Twas the night before Christmas … and the first night of Hanukkah too! Pretty cool, if you ask me, as I’m all for celebrations. Considering the timing of my fortnightly ramble, I’m not expecting as wide an audience to be reading this evening. That takes all the pressure off, as there’s really no need to speak of any specific wine tonight. I figure that we’ve all got our wines for the holiday weekend in place, ready to be shared and enjoyed. So, for the sake of exercise, and since it’s the time of year to break out the good stuff, I will reminisce about some of my very favorite wines.
*I will go on the record here and declare any 1982 red Bordeaux ineligible from this list; much like the Beatles’ exclusion from favorite musical acts lists.
1985 Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac
This wine was served as the final act of a dinner/tasting with some very good friends, and we formed a Bordeaux tasting group that evening. The concept was a good one. Back in the days when one could purchase First Growth Bordeaux for less than $200 per bottle, I was thinking out loud to a couple of friends. “I would love to try a bottle of Mouton, but wouldn’t necessarily want to splurge and just have the one bottle. But if you chipped in $200, and you chipped in $200, and we got a couple more friends to do the same, we could taste 6 bottles of great Bordeaux, and that would be worth it!” This idea caught fire and Carsten and I were in charge of acquiring the special bottles. The evening’s lineup, in order: 1978 Pontet Canet, 1985 Pichon Lalande, 1985 Margaux, 1982 Leoville Las Cases, 1978 Lafite Rothschild, and 1985 Mouton Rothschild. Such a memorable evening with close friends, great food, and amazing wine. The 1985 Mouton took the blue ribbon for its amazing complexity and sublime mouth feel. I hope to taste this wine again someday.
My all-time favorite California wine. I have been lucky enough to have tasted ’85 Martha’s a handful of times. The very first was with some trader buddies back in my days as a NASDAQ marketmaker at The Little Nell in Aspen. But the most memorable tasting was at “A Taste For Life,” which was a charity tasting put on by Wine Commune in 2001. Due to the generosity of a good friend, I found myself seated at the 1982 Bordeaux table with several Bordeaux enthusiasts. Our conversations were free-flowing and full of passionate stories about Bordeaux. The lineup at our table was: Lafite, Margaux, Mouton, Latour, Petrus, Cheval Blanc, Pichon Lalande, and La Mission Haut Brion. At some point after I tasted the aforementioned, I caught Shaun Bishop walking through the crowd with a bottle sporting that unmistakeable 1985 Heitz Martha’s label (well, it could have been the 1974). You don’t get what you don’t ask for, so I asked if I could possibly have a taste. Not only did he oblige, he was quite generous about the pour. I took the glass back to the table and shared it with the rest of those seated. Not only did the Heitz hold its own, it stood out with its abundance of cassis, earth, spice, and that quintessential Martha’s Vineyard menthol/mint/eucalyptus. I didn’t think a wine from California could stand up to some of Bordeaux’s legendary wines from a legendary vintage. I was wrong.
1988 Chateau Margaux
Back to my trader days here. A trader buddy (and one of the boys from the ski trip) from New York recommended I stay at the Eden Hotel when I visited Rome. He strongly advised me to eat in the hotel’s top floor restaurant, which sported a panoramic view of Rome’s skyline. The Colosseum, the Vittorio Emanuele Monument, and St. Peter’s were all visible from the dining room. My guest and I dined there the very first night and had such a blast during and after dinner that I tracked down the maitre d’ and asked if we could eat there again on our last night in town. “For you, Mr. Zavialoff, the finest table in Rome.” That’s what he said; no kidding. Two nights later, that’s what we got. That special table in the corner window with the view. Wow. So I decided to go for it and get the Margaux. This experience had a lot to do with why I’m here typing today. It was my first Bordeaux epiphany. Never, at that time, had I tasted such a complex red wine. It had depth, richness, silky tannins, and aromas galore. Our server was wise to keep the decanter out of arm’s reach. This way it lasted all through dinner. It was more spectacular than the finest table in Rome.
