Have you ever gone to the dry cleaners and picked up your items only to find them hanging on wire hangers with a paper cover that says, “We ♥ our customers?” Now, everyone’s relationship with their dry cleaner is unique, but it’s difficult to imagine engaging dry cleaning staff in passionate discussions about cleaning methods and products. And we’re guessing that the dry cleaning staff, as much as they appreciate their customers, probably don’t want to regale them with tales of new discoveries and experiences in the dry cleaning world. Retail wine merchants appreciate their customers as well, though taking into consideration the conversations and interactions that we have with our customers, we can honestly say that we do indeed love our customers! We have passionate discussions quite often with many of you who walk through our doors, and we were reminded of this just the other day when a long-time good friend of TWH sauntered in looking for a gift for his significant other.
Franck, whose tasting spectrum is wide and diverse, was on a mission. He needed white Burgundy. He seemed particularly fixated on Meursault. Well, from one wine enthusiast to another, no one was going to blame him for wanting Meursault. We love Meursault. He then added that he would like to keep the cost below $40. That’s where it gets a little tricky. At the time, we didn’t have any Meursault below $40. I pointed here and there at some that were a little higher than that, and then some Premier Crus which were much higher, until bang, a flash of recollection had me saying, “Well, Franck, it’s not Meursault, but we’ve got a white Burgundy that is all class, and contrary to the usual cliché, it very well might make you forget about Meursault!” Having been a regular customer for years with countless positive experiences, he was all ears when I showed him a bottle of 2013 Sylvain Langoureau’s Saint-Aubin Premier Cru En Remilly. I got the map out and showed him the vineyard. A very, very small piece of the En Remilly vineyard is actually in Chassagne-Montrachet and it borders the Grand Cru Chevalier-Montrachet vineyard. In fact, the entirety of En Remilly is just around the corner from the cluster of white Burgundy’s Grands Crus vineyards. THAT is prime real estate!
So we knew then we were dealing with some prime terroir, but what about the winemaker? Sylvain Langoureau has been at the helm of the domaine since 1989 and now farms organically. We’ve been working with Langoureau’s wines since the 2008 vintage, and we’re not alone in praising them. Burghound’s Allen Meadows added this about Langoureau, “As the scores and commentaries suggest this domaine should be added to those of Lamy, Prudhon, Bachelet and Marc Colin for high quality domaines based in or near St. Aubin. If you don’t know the wines I strongly suggest you check out an example.” Though the 2013 vintage presented its challenges, and production was much lower than average, the surviving fruit was of such quality that Sylvain called it, “Completely classic with great energy and transparency.” I further commented on the transparency and precision of the wine to Franck adding that sub $40 white Burgundy doesn’t get any better than this. We walked it up to the counter, put it in a bag, wished Franck well, and asked him to report back when he could.
Usually we have to wait for weeks, sometimes months, before a customer returns to report on their previous visit’s purchases. Not this time. Franck was back the very next day! Gobsmacked! His significant other was over the moon about the wine. He went on to tell us that she told him that she had never tasted such an amazing white Burgundy before, and that’s saying something! He was full of praise for the wine, noting its class and pedigree, its precision, its expression, and chuckled to himself about the price, as if he was in on a little secret. He bought more. He came back a week later and bought more again. So if you want to be transfixed by a sub $40 white Burgundy so high in quality that you may forget about Meursault (temporarily), you may want to reserve a couple before Franck returns to buy more!
Imagine, over the course of 38+ years here at TWH, customer experiences such as Franck’s continue to occur with regularity. That just makes all of us brim with pride as that is our aim.That is our responsibility. Yes, I said responsibility because for us, it doesn’t end when a sale is made. It ends when you pop the cork, pour the wine, and enjoy it. Many merchants copy and paste tasting notes and scores to their shelves and websites, and once you pony up your cash, it’s out you go until next time. That’s not the way it works at TWH. We ♥ our customers!
2015 Bordeaux Update: The futures campaign has begun! At the time of this writing, pricing has come out for a small number of producers, and no doubt the next several weeks will be very busy with more chateaux offering their 2015’s to the marketplace. We are already active in the campaign and will continue to be, as many of the wines merit a place in our bins and in your cellars! The first of our 2015 Bordeaux futures email offers will be hitting your inboxes soon.
