry fruit and citrus zest and paired it with the Le Nid 2013 Moulin-à-Vent. As much as I enjoy making a meal for others, this year a long held fantasy was actualized. My daughter made me a special Mother’s Day breakfast. She planned the meal and shopped for it. In the morning, she quietly got out of bed, closed my bedroom door to allow me to sleep longer undisturbed. It was one of the tastiest meals of my life!


Speaking of all things tasty, the 2014 Sénéjac is one of those young Bordeaux that tastes pretty darn good right now. Maybe not as dense as I remember some of the 2009 to be, what the 2014 Sénéjac has going for it is overall balance. The components are all there in harmony: fruit, acid, tannin. The aromas are undeniably Bordeaux with plum and red currant notes, a hint of oak that sneaks out of the glass but gets buried in the fruit on the palate. A classy expression of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. I am looking forward to revisiting the rest of the wine tonight!Anya Balistreri

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Filed under 2014 Bordeaux, Anya Balistreri, Barbecue Wine, Haut-Medoc, Petits Chateaux, Value Bordeaux in San Francisco

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

2009 Chateau de Malleret: Another Fantastic 2009 Bordeaux Bargain


“How do you guys make your Bordeaux selections?” We may have heard that question once or twice before. Our usual answer is that we buy the majority of our Bordeaux selections En Primeur, or as futures, shortly after the barrel samples for the wines are presented to the trade. Sometimes, we also buy additional stocks after bottling, either as a result of one of our suppliers shipping over sample bottles to choose from, or if I taste something too good to pass up when I meet with negociants while attending the tastings. It’s not often when we buy Bordeaux from another importer. But, just like all rules, there are (have been) exceptions.

We have demonstrated over the years that it pays to peruse close-out lists that different distributors send out periodically. To the trained eye, it doesn’t take very much time, and should something stick out to us, we are quick to respond and scoop up any berries worth scooping. My workstation is the only workstation next to Anya’s (I know, poor Anya), so as I was busy typing away one morning, Anya casually turned and asked me if I tasted the 2009 Château de Malleret. It is documented that I am a big fan of their 2010. What’s not documented, until now, is what happened after I tasted (and loved) the 2010.


After each En Primeurs trip to Bordeaux, it is customary to meet with David and discuss the vintage and talk about the wines I tasted, especially any stand-outs. When I returned from the trip in April of 2014, there was one wine that stood out from the rest, the 2010 Château de Malleret, Haut-Médoc. There are so many producers in Bordeaux that it’s not unusual to taste wines that I’m unfamiliar with. Malleret was one of those producers. As I was tasting the wine, I asked the negociant where the chateau was located. He informed me it was in the southernmost part of the Haut-Médoc, south of La Lagune and a bit west of the D2 roadway. He then went on to say that his brother had his wedding reception there, as many do, because the grounds are so beautiful. I knew we would be buying good quantities of the 2010 after I returned, so I did a little more research when I arrived back in SF. I discovered that we actually had one bottle of the 2000 vintage in-stock for a ridiculously low price. I bought it and took it home. One word: stellar! Turns out that the bottle was from David’s private cellar and he had another bottle at home. In my world, to enjoy it fully, wine is meant to be shared. So rather than to be selfish, I recommended that David taste it himself, perhaps with one of his tasting groups. I’m still waiting for the report …

Now you’re all up to speed on where my head was when Anya asked me about the 2009. The answer was that I hadn’t tasted it, but considering the litany of emails/blog posts I composed regarding the 2009 Bordeaux vintage, and my recent experience with Malleret from two other outstanding Bordeaux vintages, this was about as risk-free as one can get. Factoring in the crazy closeout price makes the 2009 Malleret another sweet deal from our petits chateaux section. Château de Malleret definitely has a house style. One gets a sense of their terroir in every swirl, sniff, and taste. Their style suits my palate well, I love the old school aromas of tobacco, forest floor, and earthy mineral. The 2009 is a user-friendly vintage with excellent weight and fruit expression, and the Malleret has just the right amount of ripe fruit to sit atop the old school structure. Not overbearing nor clunky, the palate is full bodied, yet all in balance with a finish that combines the fruit, structure, and herbal profile.

