Bubbles For New Year’s Eve—England ‘n’ France, Sparkles ‘n’ Spats

Little known Champagne fact:  Dom Perignon did not say, “I’m drinking stars,” he said, “I’m seeing stars” after being clubbed over the head by a British arquebus.

Verily, there’s been little love lost between France and England over the centuries, and the tale of two cities has been Hatfields and McCoys essentially since the Gauls were finger-painting bison on cave walls and the Anglos were dying their faces blue.

In point of fact, it’s been pretty one-sided.  Pepe LePew will always have his 1066, but since then, he’s lost every major war to John Bull, and the only reason the Brits haven’t yet forced The King’s Good English upon the French is that their accents wind up being more irritating than their language.  Clearly naval as well as martial superiors, the English condescended to build a tunnel linking the two countries only because they were sick of un-seaworthy French people vomiting up half-digested snails onto the deck of the Calais to Dover ferry.

The French have, however, maintained dominance in one vitally important aspect of life.  No, not cuisine.  Personally—and on any day of the week—I’ll take a snuggly, soul-salving Shepherd’s Pie over a slimy plate of Escoffier’s Les cuisses de nymphes aurores (frog legs) or the hors d’oeuvres version, frog arms.

No, it’s wine, of course—specifically and categorically, Champagne.

And since the seventeenth century, while the famous Benedictine monk Dom Perignon was still trying to RID wine of bubbles (which he viewed as a fault), the French have been schlepping frothy quantities upon the English, who developed a taste for the stuff long before they did.  In fact, it wasn’t until 1715, within the newly formed court of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, that French nobility realized what a treasure they had in Champagne.

Champagne

As in all great wine regions of the world, it’s a unique combination of soil, know-how and climate that allows Champagne—a small province 100 miles east of Paris—to produce sparkling wine of such magnificence that EU law, and the laws of most other countries, reserve the term exclusively for them.

And fittingly so.  Many—even Champagne houses who bought land elsewhere—have tried and failed to duplicate the nuance, subtlety and general  je ne sais quoi dissolved within the body and bubbles of Champagne.

The English are no exception.  Ever since Julius Caesar send over a boatload of vines around 55 BC, the Tommys and the Pommys have been trying to get proper Champagne grapes to grow in certain reasonably temperate pockets around Kent and the Sussexes, where the soil structure—Limey limestone—is just right.  Technically, everybody knew that it was at least possible—Champagne is near the northern limits of wine production, but from a crow’s viewpoint, there’s only a couple hundred miles between Rheims and English wine country.  And yet, as close as they came in certain excellent vintages—just as they found that neither could they really grow tobacco—it was no cigar.

Over the years, Americans have made it a point not to interfere with the bickering between France and England—possibly because deep in our patriotic hearts we understand that we owe the French a lifelong debt for having bailed out our sorry asses during the Revolutionary War.  Without them, the Redcoats would have prevailed and it would have been us that had the English language forced down our gullets.

But, over the past half century or so, we have presented the English with a precious and un-repayable gift:  Global warming.  Our magnanimous, ultimately selfless gestures—refusing to drive less or cut back on fossil fuels or turn out the lights after we leave a room—has allowed the average temperature in Britain to rise to a point where the southern-slope microclimates of Kent are now nearly akin to those of Champagne.  Perhaps the pinnacle of proof happened during the Dijon-based sparkling wine competition Effervescents du Monde, 2007 when Theale Vineyard Sparkling Chardonnay from Berkshire beat out numerous high-end Champagnes to be named one of the world’s top ten sparkling wines.

It was, for the English, the equivalent of our Judgment of Paris, 1976.

What follows is a historical, cultural and enological synopsis of the rivalry between these two neighbors, who have essentially spent a millennium behaving like a pair of first-graders in the back seat of a station wagon.

NORMAN CONQUEST

Ever wonder why, when we eat cow, we call it beef?  Calf veal?  Pig pork?  Sheep mutton? Thank William, Duke of Normandy, whose successful invasion of England in 1066, culminating in a victory at Hastings in what is now Sussex wine country, led to a French-speaking monarchy and clerical hierarchy. Over the eighty-odd years that the Normans sat upon the English throne, words like boeuf, veau, porc and mouton sidled into our lexicon as easily as Barney Frank into a bar on Christopher Street. But, whereas we still use these French-inspired words in their original sense, somehow along the way the term ‘Norman’ ceased to refer to the hulking, über-mensch descendants of Viking warlords and became instead the kid with horned-rimmed glasses in a band uniform on the Robotics Team.

How the mighty have fallen!

Advantage: France

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CUISINE, QUALITY

Alternately, her voice is as pure as chicken fat.

Most folks won’t even argue this one, citing Auguste Escoffier (fired from the Savoy for stealing wine), the Gascon influence (diseased goose liver), poultry from Bresse (known for its free-flowing fat—ick—and compared to the purity of Céline Dion’s voice—double ick), the black Périgord truffle (smells like pig gonads and costs $700 per lb.), Escargots à la Provence (frankly, I won’t eat anything that English Gardens sells products to kill) and general haute cuisine (literally ‘high food’, which to my generation means Taco Bell at three AM), while failing to mention french fries (tubers dipped in grease), french toast (bread dipped in eggs, then fried in grease) and the french dip sandwich (beef dipped in beef juice which contains grease).

Still, in a stand-off, the English have to answer for kidney pie (kidneys regulate the body’s urinary system), black pudding (black via curdled pig blood), lamb’s heart (do a people exist who could eat something that sounds so precious?), tripe (stomach lining), causing one to wonder if the Brits ever eat the outside of animals?

Worst of all, there’s Nigella (boring, spoiled and overbearing rich chick), Ramsay (drunk, convicted pervert who cheats on his wife) and Oliver (once slit the throat of a conscious lamb on national television)—not one of whom has ever struck me as particularly unstoppable in the kitchen.

Advantage: France

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CUISINE, SEXUAL SOUNDING NAMES

Entries, France: Fondue Bourguignonne, Potée Auvergnate, Tomates à la Provençale, Cassoulet, Boeuf en Daube aux Pruneaux.

Entries, England:  Wet Nelly, Spotted Dick, Bangers, Fitless Cock, Faggots, Dean’s Cream, Neeps and Tatties, Toad In The Hole, Pretty Oggies, Hunter’s Buns.

Advantage: England

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AGINCOURT

Pop quiz: How long did the Hundred Years’ War last?  Wrong, 116 years; 1337 to 1453.