Yes, 2015 Bordeaux. It seems like yesterday, but it’s now been 10 years since the now (and always) famous 2005 vintage was introduced to Bordeaux lovers. 2005 was hailed as a “perfect” vintage, as the weather conditions during the growing season were optimal for producers. Vintages like 2005 are great for those of us who love Bordeaux as everyone benefited from the conditions and made good wine. We always look out for lesser known producers in those types of vintages as the quality is there, but the high price isn’t. 2005 was dubbed the “vintage of the century,” and we continue to enjoy those petits chateaux bargains to this day!
What’s happened in Bordeaux in the decade since the “vintage of the century?” They got two more! Of course they did … 2009 and 2010 were both spectacular vintages with great wines from top to bottom. Each time that I have visited Bordeaux since these back to back successes, I have endured an exhaustive schedule with suppliers to taste as many “lesser” wines from 2009 and 2010 that I possibly could have. All of that hard work has paid off as we have been delighted to bring in the many petits chateaux wines that we have, and if the feedback we’ve received is any indication, our customers share this delight. It’s been slim pickin’s out there for the past couple of years as we are nowhere near alone in this philosophy and supplies have dwindled. Alas, sometimes we buy something, but for logistical reasons, it takes longer than expected to arrive. That’s what we have here. A recent container from France brought us one more superb 2010 Bordeaux at the $20 price point, the 2010 Château Tour St. Bonnet, Médoc.
The château is located in the commune of Saint Christoly in the Médoc, north of Saint-Estephe. Famed Bordeaux guru, David Peppercorn MW wrote, “The most important property in St. Christoly is La Tour St. Bonnet. The reputation of the wine is good, the style typical of the warm, fruity wines of St. Christoly.” About the 2010 Tour St. Bonnet, Robert Parker wrote, “A beautiful sleeper of the vintage, this is possibly the best wine I-ve ever tasted from this over-achieving estate near St.-Christoly-de-Medoc. A blend of 45% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Petit Verdot. The 2010 exhibits classic cedar wood, tobacco leaf, creme de cassis, licorice and some balsam wood notes in a strong, medium to full-bodied, layered style with good opulence, purity and overall harmony. A real beauty, it should be drunk over the next 4-5 years. 90 points.” He also said of the 2010, “A well-known, perennial sleeper of the vintage, Tour St.-Bonnet’s wines are always well-made, under-valued and taste like a mini-version of the well-known Pauillac, Grand-Puy-Lacoste.” If you want some delectable, inexpensive 2010 Bordeaux to have around, you may want to move on this one sooner than later.
So yes, the 2015 Bordeaux futures campaign has begun and we are part of it. The Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin released his overview of the vintage this past Friday, and though we have our own impressions of it, we applaud his integrity, hard work, and guidance. We will go on the record and say that the 2015 vintage in Bordeaux is the best vintage since 2010 … except when it isn’t. And there are exceptions. Keep a look out for those futures offerings coming soon! – Peter Zavialoff
And just like that, thanks to the folks at Air France, it’s back to San Francisco and here I am at the keyboard with another ramble. The Bordeaux En Primeurs trip to taste barrel samples of the 2015 (among other wines) was a great success! The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux did something new this year, and though I heard differing opinions about it, it certainly made my schedule easier to handle. On Monday, April 4, a day that is usually spent at chateaux appointments, they held a grand tasting at the new Stade Matmut Atlantique at which all 8 UGC appellations poured their wines. It was there that I was able to taste from 3 of these, and that freed up my schedule for the following three days to taste a whole lot of other wines. I’ve got a lot to say about the trip and the wines I tasted, and I plan to do so very soon, but tonight I’ll try to keep it light and general.
The 2015 Bordeaux vintage is a very good one for red wines. There, I said it. Was it the vintage of the century? No. Was it the vintage of the decade? No. Was it a great vintage? No. Were there some great barrel samples with the potential to become great wines? Yes. Were there disappointments? Yes. What appellations’ samples showed the best? Pomerol, Pessac-Léognan, and Margaux in general terms. Will there be some great, affordable, high-quality petits chateaux wines? Yes, but here we must be very selective. It was a challenging vintage for those kind of wines.
After compiling my schedule prior to departure, I already knew that I would probably taste more wine this year that I ever had on the annual Bordeaux trip. After I returned last Monday, I put off going back through my notes and actually counting how many wines I tasted. Earlier today, I counted them. The tally: 599 wines in all; 439 barrel samples from 2015, 136 bottled wines from recent vintages, and 24 bottles that I actually got to drink from. Funny, it should have been 600, but there was one sample that earned this note in my tasting book, “Something’s wrong here; I’m not tasting this.” I am occasionally asked how I can possibly taste so many wines without suffering from palate fatigue. I can’t. I get palate fatigue all the time. When all of the sensations, acidity, and tannins begin to run into each other, I just take a time out. Sometimes I can recover by just smelling my notebook, sometimes I carry around a piece of bread and smell it from time to time to keep the olfactory fresh. Other times, I’ll take a full time out and eat some bread and cheese and drink some water. I am aware that there are others who taste way more wine than I do and I can only imagine their techniques to get back in the saddle and finish their respective jobs. Hats off to them.
