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More Bordeaux We like

 

 

CHATEAU GRAND-PUY-LACOSTE

This estate was well-regarded in the 1970s, producing a fairly typical, if slightly rustic Bordeaux.  

A few decades ago, ownership changed and it's been in the hands of the Borie family who own the prestigious Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou in Saint Julien.

These days Francois-Xavier Borie is at the helm and the wines from "G-P-L" are showing marvelously and are well worth a look.

We have fond memories of the 1970 vintage and the 1975 is still holding on decently...

The vineyard plantings on the estate had dipped to about half of capacity in the 1960s, but today they're back up to the full 55 hectare capacity.  About three-quarters of the vineyards are Cabernet Sauvignon, with 5% Cabernet Franc and the rest devoted to Merlot.

We have the 2006 in stock presently.  What a stylish bottle of wine, too!  (I'm referring to the contents, not the label or glass...)

We'd tasted this wine in its infancy and it was nice, but having had a few years in the bottle, it's developing beautifully.  There's plenty of dark or black fruit notes of the Cabernets, along with a wonderfully cedary bouquet and flavor.  Clearly this saw a hefty percentage of new oak in this vintage and the wine is magnificent.  

Tasting lots of high-priced California Cabernets recently, we keep thinking how good and how well-priced the G-P-L is...how we'd prefer to drink this instead of most of those, even though this is a youthful wine.  Another feature is its balance:  the wines they made in the late 1960s and early 1970s were lean, muscular tannic Bordeaux.  Today the tannins are a bit tame and the overall balance is such that drinking the wine in its youth is no longer a criminal offense.

We expect the 2006 to continue to develop over the next 5-10 years and it should hold up another 10 after that, well-stored.
 

Currently in stock:  2006 GRAND-PUY-LACOSTE Pauillac  (List $80)  Sold Out

 

 

 

 

 

CHATEAU BEYCHEVELLE
beychevelle.gif (5822 bytes)This is a major landmark right on the main highway through Bordeaux.  The name "Beychevelle" is said to be a corruption of the words "baisse voile" meaning "lower the sail."  That's because ships passing by (it's right on the water) were told to offer this "salute" to the owner of the property who was an admiral. Others say the name came about as boats were obliged to stop here to allow the taxing customs authorities to sniff around.  
 
The vineyards cover some 90 hectares, though the property is considerably bigger.  The plantings include 60% Cabernet-Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 8% Cabernet-Franc and 4% Petit Verdot.   The owners today include the Japanese drinks group Suntory.  
 
They seem to have set the property on the right course.

We have a few bottles, too, of their 2006.  I found this to be one of the more showy wines of the vintage.  It's got nice Cabernet aromas and a whiff of wood.  The balance is good, so it's drinkable now and should age nicely for a decade, or so.  The price is reasonable, too.

Currently in stock: 
1988 Chateau Beychevelle 750ml  SALE $159.99
2009 Château Beychevelle SALE $109.99






CHATEAU PICHON LONGUEVILLE COMTESSE de LALANDE
pichonlalande.gif (10983 bytes)This wine is known to the trade and consumers alike as "Chateau Pichon Lalande."   The estate across the street is known as "Chateau Pichon Baron."
As Pichon Lalande has, for at least a quarter of a century, been making the superior wine, it is almost always the higher-priced Bordeaux. 
Their neighbors have been beating the drums to call their wine "Chateau Pichon Longueville" (which is more correct), even though they are probably aware this will confuse the consumer. 
Pichon Lalande was run for many years by Madame May-Eliane de Lencquesaing.  Her husband was a General in the French army.  He passed away a few years ago and today she is known as "La Generale." 
She'd run Pichon Lalande since 1978.  The property has been  in her family since the 1920s, having been bought by her father and uncle.  A dynamic person, she's not a spring chicken anymore, yet she is still full of energy!  But none of her younger relatives were interested in running a winery, so the place was sold to the Roederer Champagne people.  This should be a good continuation for this winery.
 
 
*********************

I drove May-Eliane to a party in Napa some years ago.   Many top Napa vintners were in attendance for this wing-ding.  The Duckhorns, The Brounsteins, Bob Long and others I can no longer remember...

I was curious to know how she viewed "New World" wines and was impressed to discover she is not at all chauvinistic about Cabernet Sauvignon.  There are, certainly, many old world winemakers who believe that they have some exclusivity on making the wines they produce.  Not this gal! 