Here’s what Neal Martin had to say about the 2009 Château de Malleret:
“Tasted at the Cru Bourgeois 2009 tasting in London. The de Malleret 2009 has a well-defined cedar and briary-scented bouquet with crisp blackberry and dark plum fruit interlaced with cedar. The palate is medium-bodied with fine, slightly chalky tannins but a very edgy, vibrant finish with lively black fruits that are just slightly clipped on the finish. Otherwise, a very good effort. Tasted September 2011. 89 points”

If you enjoy a great deal on a red Bordeaux, or if you have enjoyed a bottle or two of the 2010 Château de Malleret, I highly recommend picking up a bottle of their 2009. It just makes sense!Peter Zavialoff

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Filed under 2009 Bordeaux, Haut-Medoc, Peter Zavialoff, Petits Chateaux

2013 Château Armurey Bordeaux Clairet

Greetings. Another weekend in San Francisco. No big deal. The President is in town. It’s Fleet Week, as our streets are dotted with various uniformed service people. The Blue Angels are whizzing about up in the sky to the chagrin of San Francisco’s canine population and anyone trying to drive across town. There’s a rather large convention coming next week assuring our streets will continue to be a traffic-tangled mess. Oh well. As I mentioned to Chris after work yesterday while sitting in a pocket of traffic, I sure am glad I’m not a white-knuckled, need-to-get-there-now, angry kind of driver anymore. I just try to be patient and keep things in perspective. Speaking of patience, and I know I’m not the only one in this camp, I’ve been waiting all summer for the arrival of a particular wine. What’s so special about it? Well, it’s delicious, easy on the pocketbook, unique, and rare to find outside of its place of origin. Of course I’m talking about the 2013 Château Armurey Bordeaux Clairet. The waiting is over!

clairet 12.45.19 PM

The 2012 Château Armurey Clairet took us all by storm last year. We witnessed many a curious customer (and staff members) (and former staff members) come in, pick up a bottle, only to return with requests for more, more, more! It all started a few years ago when former TWH colleague, Emily, asked me if I had ever tried a Bordeaux Clairet on any of my trips there. My answer was beyond “no.” I had no idea what she was talking about. And the investigation began. It sounded like a very interesting concept. Made like a Rosé, Bordeaux Clairet simmers with its skins for a longer time period than a Rosé, lending more color and fruity flavor to the wine. It is made in the style of wine that was shipped to England in the middle ages, and is the origin of the Brits’ reference to Bordeaux’s red wines as “Claret.” So it’s not some newfangled thing some hipster somm came up with. One of the best things about it (besides the price) is that it goes with just about anything. It’s like a red wine, but it’s not a red wine. It’s like a Rosé, but it’s not a Rosé. Its aromas are certainly more in the direction of a red wine, but it’s structure light and refreshing, or as we like to call it, “Fruit punch for French wine lovers.”


If you tried this wine last year, let this serve as a friendly reminder that it’s back, and you all know that it won’t be around long. If you haven’t tried it and appreciate wines that are unique, easy on the pocketbook, and taste good, you may want to consider giving one a shot.

angels

Those Blue Angels shook things up a little around here today, I can only imagine the traffic situation left in their wake. I’m not headed home though, just like last fall, I’m headed to the home of some good friends to watch some post-season baseball. Traffic or no traffic, I will endure the drive patiently; after all, there are a couple of bottles of 2013 Château Armurey Bordeaux Clairet chilling right now that will be making the trip with me. My friends’ glasses are empty, I’m on my way to fix that!Peter Zavialoff

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Filed under Bordeaux Clairet, Peter Zavialoff, Petits Chateaux

2010 Château de Blissa, Côtes de Bourg

 

So far we’ve told you all about two out of the five petits chateaux wines that just arrived from Bordeaux, the extraordinary 2010 Tour du Roc Milon, Pauillac and the almost sold-out 2009 La Croix Calendreau, St. Emilion Grand Cru. Back in spring, we received 24 sample bottles from one of our suppliers in Bordeaux. Over the span of 5 weeks, we tasted 4 at a time, and decided from there which ones we wanted to import. Most of the samples are of good quality, but we insist on focusing on the great ones. The great ones that offer great value, that is. The price spectrum amongst this current quintet ranges from $11 to $39. We’ve told you about a $25 and a $39 wine so far. Now it’s time to talk about the $11 number, the 2010 Château de Blissa, Côtes de Bourg.

