There’s been a lot going on around here lately, and as is usual for me, much of it has to do with Bordeaux. Of course, there were our two recent offers of the fantastic back to back vintages of 2009 and 2010. Funny, just before I pushed the magic button to send the 2010 vintage email, a couple walked in and said hello. Turns out they were the owners of a chateau in St. Emilion! More Bordeaux people are scheduled to visit us next week, but the big, big news was the announcement by Robert Parker that he will not be traveling to the region for the 2014 En Primeur tastings. Neal Martin will be handling Primeurs for The Wine Advocate beginning this year. The torch is being passed and time moves on. Speaking of time, as the 2nd month of the year comes to a close, I thought it a good time to check in on my wine resolutions that were made back at the beginning of the year.
Okay, not bad. Merlot? Just had some last night. Events? Our dinner with Château Brane Cantenac was a huge success. We’ll get something else on the books soon. Expanding horizons? Hmmm. This one needs a little help. Good to know. I’ll work on it. Push the boundaries? I’m learning new things all the time, so no problem with that one. Monthly splurge? Hmmm. Could it be that February has gone by without one? That’s easy to fix, and it’s about as no-brainer as it gets. The wine that every member of our staff is ready to flush their budget for is the 2012 Côte Rôtie Champon’s from Domaine Pichat.
Last Thursday, some pretty fancy wines were opened for a few of our wholesale customers. At the end of the day, there were some lovely samples for our staff to divvy up and take home. Our staff that day consisted of Chris and myself. Most of the samples had been tasted by Tom and Anya previously, so those were free to go home, but there was one that no one had yet tasted. For occasions such as these, we have small vials that we fill so they can be tasted the next day. It was really hard to part with even a vial-full of this wine! This is the magic that can come from a bottle of Côte Rôtie!
When I first started working here, a close friend of mine who is a regular wine tasting buddy, a foodie, and a great chef to boot asked me to bring by a bottle of Côte Rôtie so he could see what all the fuss was about. What I ended up bringing was a very nice Côte Rôtie, but it fell short of expectations as it wasn’t exhibiting any Côte Rôtie magic that night. Well Chief, if you still read my ramblings, this one has it in spades!!! The first whiff: magic. Côte Rôtie magic. Earth, dark purple Syrah fruit, meat, bacon fat, spice, autumn leaves … I mean the aromas are gorgeous. You can literally spend 5 minutes smelling this wine. The palate is equally spectacular with layers upon layers of complexity all in balance as if all components of the wine were woven together with magical thread. The finish is sad, as in darn, it’s gone. But as Dr. Seuss reminds us, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Anya and Tom came in the next day, and let’s just say that I didn’t need to keep an eye out for when they tasted the Côte Rôtie. The oohs and ahhs and cries of praise from the tasting room were enough to hear in all corners of our warehouse. I know Chris well, and when he’s committed to a budget, he’s committed to a budget, but he’s already ready to cave, as this wine can seduce the most willful.
As I stated in my wine resolutions, life’s too short to not enjoy something special every now and then. It is just a small sacrifice for pleasure. The 2012 Côte Rôtie Champon’s from Domaine Pichat is well worth every penny, and if you like the smoky, meaty, dense briary fruit that Côte Rôtie can deliver, this wine’s for you.
Time marches on! Before Robert Parker turned tasting at Bordeaux’s En Primeur tastings over to Neal Martin, he also welcomed Rhône expert Jeb Dunnuck to his staff to cover the region. Here’s what Jeb said about Stéphane Pichat’s 2012 Côte Rôtie Champon’s:
“Aged two years in 30% new oak, the 2012 Côte Rôtie le Champon exhibits gorgeous notes of black raspberry, sweet black cherry, smoked earth, herbs and dark chocolate. Pure, fine, elegant and layered, with medium to full-bodied richness, it too has a modern ting, but still has plenty of Côte Rôtie style. Drink it over the coming decade. 93 points
Producing a modern-styled Condrieu and Côte Rôtie, this outstanding estate is run by the young Stephane Pichat. He’s excelled in both 2012 and 2013. I think production here is minuscule, but these are worth the effort to track down.”