I expected she might say something like New World wines are "alright, but the best Cabernet-based wines in the world are Bordeaux." 
Nope.
She said "If people plant the right grapes in the proper conditions, they have the potential to make great wines."  And we were speaking about Napa, Washington, Australia and South America. 

She was certainly familiar with the top Napa estates, having great respect for the Napa Valley elite in that era...

If you taste Pichon-Lalande wines, you'll notice they're marked by a plump, ripe fruit character.  The wines have a silky, supple quality, even in their youth. 

Even in a poor vintage such as 1980 Pichon Lalande turned out a very good bottle of wine (and it was really cheap way back when!).  Madame de Lencquesaing embarked on a major improvement program after taking over.  This covers the vineyards, the aging cellar and bottling facility. 

I hosted her for dinner one evening, along with some Italian winemakers.  May-Eliane told an incredible story of a disgruntled staffer.  He, apparently, didn't like working for her (for one reason or another....maybe that's why she's known as "La Generale") and sabotaged some tanks of a modest vintage.  He then called the authorities to turn her in for having adulterated wines!  The story was of tremendous intrigue, even including hidden listening devices and "bugging" equipment!  

Pichon is always a favorite wine for us.  We've had the good fortune to taste many older vintages.  Former Weimax staffer, the late Robert Gorman hosted a fabulous dinner for Gourmet Magazine wine writer Gerald Asher and opened a 1934 Pichon Lalande.  This was a very memorable bottle and a superb dinner, too. 

Given her mania for high quality, it is not a big surprise to learn that the European Grand Jury tasting found Pichon-Lalande to be the top wine in a field including Ducru-Beaucaillou, Mouton Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Léoville Las Cases, Margaux and Joseph Phelps of Napa.  A handful of Italian wines were also included, but Bordeaux ruled the roost and Pichon Lalande was voted "Number One."   Even though Pichon Lalande is "only" classified a Second Growth, you'll still have to dig deep and pony up a pretty penny to buy Madame de Lencquesaing's wine.   I suppose at less than half the price of First Growths, it's comparatively a bargain.   It still costs a small fortune, though. 

The 1989 is a fabulous bottle of wine!  It displays the blackcurrant fruit of Cabernet, along with the underlying cedary notes and a sweet, plummy sort of note, too.   Though now eleven years old, this is still a youthful and delicious red wine.   It ought to continue to develop for another ten years, maybe more.

The 1975 is a fine bottle, on a plateau, at this point.  We drank one in May, 2002 at L'Amie Donia in Palo Alto, a restaurant which closed its doors, sadly.

The wine had the fragrance of mature Cabernet Sauvignon, a hint of a cedar cabinet sort of note.  On the palate it's dry, smooth and refined.  Elegant, even.  It's about the last "old style" vintage in Bordeaux.  The wines today are a bit more plump and ripe.  It's labeled "Vin de Pichon."  May-Eliane wrote to me saying this was a fashionable way of labeling the wine, in the manner of Léoville-Las Cases, whose wine is "Grand Vin de Léoville."  She was thinking of going back to labeling her future vintages in the same manner.  I hope I dissuaded her.

Well, some years ago, since her relatives were not interested in running the estate, she sold the estate to the Rouzaud family, who have proven themselves quite capable of making Bordeaux at their St. Estèphe property called Chateau de Pez.  The family also owns a little Champagne house of modest repute, Louis Roederer.  This means Pichon Lalande is in good hands.

The recent vintages seem to be a tad more supple and round, perhaps "plush" on the palate.  The estate does have a fair planting of Merlot and so they can make a wine which is reasonably harmonious in its youth.
Currently in stock:  
1996 Pichon Lalande Sold Out




CHATEAU COS D'ESTOURNEL
cosdestournel.gif (14575 bytes)The Prats family had long been associated with this wonderful St. Estèphe property which is located just north of the Pauillac border.   If you're ever in the Medoc, do make a point of seeing the unusual pagoda-styled architecture of Cos d'Estournel.  This seems to have originated when the owner of the property, Louis Gaspard d'Estournel, was engaged in horse-trading in the Far East.   His shipments of horses were frequently accompanied by bottles of his wine.   He brought his wine along on one voyage and didn't find a buyer for it.  What he did find, however, is that the very fine wine had transformed, due to this vibration and heat of the ocean voyage, to perfection.  Those who tasted the wine were amazed to discover that Cos d'Estournel was, indeed, a wine rivaling the best of Bordeaux.   Having been involved in commerce with the Far East, d'Estournel renovated his cellars and incorporated oriental arches and three Chinese-styled pagodas. 