So here I was, it was my last appointment on my last working day. Tasting wine at this particular appointment is a challenge to say the least, as they are all usually very modern, fully extracted barrel samples with loads of concentration and tannins. So I approached it expecting to suffer from lack of refreshment. Upon my arrival, I waded through the various rooms and salons of this complex that was not only showing off 2015 barrel samples, but finished wines from other parts of France. It was a bit maze-like, and I went through, then doubled back, and then through again when something caught my eye – MEURSAULT! Do you want to put a smile on the face of someone who has tasted a boatload of tannic, acidic barrel samples and who is bracing himself for one final purple assault? Offer them Meursault. That will do the trick. Every time.
Meursault has quite a following. It enjoys a fine reputation of being one of the “Big Three” white Burgundy appellations, and its Premier Crus are famous enough to cause Pavlovian salivation from its fans at the mere mention of its hallowed name, Meursault. We’ve been importing the wines from Paul Pernot’s grandson Philippe for several vintages now, and we continue to be happy with his wines which sport the Pernot-Belicard label. His 2013 Meursault Vieilles Vignes is an amazing wine with superb fruit definition, the classic Meursault soft mid-palate, and a fresh, crisp finish showcasing its complexity harmoniously. In a word, it is refreshing. Thinking of all of the pairing ideas that come with a wine like this is enough to make my head spin. The vines are in excess of 70 years old, and the complexity that you get from vines like this is impressive. The 2010 was stunning enough to get Anya to pen this write-up a couple of years ago.The 2013 is every bit as good with lively freshness. The sub $40 per bottle case price is as good a white Burgundy deal as we’re likely to find.
I am happy to report that the Bordeaux trip went very well. I met with several good friends, made some new friends, and was even handed a guitar in a restaurant at one point and played a song. Part of the exercise was to look out for some “under the radar” wines that are long on character and short on price. I found more than a handful of these kind of wines that I’m anxious to see here on our sales floor sometime later this year. They will be coming. The 2015 barrel samples? There were many successes; and they will be coming too. They’re just going to take a little longer. What to drink now? MEURSAULT! – Peter Zavialoff
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.
2013 Saint-Aubin 1er Cru En Remilly Domaine Sylvain Langoureau
Having directed this 9 hectare domaine since 1989, Sylvain Langoureau now farms 100% organically. In an atypical vintage such as 2013, this could present some challenges, though Langoureau describes his 2013’s as, “completely classic with great energy and transparency.” He went on to say, “I like the style of the vintage quite a bit as it’s tighter and fresher if less generous than 2012.” This, of course, is great news for those of us who enjoy sleeker styled white Burgundy teeming with freshness. Saint-Aubin spreads out among the hillsides above and west of the Côte de Beaune’s cluster of Grands Crus vineyards. The Premier Cru En Remilly vineyard is adjacent to, and extends around the corner from Grand Cru Chevalier-Montrachet with direct western exposure. In Burgundy, it’s all about location, location, location, and rubbing elbows with such prestigious neighbors, Sylvain’s Saint-Aubin En Remilly is pure class in a modest package. This 2013 shows a degree of ripeness with a solid core of saline-like mineral. Drink now – 2025.