Speaking of time marching on, the first bit of English Football silverware is up for grabs tomorrow at Wembley. May the best side prevail! – Peter Zavialoff
Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about Bordeaux, Côte Rôtie, Wine Resolutions, or English Football:
Whew! As another week zooms by, what lies in its wake? Well, the big event this past week, no doubt, was Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri tasting. Gambero Rosso is a well known Italian wine publication which rates the country’s wines by bicchieri, or glasses, three being the highest. Each year they hit the road with the latest recipients of this designation, and the show was here in SF this past Thursday. Believe it or not, coincidentally, two of our Italian producers were also here on Thursday, though neither was part of Gambero Rosso’s event. Gianlorenzo Picollo was here pouring his family’s Gavi and Gavi di Gavi, and he was joined by Enrico Pierazzuoli from Le Farnete. I have to say that Enrico’s Carmignano has been a personal favorite of mine for many vintages, and as I’ve eluded to recently, this can create lofty expectations, which of course are sometimes difficult to live up to.
So this past Thursday at closing time, Gianlorenzo and Enrico stepped into our staff tasting area and opened some of their recent releases for us. The wine of the tasting? For me, it was the 2012 Le Farnete Carmignano. I don’t know what it is with this wine, but as I said, I have some history with this wine. I remember loving the 2004. I stocked up on the 2005 after we put it on sale, as it was the mother of no-brainers.Anya and I both thought enough of the 2008 to write about it. The 2009 was another winner, so when it came time to taste the 2012 with Enrico in the room, the pressure was on. I remember the warmth cloaking me and the smile that I couldn’t hide after I put my nose in the glass. Wonderful stuff. Incense, clove, black cherries, forest floor, black tea.My kind of wine. The palate was lush, well balanced, and complex. The finish was firing on all cylinders, another winner!
Le Farnete’s Carmignano is a blend of Sangiovese (80%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), a wine that might be misclassified as a Super Tuscan. But no, this is not a Super Tuscan. As we have previously reported, under Italian law, Cabernet Sauvignon has been allowed to grow in Carmignano since Medici times. What we didn’t know was this tidbit that Enrico let us in on. In the 16th Century, when Catherine de’ Medici married French King Henry II, as a wedding gift, the French delivered some Cabernet Sauvignon vines that would be planted in Carmignano. And the rest is history.
Considering the price of this wine, it’s another no-brainer. Wines of this kind of quality can sell for double this price or even higher. It’s 13.5% alcohol and can pair with a myriad of cuisine. All of the traditional Italian dishes are easy pairings; osso-buco, bistecca alla Fiorentina, or rabbit pappardelle would be lovely, but the Carmignano is inexpensive enough to pop with simple pasta with Bolognese or Arrabiata sauce and is perfect with a sausage pizza. We had a lovely visit with these two Italian gentlemen.
I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine’s Day. The weather here in San Francisco was incredible, or as I’ve said many times, “If it’s not going to rain, it may as well do this.” We’ve got some exciting stuff on the horizon coming your way soon. It starts on Monday. Yes, we’ll be open on President’s Day, normal weekday hours of 10am-6pm. There was no footy, or at least not for my team this weekend, but that’s okay because the Champions’ League knock-out phase begins Tuesday!!! We’re up against French giants Paris Saint Germain. This will be one of those rare weeks when I won’t have my usual Wednesday off. Come on you Blues! – Peter Zavialoff
February might be the shortest month of the year, but it’s packed with fun stuff to do! There’s Valentine’s Day, of course, but Presidents’ Day and winter break right afterward. That’s reason enough to have a Dirty Dozen handy. Think about it, 12 wines, all chosen for their versatility, in one handy box, for one incredibly low price. So no matter what’s cooking, there’s something in this here sampler that will pair well beside it. Vive la Dirty Dozen!
2013 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Col del Mondo $10.98 net price, $9.88 reorder
An old favorite makes a return visit to the DD. These mature Trebbiano grapes are grown on silt/clay soils rich in calcareous elements. Winds off the Adriatic keep temps cool at night, preserving freshness. Meticulous work in the vineyard yields results that over-deliver for the price. Unoaked and yet dripping with sunny, citrusy flavors – delizioso! Serving suggestions include veal Piccata, a bowl of Castelvetrano olives, or a rotisserie Chicken.
2013 Chardonnay, Sean Minor $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder
This Central Coast Chardonnay is put together keeping balance in mind as only a portion of the wine is aged in barrel. A Chardonnay that is unapologetically Californian in flavor profile: apple, pear, with nuances of tropical fruit. A rounded, creamy finish will compliment Swiss enchiladas, pan-roasted salmon or it can go solo at your next book club meeting.