Midway through it, in 1415, Charles VI—the nutcase French monarch who thought he was made out of glass regularly forgot his own name—was thoroughly trounced by a 5 – 1 outnumbered Henry V.   Hank Five himself participated in the hand-to-hand combat while Chucky Six skulked around Paris telling people his name was ‘George’.  Five years later, in 1420, Henry V was recognized as heir to the French throne, a regency he locked in by marrying Charles VI fifth, and presumably sane daughter.

Advantage: England

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TOOTH DECAY

The Brits will grandly assert that their teeth are no worse than ours, just as they insist that Americans don’t take soccer seriously enough.  As a former soccer mom, I can assure my orally-challenged brethren across the pond that we take soccer very seriously—it’s that stupid, mind-numbingly dull game you call ‘football’, with final scores like ‘1 – 0’ or ‘0 – 0’, that we can’t stand.

As for your teeth, here’s food for thought that you will presumably not get caught between your crumbling bicuspids:

  1. Amid the NHS cluster-bleep, affordable English dentists are rare as hen’s teeth.
  2. Your carb-heavy diet is not particularly toothsome to begin with; supplementing it with with tons of refined sugar and tobacco is the kiss of death for that glittery Hollywood smile.
  3. You don’t fluoridate your water.  Come on, people.  Granted, it’s a Communist plot, but couldn’t you hold your collective, rank-smelling breaths for a sec and pretend it’s a Socialist plot?

On the other hand, a typical French mouth may be missing a few teeth, but those that exist tend to be speckless thanks to products like Antibactérien Eludril Rince-Bouche and Botot Pâté.  In fact, so dazzling are Gallic denticles that when foreign diplomats come to town, members of the Sénat are warned not to smile for fear their incandescent incisors will be mistaken for white flags and the visitors will naturally assume that the country just surrendered.

PRETTY WOMEN

Turns out that all really hot British women are Australian and all really hot French women are North African.

Advantage: Category Vacated

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SEVEN YEARS WAR

Another pop quiz: How long did the Seven Years War last? Wrong again; nine years; 1754 – 1763, but historians had to think on their feet since the name ‘Nine Years War’ was already taken. Seriously.

Although the main antagonists were England and France, the war went global and drew in all the major superpowers of the time: Prussia and Hanover siding with Britain against the Spanish allies Austria, Sweden, Saxony, Russia and Spain.  Obviously, they should have called it World War I—a name which was still up for grabs.  The war was fought on two continents, beginning and ending in North America, resulting in a British victory that forced France to cede all of their holdings east and west of the Mississippi along with Canada.  In return, they were permitted to hang on to their Caribbean colonies, which is why they speak French in Haiti today.

Advantage: England

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TRAFALGAR

Lord Nelson

Apparently, the Brits thrive on being outnumbered, and it must drive them up Hadrian’s Wall that each side must field the same number of  players during soccer snoozefests matches.  In 1805, Admiral Lord Nelson and his twenty-seven warships found himself in a bit of a misunderstanding with the French Empire under Napoleon, and off the coast of Spain, faced a 33 ship fleet commanded by Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve.  Oddly, though Nelson destroyed 22 enemy vessels without losing a single one, he managed to get himself killed during the battle and so did not live to see Britain’s now-total worldwide naval supremacy.

Advantage: England

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SPARKLING WINE, QUALITY

England is again outnumbered, this time by sparkling wine consumers, whose demand both domestically and abroad cannot be met by the 120 million bottles annually that England is capable of producing.  As a result, there’s current gold rush in English wine country, with vineyards being established at a rate which has quadrupled in the past five years.

In Champagne, by contrast, there’s simply no more land—short of window-boxes—left to plant.

But is the English wine worth it?  At least one French Champagne maker thinks so:  Vintner Didier Pierson-Whitaker is about to release several thousand bottles of Meonhill—a sparkling wine grown from French rootstock (chardonnay and pinot noir) in Hampshire, a place where the chalky subsoil duplicates the geology he farms in the Marne.

The rest of the world?  I think you’d have to be a certifiably-batty Anglophile with taste-buds on hiatus if you truly imagine that the nascent British bubble industry is anywhere close to being on par with the fizz finesse of Champagne—not yet, and, though we never say never, probably not ever.

Even Imogen Pierson-Whitaker, Didier’s English wife, admits,  “Truthfully, it’s been tough.  We don’t have a massive support system like in France. We planted in 2005 and the vines have been fabulous some years and there have been poor years….”

So far, Theale Vineyard’s award-winning wine is the exception, not the rule.  And obviously, only a fool discounts the éclat inherent in three hundred years of Champagne’s méthode champenoise experience, vineyard mastery, cellar skill and sheer old-guard reputation—and the world of chardonnay/pinot noir cultivation two hundred miles north of what was once considered feasible does not suffer fools gladly.

Imogen Pierson-Whitaker goes on to say, “The industry will obviously evolve, but the beginnings are tough, especially when you are using a new vineyard.”

Depending, perhaps, on how much carbon dioxide the rest of the developed world is willing to pump into the atmosphere, we may in our lifetime see how far that evolution can go.

Current Advantage: France

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In this position, Cristal bubbles rarely cause hiccups.

SPARKLING WINE, HIP-HOP PRESTIGE

Entries, France: Cristal, Krug, Dom Perignon.

Entries, England:  Upperton, Bolney, Daws Hill.

Advantage: France

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SPARKLING WINE, FUNNY NAMES

Entries, France: Billecart-Salmon.  That’s it.  Salmon is a fish name, and therefore, a funny name for wine.  And not even that funny.

Entries, England:  Breaky Bottom, Blackboys, Nutbourne on Gay Street, Ridgeview in Furzefield on Fragbarrow, Tickerage Blush, Plumpton on Ditchling, Biddenden in Little Whatmans on Gribble Bridge.

Advantage: England

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In the final analysis, they’re not yet Bordeaux balmy, Rhône roasty or even Loire lukewarm, and the chief danger of all the new vineyards being planted in Southeast England is that these virgin vintners are underestimating the amount of capital required to produce world-class sparkling wine in a climate that may see five good vintages out of ten.  Before they go out of business (and they will), these wineries may foist upon the world an awful lot of substandard and reputation-ruining product.

Christopher Merret

That said, an interesting historical footnote concerns the real inventor of méthode champenoise, which, of course, was not Dom Perignon, the legendary Benedictine monk who actually thought that effervescence ruined wine.  In 1662, a scientist called Christopher Merret presented a paper detailing how sugar in wine caused the bubbles and that by adding sugar before bottling, nearly any wine could be made to sparkle.

Merret’s nationality?  British.  And thus, for the genuine global origins of the sparkling wine process…

Advantage: England

Posted in Champagne, ENGLAND, FRANCE, GENERAL | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Vintage 2008: Donati Delivers A Digest of Doozies

It has been said (by Italians mostly) that there are only two kinds of people in the world: Italians and people who wish they were Italian.

