Just a few kilometers north of the city of Toulouse, lay the wine growing appellations of Fronton and Gaillac. These two appellations aren’t as well known as some others in France; perhaps this is due to their somewhat isolated location – either a two and a half hour drive southeast from Bordeaux or a three and a half hour drive southwest from Nîmes. They’re just smack dab in the middle of the country, just north of the Pyrenees.
Château Coutinel is owned by Vignobles Arbeau and is currently run by Géraud Arbeau (since 2002) and his sister, Anne (since 2005). Arbeau père et fils was founded in 1878 by the siblings’ great, great grandfather, Prosper. It was his grandson, Pierre, who graduated from the Superior Commerce School of Toulouse, who grew the company by expanding both wine activity and that of the family’s distillery. The property was acquired by Pierre’s parents, Jean-Louis and Cécile in 1920 and has been in the family ever since.
In Fronton the principle grape is Negrette, and the appellation’s decree is that each Fronton wine be at least 50% of the variety. It’s a lighter bodied grape which makes for spicy aromatics, a lively palate, and light tannin structure, similar to Gamay Noir. For the Fronton, they use 60% Negrette, 20% Gamay, 10% Syrah, and 10% Malbec. I found it to be a perfect match for a rotisserie chicken! If you want to try Negrette on its own, you’re in luck, as they bottle one of those as well.
Château Langlade has been in the Pagès family for more than 5 generations, and has been managed by Thierry Pagès since 1982. The grapes grown in Langlade’s vineyard are Duras, Braucol, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, and Syrah, and all the vines are over 25 years old. The 2015 Gaillac rouge consisting of near equal parts Duras, Braucol, and Syrah. The aromatics are alive with purple berry fruit, dried tobacco leaf, and earthy mineral. The palate is bright and lively, with the fruit and acid locked in harmony, the tannins are very light, and the finish is well-balanced. It has the rustic charm of a lighter bodied vin de table on would expect served at a café along some of France’s backroads. – Peter Zavialoff
I’ve got to get out on our sales floor a little more often! Funny, I work here 5 days a week, so there goes any excuse … Every now and then, presumably on my days off, newly acquired wines make their way to the floor without my noticing them. Here at TWH, we’re like a little family, constantly sharing food and wine tasting experiences, so it was not out of the ordinary when I arrived at work a few days ago and struck up a conversation with Anya. “Oh man, I popped into Picco last night and they’re pouring this delicious Saumur by the glass! It was great; light on its feet, yet with just the right amount of fruit, all framed with the classic herbal and earthy character one gets from Loire Valley Cabernet Franc. I have a new go-to!”
“Who is the producer?” She asked.
“I don’t remember (I had more than one glass). Let me look it up, I bet it’s on their beverage list online.” At which point I surfed to said list and proclaimed, “Yeah, this is it. It’s the 2015 Saumur from La Paleine.”
“Yes, Pete. That’s a good one indeed. You know, it’s out on our floor right now.”
Anya was chuckling now. “Yes. You might want to take a look around every once in a while.”
Talk about instant gratification …
The commune of Saumur is perhaps best known for its fancy chateau which sits on the hill above it. It’s also one of a handful of Loire Valley appellations which produces some of the world’s finest Cabernet Franc wines. Domaine de la Paleine is located in Puy-Notre-Dame, 20km southwest of the chateau, and the 32 hectare property is mainly planted to Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc. The soil is clay upon limestone, and the tufa subsoil acts as a sponge, absorbing excess water after the rains, and releasing it slowly when the vines need it. Owners Marc and Laurence Vincent had sought AB (certified organic) status beginning in 2010, and were rewarded with the certification beginning in 2013. As mentioned above, the wine is well balanced with textbook Loire Valley Cab Franc aromas in seamless harmony. The palate is medium in body, with bright acidity and a round raspberry-like core. Loire Valley Cabernet Franc brings out the wine-geek in me, so I am more than thrilled that I can procure a bottle of this for around the same price that restaurants charge for a glass!
