Sunday, April 25, 2010

Salt: salty wines or wines with hints of saltiness ... & 2006 Neumeister Morillon Moarfeitl Süd-Oststeiermark Straden Austria


Salt: salty wines or wines with hints of saltiness…


Did you ever taste a wine that had a slight touch of saltiness or iodine, sea breeze aromas? If no, well, you surely will. If yes, then you may have been surprised by this rather unusual marine scent and wondered where it could come from. Most of us associate it with the close proximity of an ocean or a sea, but is it really the case?

Some of these wines which present some saltiness or hints of sea breeze on the nose may actually come from an area near salty waters. However, I just tasted a wine from Austria which, in my opinion, presented this unusual particularity on the nose, but also in the palate. I could literally taste a touch of saltiness. At first, I thought that I was wrong, so I asked two of my colleagues to taste it without letting them know what I really looking for in this wine. Strangely enough, they tasted it too, and more especially for one of them who voiced it as his first comment: "There is some kind of saltiness in this wine!"

And here I was, perplex and intrigued, tasting an Austrian wine with salty notes and unable to answer any of the questions in my mind. Austria isn't that close from the Golf of Trieste in the Adriatic sea and mountain chains separate it from the closest seawater. So I decided to research it and asked a few questions here and there to different producers and winemakers.

All the answers and conversations indicated and pointed at the importance of sodium chloride or "Salt" naturally contained in the ground, which could somewhat impart the taste of some wines.


Salt???

Everybody is acquainted with “Salt”. One way or another, it is impossible to avoid it. Salt is one of the most prominent elements that you can find on earth. It is everywhere and most beings consume a good dose of it everyday (knowingly or unknowingly).

One can naturally find it in his or her drinks (water, soda, beer, cocktails and many other beverages including wine) and all sort of food from meat and fish, to vegetable and fruit, and so much more. Our body contains salt, you can taste it when you sweat or when you cry. It is in our blood and one of the most important and essential "oligo-éléments" (or trace elements).

The trace elements are a class of pure mineral nutrients necessary for the life of an organism, but in very small quantities. Trace elements can also be toxic to the body when present at levels too high. The effect of a trace element depends on the dose intake. When the element is said to be essential, the absence, as an excessive intake, are lethal.

The fact that Salt is a mineral nutrients necessary for the life of our organism is often left out of the picture and rarely discussed, even by doctors. It is surely because, in our everyday life, tones of salt are mostly used for food seasoning, but also for curing meat (and fish) as a preservative. In fact, salt is surely one of the oldest, most ubiquitous food seasonings and, somehow, humans couldn't have barely live so long without it.

Historically, salting is an important method of seasoning and food preservation that has always been part of the human culture and tradition since at least the last 6000 years. In fact, human beings have used canning and artificial refrigeration (also involving the indispensable omnipresence of salt) for the preservation of food for approximately the last two hundred years. However, in the millennia before then, salt provided the best-known food preservative, especially for meat. It has also been widely used in cosmetics for centuries.

Salt for human consumption is produced in different forms: unrefined salt (such as sea salt), refined salt (table salt), and iodized salt (multiple purposes). Salt is a crystalline solid, white, pale pink or light gray in color, normally obtained from seawater or rock deposits on the ground, that can be found pretty much everywhere around the world. Edible rock salts may be slightly grayish in color because of high mineral content. Natural, and non-iodized, Organic sea salt is usually preferred by world-class chefs, restaurants, cooks, and even you and me at home.

My best (personal) experience was to cook beef steaks on the grill over embers of "Sarments" (dried vine's shoots collected during winter), seasoned with a touch of butter, finely diced shallots, fresh grounded pepper and more importantly, Mountain salt from Argentina. It was delightful, and the Argentinian salt was tasting sweet rather than salty. You ought to try it, or you’ll be missing something.

Salt is one of earth most common minerals composed primarily of sodium chloride that is essential for human and animal life. But, and once again because it is important to remind it, can be toxic if used in excess and even destructive to many land plants and corrosive for many objects.

Scientifically speaking, chloride and sodium ions, the two major components of salt, are necessary for the survival of all known living creatures. Salt is involved in regulating the water content (fluid balance) of the body. Yet, and once again, over-consumption of salt increases the risk of health problems, including high blood pressure and accentuation of bone/cartilage problems.

Carefully read the Nutrient facts on the back label of any food packaging to evaluate Sodium content, and always choose the product with the lowest amount it. Also, usually if organic or biodynamic, Sodium should be lower too. Preserve your body and your health, pay attention to this little details.


gustatory palette and presence in the ground

Let’s leave the medical side of it and let’s go back to its “palette gustative”, flavors and origin.

To start with, and most importantly for today’s post, I need to acknowledge that along with “Sweet/Sugar” (sweet flavor on the front tip of the tongue), “Sour” (sour flavor on the side of the tongue) and “Bitter” (bitter flavor on the back of the tongue), Salt flavor is one of the 4 basic tastes (5 if you include “savoriness” also known as “umami”), detected by two areas located on either side of the tongue’s tip (between sweet and sour).

In short, the way your taste buds are distributed on the surface of your tongue, is the reason why when you taste wine (or food or anything else), you usually first detect Sweet (fruitiness, ripeness or residual sugar), then Salt (but it rarely happens in a wine or is very often interpreted by minerality), Sour (if too much acidity or unripe fruit) and finally Bitter (if too tannic, green or unripe tannins, or if the alcohol is too present and non-integrated).

I can already see your bewildered faces…thinking what “Salt” has to do with wine? Vines and wines are grown on land and no addition of salt is involved in the vinification process? Yet, we just said earlier: “Salt is a crystalline solid, white, pale pink or light gray in color, normally obtained from seawater or rock deposits, that can be found pretty much everywhere on earth.” Still don’t get my point?