 Cotes-De-Bourg-Map
Again, the Côtes de Bourg is a Right Bank appellation west of Libourne just opposite the estuary from Margaux. It’s one of France’s oldest wine producing regions. Historians have traced its origins back to the Second Century AD, the Romans planting “Vitis Biturica,” which many believe to be an ancestor of Cabernet, in the clay and limestone soils. Côtes de Bourg thrived in the Nineteenth Century, its proximity to the estuary giving it both easy access to shipping routes as well as keeping it virtually frost free. Later, as the Right Bank appellations of Pomerol and St. Emilion gained in prominence and investment, Côtes de Bourg took a bit of a back seat to them. There is one clear exception, Roc de Cambes, the undisputed top chateau of the appellation, but today Côtes de Bourg’s reputation is that of an historical locale that produces some quality wines for very fair prices.
bliss

Okay, 2010 Château de Blissa. First off, let’s just say that when we’re talking about Bordeaux wines in this particular price range, the percentage of wines that make the cut are EXTREMELY low. We continue to ask for samples. We continue to taste the wines. Without being too insulting, let’s just say that not only do we pass on over 90% of these wines, the remains of the respective sample bottles aren’t even packed up by our staff to come home with us. Things were different with the 2010 Château de Blissa. There was much to like about it. It won’t make you forget about Pomerol … because it’s not Pomerol. It is a well-balanced red Bordeaux at a price point that enables us to pop the cork for any occasion, any day of the week. Made from 40% Merlot, 30% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc, it’s an honest wine that outperforms its price point by a long shot. Currently run by Stéphane Destrade whose family acquired the property in 1950, de Blissa can trace its roots all the way back to 1640!!!

I was recently contacted out of the blue by someone looking for Bordeaux Clairet, and got into an email conversation about her last trip to Bordeaux and Côtes de Bourg in particular. She informed me that she and her husband really loved the red wines from Côtes de Bourg because they were honest Bordeaux wines made by farmers for their family estates. The prices of the wines are very fair considering the quality. So she came in last week and picked up a bottle of the 2013 Château Armurey Bordeaux Clairet (yes, it’s in stock!) and a bottle of the de Blissa. She came back this week and bought a full case of the de Blissa. So that’s saying something. We offered a Côtes de Bourg as part of our petits chateaux offer last year. It was gone quickly. This, of course, makes us all proud here at TWH. Our efforts (and much spitting of wines that we don’t dare purchase) truly pay off, and we take great pride handing our customers a bottle that says “Imported by Wine House Limited,” because if that’s what’s written on the back label of the bottle, you know what’s inside is going to be great!Peter Zavialoff

 

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Filed under 2010 Bordeaux, Cotes de Bourg, Peter Zavialoff, Petits Chateaux

2010 Château Tour Du Roc Milon, Pauillac

It’s always exciting around here when new Bordeaux containers arrive. As we wrote last week, we are in a fortunate position as direct-importers to bring over only the wines that suit our standards. A couple of our suppliers in Bordeaux have begun the practice of sending sample packs with up to 24 bottles for us to taste. We like to go about tasting these samples five or six at a time, and it usually takes a few weeks before we’re finished. Back in the spring, we were at it again, and as reported, of the 24, we chose five red wines. Quality and price are THE two determining factors. Four of these petits chateaux wines fall into the “everyday quaffer” price range of $10-$25, but there was a sample a little beyond this price range ($38.98) that swept us all off of our feet. We were still talking about it a week later, citing its honesty, authenticity, and elegance. What was this pearl of a wine? The 2010 Château Tour du Roc Milon, Pauillac.

 

pauillacsign

Our entire staff was abuzz that day about the 2010 Pauillac being so reasonable in price, considering the vintage and place of origin. But it was its stunning quality that pushed us all over the top! Though it may be true what they (and we) say about great Bordeaux vintages; that is, look out for the smaller, lesser-known chateaux, because everybody got good grapes. But then again, Château Tour du Roc Milon isn’t exactly a little guy. It belongs to Château Fonbadet, a property that sits in the southern part of Pauillac just north of the two Pichons, on the way to Lynch Bages. It gets more interesting. Their vines grow in three different places. Four hectares neighbor Château Latour and Pichon Lalande. Another three hectares are in central Pauillac bordering Lynch Bages. The bulk of their holdings, 13 hectares, are in the north, surrounded by Mouton Rothschild! So yeah, not exactly a little guy. This wine has it all. Complex aromas, sense of place, concentrated dark fruit, zippy acidity, fine tannins, and a lengthy satisfying finish.The blend is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, with the final 5% comprised of both Petit Verdot and Malbec. Overall, it is an elegant, complex Pauillac made by an established producer in a great vintage. Coming in at 13.5% alcohol, it’s not exactly “old-school,” but its medium-full body does smack of more elegant Pauillacs. Maybe it’s the suggestive nature of its name, but it really reminds me of Château Clerc Milon. We enjoyed the youthful sample so much that one could easily make a case for drinking this wine in its youth. Yet patience will reward those who wait. With proper cellaring, it will continue to improve, and hit its peak in 5-15 years.
pauillac map
Yes, a new container: new wines; exciting times. Based on the responses to our petits chateaux offers, this concept is resonating with you all. We don’t consider the 2010 Château Tour du Roc Milon to be a petit chateau, because it isn’t. It is an under the radar Pauillac from a great vintage for a very fair price. Wines like this are exactly what we look for. It’s not often enough that we tap into an undiscovered supply of great wine, but we found a winner with this one!

