Category Archives: Semillon

Entre-Deux-Mers: Drink Responsibly

Could it be because Pete just returned from Bordeaux, or that it’s Earth Day and I am thinking about human stewardship of the planet? Or is it because it is a wine I have frequently purchased for my own personal pleasure that I have selected to write a few words about the lovely white Entre-Deux-Mers from Chateau Ferran? For all the above reasons and more, I have the 2015 Chateau Ferran Entre-Deux-Mers on my mind. Entre-Deux-Mers is a expansive Bordeaux appellation but within it are a few choice sub-appellations. One of note is Haut Benauge and this is where you will find Chateau Ferran. Haut Benauge is directly across the Garonne River from Graves and because it is on high ground it is considered a choice location to grow wine grapes.


Chateau Ferran is a family-run estate that converted to organic and biodynamic farming nearly ten years ago. In preparation for this write-up, I visited Chateau Ferran’s website. The website has plenty of information about the winemaking, the farming philosophy and such, but there is practically no mention of the people who make the wine or run the estate. I think this is a deliberate exclusion. It suggests to me that the Ferran family places more importance on the land, the soil, the biodiversity of the vineyards, than on human intervention.

This Entre-Deux-Mers is a blend of equal parts Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon with 10% each of Sauvignon Gris and Muscadelle. I am drawn to the yellow fruit flavors, reminiscent of peaches and apricots, that linger long on the palate. It has no pungent, grassy flavors so often associated with Sauvignon Blanc. All tank fermented, with some time on the lees, it has gorgeous floral aromatics that bring to mind citrus blossoms and acacia. The finish is slightly creamy and is very fresh. It has filled in very nicely as my Friday Night Fish Fry wine, making a lovely match with baked, breaded Petrale Sole.


Julien Ferran is the current winemaker who took over from his father, Alain. Julien is a biologist by trade, so his interest in biodynamic farming is not unexpected (check out
this video of Julien discussing geobiology in the vineyard
). I know for many the principles of biodynamic farming are controversial and verge on the cult-like, but in my anecdotal experience with wineries who embrace biodynamics, I see a direct connection between the exhaustive, conscientious work down in the vineyard and the quality of the wine. This under $15 Bordeaux blanc is impressive because of the effort that went into it and the final outcome, its deliciousness.


Samples of Chateau Ferran were sent to us by another French winery who included them among their own samples. We had no prior relationship to Chateau Ferran when we tasted the samples. We knew nothing of them other than they were friends of a wine family with whom we were starting to do business. Based solely on the quality (and price) of the samples, we purchased a pallet of Chateau Ferran. This is atypical of TWH to pull the trigger so quickly, but good wine is good wine – we recognized it immediately, so we felt there was little risk.

The last few weeks have had a recurring theme for me that centers around the question, “what do you believe in?” I have been asking myself a lot of questions about what I am willing to stand up for personally, socially and spiritually. I’ll spare you my existential angst, but if I’m comparing two wines of equal pleasure to me and one is made by a small family who farms organically and/or biodynamically and the other is mass-produced, industrially made, I am going to pick the former every time. The 2015 Entre-Deux-Mers is coming home with me tonight. I am not sure what is on the menu, but I’ll start the evening with a chilled glass of it. Tastes good and it’s good for you! – Anya Balistreri

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Filed under 2015 Bordeaux, Anya Balistreri, Entre-Deux-Mers, fish-fry wine, Petits Chateaux, Sauvignon Gris, Semillon, Value Bordeaux in San Francisco, White Bordeaux

New Arrival – 2014 Chateau Carbonnieux Blanc


Last weekend we mentioned the fact that we have had several visitors from Bordeaux drop by over the past week and a half. This is an annual occurrence, as this has been the week that the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tastings of the 2014 vintage, now in bottle, take place across the continent. They started last Friday in Miami, and have now moved through Philadelphia, New York, Toronto, Chicago, and they are in Los Angeles tonight. The traveling junket arrives in our fair city tomorrow for a tasting at the Saint Francis Hotel. UGC Tastings are usually well attended affairs, and this one promises to be packed. Large crowds are not exactly my cup of tea, but I am eagerly anticipating the opportunity to taste the 2014’s now that they’re bottled.