Whether or not you accept this, the fact is, in terms of cool, Italians have somehow managed to win the immigrant lottery.  Of all the babbling minorities who arrived upon our shores seeking better lives, better opportunities and were immediately mocked, attacked, reviled and forced to clot together in poverty-stricken ghettos, it was the Italians alone who managed to upchuck such quintessentially cool characters as Rocky Balboa, Arthur Fonzarelli and Vinnie Barbarino.  Vito Corleone, Daniel LaRusso and Tony Soprano. Billy Batts, Lefty Ruggiero and Jake LaMotta (skinny version).  Tommy DeVito, Tony Manero and Luca Brasi (who is not sleeping with the fishes—he scared them all away).

Meanwhile, please note that the best icons you somewhat lesser nationalities could come up with were the Schmenge Brothers, Father Flanagan and the Festrunks—each of which represents the antithesis of cool.

Why should this be the case?  I submit, most humbly, a single shared experience among Italians which is unknown in Ireland, Czechoslovakia and Leutonia:

Wine in open barrels in the basement.

I know an Italian winemaker in Northern Michigan who I won’t identify other than to say that he has a daughter whose name rhymes with ‘Schmadonna’ and who tells a story of being a kid and checking on the cellar wine only to find a dead cat floating in it.  Instructions from his father?  ‘Take the damn thing out.’  The wine, of course, was bottled and consumed anyway—to a real Italian, wasting wine for any reason is blasphemy on par with gacking into Holy Water or falling asleep during Rigoletto.

So, in reading the history of the Donati clan, currently composed of patriarch Ron along with his sons Matt, Mark and Brad, discovering that homemade basement wine was mentioned as an impetus for going into the wine biz was almost a waste of ink.

Dan Marino

Anyway, winemaker is an expedient avocation for an Italian-American.  So is ward politician, Top Chef, NFL quarterback, orchestra conductor or bodyguard to ward politicians—in such roles, there are no surprises to upset the status quo of stereotypes.  Not so much: Proctologist, librarian or founder of a major corporation that produces multilayer printed circuit boards for original equipment manufacturers of data communication systems and personal computers.

And yet, it was the latter that ultimately funded Donati Family Vineyards in Paso Robles.

According to his bio, Ron Donati built Zycon Corporation from the ground up over two decades, then sold it to Hadco in 1997 at what we can only assume was a pretty penny.  A whole lot of pretty pennies, in fact.  Rather than rest on his laurels, Donati—with the innate restlessness of an entrepreneur—launched Career II in one of California’s lesser known appellations, Paicines.

Paicines

The community of Paicines has an odd history.  It was originally located five miles north of Tres Pinos, while today it is located five miles south of Tres Pinos.  Granted, both towns sit on the San Andreas Fault, but neither continental drift nor earthquakes had anything to do with the weird switcheroo.  In 1873, the Southern Pacific railroad, which had made a commitment to build a line all the way to Tres Pinos, decided they had better things to do, and so, stopped at Paicines.  In order to fulfill their contract, they somehow convinced the two towns to switch names.  Sounds like somebody made somebody an offer they couldn’t refuse—a trick only an Italian American could pull off.

Anyway, as an AVA, Paicines is a part of San Benito, and in general is warmer than most of San Benito, but cooler than the rest of the Central Coast.  Wine people know what this means without reading further: Bordeaux varietals.

And in fact, that has been the Donati direction since the winery launched in 1998.  The core of the portfolio is red—chiefly blends based on cabernet sauvignon and merlot.  The vineyard also produces the other Bordeaux ‘allowables’, cabernet franc, petit verdot, malbec, and select amounts of chardonnay, pinot blanc, pinot grigio and a pair of Rhône rheds, syrah and grenache.

The original plan was merely to grow and sell grapes, but once Ron realized how high the quality of Paicines fruit could be, he decided to put the other oar in the must.  From that point forward, it was a matter of mastering the art of turning grapes into Donati’s dream.

Ron Donati

According to Ron, “Successful winemaking must be a cooperative effort on behalf of our vineyard and winemaker. Overall, the winemaking team brings hands-on experience, analytic knowledge and a strong dedication to the industry. We are here to make the best wines possible.”

Apparently, in 2008 they did.  Winemaker Ian Hudson describes the vintage:

“The growing season started with bud break in mid-March after a cold, dry winter.  With the lack of rainfall, vine canopies were below normal vigor which produced small clusters with tiny berries.  Temperatures were very calm and consistent making it possible to harvest at the optimum maturity, producing our best vintage yet.”

Among the top wines to emerge from that vintage is a paean to Ron’s late father Ezio—the first of the Donati family to be born in the New World.  Blended from the Bordeaux Big Five, the recently released 2008 vintage had been hanging around in oak for three years, and was bottled this past July.  It sells for around $50 and offers up sensationally intense aromas of plums, cherries, mocha and Asian spices; the wine is unctuous and full, and a little aeration reveals undercurrents of licorice and leather.  Given the additional extraction of the fabulous 2008 vintage, this is a wine that should age with grace for another decade or more.

‘Claret’ 2008 is another recent release from Donati; a Right Bank-styled blend of 44% merlot, 34% cabernet sauvignon and 14% cabernet franc along with mélange of other reds.  The wine is baked-fruit sweet with melted licorice, mineral and an easygoing, but generous mouthfeel; an up-front wine with decent concentration; plump and stylish with a spicy, harmonious finish.  About $17.

Donati’s 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (14% merlot, 2% cab franc) is flamboyant and bright; fragrant with chocolate, espresso, barbecue smoke,  cedar, cassis and a wealth of spices—sweet pepper, cinnamon, even bit of cardamom.  The wine shows great equilibrium and a potential to age and develop into something even more complex. About $20.

True, perhaps, to rustic Italian roots, Donati also makes a 2008 jug wine—the 64 oz. (2 ½ bottles) ‘Naughty’ featuring a big, Lanny McDonald-like red handlebar moustache on the label.  Not sure why they call it ‘Naughty’ other than it vaguely rhymes with ‘Donati’, but the press copy reads: ‘Feeling a little Naughty?  Bring a pair of sweet jugs to your next party!’

Get it?  A pair of jugs?  Of course you get it.  That’s because for all their slick Latin cool, their intimidating and unrefusable offers, their graceful musicianship, their feverish disco dance floor moves, their ability not only to sit through all four acts of La bohème but to actually enjoy them, in general, Italians—with the possible exception of Guido Sarducci—are not a funny race

Take the catchphrase that appears on the Donati website:

‘Mangiare, bere e godersi la vita.’