2013 Pinot Grigio, Riff $11.98, $10.78 reorder
One of Italy’s most famous producers, Alois Lageder, makes this delightful, delicious and de-lovely Pinot Grigio. Fermented in tank and left on its lees for four months to develop texture, this is far removed from the sea of plonky Pinot Grigio. Depth and pronounced aromas of orchard fruit make this a perennial TWH favorite. Food match-ups are endless here, but to get you started: Oysters Rockefeller, clam chowder, or a grilled Gruyere & ham sandwich. Nice!
2012 Unoaked Chardonnay, The Winery of Good Hope $13.49, $10.79 reorder
English expat Alex Dale has a few labels under his umbrella down Stellenbosch way. His entry-level brand, The Winery of Good Hope doesn’t spend precious resources on new barrels, packaging, or marketing, ultimately keeping their bottle prices über-friendly. Here it is: Lively Chardonnay with no make-up, waiting to be poured with those crabcakes.
2012 Bordeaux Clairet, Château Armurey $9.99, $7.99 reorder
Speaking of the English – They’ve called red Bordeaux wines “Claret” for centuries. Where’d they get that from? In the Middle Ages, light red wine called Clairet (say Klare-ay´) was shipped from Bordeaux to England, and that inspired this now permanent fixture in their lexicon. Not a red wine, not a Rosé, this Clairet is as versatile as it is easy on the wallet!
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, here’s a pink sparkler with plenty of nuance and character. Made mostly from Côt (non Loire people call it Malbec), it sports a deep brick-like color, but don’t let that fool you. This fizz is dry and zesty, the fruit pings with freshness, and there is gravelly mineral at its core. Perfect to open with tempura and/or sushi.
2013 Luberon, Dauvergne Ranvier $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder
Juicy black cherry and plum flavors are embraced by firm, velvety tannins making this the ideal anytime Rhône red. Two-thirds Syrah with the balance Grenache, this wine captures the easy-to-drink profile of the region. Each sip can elicit taste memories of fruit and Provençal herbs. Try with turkey and hominy chili (make it as hot as you like, this red with handle the heat), lamb burgers or white bean and kale stew for meatless Monday.
2013 Nero d’Avola, Marchione $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder
The dark-skinned Nero d’Avola is Sicily’s most important and widely planted grape. This rendition of Nero d’Avola opts to take the fresher route by fermenting the grapes in tank, leaving the acid bright and the fruit intense. A charming Nero d’Avola if ever there was one. It is well suited for tomato-based sauces and dishes, as well as Mediterranean seafood stews like Cioppino or Bouillabaisse. Too much effort? Ok then, a lamb shawarma or carnitas burrito can do in a pinch.
2013 Bobal, Atance $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder
One can easily make the case that Spain produces the greatest selection of wine values in the world. Allow us to put into evidence, Atance Bobal. Crusader of Bobal, Toni Sarrion of Bodegas Mustiguillo, makes this wine using grapes from the DO Valencia. A medium-bodied red, the aromatics have an alluring thread of black pepper in tandem with the raspberry fruit. Muy ricos!
2013 Merlot, Domaine de St. Antoine $11.49, $9.19 reorder
Jean-Louis Emmanuel’s terroir in the hills to the southeast of the city of Nîmes have been compared to the terroir of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. He grows Syrah as well, but he found something to his liking by planting Merlot under the hot sun of the Costières de Nîmes. It’s juicy and medium bodied with a hint of the garrigue; great with pasta and duck ragu.
2011 Morgon Côte du Py, Domaine Pierre Savoye $18.99 net price, $15.19 reorder
There are 10 classified ‘Crus’, or growths, in Beaujolais. Though they’re not labeled as such, their recognition suggests each one special, akin to Premier Cru or Grand Cru. The wines from Morgon’s Côte du Py are considered to be some of Beaujolais’ more age worthy. Think bright red cherries and forest floor, this juicy number suits a turkey sando just fine.
2012 Barco Reale di Carmignano, Le Farnete $14.59, $11.67 reorder
Hardly a newfangled ‘Super Tuscan,’ Cabernet Sauvignon has been allowed to grow in Carmignano since Medici times. Blended with 80% Sangiovese, the Barco Reale shows plenty of brightness braced by the sturdy Cabernet fruit. This is a food wine extraordinaire, as it will suit pasta, pizza, stews, barbecue, veal shanks, meatballs; we could keep going!
