Posts tagged Bordeaux

How to use Your Holiday Gift Card: Two Great Accessories for Wine Travel

If you’re taking a special bottle of wine to an event this year, you might want to invest in a VinniBag to carry it in your luggage. It’s inflatable and Made in USA!
With this accessory in my wheeled bag, I successfully toted wine on and off Amtrak and around New York City for the day, before arriving at my destination. (Yes, it’s a good idea NOT to juggle wine around very much, but in my case it wasn’t a priceless Bordeaux or Burgundy.)
COST: Around $25 each.
PRO: Cradled wine bottle well and did not leak; great for a really special bottle of wine
CON: Rather large thing to fit into a suitcase

Wineskin is a re-sealable bubble-pack made of durable plastic, and it comes in several colors too. If you’re traveling to a wine region where you just might bring back a bottle or two, tuck a couple Wineskins into your suitcase before you leave. It’s a safer alternative to wrapping a bottle in your dirty laundry on the way back. And it’s smaller and lighter – more of a “just in case” option.
COST: Around $10 for a 2-pack.
PRO: Thin enough to carry with you on just about any trip, and it’s recyclable
CON: Wish it was resealable – and not made in China

Champagnes of Barons de Rothschild arrive lightly in Boston

Have to admit I have been curious about the new Barons de Rothschild Champagnes for the last few months. They’re being rolled out like a (slow-motion) feature film release: first in 2 locations in NY and LA, and now into secondary markets. Don’t you hate to be called that? But that’s what we are, here in Boston.

A Rothschild did come to introduce the champagnes: Philippe. This charming 40-something has a longer name but I won’t go into that here. The other important thing to know about him is he went to grad school here – HBS, of course. And he did invite a bunch of us to lunch with him at another high-toned Boston location– L’Espalier – where we nibbled light dishes with the Champagnes at lunch this week.

For the past few years, Philippe has been heading the Barons de Rothschild champagne venture, a rare innovation that aligns three branches of the family together in business.
The family’s expansion from Bordeaux into Champagne has been undertaken with care: choosing an experienced winemaker, courting suppliers, stockpiling years of vintages for blending – and for possible future single vintage release. At the moment, there are three non-vintage champagnes in current release.

The champagnes themselves had a light complexity that could feel understated if you weren’t paying attention. When I tasted them, they had been traveling on and off for a few weeks, and the NV Rosé was least accessible; its most impressive feature was its surprisingly deep apricot color.
The Brut NV had apricot, rich plum, lemon and chalky minerality running through it in both scents and flavors.
And the NV Blanc de Blancs had a nice wafting of chalk and minerals, somewhat bigger apple-y tasting flavors on the palate and fruit in the finish with a final dry bitterness, not sweetness; overall it was pretty light, and could easily be overwhelmed by hearty foods.
All three champagnes retail for around $100-$125.

Merlot: First taste of 2011 Bordeaux wines from the Right Bank

When I taste wines like this, I’m reminded why we all fell in love with Merlot. Years ago, that is. Before it got stupid, before it got flabby and boring. Bordeaux’s Right Bank wines are the best examples of this.
Without getting into detailed tasting notes, I can say that these wines are consistent: tasting the wines now and those from a few years ago shows once again that these chateaux are true to their own styles, whether it’s a blockbuster vintage or not.
Circumventing the big show of barrel tastings in April, this month some of Bordeaux’s Right Bank wineries came to New York with their new and recent vintage wines. Held at the French Consulate, it was a big draw: a club-like line to enter, in mid-afternoon on a weekday – and that was just for the media.
Last year I went to the rigorous, day-long Cercle Rive Droite tasting in Bordeaux. This year my tasting in NYC was a little more relaxed, with only a few dozen participants on hand. As you might already know, 2011 was a difficult year, and I was curious to see what the wines were like. Or rather, what they seemed like they would be like in the future.
Fortunately, the chateaux owners had also brought some recent vintages to taste the barrel samples against. What I found was remarkable consistency. A 2011 barrel sample tasted next to 2008 of the same wine was heading in the same direction, with similar fruit, spice and other characteristics. The winemakers had pulled it off; no need to fear the 2011s.

Merlots at any price — really?

For some time, whenever anyone asks me for a really good Merlot recommendation, I’ve been saying “Bordeaux.” Too often, US Merlot wines are lacking…well… almost everything except fruitiness. I want a Merlot that tastes like well-made wine. That IS a well-made wine. And you have to go way up in price if you want to get that in the US. This week I opened a few different Merlots, and I started with the two lower-priced wines: both nicely crafted and both, surprisingly, $20 or under.
The first two were Bordeaux Supérieur wines. 2009 Chateau Timberlay: buttery, cheery, bright fruit aroma, with lightish tannins. Medium-light body up front but a more solid finish. The flavors deepened with food; great with a plain hamburger.
The 2009 Chateau de Bel “La Capitaine” was finely restrained in both its aroma and flavors. Mild dark cherry, cassis and some leather, backed by very nice tannins. Hamburger or steak would be great here.
Twomey’s 2007 Napa Valley Merlot is a prime example of a US Merlot I would recommend. Across between red and black fruits, nicely integrated tannins. Moderate finish with a hint of cinnamon in its wood notes. Needs to accompany a little more complicated dish than plain meat; a beef stew flavored with onions, carrots and wine does the job nicely. Price? You have to go up; this one averages about $45.
Moving on to a less common American wine, I found a lot more fruit. I had pulled out a 2004 Dr. Konstantin Frank Merlot from the Finger Lakes, and found it bursting with fruit, pleasant and easy-drinking; quite a nice accomplishment in a Merlot from this area. And when I just looked up the price, it seems to go for only around $16 — fun if you can find it.