Which translates:

‘No Italian can ever refuse a favor on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding or a positive wine review.’

Okay, then.  As a native Detroiter, I am well aware of the national rap that our city takes, and I have been lobbying for years to get Chicago to switch names with us.  Consider this an official shout-out to the Donati family to use their ‘influence’ to help get this accomplished.

Posted in Cab/Merlot, Paicines | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Chateau Chantal Releases Some Dandy Post-Prandy Brandy

Brian Hosmer and heir apparent

Why the amazing Chateau Chantal always sort of hangs around the periphery of my Michigan wine conscience instead of barreling to the forefront is truly one of God’s mysteries.  I’ve met winemaker Brian Hosmer many times over the years—a bright, engaging fellow with a Christ-like tonsure and an affinity for big words—and have sampled his wares, which are likewise bright and engaging.  I’ve read with near-voyeuristic fascination the story of the winery’s founders, Robert and Nadine Begin—a former diocesan priest and a former Felician sister who abdicated the Calling and got married in 1974, thus producing the gorgeous Marie-Chantal Dalese.  I’ve even drooled over the East Arm of the Grand Traverse Bay-view from the twenty-thousand square foot B&B that forms the architectural centerpiece of the 65 acre Chateau Chantal estate.

I’ve just never gotten around to writing about them.

The money shot.

Anyway, based on their latest press release, all that changes:  Seems that up there on Old Mission Peninsula they’ve been busier than a set of jumper cables at a redneck funeral and in fact, do more before nine AM than the Marines do all day.  What they’ve already accomplished is staggering—beside the eleven unit bed and breakfast—named one of 2010’s top ten country inns by Gayot—the vineyard, the six private home sites, the cooking classes, the wine seminars and the Tapas Tours, the Chantal concern (the winery is public, with multiple shareholders and a nine-member Board) also owns 55 acres of vines in Mendoza which produce more than two thousand cases of malbec per year—which I’ll also write about if I ever get a chance to try any.

But there’s more:  Chateau Chantal has just announced an inaugural release of Cinq à Sept, an oak-aged (five years) brandy made entirely of Northern Michigan grapes.

Brandy is, of course, a distillate of wine, and as sugar cane is to rum, as barley mash is to scotch and as corn is to bourbon, grapes are to brandy.  Cognac is the world’s priciest, most famous version—it’s named after a specific region in Southwest France and must adhere to certain production laws in order to flash the Cognac crest.   But, simply to give you an idea of what Cinq à Sept’s five years of barrel aging signifies in Cognac terms, a V.S. Cognac requires a minimum of two years in barriques, V.S.O.P. four, while an X.O. designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is six years old.

With Cinq à Sept, we are clearly dealing with some serious sippage.

And why ‘Cinq à Sept’?

Robert Begin

According to Robert Begin, “Literally, Cinq à Sept means ‘five to seven’; it’s a French Canadian term for Happy Hour.  In France, the phrase was originally used as a description of the time of day a Frenchman would visit his mistress, perhaps with a gift of brandy in tow…”

Cinq à Sept is bright mahogany in color, soft and silken on the palate with citrus, sweet fruit, oak-honey and butterscotch; there are light tobacco aromas present along with toasted gingerbread spice, it finishes creamy with a touch of mint and dried herbs.  At $40 a fifth, it’s priced as a rough equivalent to Martell or Courvoisier V.S.O.P.

Suddenly a benchmark among Michigan eau-de-vie, Cinq à Sept joins the Chantal family of distilled fruit juices which includes Cherry Eau-de-Vie, ‘Entice’ Brandy with Ice Wine, ‘Cerise Noir’—cherry brandy with red wine, and ‘Cerise’—a blend of cherry brandy and cherry wine.

Currently, these are available only via shipping from the Chantal internet store, and fortunately for those of you who find yourselves unable to work your new mail-order brandies once they arrive, they come with full instructions:

‘The typical serving size is 1–2 ounces, owing to the high alcohol content of the spirit…’

And:

‘Usually served as a digestif—a post-prandial alcoholic drink that aids digestion.’

Post-prandial is one of Hosmer’s big words, and I had to look it up, because I thought it meant ‘after the physical act of love with one’s Parisian mistress with whom one has had a tête-à-tête being that it is five o’clock’, and yet I assumed that even a randy ex-priest, who must answer to a Board of Directors, would not link his new brandy to such illicit pleasures of the flesh.

And in fact, it turns out that ‘post-prandial’ actually means ‘after dinner’, and fittingly, Wiktionary offers as an example: ‘A post-prandial brandy’.

But iconoclasts may take heart.  After extensive sampling through all the hours day and night that the good Lord sends us, I have concluded that the entire Chantal line-up—grape wine, fruit wine, sparkling fruit wine, booze, wine and booze mixed together—(can beer be far behind?)—work equally well as pre-prandial ingurgitatables.

‘Ingurgitatable’ is a big word that you may indeed borrow, Brian.

Meanwhile:

Enchantal!

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Entice, Cerise Noir, and Cerise are available for shipping within Michigan and select states at http://store.chateauchantal.com/.

Posted in BRANDY, TEXAS, Uncategorized, URUGUAY | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wine Is For Rich People

Ever heard the old expression ‘Put your money where your mouth is’?  Apparently—according to Sotheby’s auction house—this does not refer to forty-ouncers of King Cobra.

Wine writers tend to talk in some pretty tight aphorisms too:

‘Wine should be accessible to people as an everyday beverage,’ ‘Wine should not be intimidating to ordinary folks,’ and ‘Expensive wine is not necessarily better than inexpensive wine…’

Yet in our hearts, our minds—in our very swill-sopped souls—we all know what a load of crap that is.

Let me put it another way.  Nobody likes to be laughed at, right?  It’s human nature.  So consider this:

  • Redneck jokes are funny.  Hereditary fortune jokes are not.
  • Guzzling Colt 45 on a ghetto porch step is funny.  Sipping 2005 Domaine Leroy Chambertin in a Bloomfield Hills dining room is not.
  • Getting shitfaced on green beer on St. Patrick’s Day is funny.  Getting slightly tipsy on Patricia Green Pinot Noir on Christmas Eve is not.
  • At a restaurant, a beer steward is funny.  A wine steward is not.

I could go on, but let me change tack.  When was the last time you heard of anyone spending twenty thousand dollars installing a beer cellar?  Why do you suppose there’s a Hospice de Beaune, a Hospice du Rhône, but no Hospice du Milwaukee?  The number one beverage during the Revolutionary War was ale, and yet Jefferson is known for what kind of collection?

If I was to break with journalistic tradition and personal precedent and tell the truth, I’d have to say something that we all secretly understand:

Wine is for rich people.