1985 Leoville Las Cases
I consider myself very lucky to have tasted 1985 Leoville Las Cases. I was given a bottle as a gift several years ago, and I was saving it for a special occasion. In 2014, my boyhood baseball team won its third World Series in five years, so that was special enough to pop the ’85. (I’ve got a thing for 1985 red Bordeaux.) I brought the bottle to Restaurant Picco in Larkspur, where I pop in fairly regularly. The complexity, mouth feel, and aromatic sensations that I experienced with the 1985 Las Cases, I would put up against anything I’ve ever tasted. My friends and I shared tastes with the manager, assistant manager, several servers, and Chef de Cuisine, Jared Rogers. Every single one of us were completely blown away. 30 year old Bordeaux, still tasting rather fresh, yet showing layers and layers of Bordeaux goodness which comes from time in the cellar. We collectively shed a tear when the bottle came up empty. All we had was a memory. A very happy memory. And the good news is that the generous gent who gave me that bottle has given me another. Thank you! I look forward to that special occasion.
2005 Chateau Coutet, Barsac
Not even a short list of favorite wines would be complete without the 2005 Coutet. It all started when someone came to our shop on Carolina Street and spent a long time in our Sauternes section. I engaged him in conversation and it turned out he was with Chateau La Tour Blanche. He was in town for a 2005 Sauternes tasting at Fort Mason. David made a couple of phone calls, and I went to the tasting. The lineup included Doisy Vedrines, Doisy Daene, Rayne Vigneau, Clos Haut Peyraguey, La Tour Blanche, Coutet, Guiraud, Suduiraut, and Climens. Each wine was tasted by the group at the same time, and all the wines were showing very well. I will never forget what happened when we all tasted the ’05 Coutet. The noise level in the room erupted and smiles and praise beamed from all the tasters. It was quite incredible. My own notes concluded with “Cover off the ball.” It gets better. I put my staff pick sign on this wine and somehow it got back to Chateau Coutet – to Aline Baly specifically. Together, we have hosted three awesome all-Sauternes tasting dinners, and Aline and her uncle Philippe have treated me like family ever since. Having grown up in the Boston area, Aline suggested I try it with lobster. What a great idea. I have very fond memories of 2005 Coutet and lobster shared with my sister for several years. This will always be a special wine for me.
Well, if you made it this far, I thank you. Without reason to flog a wine, I thought it fun to remember some of the great wines I’ve tasted. I don’t mean this to appear as a brag of any sort; but in writing this, I’ve come to remember the people and occasions which got these bottles open in the first place. For me, the most important thing about a good bottle of wine is sharing it. 2016 has been a tumultuous year; we can all agree with that. As I grow older, I become painfully aware that life is short. Some of the people with whom I shared the above wines are no longer with us. Well, we’ve all still got each other, so let me raise a glass and toast: To all of us, may we enjoy the company of friends and loved ones, share some good times, wonderful meals and fine wine, may we live in good health and in peace. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! – Peter Zavialoff
Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about Favorite Wines, Bordeaux, Holidays, or English Football: peter@wineSF.com
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 Chablis Grand Cru Valmur Maison Dampt
As we have mentioned before, The 2014 vintage for white Burgundy was stellar. The growing season was cool and, at times, wet. This was beneficial as the vines produced grapes with lively acidity. Warm weather took over in September, ripening the fruit leading up to the harvest. Up in Chablis, the Dampt family has enjoyed a solid reputation for producing wines of serious quality for very fair prices. Or as Allen Meadows of Burghound puts it, “They are screaming bargains.” Maison Dampt was started in 2008 by Daniel Dampt’s two sons, Sébastien and Vincent. Together with their father, they purchase grape must from three Grand Cru vineyards and bottle them using the Maison Dampt label. Aging these Grand Crus in older oak barrel gives the wines added dimension and texture. This 2014 Grand Cru Valmur is full of life. It’s big, dense, and powerful, with aromas of minerals and citrus. This willl need some time in the cellar, and should be best from 2020 – 2030.