Bordeaux Soup, Part IV — Along the Dordogne River, on the Arcachon Bay, and Through the Vineyards

Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur vineyards also line the wide Dordogne River. There, several new families have taken up residence and are re-working the traditional vineyards according to the new AOCs’ specs. Near a traditional river fishing-hut with its winched-up net, Frederic Mallier is also going organic at Château de la Vielle Chapelle. Despite the frost, hail and other problems during the 2007 season, he has produced an extremely nice “everyday Bordeaux” with 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc which was my favorite in the tasting.
Also along the river are Dominique Meneret’s park-like gardens, golden at the end of the day, next to his vineyards. Since he acquired Château Brondeau in 1980 and Château Courteillac in 1998, he has been working to make a “cashmere wine,” smooth and elegant. Many of his wines have the feel of a Cru Classé; the 2009, still in barrel, was extremely promising, too.
Next door, at Château de Bel, Olivier Cazenave has fulfilled his dream of establishing his young family in a small house with vineyards. When we arrived one evening, we found he had also invited friends from Chateau Belgarde and Chateau La Mothe-du Barry to come over with their wines for an informal dinner. This was preceded by a long Apéritif during the sunset on a deck over-looking the river, where we sipped everyone’s wines while waiting for the mascaret – an remarkable, twice-daily tidal bore that comes up the Dordogne 70 km from the sea during certain seasons. And impressive sight I had never heard of before; I learned that in warmer months when the wave is higher, people surf this wave all the way up the river.
We experienced true historical life at Stefaan Massart’s Château Vilatte, where he grows his own wheat and bakes bread in the 19th century oven he renovated. He took over the estate at 19, when his father died in the early 1980s. Stefaan’s friend brought over a buggy drawn by a spectacular draft horse, to take us on a tour of the vineyards. Back at the house, looking at his curious collection of historic winery machines, we enjoyed a traditional, regional stew Stefaan had been cooking all day. Even his wines tended toward the historic, meant for ageing, like his merlot-based 2000: big, fruity and vibrant and great to drink right now, ten years after it was made.
Xavier Milhade of Château Recougne chose a different mode of transportation: he took us out on a simple oyster barge on the bay at Arcachon (Bordeaux’s seaside getaway). Along with blue-eyed, curly-haired Jonathan, our pilot, we had our aperitif wine – sauvignon blanc with a good balance of crisp and fruity — on the boat. Afterward, we went back to Jonathan’s oyster shack and feasted on fresh seafood matched to Xavier’s wines.

To hear more about my travels through the region, listen to me on iwineradio
To learn more about the region, visit the Planet Bordeaux visitor center – it’s about 20 minutes east of the city of Bordeaux — or check out the Planete Bordeaux website

Bordeaux Soup, Part III – Castles, Gardens and Terraces

…More on great Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur wines, most $15-$25…
Out in the countryside, we visited the amazing, still-lived-in 16th century Château le Grand Verdus which has been owned by the Le Grix de la Salle family since 1820. (It is now a national historic monument.) There, earnest, boyish 32-year-old Tom (who has three kids of his own – but they were in school when we visited) works the vineyards in an organic style with his father. After WWII, Tom’s grandfather realized that traditional family farms weren’t going to work in the future, and retooled it to vineyards. Thirty years ago, he even sent his son (Tom’s father) to work with Robert Mondavi in California because, by the 1970s, Mondavi had created a wine business of out very little. Now, Tom is looking forward to buying an optical sorter for the grapes, to save time; this estate is a very large producer – 70,000 cases.
Seventeenth century-style gardens greeted us at 17th century Château Pierraill, where Alice and Jacques Demonchaux’s son Arelien is now winemaker. Some have new owners, like Per Landin at Château de Parenchere, a Dutch businessman with a longtime passion for the wines and the region of Bordeaux. Astutely, he retained beautiful, young Julia Gazaniol as his marketing manager when he purchased the property from her family a few years ago, as Julia’s father Jean was ready to downsize. Jean continues to consult, and we enjoyed both their 2000 and 2007 Cuvée Raphael reds with our lunch.
At Château Lamothe de Haux, a property that houses four generations, we had lunch outside on a terrace above 19th century limestone caves, carved out for stone buildings built in the city of Bordeaux. Our terrace was also overlooked by the windows of a bed-and-breakfast apartment, available to rent in the chateau.

To hear more about my travels through the region, listen to me on iwineradio
To learn more about the region, visit the Planet Bordeaux visitor center – it’s about 20 minutes east of the city of Bordeaux — or check out the Planete Bordeaux website