Bernie and Mikey, sittin’ in a tree…

This is not a bad thing—America likes rich people.  Michael Moore makes movies about hating them for the sole purpose of becoming one.  What percentage of the American workforce seriously believes they’re overpaid?  And who can revile Bernie Madoff without harboring a private little ‘Wow!  You certainly ‘made off’, dude!!’?

Take you, for example.  Do you fantasize about owning a Lamborghini or a K Car?  A Ducati or a moped?  Do you show off your Mont Blanc or your Bic?  Your Rolex or your Timex?

Stop feigning humility already.

Workaday Willie

And don’t get me wrong—wine writers are among the worst offenders.  We pretend to be proletariat non-snobs, but of course, if we really wanted wine to become the sort of plebian plonk that the average wanker drinks in Europe, we’d also have to admit that Workaday Willie in Waukesha, Wisconsin couldn’t care less about all the esoteric enological knowledge we’ve spend years absorbing and millions of words expounding upon.

You know who likes that kind of stuff?  Rich people, that’s who.  Being able to rattle off the six allowable red wine grapes of Bordeaux or the ten Crus of Beaujolais does Willie scant good during Happy Hour, and may in fact get him beat up.  But for rich people at the tony country club or some Ivy League benefit dinner, this shit is golden.  Not only does it allow a rich person to feel even more swank and superior, it actually allows him or her to make informed decisions as they drop tens of thousands of dollars at wine auctions.

I will be sued for using this picture and Sotheby’s will get even richer

Which brings us around, full-circle, to Sotheby’s.

In 2011, Sotheby’s wine auctions brought in $85.5 million dollars, the second highest total in the company’s forty-one years of hooch hawkery.

Said Serena Sutcliffe MW (Mistress of Wine) and Worldwide Head of Wine at Sotheby’s:  “This is a great worldwide result, and for London sales, the highest total ever achieved since the start of the department in 1970. We had some tremendous single owner collections in London and Hong Kong and we continue to find remarkable collections with perfect provenance.”

If somebody has the wherewithal to drop me a quick email and explain what ‘perfect provenance’ is, I’d appreciate it; it might help me find placement for the collection of empty 211 Steel Reserve cans in the trunk of my K Car.

Meanwhile, among the ‘remarkable collections’ auctioned off in Hong Kong was the Andrew Lloyd Webber Wine Collection, fetching $5.6 million—which should buy an awful lot of cat chow.  A two-day April sale of The Ultimate Cellar brought in more than $12 million, while a single bottle (albeit a big one) of Château Cheval Blanc 1995 sold for $45 k.  The lucky bidder was an unnamed private collector from South America, who will presumably cellar the wine in the vicinity of the dead bodies that I guarantee he’s got stashed down there.

Serena Sutcliffe, Masterette of Wine

Incidentally, beside the 13 Sotheby auctions held in London in 2011, and the six in Hong Kong, there were also four held in New York.  Repeated and harassing phone calls to Ms. Sutcliffe went unanswered, but private research has revealed that Sotheby auctioneers pretty much ignored the site-potential of Waukesha.

Sutcliffe may or may not be a rich person, but she certainly understands the ultimate truth behind the ultimate beverage or else she wouldn’t keep bragging about the figures she gives above.  Somebody somewhere is keeping precise tabs on sales of Piggly Wiggly shelf stuffers, but not our friends at Sotheby.  They don’t have to: They’re rich people.

If, in the end, there’s any consolation for us poor schmucks trying to schlepp our way through our daily schtick, it requires that we keep in mind another timeworn adage:

The rich may be different, but they’re still drunks.

P.S.: Two Buck Chuck is funny.  Two Thousand Buck Château d’Yquem is not.

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Christmas Wines: Walking In A Vintner Wonderland

On a clear day, you can almost see Windsor

Every year for the last decade or so I’ve struggled to come up with a unique and innovative approach to Christmas wines.  I’ve perpended, puzzled and pondered. And after countless sleepless nights, endless brainstorming sessions with Jack (Daniels) and Jim (Beam) and long walks along the incomparably beautiful banks of the Detroit River, I’ve invariably reached a eureka moment:

Fuck it.

This exquisite salt mine carving has nothing to do with Detroit. It's in Poland.

Christmas is about tradition, memories and consistency, right?  So like every other year, I will resist the temptation to do what everybody else does—i.e., The 12 Wines of Christmas, Wines With Reindeer On The Label, Hot Mulled Wine Recipes, Wines of the North Pole, yadda yadda, and simply make a list—which I will check twice—of some savory and serendipitous swig suggestions for this Holiday Weekend—any and all of which you can take with a grain of salt from the incomparably beautiful mines below Delray.

To start with, aren’t there some Christmas colors again?  Oh yeah.

RED

The Ghosn brothers

Massaya Gold Reserve, Bekaa Valley (Lebanon), 2007, around $35: Produced by the Ghosn brothers, Pixie and Dixie—actually, it’s Sami and Ramzi—this bountiful blend of cabernet sauvignon, mourvedre and syrah is massive and chewy with characteristic spice notes, dried thyme and new-oak vanilla behind smoky blackberry, kirsch and a striking, very Baby Jesus-like scent of frankincense.  Besides, you would seriously make it through the season and not drink a wine called ‘Massaya’?

The château's last hurrah

Clos Saint-Jean Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vieilles Vignes, 2009, around $40:  In 1308, Pope Clemens V decided to relocate the papacy to Avignon, and the château he built became known as ‘the Pope’s new mansion’, or, ‘Châteauneuf du Pape’.  Today, about as much remains of the castle as does of Clemens himself, but the legacy that he—and subsequent Avignon Popes—passed to us as Côtes du Rhône is alive and kicking.  The most famous CdR, fittingly, is Châteauneuf-du-Pape; a rich, potent, ineffably complex thing—quite Popish, in fact. Clos Saint-Jean’s 2009 version is young but brimming with potential.  It boasts all the appellation hallmarks, including satiny smoke, pomegranate, cedar, strawberry, licorice and leather—and, of course, like any good CdP, especially one for Christmas, it smells like a manger.

Golan Heights Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Galilee, 2005, about $30:  Credited with kick-starting the recent quality revolution among Israeli wines, Golan Heights Winery is built on the site of an ancient agricultural village that has been producing wine grapes since the 1st Century CE.  Man from Galilee approved, the ’05 cabernet is vibrant violet in color and filled with complex aromas of black currant suffused with truffle, chocolate, pipe tobacco and toasted walnut.

'You know I don't like that dry stuff, honey. Can you make me a little white zinfandel?'