2012 Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru Sous Frétille Domaine Rapet Père et Fils
Domaine Rapet is fairly well known among insiders in and around the Côte d’Or. They produce great wines for their price-points, and their appearance on the wine lists of bistros and restos in the area is numerous. Even while visiting Vincent Rapet, we are constantly interrupted by individuals wanting to purchase his wines for their own consumption. The domaine’s holdings are in excess of 20 hectares, about half planted with Chardonnay. 2012 was very difficult for Burgundian vignerons, as the weather was challenging from early spring through mid August. Production was way down, though the finished wines are of high quality. The healthy fruit that was harvested had relatively thick skins and less juice, contributing to sturdy concentration. The wines have expressive aromas and flavors, and bright acidity. Rapet’s 2012 Sous Frétille exhibits soft fleshy fruit in a medium bodied package, laced by its traditional mineral presence, which continues through the crisp, lifting finish. This will drink well from 2018-2028.
2012 Beaune 1er Cru Les Vignes Franches Domaine Michel Bouzereau
Jean-Baptiste Bouzereau described 2012 as a vintage where quantities were down around 50% of normal, though that number varies from plot to plot. However, just as with the Chardonnays, the miniscule quantity of Pinot Noir that was harvested is of fine quality. In the mold of the 2009 vintage, the wines are full of expression, and they possess plenty of concentration. The Premier Cru Les Vignes Franches vineyard borders Les Pertuisots due west of the town of Beaune. Jean-Baptiste’s 2012 Beaune Les Vignes Franches immediately grabs the taster with its pretty berry fruit aromas. There is plenty of concentration on the palate; it’s all about the pure dark red fruit expression that latch onto the round tannins before the fresh, balanced finish. As we continue to discover, Burgundy’s 2012’s deliver big time. As Clive Coates MW reminds us, “There are some who regard the potential of 2012 reds as superior to anything recent, and that includes 2010, 2009, and 2005.” Decant if drinking young, this wine will shine from 2019-2029 and beyond. – Peter Zavialoff
It started out as a concept brought to light while fighting off a bout of insomnia, but after five years, it seems to have stuck. A Top Ten Wines of the Year list. We taste so, so many wines each year – whether in the form of reps pouring samples on site, to airfreighted samples that arrive from overseas, the occasional trade tasting, here in SF, LA, Chicago, or New York, or the litany of wines that come at us on tasting trips overseas. Add them up, and we’re talking about thousands of wines made by hundreds of producers! Keeping that in mind, just making the selections as to which wines to stock is a fairly severe exercise which endorses a paltry few bottles compared to all that we taste. Now, take those wines and choose our ten favorites; that is a tough assignment! For a look at our previous lists, here are links to our Top Ten Wine lists from 2013,
There are no rules. They don’t need to cost an arm and a leg. They don’t need some sort of numerical justification from someone who prefers Pepsi over Coca-Cola. They could be surprise packages from unusual locales, well established producers with an exceptional vintage, terrific expressions of terroir, or the ineffable. Favorites are favorites. Some of the wines have sold out, but deserve to be listed due to their merits. Not in any particular order, The Wine House San Francisco’s Top Ten Wines of 2014:
NV Pascal Doquet
Grand Cru Le Mesnil Sur Oger Champagne
Starting things off the same way we recently kick-started our annual Post-Holiday Party. With Grower Champagne. Grand Cru, no less. Laure and Pascal Doquet own and run this 8.66 hectare estate which includes plantings in some of the finest Grand and Premier Cru vineyards in the Côte de Blancs. Pascal’s dedication to quality is relentless. Pascal took the reins of the family’s domaine in 1995, and since 2004, he and Laure are the sole proprietors. Pulling the curtain aside, Pascal shares a great deal of information about his wines on their back labels, such as disgorgement date and contents. For our current stock of Non-Vintage Grand Cru Le Mesnil, it is made up of the following vintages: 2003 (40%), 2002 (40%), and 2001 (20%). We taste a lot of Champagne during the year, and we chose to serve this one at our party! Life’s too short not to enjoy fine Grower Champagne like Doquet’s.