In 1917 the property came into the hands of Fernand Ginestet, of a famous Bordeaux wine family.   Ginestet's daughter married into the Prats family, who were involved in the vermouth business in Ste (these people originated the French aperitif called Saint-Raphael, by the way). 

In 1998, Cos was sold again, to the Merlaut family, of the Taillan Group.  Two years later it was acquired by industrialist Michel Reybier (who had a bid in to buy Napa's Chateau Montelena, but when the dollar gained a bit of strength, he withdrew his offer, apparently).

The proper pronunciation of the wine is "koss d'Estournel", though many call it "koh d'estournel."  Keep that in mind, especially when you're in France and ordering a bottle of Cos.
One impressive item about the winemaking team at Cos d'Estournel: they seem to actually be in tune with each and every vintage.  Not that this is a revelation, exactly.   But some of their neighbors are wed to the idea of using the exact same percentage of new oak for each and every wine they make.  
 
Cos, for example, changes this number according to the wine they're working with.  Much like a good chef tastes what is being prepared and adds salt only when necessary.  In 1987, a "small" vintage, they used but one-third new barrels.  In 1985, a riper, bigger vintage, Cos d'Estournel was matured entirely in new wood.  In 1995, a particular favorite of mine, they used 65% new wood, saying that number allowed the fruit to really shine.   And how!  The 1995 will probably age quite handsomely, given the intense cassis-like fruit, for another 10-20 years!  

We have the 2004 in stock...very nice and elegant, a classic Bordeaux with good cellaring potential.

Currently in stock: 
1985 COS D'ESTOURNEL  Sale $219.99
1988 COS D'ESTOURNEL  Sale $179.99
1989 COS D'ESTOURNEL  Sale $199.99
2004 COS D'ESTOURNEL  Sale $119.99











CHÂTEAU MARGAUX

Well before Americans had Robert Parker telling them what to drink, there was an early U.S. enophile named Thomas Jefferson.  "TJ" as he was known to his friends, was instrumental in writing a little document called the "Declaration of Independence."

Jefferson, it's clear, knew a good wine when he tasted one and his preferences in various French wines show him to have been a rather savvy buyer.  And Chateau Margaux was a favorite, especially with the 1784 vintage.  Don't ask me how many points The Wine Spectator gave to the vintage or Robert Parker gave to this wine out of barrel and then on the 12th time he tasted it out of bottle.

With a flock of various owners through the early 1900s, the estate came into the hands of the well-regarded Ginestet family, who took over the estate in 1949.  With the routine ups-and-downs of the wine industry, the Ginestets found themselves in dire financial straits and they did not have the resources to keep the wines of Chateau Margaux at the same elite level of quality as other First Growths.  And an American group of investors tried to buy the property, but the French government stepped in to say "no, merci!"   The property was cited as a French historic icon and could not be purchased by Americans!!

And in 1978 the property was sold to André Mentzelopoulos, a Greek-born fellow who'd come to France and bought a chain of grocery stores, those being "Felix Potin."  He had well more than a thousand of these shops around France, but sunk his money into the Margaux estate.  He vowed to not only restore it to its lofty level, but to make it the best of the First Growths.

We recall tasting the 1978 vintage when it was a young wine and damned if Mentzelopoulos didn't have a hell of a bottle of wine.  The 1979 was a great follow-up and Margaux was on its way, once again, to being viewed as an elite winery.

The winery remains in the hands of the Mentzelopoulos family and they're still producer exceptional wines.  

We currently have some bottles of their 2007...The wine offers a fairly woodsy, cedary bouquet and it's medium-full on the palate.  You'll find some dark cherry notes and a nice fragrance of the Cabernet Sauvignon (it accounts for 87% of the blend with 11% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc).  This is showy now and it can be set aside for another 15-20+ years, if you like.


In the 2005 vintage, Margaux had far too much Merlot of "First Growth" quality and so much of this wine was declassified into the Pavillon Rouge wine.  This is equal proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with something like 4% of Petit Verdot in this wine.  When we first tasted this, it was clearly apparent that this was no ordinary "declassified" wine of second class.  It is, in fact, superior to most estate's first wine.  
Pavillon Rouge, further, is approachable earlier than the Chateau Margaux wine and even Chateau Margaux tends to be more supple and drinkable in its youth than most of the other top Bordeaux.
We like the woodsy, smoky notes of this 2005.  It is gorgeous now and has been, when we've served it, a conversation stopper.