Tamayo Family Vineyards, Cana Proprietary Estate Blend, Contra Costa County, 2007, about $30:  Cana, of course, was the site of the wedding at which Jesus inaugurated His Heavenly hocus-pocus—water into wine.  Vintners, many of whom believe that they are God, have been attempting to duplicate the feat ever since, but most have found that they need to start with grapes.  This particular blend—petite sirah, syrah, mourvedre, malbec, carignane, alicante bouschet, tinta cao and viognier—displays gorgeous girth and richness, with ripe red fruit (notably, raspberry and Bing cherry), white chocolate, cassis, graphite and light tea notes.  The tannins are big, but integrated, and the wine requires only modest cellaring to fully unwind.

GREEN

Taylors St. Andrews, Riesling, Clare Valley, 2010, around $30:  How green is this Aussie ?  They claim to be the only winery in the world to make a 100% carbon-neutral wine based on lifecycle management beginning in the vineyard before harvesting and ending with consumption, disposal and recycling of the finished packaging.  So, if you care about that sort of thing, here’s your riesling.  It’s a pretty wine, too, filled with pine, apple and citrus notes.  Plenty of slate in the mid-palate with apricot on the finish.

Portal do Fidalgo Alvarinho, Vinho Verde (Portugal), 2009, about $20:  Vinho Verde, meaning ‘green wine’, is an acknowledgment of a wine’s youth, not its color, since these wines can be red, white or pink.  This one is lovely, light and lyrical, with a slight spritz.  Much as I’d like to go on describing this delicious wine, I cannot compete with the Do Not Pass Go, direct-to-English translation on the web site, which I give verbatim:

‘Limpid aspect, citrine-colored, neat aroma, suave taste, full-bodied, persistent at the end, typicity of the Alvarinho cast.’

And how to store?

‘The storing should not be done in places where there is sun exposition, or under a roof of easy warmness.’

Could not agree more.

Threefold vines.

Threefold Vineyards Wassail, Garden Peninsula (Michigan):  It isn’t easy being green, especially when you’re a winemaker relying on the Upper Peninsula’s lone production vineyard for your raw product.  My man Andy Green and his wife Janice eke what they can out of land that, even for the U.P., sucks—shallow (mere inches) of soil over fragmented limestone.  Yet, with the pluck and persistence of pilgrims, they manage.  Their wassail—a Christmas blend of wine, cider, spices and sugar—actually took a silver medal at the 2008 Florida State Fair Wine and Grape Juice Competition; a huge accomplishment.  They don’t make much wassail, and I’m not even sure if there’s any left.  So why bring it up?  Because, damn it, these folks—pioneering wine techniques as diligently as the first California missionaries—deserve to be brought up.

Patricia Green Cellars, Four Winds Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2008, around $36: Oregon has risen to the forefront of American pinot noir territory (specifically in Willamette Valley), and I want no guff from Carneros, Russian River or Santa Cruz Mountains, either.  Patty Green opened shop in 2000 along with Jim Anderson and has gradually but unwaveringly become synonymous with superb pinot noir.  This one is among the top vintages ever, and is juicy with sweet candied cherries, cedar, clove and raspberry all bundled in an elegant and supple and silky-textured package.  All you need is a bow, and under ol’ tennenbaum a bottle could go.

*

Whether you pull out the stops and roast a boar’s head or rely upon Uncle Weezer’s sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, the multiple flavors that enliven most Christmas feasts make an across-the-board wine choice that covers all bases nearly impossible to find.

Still, the venerable saying ‘Drink what you like’ is advice with which I totally disagree.

Drink what I like.  Otherwise, I’m sort of wasting my time with this column, aren’t I?

Two or three from the above list should walk you through most courses, including Aunt Gwembeshe’s green bean and canned fried onion casserole.

Anyway, they’re just suggestions and if you don’t like them, feel free to throw them into the polluted, if spiritually regenerative waters of the Detroit River.

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Michigan vs. Ohio: No Contest, Or ‘Michigan By A Nose’?

‘Thou shalt not cover thy neighbor’s wine’ is a Commandment that is often transcribed incorrectly using ‘covet’ and ‘wife’, but it doesn’t matter, because Commandment-breaking is the journalistic cornerstone upon which this column has established preeminence in the American Academia of letters.

'Go, Blue'

Likewise, and nearly as prominent, is ‘The Game’.

Why somebody from Toad Suck, Arkansas (35° 4′ 32″ N, 92° 33′ 36″ W) really cares who wins the 2011 U of M/ Ohio State NCAA matchup, set for November 26, is a Sphinx-level mystery—especially considering that this year, all of the traditional pomp and circumcision will be a no-show:

Luke Fickell

1) The game will not determine the Big Ten Conference title, and the only way either of these teams will see Pasadena is on the TV screen-a.

2) There is no legitimate rivalry—nor will there ever be—between lame duck OSU coach Luke Fickell and newbie Michigan coach Brady ‘Les Miles Said No’ Hoke.  Hoke’s from Ohio, anyway, and Fickell is from Toad Lick, Arkansas, or somewhere like that.

3) Anyway, the clash, now in its 108th year, has had nearly all its polish tarnished.  As you’ll recall, the now identity-free, 6-5 Buckeyes vacated their entire 2010 season (including a 37-7 rout of Michigan) thanks to corrupt everybody, from Coach Jim ‘Call Me, Jerry Sandusky; Let’s Have A Drink Some Time’ Tressel to a gang of local, memorabilia-crazed tattooists.

Nonetheless, on Saturday, the regular season finale will be televised nationally by ABC and promises as always to be among the most watched broadcasts of the year.

Note that if you want to actually attend the game, and are willing to settle for the 70th row in an end zone, StubHub! has tickets available for $2,250.

Toad Lickers, Why?

'Drive, drive on down the field, Men of the Scarlet and Gray'

I’m from Michigan, so I care.  Not just because U of M tends to produce luminaries like Nobel Laureate Stanley Cohen, rocket scientist Claudia Alexander and King Fahd University for Petroleum rector Khaled S. Al-Sultan, while those OSU alumni who have not yet traded their sisters for Justin Timberlake tattoos include Gamblers Anonymous candidate Mike Sexton and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

And not because of any  lingering resentment over those south-of-the-border troglodytes who dared challenge us during the War of 1835—unlike the South, I know how to get over a border dispute. Plus, as as a result of that near-nuclear conflict, Congress awarded Michigan the Upper Peninsula while Ohio wound up with Toledo.  Stop by that humid, industrial dump some time and tell me who won…

No, it’s because I dislike neighbors—including those frostback syrup schleppers from Windsor and that shmendrik three doors down whose friggin dog will not shut up—on principle.