2012 Domaine Raimbault Sancerre “Apud Sariacum”
The phantom. Depending on your timing, you may have seen it on our sales floor, or maybe not. You see, the “Apud Sariacum” Sancerre has been the darling of a high-profile, wine-centric restaurant in the Los Angeles area for a few years. Funny thing is, this resto is known for switching out its wine list often, yet the “Apud” resided there for FOUR VINTAGES! Yep, it’s that people-pleasing. It was a difficult task making sure that there was enough to keep them pouring it continuously, many times resulting in our pulling it from the sales floor. All good things must come to an end, and after a very long ride, the restaurant’s policy of mixing it up resulted in the “Apud’s” replacement. That’s good news for the rest of us! A phantom no more. This bright, refreshing Sancerre is full of life with its zesty citrus aromas framed in stony minerality. Easy to like, you can pour it as an aperitif, or pair it with those dishes that beg for a zippy Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc.
Throughout the course of each calendar year, we receive over a handful of containers packed with wines from France and Italy. The arrival of each one is highly anticipated as there are always ‘little secrets’ on board. I say ‘little secrets’ because that’s what it’s like when we taste something new overseas, and return home only to wait for what sometimes feels like a long, long time before we can put it in your hands. We waited patiently for this one to arrive, but once it did, patience flew out the window. David continues to find cool new wines from producers familiar to us and beyond. He hit paydirt with this little red from Macon. Wait. Red wine from Macon?? Yes, indeed. Made from Gamay Noir, we all got a big kick out of Sainte Barbe’s “Terres Rouges”, and if you like Old World charm and sour cherry, wine-geeky Gamay, you will too.
2012 Orgo Saperavi
If you’d have asked any of us last year if there would be a wine from the Republic of Georgia in our annual top ten, we may have reacted inquisitively, as in “really?” As you probably already know, we look all over the world for wines to stock here in our shop. And when we say all over, we mean ALL OVER! The Orgo Saperavi took us by storm with its juxtaposition of softness and solid structure. Kind of reminds us of the “fist in a velvet glove” analogy. It comes with a great story too. I love it when a wine gets us talking about history, clay kveri, and Teinturier grapes!
2011 Domaine Stephane Magnien Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru
As David continues to travel to Burgundy (and beyond!) in search of new wines and producers, we are collectively excited at the prospect of welcoming them to our shelves! If you think about it, it takes a lot of work. On these road trips, one tastes a lot of wine. Those outside the wine business make light of this with quips like, “tough job,” “it must be nice,” and “somebody’s got to do it.” Let’s just say that finding wines to bring back home takes a lot of time and patience. One thing that David does regarding new producers is he tastes several vintages before pulling the trigger. He tasted young Stephane Magnien’s wines again and again, and after a few years, bam! Here they are. The entire line is impressive, as Stephane’s holdings include some fancy locales! But we were all quite taken by the 2011 Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru “Aux Petites Noix.” One thing that is never looked for, yet always mentioned in my tasting notes when present is “X-tra D,” or extra dimension. This one has it.
2012 Occidental Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
And from right here in our own backyard, from the Sonoma Coast, we were introduced to a new wine made by some old friends. The celebrated vintner Steve Kistler and business partner Mark Bixler teamed up once again to produce an amazing Pinot Noir under the Occidental label. There isn’t a whole lot of production, so when we saw the chance to get our hands on a teeny-tiny allocation, we jumped at it. You should have been in the tasting room when we all tasted the sample, it was poured into one glass, each of us taking tiny sips and emerging with wide eyes and happy disbelief! We weren’t the only ones who jumped at the chance. The Occidental Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir disappeared from our shelves literally hours after they were placed there!
2012 Domaine des Hauts de Sanziers Saumur Rouge
This one was an example of a wine coming to us! Though there are wine reps here pouring wines multiple times per week for Anya, it is a rare occasion when a rep pours for Anya, Chris, Tom, and myself collectively. This meeting was set up by David, who knew of the 7 or 8 samples to be poured, and strongly advised us to pay close attention to the 2012 Saumur Rouge from Hauts de Sanziers. In retrospect, he didn’t need to mention it. However, mentioning it did create an expectation level that was not only met, but surpassed! It’s a light-styled herbaceous Cabernet Franc from Saumur that has a Burgundian feel, and as Anya once said, “It’s light, but without being thin.” More wine-geek wine here. Loire Valley Cabernet Franc is not for everybody, but if you like the woodsy herbal quality one finds in them, this one’s for you too.