2013 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Sentiers Domaine Stéphane Magnien
Youthful Stéphane Magnien represents the fourth generation at the helm of this domaine which according to Burghound’s Allen Meadows, “comprises only 4.5 ha, but has some lovely appellations.” This Magnien domaine can trace its roots to 1897, though the cellars and family’s house are from 1789! Stéphane began assisting his father, Jean-Paul in 2002, and took over in 2008. He has old-school tendencies, as he is not a big fan of new oak barrels, using them sparingly to deftly add a touch of texture to his terroir driven wines. His 1er Cru Les Sentiers is his most expensive Premier Cru, as it lies just under the hallowed Bonnes Mares Grand Cru in Chambolle-Musigny. Again, the 2013 vintage had its challenges weather-wise, and production was very low. The good news is that the fruit that made it to harvest was of top-notch quality. This 2013 is rich in aromatic profile with lovely layers of fresh, dark berry fruit and the palate is structured harmoniously. It’s a serious wine whose proximity to Bonnes Mares is apparent. Drink 2020-2030. – Peter Zavialoff
March 27, 2016. It’s that time of year again! The folks in Bordeaux are bracing themselves for the upcoming onslaught of wine professionals who will be attending the En Primeur tastings which officially commence on Monday, April 4. Several well known wine people are already there tasting the wines, and I will follow suit next week. As always, my schedule is pretty full of appointments and chateau visits during the crazy week, but for the days before and afterwards, the pace is a bit more laid back. One day next week, I’m going to (hopefully – if it’s not raining) walk down to Gare Saint-Jean, cross under the tracks, hear the SNCF jingle, pick up a rental car, and drive out to Sainte Foy la Grande. 10 minutes north of Sainte Foy is where Daniel Hecquet tends to his vines at Château Puy-Servain. 10 minutes south? Bénédicte and Christophe Piat and their Château Couronneau.
We’re well into our second decade of importing the Piats’ wines, and since Christophe’s commitment to, first organic farming, and now Demeter certified Biodynamism, we’ve noticed an annual uptick in the quality of their wines. Currently in stock is the 2012 Couronneau Cuvée Pierre de Cartier. You may remember the 2010 version of this wine which earned the nickname, “The Monster.” If the 2010 was “The Monster,” the 2012 must be “The Starlet.” It is all elegance and grace. Again, the Cuvée Pierre de Cartier is 100% Merlot sourced from Couronneau’s oldest vines which grow in clay upon limestone soils. The wine is deftly aged in oak barrel, some of it new, though isn’t “lost in the woods” when tasting it. The aromas are seductive with dark red and plump purple fruit, hints of clove, violets, and earth. Bracing myself for the attack of the monster from memory, I was calmed by the adult-like, expressive, and seamless palate. The finish is spot-on classy, leaving me with the conclusion that this wine is in a very good place right now, and I have the feeling it will drink very well for a decade or more. It’s elegant enough to broaden one’s pairing ideas away from the typical rack of lamb or rib-eye steak (though those are still applicable) to simpler fare such as a duck breast or simple pasta with red sauce. Having just tasted it minutes ago, I am thinking that it would be a great by-the-glass wine at my local brasserie.
Well, it looks like rainy days will welcome me to Bordeaux this year. I just hope that I can get from the bus to the hotel without getting completely soaked. The 2015 vintage for red Bordeaux is getting some very favorable press, as many are citing the “perfect conditions” of the growing season. I will begin my stay with several negociant visits tasting already bottled wines that are available in the Bordeaux marketplace. I will start tasting 2015 barrel samples next Sunday, and it will be mostly 2015s over the following 5 days. The rain is expected to clear up by next Friday, which should make my drive to Couronneau a pleasant one. I will make a point of telling Bénédicte and Christophe how much I enjoyed their 2012 Cuvée Pierre de Cartier! – Peter Zavialoff
If there are any particular samples that any of you may be interested in hearing about, please drop me a note and I will do my best to taste them and send along my impressions: peter@wineSF.com
Every now and then we receive inquiries from customers regarding our stocks of particular wines. Most customers that do ask us about quantities ask because they like a particular wine and don’t want it to sell out before securing a few bottles/cases for their own consumption. So when the answer to the quantity question is greater than 10 cases, most customers feel relieved and assume that the wine will still be in stock the next time they visit us. As with all rules, there have been exceptions that have made us scratch our heads.
Back in the summer of 2010, as we rolled out the 2009 Bordeaux futures, a customer came into the shop inquiring about an inexpensive Haut-Médoc wine that was one of those great bargains from a super vintage. When we told him that we had 130 bottles left, he left promising to return the following week and put together a futures order. That very same day, we received a phone call from another customer asking about futures. One can never predict what might occur, we told him about a few of our favorites, and he listened attentively, and said that he would call back before the end of the day with an order after doing a little further research. He called back and, get this, ordered 120 bottles of said Haut-Médoc wine! Wow. When the first customer returned the following week, he was disappointed that he couldn’t get a solid case, but he did buy the rest. We learned a valuable lesson. If we want a wine for ourselves and it’s here, buy it now or else that could happen to us.