If I was, in fact, a sports scribe instead of a plonk pundit, I would go on.

I’m not, so I’ll change the subject.

Ohio vs. Michigan Wine Clash 2011

Andrew Hall

Andrew Hall is a friend from Columbus who will doubtless become an enemy from Columbus after he reads this—even though I will state uncategorically and up front that despite his alma mater he is neither a home-wrecking gambler nor a mass murderer. He is, however, a cheerleader for the wines of the Midwest and he first organized a Ohio wine versus Michigan wine taste-off in 2008, intending it to be a yearly event roughly coinciding with ‘The Game’.

I think that it’s a dastardly clever notion, which is why I am delighted to be a part of it.

Unlike the football rivalry, which takes place either in The Horseshoe or The Big House depending on the NCAA schedule, Hall takes his clash to both Ann Arbor (Vinology) and Columbus (The Twisted Vine).  I was an A-squared judge, primarily because I do not trust non-macho Columbian sommeliers to keep my Michigan license-plated car from getting upended and set on fire.

The contest is patently unrigged, but it is a blind tasting, which sort of gives Michigan the edge because Ohio has no famous blind people and we have Stevie Wonder.  In any case, Hall insists that the competing wines be grown exclusively in their respective states and can show proven track records via wine reviews and other competitions. There are no industry or government sponsorships, and naturally, Hall is way too cheap to offer financial remuneration to us panel of accredited wine professionals willing to sacrifice an evening of wine-drinking to drive to Ann Arbor to drink wine.

Categories were pretty informal: Sparkling, white and red, with grape varietal less a concern than wine weight and flavor profile—an unusual approach.  Thus, Norton (a vitis aestivalis scion little known outside Missouri) and pinot noir went head-to-head; riesling faced grüner veltliner; and strangest of all, a sweet, sparkling chamborcin was pitted against a brut sparkler made mainly from vignoles.

My tasting notes are followed by the contest winners as determined by adding the scores of the vast Army of the North and those of the heavily-tattooed  Pee-Wee League of the South:

Ravenhurst Champagne Cellars Brut Noir, Ohio, NV: Fizzy and fruity if somewhat facile, this red sparkler threw me when I tried to identify the varietal.  With heady notes of violets, brambly blackberry and a bit of mocha, I might have said zinfandel but for a slight—and pleasant—foxiness. But chambourcin it was.

L. Mawby Talismon, Leelanau Peninsula, NV:  Even though I recognized Larry Mawby’s signature yeasty-dry méthode champenoise, I still would have given Talismon the nod in this bubble-off.  Creamy, frothy, dry and delightful, the wine shows brioche, light melon and citrus and a quick crisp finish.

Kassel Advantage: Michigan

Team Advantage: Michigan

*

Black Star Farms Pinot Gris, Michigan, 2010:  I recognized this one, too, primarily because Lee Lutes’ pinot gris is so true to this varietal that it would be hard not to.  Luscious Bosc pear dominates the nose and character-laden palate, with green apple in the center and grapefruit on the finish.

Burnet Ridge Pinot Gris, Lake Erie (OH), 2010:  Pear is there, but the wine relies heavily on the grapefruit angle.  Gardenia and honey in the middle palate make for full flavors, along with melon and pineapple on the finish.

Kassel Advantage: Michigan

Team Advantage: Ohio

*

Debonné Vineyards Riesling Reserve Lot 907 2009 Grand River Valley (OH), 2009:  A lovely and easy-going riesling from Northeast Ohio, the wine is juicy with peach, apricot, honey and flint; it’s satiny cream and shivery crispiness are in balance, and the stone and fruit carry though to the end.

Chateau Grand Traverse ‘Laika’, Grüner Veltliner, Old Mission Peninsula (MI), 2009: Bonus points for giving this varietal a shot; grüner veltliner should be a natural grape for Northern Michigan, but wineries need to sell wine, and a lot of people don’t know from Austria.   Spicy and laden with grapefruit, the wine seems to fade fairly quickly (youth of vines?) but leaves a refreshing acidity behind.

Kassel Advantage: Ohio

Team Advantage: Ohio

*

Ferrante ‘Golden Bunches’ Riesling , Grand River Valley, (OH) 2010:  Striking gunflint notes on the nose with tangy, lime-soaked stones in the palate.  A spicy undertone throughout, but in general, the wine struck me as a bit thin.

Left Foot Charley Riesling, ‘Seventh Hill Farm,  2010 (Old Mission Peninsula (MI):  Dissention among the ranks!  I clearly picked up nose notes of gasoline (odd that this is a positive, but in a riesling it can be—and in this case, it was), but my esteemed colleague David Creighton picked these aromas so noticeably in the Ferrante (I didn’t) that I thought someone had done one of those shell-game scams on my wine glasses.  So I re-poured and stuck with my original opinion.  Wonderful wine; behind Gasoline Alley was candied lemons and a remarkable clarity of stone fruit flavors.

Kassel Advantage: Michigan

Team Advantage: Michigan

*

Not

Meranda-Nixon Norton, Ohio River Valley, 2010: Here’s an odd one: Nixon does Norton.  But it’s neither Richard Millhouse nor Ed, it’s Tina, wife of Seth Meranda, and a remarkable little berry that most folks have never heard of, despite its role as the only native American grape with sufficient natural sugar to make a decent table wine—and certainly the only one that Riedel makes a glass specifically for.  Norton’s gamut of gusto covers blueberries, huckleberries, black cherries, with some mint and coffee in the background.

Old Shore Vineyards Pinot Noir, ‘Tree Line’, Lake Michigan Shore (MI), 2010:  Michigan’s Krugerrand king Cornel Olivier teams up with David and Dannielle Maki to produce primarily pinot gris and pinot noir in the bucolic bailiwick of Buchanan.  The first bottle we opened was corked, so the contest was officially scratched—but the second bottle was splendid, opening up to reveal a rich and detailed personality ripe with kirsch, violets, crushed stone and spice.

Sudden Death Overtime Advantage: Michigan

*

The Capitulation

Let’s be adult about these results, shall we?  The ruling on the field stands.  We were unable to come up with a replica of the Appomattox Courthouse in which to accept Ohio’s unconditional surrender,  but we fully expect to be offered a fifteeen year occupation of Toledo—which as a health concern we will graciously decline.  We will, however, accept the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which really should be ours anyway.

According to Hall, Selection alone for this competition is recognition of merit.”

Which, dear boy, also holds true for wearing a football letter and will presumably be of some consolation to you when, on Saturday, we wipe the field with your Buckeyes.

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Planet Bordeaux: Bord In The U.S.A

Time was, the vignerons of Bordeaux thought that the wine world revolved around them.  Is this where Planet Bordeaux is coming from?