2012 Domaine Michel-Andreotti Montagny 1er Cru
We were already on board with Michel-Andreotti courtesy of their “Les Guignottes” bottling which landed them in our Top Ten list in their rookie year! Back in early 2014, before the move, we noticed a slightly different label coming from a box of their Montagny. Upon further investigation, we discovered that they make a Premier Cru wine called “Les Coères.”It swept us off our feet! Plenty of fresh, fleshy white fruit, a pleasant caress on the palate, sturdy structure, and a zippy, complex finish. Factor in the price, and it’s no wonder that it’s all gone.
2011 Roc de Cambes, Côtes de Bourg
For red Bordeaux, 2011 was not like 2010 nor 2009, but just as each vintage is its own, there are almost always some successful efforts. 2011 was like that. A sensational vintage for the dry whites and gold wines, things were a little challenging for those who made Claret. Having tasted the wines out of barrel in the spring of 2012 and again from bottle in 2014, there were several wines that I would like in my cellar. None more than François Mitjavile’s Roc de Cambes. I vividly recall tasting this wine from barrel in François’ cellar in 2012. Interesting note, François chose to present the Roc de Cambes sample AFTER his Tertre Roteboeuf sample … something he hasn’t done for me before nor since. He knew the potential of this wine back then. When I tasted it out of bottle last spring, it stole the show. Considering that it’s roughly 1/3 the price of Tertre Roteboeuf, it’s always a great opportunity to taste one of Bordeaux’s most charismatic winemaker’s wines without paying full fare. The 2009 and 2010 Roc de Cambes were both stellar, the former coming in a close 2nd to the latter in a local wine society’s annual taste-off in 2014.The 2011 Roc de Cambes will give both a run for their money!
2011 Château Coutet, Barsac
Since April of 2012,I had a feeling that we would get here. It is fairly well documented that I am a fan of Château Coutet. Their terroir and style suit my palate to a T. They are not alone. There are several Bordeaux chateaux that I count as favorites in most vintages. Any kind of pre-conceived notion of liking something before I taste it goes right out the proverbial window once the time comes to actually taste. I’ve been disappointed plenty of times when a château that I fancy comes up short in a particular vintage, and Coutet is not immune to that. But when I tasted the 2011 Coutet out of barrel, sparks flew. All of the components I look for in a barrel sample were right there! As mentioned above, 2011 was a sensational vintage for white and gold Bordeaux, and from that day up until I tasted it out of bottle in January 2014, all I could say about it was, “best Coutet barrel sample I’ve ever tasted.” The 2011 Coutet was the hit of the UGC tasting for me, but I was nowhere near being alone on this. Glowing reviews and huge scores from wine critics followed, topped by The Wine Spectator’s James Molesworth, who gushed forth with a 97 point review. In his review, Molesworth said, “This just makes you feel special when you drink it.” We concur. A week or so after the UGC tasting, when we all were here, we popped a bottle of 2011 Château Coutet, and it was a smash hit with all of us, leading Anya to pen this post. One for the cellar, I hope to enjoy this wine for many years to come!
So there we are, already well into 2015! The UGC de Bordeaux passed through town pouring the 2012’s from bottle back at the end of January. 2012 is not a “vintage of the century,” but a solid one with plenty of wines to like. There are containers on the water. David will be headed to France next month, and I will follow shortly thereafter. All of that means we are hard at work, not only looking for our Top Ten of 2015, but for a fine stable of solid wines that we can present for your enjoyment. Onwards and upwards!! – Peter Zavialoff
As usual, the crazy month of January has come to a close with a visit from the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux. Some members arrived Thursday, and others early Friday. We were very fortunate to co-host a dinner with Marie-Hélène Dussech from Château Brane Cantenac at Chef Gerald Hirigoyen’s “West Coast Basque” restaurant Piperade on Thursday evening. A small gathering of customers joined Marie-Hélène, Anya, a négociant, and myself and we were treated to some wonderful wines, courtesy of the Second Growth Margaux property. Served alongside Chef Gerald’s excellent pairing menu, the event was a smashing success! As was reported in a past email about New Year’s resolutions, we are already brainstorming our next event, stay tuned.