2014 Pommard 1er Cru Les Charmots Domaine Gabriel Billard
Gabriel Billard was a 6th generation winemaker in Burgundy. He passed his domaine down to his two daughters, Laurence Jobard and Mireille Desmonet in 1989. You may recognize Laurence’s name as she had been head enologist at Domaine Joseph Drouhin for some 30 years. Laurence believes that great wine is made mostly in the vineyard, that good grapes from a good place will yield world-class wine with minimal intervention. The sisters now entrust Laurence’s daughter, Claudie Jobard to make their wine, and the family’s winemaking tradition continues. Their parcel in Les Charmots was planted in 1929 on the steep hillside. This 2014 Pommard is powerful and concentrated with complex aromas of wild berries, forest floor, earthy minerals, and a hint of spice. Again, the 2014 vintage for red Burgundy was a very good one with plenty of sunshine leading up to the harvest. Decant this wine should you open it before 2019, and it should drink well for at least a decade thereafter. – Peter Zavialoff
There are deals and then there are deals. As I mentioned the other day, there are great wines with their prices slashed all over the shop. In a way, almost too many; it’s our way of saying thanks to our customers! When there are so many choices, sometimes some of the best deals go unnoticed. Make that under-noticed, as evidenced by a visit from one of our long-time regular customers. This gent has been known to pick up a Dirty Dozen on a fairly regular basis, and he also peruses our bins mixing and matching an additional case or so. This past week, he went about his usual business, but with one exception. “Can you grab me a case of the 2014 Château Couronneau Blanc? I love that wine, and that’s just too good a deal to pass up,” he said. I agreed.
My first experience with Château Couronneau’s white wine came in the spring of 2008. John and I were in Bordeaux for En Primeurs, and as the hectic week came to a close, we found ourselves in Sauternes and Fargues on a Friday morning. Sauternes for breakfast? If you know me, this is a rhetorical question. But what was for lunch? John seemed to know, so I just enjoyed the scenery. We blazed a trail through Entre Deux Mers, it was quite bucolic. I do remember that we made a stop in Sauveterre-de-Guyenne, which was cool, but I was getting hungry. We continued out past Sainte-Foy-la-Grande and arrived at Château Couronneau. It was then when I met Bénédicte and Christophe Piat for the first time. They welcomed us to their home, we tasted through their red wines and then, what’s this? Couronneau Blanc? I didn’t know that they made a white wine. I loved it. It came in particularly handy as the Piats served up a platter of assorted shellfish. It was the first warm, sunny day of the week, and the blanc fit the bill perfectly.
Christophe and Bénédicte at Couronneau, April 2016
As he did back then, Christophe continues to blend 50% Sauvignon Gris with 50% Sauvignon Blanc for his white wine. In the time since that first visit of mine, Piat has attained organic certification, and now also is certified biodynamic. His passion for improving his techniques in the vineyard and winery is plain for all to see – and taste! The quality of their entire line of wines has steadily risen every vintage since. This 2014 Bordeaux blanc is delightfully balanced; fresh citrus fruit, a hint of a floral component, and fresh herbs are present on the nose. The palate is medium in body, clean and fresh with that citrus fruit mingling with the flowers and herbs. The finish is all in balance and crisp. It’s modest $15.98 price tag is a solid bargain for the quality you get here. Lowering the price to $11.95, or $10 each per solid case, is bargain city, baby. Just saying.
The holidays are upon us, that much is true. Things have become kind of crazy around here, good-crazy that is! We’re thrilled to help everyone pick out wines for every occasion that December brings. With the sale extended through the end of the year, it’s kind of like shooting fish in a barrel. Though if you like a nice, easy-drinking white Bordeaux for a crazy unheard of price, I strongly suggest you try a bottle of the 2014 Couronneau Blanc. After all, there are deals, and there are deals. – Peter Zavialoff
Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about white Bordeaux, Bordeaux in general, our Anniversary Sale, or English Football: peter@wineSF.com
It always happens. During our Anniversary Sale, the distractions are everywhere. Case in point; one of our regular customers who always participates in the Anniversary Sale popped in for a few special bottles today, and after he gave me his parameters, I quickly whittled down my mental list to a trio of contenders. He wanted something red and I had one red Bordeaux, one red Rhône, and a red Burgundy all set to recommend. Then I physically walked over to our Burgundy section. Oh, if price signs could talk …. Actually they were talking to me. All of them. But there was one in particular. I immediately replaced the 3 bottles in my head with the one in my hand. “You want something nice. A red wine from France. Something that can be laid down and drink well in 5 years’ time. Something special, but less than $75, right? This is it right here.” That is what I said to him. What was the bottle? The 2012 Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru Les Faconnières from Stephane Magnien.