The 2014 vintage in Bordeaux was a very good one … with very fair prices! It was a homogenous vintage, as each of Bordeaux’s appellations turned out well-balanced, classically styled wines. In the scheme of things, tasting the red wines from 2014 out of barrel was not as challenging as in some other vintages. But still, the debut of bottled 2014s promises to provide us with purple teeth and plenty of tannins tomorrow, though the tasting is not confined to red wines only. The dry whites of Pessac-Léognan will be represented; and I may be in the minority here, but out of barrel, I preferred the 2014 dry whites to their 2015 counterparts. I’ve gone on the record declaring my admiration for dry white Bordeaux on several occasions, and one of my favorite dry white producer’s 2014 wine has just landed here at TWH: Château Carbonnieux!
Like I said, the vintage was a very good one for the reds and dry whites, and Carbonnieux turned out another tempting barrel sample. I picked up some fleshy yellow fruit and melon on the nose, its palate entry was bright and zippy, with the acidity and complexity expanding mid palate. There were hints of chalky minerals present, framing a promising barrel sample. And tomorrow, I will have an updated tasting note which begins, “From bottle, UGC SF 1/27/17.” I’m excited.

I’m guessing Neal Martin has tasted this from bottle by this point, but here are his words about 2014 Carbonnieux Blanc from barrel: “The Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2014 has a pretty nose in the making: precise apple blossom and blackcurrant leaf aromas that gently waft from the glass. The palate is crisp on the entry, the acidity not as shrill as some of its peers, thus rendering it a more “languid” Pessac-Léognan. There is already a very elegant, gravelly finish that lingers in the mouth-a very promising Carbonnieux Blanc that may merit a higher score after bottling.”

Tomorrow’s tasting promises to be a great event! It’s always educational to discover how the finished wine is a couple of years after tasting its respective barrel samples. And if the young red wines get to my palate with their youthful structures, it sure is good to know that there will also be an array of high-quality dry white Bordeaux in the house! – Peter Zavialoff

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Filed under 2014 Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Leognan, Peter Zavialoff, Semillon

A White From Carlisle? That’s Right!

The Derivative from Carlisle
I like to boast about the fact that The Wine House started carrying Carlisle wines from the very first vintage when Mike Officer, then a customer of ours with a taste for Rhônes, began making small lots of Zinfandel. Eighteen vintages later, we continue to still stock Carlisle wines only now their repertoire has expanded to include several single-vineyard and appellation-designated Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah (to name a few) and of late, white wine too. The 2013 The Derivative is a complex blend of several white grape varietals from multiple vineyard keeping in line with Carlisle’s zeal for sourcing old-vine fruit.

Semillon at Monte Rosso Vineyard

The base of the wine is Semillon, about half of the blend, from the famed and historic Monte Rosso Vineyard. Monte Rosso Vineyard is named for its rich, red volcanic soils and lies on the last high flank of the Mayacamas Range. The Semillon grown here was first planted in 1890. To this Mike adds Muscadelle from three different vineyards, and Colombard from Mancini Ranch. At the corner of Piner and Olivet Roads just west of Santa Rosa, Mancini Ranch was planted by Lucca Mancini in 1922. The Colombard adds a significant acid component, adding lift and zip to the wine. Only the Semillon was fermented in oak and of that, only 20% was new. The rest of the grapes were fermented in tank. Phew, that was a lot of information I realize, but I find it interesting to know how the pieces fit together to make a harmonious, complex wine. The wine is golden-hued with honey, grapefruit and beeswax notes. It has firm structure and the acid is notable and pleasant.

Saitone Ranch

On a recent Monday morning, Peter said to me “guess what I drank yesterday?”. I of course had no idea, but my best guess was “Bordeaux”. Nope, he drank a glass of The Derivative with Sunday lunch at a restaurant. I hadn’t tasted it yet, so I asked what he thought of it. He told me he liked it very much and that it reminded him of White Bordeaux. Hmmm…that sounded intriguing to me. The winery notes on The Derivative specifically suggest that fans of White Bordeaux would find this wine “right up your ally”. I have to admit that when I took the wine home to try for myself, because of the percentage of Semillon, I had in mind a much different flavor profile. I expected it to be oily and round, but what I tasted was far more stealth and lively … like White Bordeaux. The grapefruit and spearmint flavors are followed by a slight oxidative note reminding me of the bottles of 1998 Domaine de Chevalier I polished off just a while back. In flavor and in structure, this wine suggests it will age quite comfortably. I would be curious to know how this wine evolves over time. For right now though, it is pretty delicious.

