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
What constitutes good value? Well, M-W.com defines the word as, “A fair return or equivalent for goods, services, or money for something exchanged.” Keeping in mind that the word “fair” is subjective; we all want our money’s worth when purchasing anything. Here at TWH, we always seek good value when tasting and deciding which wines to import and stock on our shelves. At every price point, there is value to be had here.
If one is searching for the best values among our bins, it is obvious to begin with wines that we import ourselves. It just makes sense – as there are no middlemen taking their cuts as the wine moves from producer to our shelves. We pride ourselves on being able to provide good value at every price point, from the $10 bottle well into the hundreds. In the world of fine wine, there exists a law of diminishing returns. After all, is a $100 bottle of wine really twice as good as a $50 bottle? There are many reasons for a particular wine’s price to exceed that of similar wines from similar locales. Some brands have excellent marketing arms and are able to command more due to a heightened reputation – deservedly or not. Taking all this into consideration, I have quietly enjoyed a very special wine recently. It’s from a fancy appellation – one that includes wines which sell for hundreds of dollars. I’m talking about Barolo. Specifically, the 2010 Barolo from Aurelio Settimo.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about an Italian white wine which we directly import. Within the write-up I mentioned a tasting room experience in which Tiziana Settimo suggested we try a line of wines made by a friend of hers. The fact that we all really fell for those wines further solidified Tiziana’s reputation in our eyes.
Around a year ago, we introduced Aurelio Settimo in the form of a Sunday email, calling them “Time Machine Wines.” Please click here to access it. Tiziana Settimo, after taking the reins from her late father in 2007, has continued the winemaking tradition in the family, maintaining the estate’s style. Her wines sing beautifully of quality fruit expression and sense of place. When the line of Barolo arrived last year, I was surprised to find that her 2010 Barolo was not only outstanding, but with a little decanting, it could be enjoyed now! I put my money where my mouth was and brought a bottle to Restaurant Picco in Larkspur to enjoy with dinner. I am friendly with several members of their staff, and shared tastes of the Barolo with many of them. The response was unanimous. They all loved it! It is a true Old World wine. The aromas are marked by the quintessential tar and a hint of rose petal, there is some wild cherry in there too, as well as dusty sandstone and herbaceous notes. The palate is medium bodied and elegant, dare I say silky. It’s altogether balanced, and the finish is prolonged by the buoyant acidity. It’s a fancy wine without being flashy. In other words, it’s a classy Old World wine.
2010 was an excellent vintage in Barolo, and among the famous labels, marketing departments or not, prices can be pretty steep. Due to the benefits from direct importation, the 2010 Aurelio Settimo Barolo is not $100 per bottle; not even $50. It comes in at $41.99, and even better, as part of any mixed case, the price gets down to $35.69. For Barolo.
It has been a banner week here at TWH. We co-hosted an intimate dinner at the aforementioned Restaurant Picco in Larkspur this past Tuesday with the Cru Classé wines from Bordeaux’s Bernard Magrez, represented by his daughter, Cécile Daquin. It was a great success, and we hope to have more opportunities to host more dinners in the future. Speaking of Bordeaux, we’re less than a month away from the annual En Primeurs tastings. There are still some loose ends to tie up for me schedule-wise, though I am confident they will be in order sometime this coming week. We’re hearing good things about 2016, but I will reserve judgement until I taste them for myself. That’s what we do here at TWH, and there’s a whole lot of value in that! – Peter Zavialoff
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments about Barolo, direct importation, Bordeaux, or the current state of the English Premiership: peter@wine SF.com
Basic Facts for those of you who are new to the program: Every two months we select two Burgundies, one red and one white. We include write-ups detailing the background of the grower, the vineyard source, and the wine. Finally we knock a significant percentage off the prices of the wines, making the Sampler price $89.98. If you would like us to add you to the Sampler Club and receive the wines regularly, please notify us in the comments field, and we will charge your card accordingly. If you would like us to ship faster than the standard ground service, please specify this as well.