A little background on this. When I was a budding wine taster/collector, I worked for a guy who was less than pleasant to work for. In true “there’s an exception for every rule” fashion, this dude must have gone into a fine wine shop and asked a staffer to recommend two very nice bottles of red wine. He gave those two bottles to me during the holidays as a thank you. One was a Corison Cabernet and the other was a Clos Saint Denis from Domaine Dujac. At the time, I knew nothing about either one, and I’m sure that my benefactor didn’t either. I graciously accepted the gifts, and years later, when I opened the Dujac, I was overwhelmed. That was my introduction to Burgundy. In retrospect, I think it would have been better to have tasted something more affordable as a first Burgundy experience, but what can you do? That was all I knew about Burgundy at the time, and that led me to taste more wines from Morey-Saint-Denis and its environs. So let’s say that the village is a particular favorite for me.
A few years ago, when I found out that David had signed up Stephane Magnien to TWH stable, I was thrilled to see some Morey-Saint-Denis (and Clos Saint Denis!) in our bins. We don’t get to taste fancy wines like those often, but when we do, the occasions are memorable. Of his Premier Cru wines, I usually favor Stephane’s Les Faconnières. All I can say is that I like the other wines as well, but there’s an expression there that just fits with my palate and olfactory senses. Having tasted several 2012 red Burgundies over the past couple of years has solidified my opinion that it is a vintage to have in my cellar. In fact, a while back while researching the vintage for A Taste Of Burgundy write-up, I stumbled upon a note from Clive Coates, MW, “But in the end – quality-wise – 2012 has turned out, not merely ‘all right’, but really very good indeed, if not perhaps even very fine. I have already heard the wines refered to as ‘classic’. There are some who regard the potential of 2012 reds as superior to anything recent, and that includes 2010, 2009, 2005 and other years.” I don’t know about you, but if Clive Coates says something like that, I take note. A serious note.
As one can see, Les Faconnières lies just below the Grand Cru vineyards in Morey-Saint-Denis. As a matter of fact, you can draw an equilateral triangle whose three points would be in Clos-Saint-Denis,Clos de la Roche, and Les Faconnières. That’s some special sod, indeed. The wine is already showing its potential, but after another 5 years of cellar time, I anticipate it will be entering its optimal drinking plateau and staying there for many years. Its aromas express dark red berries, herbs, a healthy dose of earthy mineral and tar, and a kiss of vanilla bean. The palate is sturdy, yet balanced. The fruit is part of the package, which at this time is coiled, needing either aeration or a few more years of cellaring, but there’s no question that the fruit is just waiting for the structure to back off one small step for it to shine. The mouth feel is medium bodied with fine tannins, and the finish is balanced and all in line. The wines from Morey-Saint-Denis can be very expressive, and this young Morey has the ingredients to become a great wine some day in the not too distant future. Did I say it can be enjoyed now? Sure, but I highly recommend decanting for 90 minutes.
I’m hoping that you all are enjoying the Thanksgiving weekend! It has been a fun one for me. Of course I continued my Thanksgiving tradition of giving thanks and enjoying some fine Sauternes … or in this case, Barsac. ‘Cause that’s how I roll. You can probably guess the chateau. But with two months of special days ahead, there will be occasions for fine red wine as well. I see an opportunity to slip a 2012 Morey-Saint-Denis Les Faconnières from Stephane Magnien! – Peter Zavialoff
Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments on Thanksgiving, our 39th Anniversary Sale, Bordeaux, Barsac, or English Football: peter@wineSF.com
Q. What’s better than a bottle of wine? A. A magnum of wine! So true, so true; though enjoying a magnum requires a little assistance. Funny, we are steamrolling into the time of year where group affairs are likely to occur. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a fine magnum of mature red Bordeaux from an excellent vintage to take to ________’s house this year? Sure, but magnums of mature red Bordeaux from excellent vintages are expensive, man. Not today they’re not. Just in time for November’s festivities and beyond, we’ve got a small cache of 2000 Château Cap de Faugères, Côtes de Castillon in magnums. The price: $48.98.