Mike Officer

I siphoned off a bit of The Derivative into a vial to share with the guys at the store. I served them a taste blind just to make it more interesting. Chris, David and Pete liked it immediately and with some deductive reasoning, Pete recognized the wine as being the one he had at Sunday lunch. Chris remarked that he wished he could taste the wine with food, thinking that it would perhaps show differently. I got excited by his comment because I knew it to be true. As the cliché goes, The Derivative is a food wine. The Derivative takes on a much broader flavor spectrum with food and its acidity cradles rich, creamy flavors to higher heights. I write this because I know – at home the glass I tried became far more opulent and showy when I drank it with my dinner.

2013 The Derivative

Over the last eighteen vintages, I have witnessed the evolution of a winery go from a small unknown to one widely recognized as being one of the finest producers in California. An online wine forum that I follow from time to time – they claim to be “The World’s Largest and Most Active Online Wine Community”- even has a thread that reads “Which Carlisle are you drinking”? The thread has over 6,000 posts. Not just any winery can command that much interest and devotion.

School’s out for Summer! Alice Cooper’s lyric looped inside my head as I drove my daughter to her last day of 6th grade. I think I may be more excited than she is about the start of summer. I am hoping to slow down the pace, go outside, explore. As someone wisely said in a movie I watched with my daughter (her choice) last weekend, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Anya Balistreri

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Mayacamas Range, Semillon, Sonoma County

2013 Opalie de Château Coutet (Pre-Arrival)


2013 Opalie de Château Coutet
(Pre-Arrival)

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

Click Here To Purchase 2013 Opalie de Château Coutet on Pre-Arrival

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Filed under 2013 Bordeaux, Barsac, Peter Zavialoff, Semillon

A Pure Value Play – 2014 Chateau Calabre Montravel Blanc


When customers enter TWH for the very first time, they often inquire about what it is that we do and how we go about sourcing the wines to put in the bins that line our sales floor. While there are no general, party-line answers to those questions, there is one major criterion that is consistently present in our wines, whether they’re $10 per bottle or $200: Value. As in, “Is this worth it?” To a Pomerol collector with a much larger wine budget than mine, the 2012 Vieux Chateau Certan is a great wine from a great producer that is every bit worth its $168.98 price tag. Oh how I would love to taste this wine 10 years from now. To a Dogpatch neighbor who walks their dog every afternoon and occasionally pops in for good, inexpensive dry white wine, we have several to choose from. One such white wine, not to be missed, would be the 2014 Montravel Blanc from Château Calabre.



Coming on the heels of Anya’s recent email about longtime relationships in the wine business, TWH is happy and proud of our ongoing association with Daniel Hecquet and his wines from Montravel and Bergerac. We’ve been stocking Daniel’s wines for 20 years! Why? Value. Are they worth it? Unquestionably. The Château Calabre Montravel Blanc is Hecquet’s entry-level white, made in the style of dry white Bordeaux blends. The blend for his 2014 is 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Sémillon, and 10% Muscadelle. It’s fresh and clean, all tank fermented, and ready to go with its screwcap enclosure. The palate is zippy and lipsmacking with fine balance, and it clocks in at 13% alcohol. It’s a great little versatile white that delivers pleasure at a very reasonable price: $10.99 (or $9.34 by the case). As someone who has worked on sourcing the wines in our Dirty Dozen sampler for a decade can attest to, it is much more difficult to find good quality inexpensive white wine than red. I don’t know why that is, but it is true. If there were more producers out there like Daniel Hecquet, sourcing the Dirty Dozen each month would be a little easier.


It just makes good sense that a shopper doesn’t make a purchase unless they perceive there to be value in said purchase. Please keep in mind that before we offer these wines to you, we ourselves must buy them! That of course makes us wine shoppers also. When tasting and appraising a wine, we have an idea of what its price tag is going to be. That’s where the decision is made. Is it worth it? The 2014 Château Calabre Montravel Blanc sure is; the $9.34 by the case price makes it a no-brainer.Peter Zavialoff

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Filed under fish-fry wine, Montravel, Peter Zavialoff, Semillon