The main event for the UGC was, of course, the unveiling of the 2012 vintage, now in bottle, to the wine trade of California and the West Coast. On Friday afternoon, hundreds of wine industry folks packed a crowded Palace Hotel for the tasting. Now remember, these wines are mere babies, just beginning their respective lives, and many need time before they show their best. The chatter around the room seemed reflective of my own observations that the wines from Margaux, St. Julien, Barsac, and Pessac-Léognan (both red and white) showed best. As it worked out, the last dry wines I tasted were the dry whites from Pessac-Léognan. I fondly remembered tasting them out of barrel at Château Olivier back in April of 2013, and I can now say that my instincts served me well as many of them turned out to be fine specimens of one of Bordeaux’s somewhat unheralded breeds of wine. The thing about white Bordeaux? There’s just not a lot of it. David Peppercorn MW wrote back in the 1980’s that more and more Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon vines were being uprooted in favor of red varieties and that would severely impact supply of dry white Bordeaux for decades to follow. If you’ve ever checked into the going rates for the finest white Bordeaux, you know what I’m talking about. But just as with the reds, there are values among the dry whites, and one need not drift too far from the heart of the appellation to find them.
Whether from bottle or barrel, when I am at a UGC tasting, I have a general idea of the approximate price of the wines I’m tasting. So when I tasted the 2012 Château Carbonnieux blanc back in 2013, I was particularly taken by it. So much so that it stayed in my mind all day, availing itself for an exercise later that evening. After the long day of appointments and tastings, I braved the traffic on the rocade for a dinner at a château. Joining me were around 10 staff members of an American chain of wine & liquor stores. I can’t remember when during the dinner this occurred, but at one point the ringleader of this group asked everyone at the table to “defend a wine” amongst the barrel samples we tasted. They graciously went first, giving me an idea of what exactly this exercise entailed. The wines some of them “defended?” Margaux, Latour, Léoville las Cases, Cheval Blanc, and Haut-Brion. Not judging here, but I didn’t quite understand why some of Bordeaux’s most famous names needed defense. When my turn came, I stood up and proceeded to “defend” the 2012 Carbonnieux blanc. I formulated my defense initially on how dry white Bordeaux may be a bit underappreciated, and how complex and age-worthy the wines can be. Further explaining their scarcity and the lofty prices demanded by the elite, I cited the 2012 Carbonnieux as a great example of the freshness and complexity that can be found in a great dry white Pessac. Factoring in what I believed the price would be (under $50), I declared it a steal and an example of everything a dry white Bordeaux should be. Dinner’s main course was duck confit and Pauillac. At least it was until said ringleader saw what wine was to come and requested we drink gold wine from Barsac with the confit. I certainly was elated! If you haven’t tried it, just know that a wine from Barsac or a fresh Sauternes will accompany duck confit perfectly. After dinner, the large group was reunited with their driver and left the party. I said my goodbyes from the table and remained there as our hosts escorted the group outside. Once back in the château, the first words I heard were, “You know, you were the only one that defended a wine.” Perhaps I was at the time, but after having tasted the 2012 Château Carbonnieux blanc from bottle yesterday, I don’t think it needs any “defense” either!
Looking back at my tasting notes from the barrel sample that inspired this (sorry) lengthy write-up, they read:” Classy Sémillon aromas – fresh, fresh, fresh – citrus, yeah – wood in check. Palate: Zippy, comes to life, intensifies, … OFF THE CHARTS!!! Very nice. I buy. Squiggly line.
For something more formal, here are Robert Parker’s and Neal Martin’s respective takes on the 2012 Carbonnieux:
Robert Parker: “Another full-throttle 2012 dry white, this 2012 offers lots of honeysuckle notes as well as a full-bodied mouthfeel and beautiful purity, elegance and length. Lemon zest, grapefruit and subtle wood characteristics are found in both the aromatic and flavor profiles. Drink this stunning Pessac-Leognan over the next 6-10 years.”
Neal Martin: “The Carbonnieux Blanc has a well defined bouquet with lovely scents of lime flower and orange blossom that is very well defined – more complex than recent vintages. Hints of custard cream emerge with aeration. The palate is well balanced with a pleasant fatness in the mouth. This is certainly a concentrated Carbonnieux and although I would have liked a little more acid bite on the finish, this is certainly one of the best white wines from the estate in recent years.”