Château Cap de Faugères is located in the village of Sainte-Colombe, which sits just across the border between Saint-Émilion and Castillon. In fact, the Saint-Émilion Chateau Faugères is just a stone’s throw west of the property. The vines grow on the gentle slopes rich with clay soils and limestone deposits. It was acquired by the Esquissaud family in 1823 and remained in the family when it was inherited by cousin Pierre-Bernard (Péby) Guisez in 1987. Along with his wife Corinne, Guisez went about making some improvements. In 1992 he sought out the architects responsible for the renovation of Pichon Longueville in Pauillac, and built a new, state of the art fermenting and storage cellar.
The vintages of the early 1990’s were challenging for many in Bordeaux, though things improved by 1995. So when the classic 2000 vintage came along, Cap de Faugères was in the right place at the right time. Speaking after tasting his last barrel sample of 2000 Cap de Faugères, Robert Parker had this to say,
“The finest Cap de Faugeres I have tasted, the full-bodied, dense 2000 is unquestionably a sleeper of the vintage. It possesses impressive extraction, a dense ruby/purple color, and notes of fudge, black currants, toast, and spice box. Enjoy it over the next decade.”
When our staff tasted it a few months ago, we were all impressed by its sturdiness. Fully mature, it showed some classic secondary characteristics that come from bottle age: herbs, tobacco, and forest floor, and the fruit is very much alive and kicking. It’s well structured and complex, and will likely benefit if decanted for 30 minutes or so. This wine has entered its drinking plateau, ready to be enjoyed. You can most likely hold on to it for another 5 years or so, but its so dang good now, why risk forgetting about it? In the scheme of things, the 2000 Cap de Faugères is a perfect example of why it’s a good practice to check out some of Bordeaux’s off-the-radar wines in great vintages.
What’s better than a bottle of wine? There you go. Believe it or not, a magnum of mature Bordeaux from a great vintage can be had for less than $50! Supplies are limited, and we apologize in advance when this wine sells out. With the holidays in the not too distant future, it makes a lot of sense to pick up a mag or two, ’cause everything tastes better out of magnum!
Over the course of any given day here at TWH, we have conversations about a great many things. With two musicians on staff and our speakers tirelessly serenading us, music comes up a lot. But this is a wine shop, so conversations about food and wine are a daily occurrence. The other day, Chris and I were talking about Nouveau Beaujolais. He said that he’s never tasted it. I told him that it is usually a light, simple, fruit driven wine. He went on to say that sometimes, the situation may call for simple, yet enjoyable. I get it, but from a value standpoint, it’s overpriced. If you want to taste good value wines from Beaujolais, their top wines, the Cru Beaujolais are pretty darned good values; and they’re pretty tasty too!
In brief, Beaujolais is a region that sits just south of Burgundy in central France. Its red wines are made from Gamay Noir. The wines tend to be light in body, with aromas of wild berries, flowers, herbs, forest floor, and mineral. Of course, vintages, producers, and terroir vary, so different wines will have different characteristics. The finest vineyards of the appellation are called Beaujolais’ Growths, or Crus in French. There are 10 of these Crus, you can find them on the map above. Fleurie is often described as having the prettiest name, reflective of its wines’ personality. I won’t argue with that. I’ve written about Château de Raousset’s Fleurie before. Now that the 2014 Fleurie “Grille-Midi” is here in stock, I’m writing again.
Comparing this Cru Beaujolais to Nouveau isn’t fair. So I won’t. The 2014 vintage was exceptional in the region. Some are saying that it is the best vintage in Beaujolais since 2005, and that’s saying something, as they’ve had 5 great vintages since then. The wines are expressive in the fruit department and are brimming with aromatic complexity. They can be enjoyed now, though most will benefit from another 3-6 years of aging. When Jeanne-Marie de Champs was here last month, we tasted a lot of Burgundy. I did mention there were other wines. The 2014 Fleurie from Raousset was one of them. And it did not disappoint. The aromas are rich and striking. Layers of wild berry fruit. Spice. Forest floor and a little bit of earthy something. The palate – fresh and intensifying. It’s all about the red berry fruit, with the forest floor spice, and lively acidity holding it all together. It’s another winner from the producer who Jeanne-Marie always describes as “a great grower.” I mean it’s great just tasting it here in the tasting room, but I am imagining how good it would be with the right meal.