This is not the first time that I have tasted a wine at Picco, only to subsequently find it among our offerings here at TWH. I have to give a big tip of the hat to such a fine restaurant in which I have enjoyed countless delicious meals, great wines and company over the years. I have made many friends there, including many members of their staff, which is coincidentally like a little family. This takes me back to my very first professional interaction with a manager who worked there over 9 years ago. On a quiet evening, we were discussing one of her new wines for the list, and I was more than intrigued to try it. When she said we could all try it as long as we covered the bottle’s cost, I was the first one to pony up the cash for my share. After all, it was Loire Valley Cabernet Franc. – Peter Zavialoff
PS: Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about summer, Loire Valley Cabernet Franc, Bordeaux, or great neighborhood restaurants: peter@wineSF.com
MYTH: Bordeaux wines are too expensive. First off, “too expensive” is subjective. Secondly, due to high global demand, the most famous Bordeaux wines can be very expensive. These are the wines that grab the headlines. These are the wines around which this myth was born. It has been reported that less than 5% of all Bordeaux wine sells for more than 15€! Let that soak in for a moment. That means that more than 95% of all Bordeaux wine sells for less than 15€ per bottle. So even when we grumble about Château Beau-Coup de l’Argent raising their price by 20% each year over the past three vintages, we still know an overwhelming majority of producers do not engage in such practices. The subject of this week’s Saturday night email is a big favorite of ours. I don’t want to bore anyone here, because it does fall into the 95% category. It is actually a rather unusual wine, as a quick look at WineSearcher Pro Version reveals only two other merchants in the US are listing a 2016 vintage of this type of wine. And after having not purchased any of the 2015 vintage of this wine, we are thrilled to welcome back to our bins, the 2016 Château Armurey Bordeaux Clairet!
Though seemingly not as obscure as it once may have been, one still must search hard to find a Bordeaux Clairet (say clare-AY), especially here in the states. A reminder: Bordeaux Clairet is a light red wine, darker than a Rosé and lighter than your typical red table wine. It is made in roughly the same way a Rosé may be made, only the juice stays with the skins longer which produces more pronounced flavors and aromas, as well as its happy-go-lucky color. It is made much like the wines which were shipped from Bordeaux to England in the middle ages. These Bordeaux Clairets were enjoyed by the English from the time of Eleanor of Acquitaine’s marriage to the eventual King Henry II in 1154. These wines were the inspiration of the English word Claret (say clare-ETT), still in use today, to describe the much darker red wines from Bordeaux. Bordeaux Clairet is the perfect red wine for summer. Don’t want to drink white wine with your backyard ‘cued burgers and dogs? Don’t fret; a chilled glass of 2016 Château Armurey Clairet will do the trick. Pizza and red sauced pasta? Sure a fine spaghetti red always works, but in the heat of summer? Bordeaux Clairet is the answer. Earning nicknames like, “Fruit Punch for adults, Oh Yeah!, and the anti-wine-geek wine,” we’ve enjoyed this wine going back to the 2012 vintage.
Our quest for Bordeaux Clairet began with a question from a former colleague, which set in motion our tracking down the 2012 vintage. It proved to be a big favorite, not only for our customers, but for each and every one of us.The 2013 came and went. Quickly. The 2014 came with its own humorous story and was enjoyed by all, but when it came time for the 2015, we hit a logistical snag and had to pass on it rather than receive it in late September of last year. Sorry about that. Learning from our mistake, we were sure to buy the 2016 as soon as it was released, and it arrived just as spring was packing its bags and moving on. Anya, Chris, and I have all taken bottles home to enjoy, and we are in agreement that it is the perfect wine for these summer days. Sip it on its own, or pair it with comfort food, the 2016 Armurey Clairet will put a smile on your face and save you some cash to boot!
FACT: Most Bordeaux wine is inexpensive. One fact that often goes unmentioned is that in many cases, estates in Bordeaux are passed down in families for generations, taking real estate costs off the table. The majority of Bordeaux producers are farming families living off the land, producing wine for their own consumption, and allowing the excess to be sold in the marketplace. We’re just happy that we came across the Armurey Clairet a few years ago, as it has become a symbol of summertime for many of you and all of us. Wishing you all good health and fortune for the summer of ’17. – Peter Zavialoff
PS: VinExpo was held in Bordeaux earlier last week, which means that all pricing for the 2016 Futures has now been released (these are for the wines in the less than 5% category). We have been actively buying the wines, as the vintage is destined to be an all-time classic. Should any of you have any questions about the 2016 Bordeaux vintage or if you are interested in any of the wines, please contact me at peter@wineSF.com or at 415.355.9463 and I will be happy to discuss it with you.
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.