2006 Chateau de Fargues – Top Quality For A Fraction Of The Cost


Happy New Year! From all of us here at TWH, we hope you had a fantastic holiday season. Okay, now that it’s 2016, what’s up? Plenty. French container on the water should be here around mid-month with Bordeaux, Burgundy, and more! Italian container due to arrive shortly thereafter. David should be off to Burgundy again sometime soon, and I’m headed to LA at the end of the month to taste the newly bottled 2013 vintage at the Union des Grands Crus tasting. Oh yeah, one more IMPORTANT thing: our 38th Anniversary Sale will end at the close of business on Monday, January 4. So, if you’ve had your eye on anything on that list, now is the time to act. For the past 6-8 weeks, we’ve mentioned a few of the great deals that were to be found as part of our sale, and though there are still many, many great deals, just know time is running out. Back in 2015 (okay, last Thursday), a good friend of TWH came in to buy … wait for it … a couple of bottles of Sauternes. Every year he prepares a torchon de foie gras for New Year’s, and this year was no exception. As TWH’s GoldWine Ambassador, I was happy to chat with him about our selections, and after discussing several options, he was very excited about the sale price on the 2006 Château de Fargues, Sauternes. After all, it has pedigree, a famous name, and a sale price that if put into proper perspective, makes it an absolute steal!

So, foie gras and Sauternes pair well together, this is well-known. The rich, creamy, savory texture and flavor sensations of a bite of foie are sent to another dimension when followed by a taste of rich, layered, complex, botrytised Sauternes (or Barsac); the balancing acidity being the catalyst that frames and holds it all together. (TWH customers and friends know that fois gras is the traditional pairing, but that the wines have so, so much more potential as evidenced by the trio of GoldWine dinners *scroll down this link* we’ve had in the past few years). If one is in northern California and needs a bottle of Sauternes/Barsac, TWH is a logical destination as we have few rivals sporting the breadth of our GoldWine section. I presented our customer with several bottles that offered great value as well as a couple of my favorites. Which then brought us into a discussion about Count Alexandre de Lur Saluces and his involvement with both Château d’Yquem and Château de Fargues. The Lur Saluces have been affiliated with Yquem since 1785 and ran the château until selling it to luxury brands group LVMH in 1999. Alexandre stayed on until 2004 before leaving to focus on the family’s long owned Château de Fargues. Alexandre first joined his uncle at de Fargues in 1966 and took over leadership of the chateau after his uncle’s passing in 1968. Throughout the years, the wines from Château de Fargues have rivaled the hoity-toity Yquem in quality, but not in their steep bottle price. Beginning with the 2004, the wines from de Fargues have stepped it up another notch, earning some special praise from Robert Parker and Neal Martin of The Wine Advocate.

Here’s what Mr. Parker had to say about the 2006 de Fargues after having tasted it from barrel:

“The refuge of the Lur Saluces family after selling their beloved Yquem, this is an Yquem-like wine that sells for a fraction of the price fetched for the most famous wine of the region. Rich, honeyed citrus along with creme brulee, vanillin, sweet caramelized pineapple and citrus notes are followed by a wine with an unctuously thick, viscous, full-bodied mouthfeel, but with good enough acidity to balance out the wine’s enormous weight, richness, and concentration.”

I wished our customer a hearty, “Bonne Année”, and await the report on his experience with his first de Fargues. Funny thing, earlier in the week, a couple of ladies came in to buy some party wines and one of them inquired about Yquem, as she had once tasted it at a New Year’s celebration. I told her the price ($500) and she politely chuckled and said, “No thank you.” I then explained there were plenty of top-notch Sauternes selling for far less, and when I told her the Lur Saluces story, and that she could have Yquem-like quality for $79.95, she happily bought one to continue the Sauternes-as-part-of-the-New-Year-celebration tradition.

So yes, happy 2016! It’s mid holiday season for me as December 24 is just day number one of 13 days of celebration between late December and late January. Celebratory day #6 is today (Sunday), and I’ve got a bottle of GoldWine for it, because if you’re not celebrating with Sauternes, you’re not really celebrating. It seems this mode of thinking is slowly catching on; on December 30 and 31, we sold more bottles of Sauternes than of the more traditional sparkling wines. Yep. When it comes to celebrating, there are traditions, but there are no rules. Here’s to good health, success, and happiness to all of you in 2016!Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to email me with any questions about our Anniversary Sale, Sauternes, foie gras, or English Football: peter@wineSF.com

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Filed under 2006 Bordeaux, Peter Zavialoff, Sauternes, Semillon

2012 Opalie de Chateau Coutet (Pre-Arrival)

It is once again, with great pleasure, that we announce the American release of an extraordinary dry white wine from Bordeaux! By now, many of you are familiar with Opalie de Château Coutet, as we were the first wine merchants to offer both the inaugural 2010 and its successor from 2011. These are two stunning wines: opulent, textured and complex, both reflective of the prized terroir they’re sourced from and of their distinct vintages. Unique in its vivacity, Opalie is a first-of-its-kind dry white wine from Barsac produced in extremely limited production. And now comes the 2012, another gem extracted from Château Coutet’s Grand Cru vineyard in Barsac.