There is a small parcel of Sauvignon Blanc under vine at Margaux, but as this somewhat noble wine is not covered by the French appellation laws (there is no white wine permitted to be labeled as "Margaux"), it takes the lowly "Bordeaux" designation.
Yes...that's right...there are little estates east of Bordeaux who make ten buck white wines which take the "Bordeaux" appellation and here's a wine from one of France's most prestigious estates and, it too, takes merely the Bordeaux name.

We have the 2006 Pavillon Blanc in stock currently...they experienced a bad frost (not that there's ever a good frost) in the Spring and this reduced the crop level by half.  The remaining grapes actually achieved a remarkable level of maturity and they made a full-throttle wine in 2006.  There's a nicely herbal Sauvignon character and some power on the palate.  Simple seafood preparations work nicely with this rare wine (they make a relatively small quantity compared to the reds).

 

Currently in stock:  2005 PAVILLON ROUGE du CHATEAU MARGAUX Sold Out
2007 CHATEAU MARGAUX Sale $699.99
2006 PAVILLON BLANC du CHATEAU MARGAUX SALE $199.99

 

 

CHÂTEAU CANTENAC BROWN

This estate is rarely on any expert's list of the elite in the Medoc and we've usually found the wines to be well-made and perfectly nice.   It's simply that other wines are often more compelling.

The property is situated in Margaux and it's one of the most striking buildings you will see in Bordeaux.  The drawing on the label doesn't quite do it justice.

The property was in various hands from the late 1800s until 1968 when some people embarked on a renovation project.  They sold the estate to the AXA insurance people who had invested in Pichon Baron, Suduiraut and Quinta do Noval and Cantenac Brown began its current ascent.  Curiously, though, AXA bailed out in 2006, selling the chateau to a Syrian-born fellow named Simon Halabi.  

Halabi was on Forbes' list of billionaires in 2007, ranking at #194.  But things seem to have gone south for this fellow and so who knows what the future holds for Cantenac Brown?  
A series of poor investments, from a fitness gym to real estate, have hit the skids and Mr. H has disappeared after the British courts declared him to be bankrupt.  The last known whereabouts of this fellow was Switzerland, as he's dropped out of sight!

What this holds for the domaine is unknown.

But in the meantime, a local importer had purchased some 1998 vintage Cantenac Brown and we bought a bottle under the guise of "research."

We were quite surprised, actually.

The nose is gorgeous and classically "Margaux," showing a mildly floral note with some dark berry fruit or plum-like flavors.  There's a very faint hint of wood.  It's medium-full on the palate and beautifully balanced.  This was showing beautifully now and it can probably be stashed, if you like, for another five to ten years.  The wine is supple on the palate and has blossomed handsomely.  

Currently in stock:  1998 CHATEAU CANTENAC BROWN  Sale Sold Out





CHÂTEAU MACQUIN

This little estate is owned by Denis & Christine Corre-Macquin and it's in one of the outlying areas from St. Emilion, a small appellation called Saint Georges-Saint Emilion.  This is about a three mile drive north and slightly east of downtown Saint-Emilion.

Today the estate covers some 30 hectares and it's planted primarily to Merlot, though the two Cabernets each account for three hectares.

The vineyards range in age from 15 years on the young end of the spectrum to 60 on the old.

The vineyards are actually machine-harvested and they've been using mechanical pickers for about 35 years now.  They have a crew at the cellar door where they run the grapes over a sorting table and cull out anything that's not quite right.

After the primary fermentation, the wine is put into large oak cooperage for a while before they transfer it to small oak barriques.  We understand they replace about one-third of these barrels annually, but the wine is not especially oaky.  

We do like a measure of oak in Bordeaux wines.  Heck, we appreciate salt and pepper on a steak, too.  But it's to the credit of the folks farming the vineyards that a wine matured in roughly 33% new barrels seems to 'soak up' the wood.  

We currently have the 2012 vintage.  It's the second or third year we've had of this wine.  It's a solid example of Merlot-based Bordeaux and it has the words "Saint" and "Emilion" on the label.  Most customers have no clue that it's from the Saint-Georges Saint-Emilion sub-region.  

The nice thing, though, is it costs just $19.99 and customers who've tried a bottle seem to come back and get a second bottle.  

It's a wine intended for rather immediate enjoyment, rather than long-term cellaring.   Pair this with a mildly-seasoned beef dish or a nicely-seasoned, roasted chicken.

 

Currently in stock:  CHATEAU MACQUIN 2012 SALE $19.99

 


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