Domaine Paul Pernot et ses Fils
When asked about the 2015 vintage, Paul Pernot said, “It gave us a relatively easy growing season, which was a welcome relief after the last three years where things were constantly in doubt. Basically, the weather was hot in the spring, hot during the summer, and hot right up to the point the fruit was set to pick, and finally the temperatures broke. When it did, we began picking. The fruit was spotless with very good potential alcohols that averaged right around 13%. As to the wines, I would describe them as both very ripe and rich, yet they manage to remain well-balanced and refreshing. They should drink well early on and should very much please those consumers who enjoy young whites.” For his Puligny-Montrachet bottling, Pernot sources the fruit from four lieux-dit vineyards whose average age is 50 years. This 2015 is raring to go with its wide array of aromas: snappy apple, citrus blossom, and a hint of mint. The palate is round and rich, held together with buoyant acidity. It has a sneaky, long finish. Drink 2018-2026.
2014 Fixin-Hervelets 1er Cru
We featured the 2013 vintage of Martin Bart’s Fixin-Hervelets 1er Cru back in the October 2015 installment of our TOB. Due to popular demand, we now feature his 2014! Now run by nephew, Pierre, with Martin looking on, the Barts tend some 22 hectares of vines in the north of Côtes de Nuits. There are five 1er Cru vineyards in Fixin, three of which are monopoles. The other two are Les Arvelets and Les Hervelets. The fruit for this bottling comes from a 1.5ha parcel between the two. Fruit from Arvelets may be included in bottles labeled Hervelets, but not vice-versa. The two vineyards enjoy their perch on the gentle slope which sits just above the other 1er Cru vineyards. Apart from a mediocre summer, Pierre has said the growing season was relatively easy. Commenting on the ripeness and structure of his 2014’s, Pierre went on to say, ” there is a roundness, even tenderness to the textures which should make them approachable young.” Mineral notes abound in this refined, medium-bodied wine. Drink 2019-2030. – Peter Zavialoff
The contents of another new container arrived in our warehouse this week, and it was full of goodies from France! Our 2016 Rosé selections have arrived, and you will be hearing all about them in the coming weeks. Of course, there were other wines on that container; wines from the Loire Valley, Alsace, Burgundy, and Bordeaux. Actually, quite a few different 2014 red Bordeaux wines have made their way to our sales floor, so if you haven’t been here in a while, we strongly recommend checking it out. The 2014 vintage in Bordeaux was a very good one, particularly on the Left Bank, and pricing was very reasonable. One of these reasonably priced wines, which I have enjoyed over the years, turned out a stellar 2014 – Château d’Armailhac, Pauillac.
The Island Of 2014 Bordeaux
Often lost in the shuffle when discussing famous Pauillacs, Château d’Armailhac sits just between Mouton Rothschild and Pontet Canet – talk about location, location, location!!! The Mouton team has had a hand in making this wine since it was acquired by the Rothschilds in the 1930’s. I have personally witnessed the significant rise in quality from this estate over the past decade, and must say, pound for pound, it’s a super value. I remember being particularly struck by the 2011 out of barrel – my barrel tasting note concludes with, “Terrific expression of fruit and terroir. Parker ain’t gonna like it, but Neal Martin and I do!” Of course that was a mere presumption, however the two Bordeaux appraisers for The Wine Advocate did eventually score it that way. Skip to the 2014 vintage which in many places is a downright bargain, and as my barrel tasting note concludes, “Soft tannnins, medium acidity, all tied together nicely. Another winner here.”
I recently mentioned that I sat in for David at a recent Thursday Tasting Group tasting of 2014 Bordeaux. There were 9 wines, all tasted single blind. (At a single blind tasting, the wines are known, yet tasted blind – At a double blind tasting, nothing is known.) The line-up that evening was: d’Armailhac, Branon, La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion, Clerc Milon, Gruaud Larose, Lagrange, La Lagune, Larrivet Haut-Brion, and Poujeaux. Quite a line-up with several favorites! My single blind note for what turned out to be the 2014 d’Armailhac:“Tough to coax at first. Some iron, salami, meaty … concentrated cassis fruit and hint herbal, zippy fresh and elegant with a slightly rustic feel. Clerc Milon.” Not a bad guess as Clerc Milon is also a Baron Philippe property, so at least I identified the terroir. One facet of the TTG experience is to rank the wines tasted in order of preference. I ranked the 2014 d’Armailhac first! Well sure, I may have thought it was Clerc Milon, but that extra aromatic dimension put it over the top for me. I wasn’t alone. A friendly competitor who also travels to Bordeaux each year was at this tasting, and he too was full of praise for the “elegant, old-school nuanced” d’Armailhac (though he guessed it was Gruaud Larose). Priced under $40 per bottle, for a Pauillac no less, we are safe to say that the 2014 d’Armailhac is a downright bargain!