So last summer, our friends Corinne and Philippe Ehrhart began exporting their Rosenberg Pinot Noir. It is everything non-Burgundian French Pinot Noir should be. Expressive aromas of berries and herbs with a good mineral representation. On the palate, it’s medium bodied, and shows off its layers of sensation in an elegant fashion. It’s a delectable wine that you can drink on its own, but its real home run potential is at the table. Mmmmm. I can imagine a fine rotisserie chicken with Herbs de Provençe and a glass of the 2012 Domaine St. Rémy Pinot Noir. That’ll transport you to France in a heartbeat! We were swooning over this wine last year, Anya even penned a great email praising the Ehrharts and their Rosenberg Pinot Noir. We began recommending it to customers whom we knew would appreciate it. “We just got it, so it should be around for a while,” was the foolish answer I gave to a couple of customers who liked it enough to inquire about quantities. Little did I know that there was a big fish out there and it was thirsty for Alsatian Pinot Noir, the 2012 St. Rémy Rosenberg Pinot Noir that is. The big fish was a big event for thousands of people and they would need it all. Like a whole pallet of it. So, poof! Just like that, no more St. Rémy Pinot Noir. Those customers whom I assured the wine would still be in stock when they returned were disappointed, but luckily weren’t cross with me. No one saw the big fish coming. Moral of the story is that every time going forward that someone asks me about current inventory, they are regaled with these two stories.
The good news is that the 2012 Domaine St. Rémy (formerly known as Domaine Ehrhart) Rosenberg Pinot Noir is back in stock and drinking beautifully. This is great for all of us as it out-drinks its price point by several degrees. It’s a great one to bring to friends’ houses – one taste and they think you’ve splurged, when you know that it was only a modest sum that was spent. There are a few rows of stacked boxes of the Rosenberg Pinot Noir now in our warehouse, and it should stay in stock for much of the spring season, but, but, but; well, you know. – Peter Zavialoff
Dry white Bordeaux wines are some of the wine world’s finest treasures. Typically made by blending Sauvignon Blanc with Sémillon, and sometimes Sauvignon Gris or Muscadelle; the top wines are smartly snapped up by collectors, and due to short supply, their prices can be astronomical. But just like any famous wine region, there is still value to be had! One doesn’t need to win the lottery to enjoy a fine bottle of white Bordeaux, one just has to know where to look. Entry level pricing for the elite white Bordeaux producers usually starts at around $80 per bottle and ranges much higher for the two wines with “Haut-Brion Blanc” in their name. Savvy white Bordeaux lovers know that for around half the entry level price, high quality can still be had. We are happy and proud to once again be the first wine merchants in the world to offer the 2013 Opalie de Château Coutet on pre-arrival!
In the spirit of “Y” d’Yquem, “S” de Suduiraut, or “G” de Guiraud, the Opalie de Coutet is a dry white wine made by a producer better known for their sweet wines. The only difference is that Opalie de Coutet is from Barsac! The soil here is clay upon limestone, and what makes Opalie different from the “single letter gang,” is the freshness and nerve that Coutet is known for.
The 2013 vintage in Bordeaux heavily favored those making dry white and gold wines, as the spring and summer were unusually cool which is essential for the development of fresh acidity in the grapes. August saw a heat wave that ripened things up a bit, and by harvest, we had a winner of a white wine vintage! (Check out the 2013 Sauternes too, they’re fantastic.) With such well balanced, zippy fruit, the blend was 50/50 Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. It was 70/30 for the 2012. I was able to taste the bottled 2013 last spring while visiting Aline Baly and her uncle Philippe at Château Coutet, and I was very impressed. As in past vintages, it’s truly a unique wine. The aromas are deep, rich, and complex. Citrus fruit, beeswax, wet rocks, and a faint hint of vanilla. Once again, the wine is aged in oak barrels, 40% being new. The barrel imparts more texture than flavor, and it seems that 40% is the magic number, as the 2013 Opalie continues the trend of slightly upstaging its previous incarnation. The palate is rich and decadent, dry and crisp, and carries with it an amalgam of complexity ranging from stone fruits to citrus, with the mineral/beeswax/vanilla texture holding together nicely. Top that off with a nervy, grand finale of a finish, and we’ve got another blue ribbon on our hands courtesy of Château Coutet. Production is limited to 250 cases; that’s just 250 cases for the whole world!! Opalie de Coutet is a rare gem, indeed!
The time has come to prepare to travel to Bordeaux as members of the wine trade have already begun to descend upon the region, meaning it should be a proper madhouse by the time the En Primeur tastings begin on Monday, April 4. I will be there by the middle of next week, and I will hit the ground running with negociant visits begining the following day. Aline and Philippe were kind enough to invite me to visit them at Coutet, and as always, I am looking forward to that. On the agenda: Tasting the 2014 Opalie amongst others … – Peter Zavialoff