I took a little time out from my usual Friday routine last night and enjoyed a nice dinner with a longtime buddy of mine whom I haven’t seen in well over a month! This particular pal of mine is one of my wine tasting friends, and it’s always a pleasure to hear his descriptors when tasting. Any of my stories that have ever featured smoked or barbecued meat occurred at his house. Quite the handyman, he’s in the process of renovating his kitchen … as in tearing everything out, including the drywalls. So with nowhere to whip up any side dishes, we went out. We hit a quandary when it came time to choose the wine. He was going with red meat and I wanted chicken. We ended up settling for wines by the glass, which set off some negative comments about by the glass pricing in some restaurants. If only I had thought to bring a bottle of 2014 Fleurie from Château de Raousset, then we both would have been happy! – Peter Zavialoff
PS: If you’re going to have red wine at the traditional Thanksgiving table, Cru Beaujolais is a mighty good choice!
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments about Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Thanksgiving wine, or English Football: peter@wineSF.com
Two weeks ago, the dust had just settled after one of Jeanne-Marie De Champs’ bi-annual visits to TWH.As I wrote at that time, the protocol had changed … over 20 bottles of Burgundy were opened, and when the dregs of these sample bottles made their way back to us, we were able to taste through a wide spectrum of quality Burgundy much like a La Paulée tasting. The result is that the experience is fresh in our collective minds, so if you have any questions about any of our new Burgundy wines, we all have some recent experience with them. Which gets me around to my topic of the week: crab season.
On my day off this past week, I wandered in to one of my favorite lunch spots only to bump into a former colleague from my days in the finance biz. I hadn’t seen him in a decade, so we began to catch up on things a bit. It was the usual small talk. He’s been living in New York for the past 8 years and he was visiting because his daughter is going to school out this way. Since he wasn’t in California last fall, he didn’t know about demoic acid and our lack of a crab season. So I was surprised to hear any optimism associated with the question, “How long until crab season?” Really? My eyes got big. A mutual friend who was seated between us matter-of-factly nodded his head and said, “I’m hearing situation back to normal, the season should start in mid-November.” Understanding his not being an authority on the subject, I made a mental note to get some verification. I asked Anya and Christian about it earlier this morning, and they seemed to echo his sentiments. Then, in walked one of our favorite customers whom we know is a crab enthusiast. “If anyone knows the answer, HE certainly does,” I thought to myself. So I asked him. He answered. Crab season here in northern California will begin November 5, with the commercial season beginning two weeks later. Really? Yes.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where I’m going here. I can make a case for pairing a lot of different white wines with crab. The things to look for are expression, balance, complexity, and acidity. If your white wine has these components, your crab experience will be enhanced. With all of the recent Burgundy tasting with Jeanne-Marie and my colleagues, I remember one particular facet which occurred after everyone went home for the day and Chris and I were left with some 12-15 open bottles of Burgundy. They were all close to being empty, but there was still enough in each of them to be able to get a decent sized taste. With Jeanne-Marie and the others gone, and punk rock radio blasting in our warehouse, we took a less studious approach to our tasting. I’m a firm believer in the concept that discovery often occurs when not searching. I wasn’t looking for it, but there it was. Delicious white Burgundy from an unassuming appellation; relatively inexpensive, but what sent me over the top was that I prefered it to the next wine I tasted, which was a Meursault. The Meursault was fine, don’t get me wrong, but the previous wine at half the price was the better wine; to me anyway. What was it? The 2014 Rully La Folie from Claudie Jobard.
Decanter Magazine’s Stephen Brook’s note from January 2016: “Firm nutty nose, toasty and assertive. Rich, full-bodied, and concentrated, with spiciness and fine acidity, a gutsy Rully, with swagger, pungent and long.”
Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about crab season, Burgundy, Bordeaux, or The Special One’s return to Stamford Bridge tomorrow: peter@wineSF.com