It’s been pretty crazy around here lately – pricing for the highly acclaimed 2016 Bordeaux vintage should finish up by the end of this week, as the city of Bordeaux prepared to host VinExpo the following week. If you are interested in any wines from the 2016 vintage, please feel free to send me an email and I will be happy to help with any questions you may have. We are trying to keep up with pricing each release as we receive our allocations, and this past week saw a frenzy of popular chateaux releasing their respective prices. The 2016 d’Armailhac was pretty darned impressive, that I will say, and I do believe it is fairly priced at $46 on pre-arrival. It won’t get here until sometime in 2019. So if you want to taste some old-school Bordeaux goodness from the team behind Mouton Rothschild that won’t break the bank, the 2014 Château d’Armailhac is here now. The price? How about $35.98 per bottle. Downright. Bargain. – Peter Zavialoff
May 27, 2017. In search of tidbits of information about our habits over Memorial Day Weekend, I came across one which purports that 75% of Americans participate in some sort of barbecue activity over the three day period. Sounds about right, as my recollections of the unofficial start to summer are full of memories of good eats, good friends, and yes, good wines. A fortnight ago, I wrote a bit about Carolina Furque’s 2015 Malbec, and last week, Anya showcased a stunning 2014 value in the form of Château Sénéjac.If you purchased either one (or both), you’ve got some great grillin’ wine on your hands. But let’s have a look forward. Summer IS coming. There will be plenty of wines to chill and enjoy over the warm months, but some wines warrant stocking up on. David just slashed prices on a whole lot of our Burgundy selections, and two of these wines strike my particular fancy: The 2012 Auxey-Duresses Les Boutonniers and Les Hautés.
Auxey-Duresses is located in the Côtes de Beaune, just west of Volnay and Meursault. Both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are planted there, the former planted on the Volnay side and the latter near Meursault. Gilles Lafouge is the 6th generation vigneron for the property which can trace its lineage back to the 17th Century. He makes good, honest Burgundy, wines with wonderful expression and balance. 2012 was another very good vintage for white Burgundy, joining a long line of high-quality vintages going back to 2004!
Though both vineyards border Meursault, it is the Les Boutonniers which is most like its neighbor. The 2012 Auxey-Duresses Les Boutonniers is awash with orchard fruit aromas mixed with dusty minerals with a soft, inviting palate. There is balance and lively acidity midway, with the ever-present Meursault-like softness caressing the palate throughout. The Les Hautés vineyard is further up the slope from the valley floor, and its soils are rich with limestone. The 2012 Auxey-Duresses Les Hautés is a lively, mineral driven expression of Chardonnay, much in the direction of a village Puligny-Montrachet. It has fresh aromas of citrus blossom, stony minerals, and hints of apple/pear fruit. The palate is sleek and nervy, and the fresh white fruit falls right in line with the wine’s structure. The finish is crisp, complex, and harmonious. These two wines are well worth their retail price of $39.99 per bottle, but now that they’re marked down to $19.95, it’s time to stock up. Warning: We don’t have a whole lot of either wine, and a little educated guesswork has me thinking that they both will sell out in the coming weeks. If you want to stock up on some delicious go-to white Burgundy for summer 2017, we suggest you act sooner than later.
Yep. Summer is on its way. The signs are everywhere. Just today on my drive in, as I passed St. Mary’s Cathedral (which was built on the site of a former Lucky supermarket where I remember grocery shopping with my parents as a small child), there were scores of caps and gowns roaming about, as Sacred Heart College Prep was holding their graduation ceremonies inside the church. Our local baseball team is not giving us any reason to be excited or optimistic this summer, but if one can stock up on some quality white Burgundy for an entry-level price, and enjoy them throughout the season, that is good reason to be excited and optimistic! – Peter Zavialoff
While vacillating over whether or not to write about Bordeaux earlier this morning, I discovered that there are a couple of things that must be addressed before I tackle the subject of this week’s Saturday night wine.