2014 Viré-Clessé Thurissey – Domaine Sainte Barbe
Jean-Marie Chaland founded Domaine Sainte Barbe in 1999. He farms 8 hectares in and around Viré-Clessé organically, achieving certification in 2006. He has old vines, as 75% of his holdings are over 50 years old. Chaland’s vines in the lieu dit Thurissey are over 90! Thurissey is a tiny vineyard, consisting of half a hectare facing due south. Jean-Marie makes a mere 200 cases of his showpiece wine, and no new oak is used. The vineyard has a reputation for producing wines that are rich in minerality, and we imagine the roots of Chaland’s old vines are deep into the clay and limestone subsoil. There’s no doubt that 2014 was an exceptional vintage for white Burgundy, and the 2014 Viré-Clessé Thurissey from Domaine Sainte Barbe is one special wine. Its aromas are of citrus blossoms, snappy apples, and stony minerals. The palate is rich and bright with a hint of a saline/mineral quality, and the wine intensifies at the mid-palate. It’s tightly coiled and ready to spring. Drink this from 2020-2030.
Stéphane Magnien is now the fourth generation winemaker at this domaine in Morey-Saint-Denis which dates back to 1897. He took the reins from his father, Jean-Paul in 2008, and farms 4.5 hectares in the Côte de Nuits. Though his holdings may appear small, they include some fancy locales. Stéphane’s Aux Petites Noix is actually a blend of his holdings in Premier Crus Les Greunchers and Clos Baulet, two tiny vineyards just east of the village. One doesn’t need to do much research to understand that 2010 was an exceptional vintage for red Burgundy, particularly in the Côte de Nuits. In general terms, the wines are teeming with expression and are structured sufficiently for a long life in the cellar. Magnien’s 2010 Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru Aux Petites Noix is in a beautiful place at the moment, showing aromas of briary red berry fruit, earthy mineral, and forest floor. It’s medium in body with great balance and expression. It’s open for business and can be enjoyed from today through the 2020’s. – Peter Zavialoff
As I was taking out the week’s recycling this morning, I couldn’t help notice that the four wine bottles going into the bin were all Italian! This doesn’t happen very often. Though we do import and sell wines from Italy, we have soooo much else to choose from, that the odds of each week’s collection of half-poured, taken home samples to all be from the same country are big. Though considering that this week pretty much was Italian week around here, it does make sense.
Italian week. Yes, Gambero Rosso’s annual tre bicchieri tasting took place this past Wednesday at Fort Mason. Our friends, Enrico Pierazzuoli and Gianlorenzo Picollo were in town for it, as Enrico’s 2013 Carmignano Riserva was included in the tasting. Before they arrived, on Monday evening, we all found ourselves in a tasting room with a lineup of red wines from a Sicilian producer for whom we had high expectations. This is one of the ways we decide whether or not to import/carry a producer’s lineup. You can’t learn to swim from a book; and the same can be said about a wine’s tasting experience. Well, expectations being the harbinger of disappointment and all, it was a shame that the wines weren’t up to our standards. After taking in the aromas, Chris decided to not even taste the last wine. That’s how it goes sometimes. But as we often say, “We taste a lot of bad wine (okay, that may be a bit harsh in this case), so you don’t have to.” Many of the half-poured sample bottles didn’t even make it to any of our homes that evening.
Then Tuesday came, and with it, two of our pals from Italy. We tasted through their wines and they were all showing very well. There were no leftover samples on Wednesday morning! We tasted a few more of their wines on Wednesday, and ditto, nothing was left behind. Not even Enrico and Gianlorenzo. They were off to the east coast on Wednesday evening. Thursday came and went without incident, and then on Friday, the expectation/disappointment paradigm went the other way!
Winemaker Tiziana Settimo of Aurelio Settimo fame suggested we taste a lineup of wines made by some friends of her’s. The wines were shipped from Italy via air freight, and when Anya pulled them from the box, she exclaimed, “Ooh. The whites are from 2016 – these folks mean business. I’m really looking forward to tasting these!” First, David and Anya went through the lineup, then Chris and I had our turns. The consensus? We like them. A lot. As a matter of fact, we love them. Not only did all the samples disappear from the tasting room, there was noticeable tension among us while taking turns choosing which wines to take home. You will hear about them someday, when they get here; but for tonight, a similar yarn about an Italian producer whom we hold in high esteem: Ca’Lojera from Lugana.
Franco and Ambra Tiraboschi’s Ca’Lojera was David’s discovery. And as Anya wrote about years ago, he is not the kind of man who jumps up and down and screams, “Read all about it!” That’s more of what we do. David happily signed Ca’Lojera to our roster, and the rest is delicious history. Samples were shipped across the country for our staff to taste, and back at our old location, after we closed one day, we tasted the wines. Our reactions were very much like our reactions this past Friday, we loved them and could barely wait for them to arrive! With 5 successful vintages under our belts, we are pleased to announce the arrival of the Ca’Lojera Lugana from 2015!