Granted, they are in the market to push the Département Gironde, and their splashy and convivial website (planet-bordeaux.com) maintains that its  raison d’être  is to help American consumers ‘interact with the wines and lifestyle that ‘make Bordeaux the world’s wine capital’.

Is Bordeaux, in fact, the world’s wine capital?  They certainly bear the weight of history along with the encumbrance of ego, but I can say that the title has been used at various times by Napa, Christchurch, Capetown, Florence and Mendoza.

So, just to make sure we are all singing from the same hymnal, let’s run down the pros and cons of Bordeaux:

Burgundy Brixx: Neither Premiere Cru nor sugar level

BORDEAUX PRO:

  • Bordeaux is France’s largest fine wine region in both production and vineyard acreage.
  • Bordeaux has more than 9,000 wine producers, 60% of whom make the wine on their own premises.
  • Bordeaux wine has been produced in the region since the 8th century and today, the wine economy is worth 14.5 billion euros every year.
  • Unlike Burgundy, the name ‘Bordeaux’ will never be associated with strippers, wallpaper color or cheap jug wine from the Central Valley.

Street scene, Bordeaux

 

BORDEAUX CON:

  • Bordeaux is literally overrun by French people.

 

 

Okay, so you decide.  Moi, I will move on to a topic closer to my liver: Planet Bordeaux’s mission to promote the region via accessibly priced selections from Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Supérieur.

Bordeaux

Both of these appellations cover the same geographical area (all of Bordeaux) and differ only in the age of production vines and requisite aging time prior to release, which even for Supérieur is less than a year after harvest.  Slightly less ‘base yield’ is permitted (50hl/ha compared to 55) at Supérieur harvest, and the wines themselves must have a minimum alcohol content of 10.5% (as opposed to 10% for basic Bordeaux Rouge).  Otherwise, there is not a massive amount of difference between Supérieur and inférieur; neither provides massive flash or structure, but both should be fruity, approachably acidic and only superficially influenced by oak.  They are not ageworthy, but should still possess true Bordeaux character—albeit in a Roloff-sized package.  (What true Bordeaux character means is a topic for  hours of debate, but essentially, you should expect an earthy wine with plum, blackberry, cedar and stone on the nose and palate.)

Approximately four times as much Bordeaux Rouge is made than Supérieur, and the total of both winds up as 55% of the entire output of Bordeaux—equating to a worldwide consumption rate of (this is not a typo) fourteen bottles per second.

Four of those bottles recently went down my gullet thanks to the kind folks at Balzac Communications, who inexplicably continue to send me samples despite the fact that I make fun of their name every time they do.   (I did promise to  stop once I hit puberty).

Anyway, these wines, ranging in price from $10 to $14, have a combined value of $47, and it begs the question: If Planet Bordeaux’s mission is to showcase the terroir of Bordeaux, thus gaining converts from around the world, would they be better off suggesting a single, excellent wine for $47 (for example, Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, Saint-Émilion 2008, rated 90 + by each of the ‘big three’, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Wine Advocate) rather than four middle-road, somewhat homogeneous value wines?

Maybe not.  One thing you would not gain from traveling the former route is an understanding of how vital vintage is in Bordeaux.  The four bottles I sampled came from three different harvests: 2007, 2008 and 2009;  all were drastically different:

2007 was a dull, drizzly season in Bordeaux, with a condition known as ‘shatter’ or coulure affecting the flowering.  Spring was followed by an equally dismal summer, and a rainy August so affected futures that many high-ticket speculators didn’t even bother to attend the en primeur barrel tastings.  Top estates produced fair, early-drinking wines without a lot of ‘wow, but the broader AOCs were thin, green and herbaceous—likely the worst vintage since ’98.

2008 started off on a downhill note; like ’07, the Spring was cool and damp, but in July, it brightened up considerably.  More rain in August had vintners holding their breaths, then sniffing for mildew, but the vintage was saved by a prolonged heat wave in September.  The wines, for the most part, wound up ripe, perfumed and complex.

Initially, 2009 was almost universally considered to be a stellar vintage; possibly the best in decades.  Prices rose accordingly.  Not all are aging quite as predicted, but clearly, this would be a vintage with which to stock up if you could afford to.  The best, from top estates, were beautifully balanced and integrated with tannin, fruit and acidity; the worst were a bit dilute, but still lovely.

Tasting Notes:

Château Majoureau Hyppos, Bordeaux Supérieur Rouge, 2008, about $10:  At 14 bottles a second, the world would consume the entire output of this petit château within about twenty minutes.  The hundred acres are planted to all the classic Bordeaux varietals, white and red.   Hyppos is primarily merlot spiced up with 30% cab franc, the wine shows a bright, meaty side that’s touched with bell pepper, graphite, clay and tobacco leaf. You feed the hungry, hungry Hyppos and I’ll save this for the thirsty, thirsty ones.

Château de Lugagnac

Château de Lugagnac, Bordeaux Rouge, 2008, around $10: A beauteous bargain basement Bordeaux, structured and fleshy.  Nose notes include with currant, plum and pipe tobacco;  the tongue tang is ripe and fruity and the finish longer than you have any right to expect at the price point.  The delight’s in the detail, of course— de Lugagnac sits on an ancient shelf of iron and chalk from which it picks up many subtle flavor nuances.

Maison Sichel Sirius, Bordeaux Supérieur Rouge, 2009, about $13:  The forty fingerprints that are all over this luscious red belong to Allen, James, David and Benjamine, the Sichel brothers who produce it.  Although their printed hype refers to its namesake, Sirius, as ‘the brightest star in the solar system’, I will leave it to you poindexter types to explain to the brothers what’s wrong with that picture—me, I’ll sit down to another glass of this impressively endowed, concentrated wine, whose terroir—centered on the clay-limestone soils of the Garonne river bank—lend notes of smoke, cassis, mocha and slate.  Still a bit closed, but drinkable.

Château d’Argadens, Bordeaux Supérieur Rouge, 2007, around $14: The priciest wine of the quartet comes from the most challenged vintage; perhaps due to the Sichel name associated with it.  In fact, the property fared better than most of its brethren as it sits upon one of the highest hills in the Entre-Deux-Mers between the Garonne and Dordogne, and the soils are well-drained and nicely exposed to the sun.  The fruit has begun to fade already; what’s left is black cherry and cranberry; it’s been replaced with leather and light hints of chocolate and coffee.  Since ‘drink yesterday’ doesn’t fly in this particular continuum, let’s call it a ‘tonighter’.

Posted in Bordeaux, Cab/Merlot, FRANCE | Tagged , , | 1 Comment