Peter Zavialoff

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Filed under 2010 Bordeaux, Pauillac, Peter Zavialoff, Petits Chateaux

2009 Château La Croix Calendreau, St. Emilion Grand Cru

We are often asked, “How do you decide which wines to import?”  While there are many ways to answer this question, one thing we DO NOT do is accept sub-par wines in exchange for allocations of hard-to-get wines.  We won’t and don’t play that game.  Being an importer and distributor gives the retail arm of TWH the leverage to say “no” when we don’t feel a wine is up to our standards.  There is one factor that rings consistently with every method we undertake in making our selections:  taste.  So simple, so true.  Taste.  As in one (or more) of us actually sticking our noses in a glass, sipping, and spitting (most of the time).  Last summer saw the arrival of 5 little-known red Bordeaux wines to our new Petits Chateaux section.  To say that they were well received by our staff and customers would be a massive understatement.  They sold out quicker than you could blink; it seems great value Bordeaux struck a major chord among our customer base.  In fact, one of the wines sold out before we could even promote it!
photoWhat do 2012 Château Armurey Bordeaux Clairet2009 Château Beauguérit2009 Château La Fleur Grands Landes2009 La Fleur Boireau, and the 2009 Château La Croix Calendreau, St. Emilion Grand Cru have in common? They were the 5 wines we collectively selected from 24 bottles of samples provided by one of our suppliers in Bordeaux last year. The Croix Calendreau was all gone before we could even write about it like we did for the others! Why? This kind of St. Emilion Grand Cru quality for less than $25 is why!!! First of all, it’s from the amazing 2009 vintage. Vintages with optimal weather offer great opportunities to discover smaller producers, and in 2009 (and 2010), we tasted a whole lot of samples, finding many lesser known chateaux with outstanding wines. Our favorite part of the whole exercise though, is when the wines we selected finally arrive here after their long journey from Bordeaux.

 

A container just arrived bursting with goodies from all over France, among them are a handful of new petits chateaux wines and one re-order, the 2009 Château La Croix Calendreau, St. Emilion Grand Cru. We were pleasantly surprised when we saw the wine become available again (perhaps someone cancelled their order?), and acted swiftly to reserve some. We added to our order by again choosing 5 wines among the last 24 sample bottles supplied. We’ll be telling you about the others very soon, but in case it becomes the first to sell out again, we thought this time we’d lead off with the 2009 La Croix Calendreau.

croix

The château sits among just over 2 hectares of vines in Saint Christophe des Bardes, just east of the medieval village of St. Emilion. The blend for the 2009 is 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Malbec. It’s vinified in cement vats and aged 50/50 in vats and oak barrels, of which 25% are new. This is a St. Emilion Grand Cru worthy of its appellation status. The aromas are bursting with complexity: dark fruit, earthy mineral, a hint of spice and licorice. The palate is fresh and balanced, tannins integrated, the fresh fruit buoyed by the lively acidity leading to a long, complex finish. If you think about what it is and where it’s from, factoring in the price, it is a screaming bargain! That would explain its disappearance last summer – those of you lucky enough to know how good this wine is need no explanation. For those of you who haven’t yet tasted the 2009 La Croix Calendreau, we recommend you act quickly.  Seriously, 2009 St. Emilion Grand Cru for $25. And THAT is one of the best things about direct-importation.

So here we go! You’ll be hearing all about the other wines that just landed very soon, including the other petits chateaux Bordeaux wines. If you have any questions, or want to know more about our new arrivals, please contact us or come visit us in Dogpatch -we’ll be happy to tell you all about them! We thought we bought plenty of this wine last year, and were surprised as to how quickly it sold out. Taking that into consideration, we bought a little more this time, so hopefully more of our customers will get to try it. Predicting the future is a difficult exercise, but saying that the 2009 La Croix Calendreau is going to sell out again isn’t exactly predicting, now is it? – Peter Zavialoff

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Filed under 2009 Bordeaux, Peter Zavialoff, Petits Chateaux, St. Emilion