#1) The 2016 Bordeaux Futures campaign is in motion. We sent our first offer out a couple of weeks ago, just after Cos d’Estournel released their price. The email included a handful of petits chateaux which we feel showed well at the En Primeur tastings, offering great value in this remarkable vintage. Several other estates have released their pricing since, and we are preparing another offer which we will send early next week. Doubtless, there will be more price releases next week, and the campaign will grow quite busy until the middle of June, at the soonest. Should you have interest in any 2016 Bordeaux wine, released yet or not, please feel free to send me an email: peter@wineSF.com and we can discuss it, reflect pricing (once released), and source it for you, should you approve of the price.
#2) We recently received a new container with a lot of 2014 Bordeaux on it. These wines will be hitting our sales floor sometime later next week. If you have spoken to me about the 2014 vintage, then you already know I’m a big fan, and highly recommend the wines, especially from the Left Bank. I was graciously welcomed to the Thursday Tasting Group’s tasting of 2014 Left Bank Bordeaux the other day. After looking at the roster (d’Armailhac, Branon, La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion, Clerc Milon, Gruaud Larose, Lagrange, La Lagune, Larrivet Haut-Brion, and Poujeaux), I knew I would be in for a treat. Part of the TTG experience is to rank the wines from 1 to 9 in order of one’s preference. At the conclusion, it was said by several tasters that if they were served the wine they respectively ranked 9th, they would enjoy them very much. When I reported this back to David, he just smiled and said, “Well, that’s Bordeaux for you. It’s not uncommon for ALL the wines to show well.” From a price-to-quality perspective, 2014 offers the best value from this impressive trio of vintages.
To say it’s been hectic around here would be an understatement. Juggling the pricing for the futures with the arrival of the “presents” can be daunting. One thing that I am looking forward to is standing around a grill this weekend with friends, preparing some delicious barbecue. There’s a new vintage of one of our staff favorites that I tasted this past week that will be perfect for this grilling affair: 2015 Alberto Furque Malbec.
It’s not Bordeaux, but Malbec’s roots can be traced back to the region, as it was historically used in Bordeaux blends. The plants’ susceptibility to rot and disease saw it lose favor among French vignerons, and now very few Bordelais grow the variety. Sometime in the mid 1800’s, vine cuttings made their way over to Argentina, and they thrived. The rest is history. Malbec is grape variety numero uno in Argentina.
How time flies … we’ve been carrying the Alberto Furque Malbec for over a decade! It’s now made by Alberto’s daughter Carolina, and we just love the pure expression of her wines. Everything is hand-harvested, the wine ferments in steel tank, and its elevage takes place in concrete vats; all contributing to the wines’ fresh fruity aromas and profile. Heck, I wasn’t expecting to take to this wine like I did the other night when I took it to a dinner, but its freshness and seductive fruit contributed to a speedy depletion of the bottle’s contents. When I went in for my second glass, all I got were the lucky drops! Having no oak influence gives the fruit the spotlight. It has a plummy character, both in the aromas and on the palate, there are notes of cherries, raspberries, and black currants. The palate is medium to fuller bodied with well-dialed-in balancing acidity, and the tannins are finely integrated. All in all, it’s a superb wine that will suit meals such as steak with chimichurri, pastas with meatballs or sausages, or pulled pork. This weekend, I will pair it with a dry-rubbed tri-tip, grilled to perfection. With barbecue season upon us for the next several months, this is a great wine to have around … for two reasons: Quality and price. The case price is ridiculous.
To all of you Moms out there, we wish you a Happy Mothers’ Day tomorrow! I’m looking forward to visiting my Mom around midday. We will be preparing her favorite, salmon; pairing it with a crisp Rosé. Afterwards, I am planning on attending a memorial reception for a San Francisco restauranteur whom I was lucky to have known and have enjoyed the “family treatment” from his progeny for decades. Later in the evening, I will head over to visit some friends, and we’ll get busy grilling up the tri-tip and pulling a couple of corks of Malbec. A topic of conversation sure to arise around said grill will be English Football and the newly crowned champions. Though my support remains on the sidelines until a certain unsporting individual leaves the club, I am happy for the Blues and for my family of Chelsea brothers and sisters. I’ve got a lot on my plate tomorrow, so by the time I get to that footy conversation, I will be ready for that tri-tip, perfectly paired with Carolina’s 2015 Malbec! – Peter Zavialoff
Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments on 2016 Bordeaux Futures, 2014 Bordeaux, great dry-rub recipes, or the Champions of England: peter@wineSF.com