Whew! January is always the most hectic month for me and this year was no exception. I’m just glad our Bordeaux dinner went well, and that I had a toothbrush and toothpaste handy after the UGC tasting. Today started with a huge match pitting #1 vs. #2, which ended in a draw, but in English football, a five point lead going into February is a good thing to have. If it’s your thing, have a great Super Bowl Sunday!! May the best team win. Today’s footy was the sports highlight of the weekend for me! Tomorrow will be all about commercials and Katy Perry. – Peter Zavialoff
Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about 2012 Bordeaux, dry white Bordeaux, future events or dinners, and of course English Football: peter@wineSF.com
Aw shucks. We’ve been receiving a lot of praise lately from some of our customers in regard to our write-ups. We just want to say a big Thank You to all of you who read our write-ups with any degree of regularity! It means so much to all of us, and we greatly appreciate the compliments. Why just this morning, in response to our last email about finding 3 more hidden gems from Bordeaux, we were thanked for our time and effort in sussing out such value-driven wines. On Saturday, a customer who lived near our old Carolina Street location over five years ago came in with two friends in tow and made a beeline over to Anya. “I love reading your write-ups,” she gushed. “They’re written with such passion and they are so distinct that I can tell who was doing the writing. When I finish, I just want to lick the screen!” Wow! What incredible praise. We were very touched.
As reported in this past weekend’s email, we all visited the home of some very close friends of TWH for our annual Post Holiday Party. To say it was epic would be a massive understatement! During one course, which was paired with a three vintage vertical of Côte Rotie Les Grandes Places from Stéphan Pichat one of our hosts commented that he had never seen such passion. We were all swirling, sniffing and tasting each of the three glasses we had in front of us. The conversation was all about the wines; where they were in their development; where they were headed. “I can’t imagine any other group of co-workers doing what you’re all doing right now. You all love wine, and it shows!” Again, more praise. For that, we are very grateful.
The 2010, 2011, and 2012 Cote Rotie Les Grandes Places all showed extremely well, each framing the signature of its vintage. They are truly special wines from one of Côte Rotie’s top sites, made by one of the region’s top young winemakers! All three have very long lives ahead of them. We’ve had these remarkable wines for three vintages now, and they’re a bit spendy for regular staff tastings, but Stéphane makes some other wines that aren’t. When David visits Stéphane each year, he also tastes his VDF, or Vin de France wines, a Syrah and a Viognier. Both of these wines represent fantastic bargains and David has put in orders for them each year since we’ve begun working with Stéphane. Up until now, it was no dice. The wines sell out quickly and demand for them exceeds supply significantly. This year we got lucky. We got some. And guess what? They’re here.
The 2013 Domaine Pichat Syrah is a blockbuster of a Syrah with super expressive aromas. They are a solid core of deep red berry fruit, spice and earth that will freeze you in your tracks just taking them all in. I got to the sample first that day and somehow managed to keep a straight face afterwards. Watching Anya take her first sniff was an absolute delight. Her eyes widened, eyebrows went up, mouth agape, she exclaimed, “Now THIS is expression!” We were all quite taken by this magical wine. All of the fruit is from just outside Côte Rotie, but the price is so, so much more friendly!
For the 2013 Pichat Viognier, the fruit is sourced from a vineyard bordered on three sides by Condrieu, where Viognier has thrived since Roman times. Again, it is another aromatic masterpiece with all its floral expression with hints of apricot, peach, and rose petal. The palate combines all the aromatic complexity with a sweet kiss of crisp acidity and the whole package melts together and finishes in wonderful harmony. Again, an amazing wine for a very fair price.
We will let our collective passion continue to drive us into 2015, and there are some good things on the immediate horizon. Our Top Ten wines of 2014 will be announced soon and there is a fairly intimate Bordeaux dinner coming up. Bordeaux dinner? Yes, as the UGC de Bordeaux makes its way through the country, we’re going to team up with Château Brane Cantenac for a dinner at Piperade restaurant on Battery Street on Thursday, January 29 at 7pm. There are still some places available, but they’re filling fast. Five wineswill be paired with five courses, and the price is $100 per person which includes dinner, wine, tax, and gratuity. In the world of Bordeaux dinners, that is dirt cheap! We’re expecting the dinner to sell out, so if you are interested, I recommend you contact me as soon as you can and I will provide further details. – Peter Zavialoff