A reminder: Ca’Lojera’s Lugana is made from 100% Trebbiano di Lugana, or Turbiana, as the locals call it. The vineyards are on the southern shore of Lake Garda, and the winery is located in the commune of Sirmione. (Um, if you search images of Sirmione, you may want to travel there soon). The 2015 vintage was a good one in the region, with healthy ripeness levels and well-balancing acidity. The 2015 Ca’Lojera Lugana has you at “hello.” Its fresh, clean aromas of rich yellow fruit, blossoms, and mineral greet you like a fresh breeze off a lake surrounded by orchards. The palate is harmonious and lively, the complexities abound, all threaded together by the buoyant acidity. The intertwined components all fade slowly on the crisp, yet somehow fleshy, finish. All in all, I have a lot of ideas as to what to pair this wine with. It seems to be as versatile as can be!
Well, Italian week has come and gone. We laughed, we cried. We tasted some wines with great promise, and we tasted some wines to which we will politely say, “No thank you.” We said, “Ciao,” more this week than we will over the next few months combined, and the thought of pairing Osso Bucco with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo will haunt me all day tomorrow. No matter what happens next week, I can be assured of one fact: there will be not one, but at least two bottles of Italian wine in next week’s trip to the bottle bank. For I am taking two bottles of 2015 Ca’Lojera Lugana home tonight to enjoy over next week! – Peter Zavialoff
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments about Lugana, Sirmione, Bordeaux, or English Football: peter@wineSF.com
Whoa! How did it get to be February already??!! Seriously, the period after the holidays may be somewhat quiet for some, but around here it was hoppin’. I mentioned the parade of folks from Bordeaux passing through our doors the past couple of weeks; the UGC tasting of the newly bottled 2014’s was a week ago Friday. The wines are showing as well, if not better, than I anticipated after having tasted them as barrel samples. I’ve got more to say about them, but tonight’s exercise is more about what I like to call ye olde reliable, Côtes-du-Rhône rouge. Specifically, the 2013 CdR La Boissière from Domaine Boudinaud.
It’s funny. My memory is chock full of useless information. I don’t know why I remember some things (seriously, yesterday was my best friend’s from 3rd grade birthday), and not other, more important things. Like when and where and why did I taste my first Côtes-du-Rhône? It almost feels to me like it just always was a given. If I wanted a nice glass or two of delicious red wine without much expense, there is always Côtes-du-Rhône. When a new customer walks in to our shop and informs me that they like wine, yet aren’t very familiar with French wine, I tend to start here. With Côtes-du-Rhône, it’s tough to go wrong.
We have been working with Thierry and Véronique Boudinaud for well over a decade, and we just love their wines. For the 2013 la Boissière, Thierry blended 55% Grenache with 30% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, and 5% Cinsault. The nuance of each variety’s aromatic profile is noticeable and the blend is quite harmonious. And what’s great about this wine in particular is that you can drink it on its own, with a burger, with steak, with a pork chop, barbecue chicken, and so forth. It is that versatile. Given its price point, it’s a super wine for a very fair price.I do remember how much we liked the 2012, and how my colleagues and I squirreled away bottles for ourselves when our stock began to vanish. When it finally dried up, the countdown began for the new vintage. Now that it’s here, our entire staff is enjoying it. One bottle at a time. And though $13.49 is already an extraordinary deal for a wine of this quality, the case price of $11.47 per bottle is what we call a no-brainer.
Wow. I’m at a loss for what to do for dinner this evening. As Anya mentioned last week, our staff had our annual holiday dinner gathering a fortnight ago, and last Saturday, I was lucky enough to join a supplier and representatives from three Bordeaux chateaux at The Battery for an incredible dinner. It was there that I tasted my very first grade A-5 Wagyu beef. I will not be forgetting about that anytime soon. I have a feeling that tonight’s dinner plans will be less extravagant and more about comfort food. What wine will I be bringing home to sip with my comfort food? Ye olde reliable, of course! – Peter Zavialoff
Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about Côtes-du-Rhône, 2014 Bordeaux, or English Football: peter@wineSF.com
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
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.
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.
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!
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