 

When we unveiled the inaugural 2010 vintage, we pointed out how the dry white wines from Bordeaux can count themselves among the finest wines in the world. They have a committed following of in-the-know wine consumers snapping up what little is produced, and prices for the top echelon wines can be astronomical. The Opalie de Château Coutet is a truly unique white Bordeaux wine that at once encapsulates richness, layers of complexity, opulence, nerve, and texture in unwavering harmony.

With the 2011 Opalie, we again pointed out in what short supply these wines are in, and further praised their ability to age. If you’ve ever tasted a dry white Bordeaux with the additional complexity that comes with age, you already know what we’re talking about. These wines can age for much longer than most of us think. At TWH’s holiday party this past January, we poured a dry white Bordeaux from 1992 out of half-bottle with one of our dinner courses, and it blew us away! Are we saying that you should age your Opalie 20 years before you drink it? NO! It’s in a lovely place, drinking very well right now. But if you find the odd bottle or two in your cellar a few years down the road, you’ll be in for a treat.

So, what about the 2012 Opalie de Château Coutet then? Well, for starters, it has to be my sentimental favorite, because it was in April 2012 that I had my very first taste of Opalie while visiting Aline and Philippe Baly at Château Coutet. The 2010 was already in bottle and the 2011 in barrel, but for the 2012, it was just the beginning. After that initial tasting, I shared my glowing impressions of the wine with them. Citing how much I appreciated the wine’s richness, complexity, and sense of place, Philippe persistently inquired as to how I would improve the wine if I could. Again, we all have different taste, but I do have a fairly high tolerance for acidity in white wines. I mentioned this to them, and Philippe agreed stating that the recipe going forward would be to increase the amount of Sauvignon Blanc in the cuvee. For the 2012 Opalie de Château Coutet, the blend is 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Sémillon. The wine is aged for 9 months in oak barrels, with 40% being new. In a word, the wine is fantastic! Its fresh aromas captivate the taster with nuances of citrus blossoms, baking spices, stony minerals, and green tea. The body is lively and zesty, plenty of zip provided by the Sauvignon Blanc, and the palate is rich and complex, with the mineral laden framework enduring through the finish. I tasted the 2012 Opalie on my final day in Bordeaux last year, leaving a long lasting impression on me. Class and distinction. Class and distinction for a very fair price, that is.

 

Here’s what The Wine Spectator’s James Molesworth had to say about the 2012 Opalie de Château Coutet:
“Juicy, with lots of tangerine, white peach and green almond notes that bounce along, carried by vivacious acidity. Hints of melon rind and green plum show on the finish, leaving the impression this could stretch out a little more. Drink now through through 2018. 291 cases made. Score 91.”

 

So there you have it. Château Coutet’s one-of-a-kind dry white wine, the 2012 Opalie. Right now, the only place you can get it on pre-arrival in the US is here at TWH!

The time keeps ticking as Bordeaux prepares for its annual En Primeurs barrel tastings which commence on Tuesday, March 31. I will be representing The Wine House SF at the tastings, scouting the 2014 vintage (and more) for our customers. My appointment book is filling up with visits to growers, suppliers, and chateaux. I will continue to scout for lesser known wines that represent great values for their various price-points and it looks like I will be visiting some of Bordeaux’s most famous chateaux in addition to tasting at the UGC events. In keeping with tradition, I will take the time to visit Sauternes and Barsac in particular. There’s a very good chance that I’ll get to taste the 2013 Opalie de Château Coutet, and to that, I am looking forward.Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to email me with any specific requests in regard to tasting the barrel samples. Please know that time constraints will not allow for me to taste everything, but I will do my best to share my impressions of any particular wines you may be interested in that I do taste.

peter@wineSF.com

Click Here To Purchase 2012 Opalie de Château Coutet on Pre-Arrival

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Filed under 2012 Bordeaux, Barsac, Peter Zavialoff, Semillon, White Bordeaux