Well, it is quite simple. Salt is found abundantly in seawater, that is a given! Yet, it is also very much present in the ground mainly because it is a natural mineral, but also partly because seawater used to cover a good part of the actual land, thousands and thousands of years ago.

Sodium chloride or Salt, gradually and slowly deposited over many thousands of years with the lowering of the water levels, in diverse grounds which anciently were covered by oceans and seawater; which explains why this natural mineral can also be found in different type of soils and at different levels, or even abounds in certain areas forming above and underground layers and patches.

Even today, remnant of the ancient oceans and seas, before and after the break-up of the continents and the melting of the glaciers, can be found from hot sandy, flat desert regions to high-altitude mountain chains around the world. Layers of ancient sea beds and ocean levels found in the ground still offer archeological mines of seawater fossilized treasures: shells, stones, fish fossils, and more... and obviously Salt.

Multiple examples of salty areas and water with high salinity surround us in many countries from Oceans and Seas and lakes, to plains and deserts and mountains: Great Salt Lake (Utah, UT); Shalton Sea (California, CA); The Dead Sea (between Israel and Jordan); etc…

Therefore, as we already established it above, Sodium Chloride (or Salt) is a natural mineral element contained in the ground, dirt, rocks, etc…, which can be, found in high quantity on land, in various places with different climates, temperatures, and altitudes.

However, it seems that Salt can be found in higher quantity in regions with hot weather, and therefore moderate to poor rainfalls. Areas where consequently, water evaporation from the ground is higher due to higher temperature or other climatic conditions, rain is minimal and thus Salt can’t be naturally filtered, diluted and/or wash out from the upper and under ground levels and therefore forms layers that can somewhat affect and/or impart the taste of the wine, due to the salty components absorbed by the vines and surrounding plants.

Therefore, like anything contained in the soil and subsoil, Salt affects the wine and its components, and can even somewhat, slightly impart its taste, in some cases (like it can also impart the taste of meat from cows, cheeps and any other animal which pasture near oceans and seas, or high salinity ground areas).

From various conversations, I can conclude that some producers and winemakers are aware of it but not necessarily concern about it yet, because it hasn't been considered as a problem and hasn't been studied or researched enough (that could be an idea to work on for geologists and topographers). However, some producers and winemakers already acknowledge the fact that excess of Sodium Chloride in the soil could create a warm sensation in the palate when tasting a wine affected by it.

More studies on certain effects imparted by sodium chloride in wine could be the next thing to come, especially with global warming and rise of temperatures. When researching this subject, I realized that massive uprooting in addition to deforestation without necessary ploughing and replanting programs could lead to more desert and arid areas with poor soils, barely not plants or animals and higher density of sodium chloride in the soil. (However, this is another fascinating and vast subject that will deserve an entire post to itself, to be continued one day).


En Resumé

Because of all the cited above factors and reasons, we can now assess that by tasting certain wines produced near the seas or oceans, people may discover to their surprise a touch of sea breeze, or iodine aromas in a wine (or flavors in meat); but these particularities seem to mostly appear on the nose, and rarely on the palate (except for meat...).

However, it is possible sometimes to taste saltiness in wine too, and despite the fact that most people believe that is due to sea wind and seawater in the air or airborne salt with evaporation, that slight saltiness mostly originates from the soil and sub-soil, not necessarily from the nearby salty water. Which explain the possibility and high probability for the following Australian wine from a mountainous region far from the sea to present slight hints of saltiness.

Still not convinced? Let me share with you my experience of last week, when I tasted 3-4 completely different white wines that had this sea breeze, briny, almost slightly salty aromas and flavors. You should try them, first because they are fresh and delicious, bright and springy-summery; but also because that “je-ne-sais-quoi” of saltiness makes them intriguing and savory.


Weingut Neumeister Süd-Oststeiermark Straden Austria

Weingut Neumeister is a small innovative winery/restaurant/relaxation center located in Straden, a small municipality in the district of Radkersburg in Styria, Austria. This province represents the most southeastern part of Austria, called Süd-Oststeiermark, bordering the north of Slovenia and the west of Hungary.

Albert and Anna Neumeister, with Christoph Neumeister as the winemaker and Mathias as the Sommelier in charge of the restaurant, own this family run winery. They possess about 24 hectares (60 acres) plus 16 hectares (40 acres) of vineyards under contract, for an annual production of roughly 210,000 bottles.

They produce their wines from mainly 4 single vineyards: Saziani, Moafeiti, Klausen and Steintal, which are quite distinct by their soil characteristics, conferring great earthiness, texture and complexity to their wines.

The vineyards are planted with 25% Sauvignon Blanc, 18% Welschriesling, 10% Morillon (Chardonnay), 10% Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), 7% Muskateller, 7% Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), 5% Traminer; 12% Zweigelt and 6% Pinot Noir.

The family Neumeister is indebt to this unique environment. The delicate relationship with the landscape and nature goes without saying. Every variety is handled in the individual manner demanded by and required for it.

They adopt a close to nature cultivation and organic vineyard management, refraining from herbicides and chemical fertilizers. Natural pesticide methods are employed and the risk of fungi is minimized through vigorous foliage work. Every vine is maintained with handwork.

They produce what are locally called “Steirische Klassik”; meaning typical “Styrian” wines fermented in stainless steel tanks, which are bright, clean and Terroir oriented: Sauvignon Blanc from ‘Moarfeitl’ and ‘Klausen’, Morillon from ‘Moarfeitl’, Grauburgunder from ‘Saziani’, Roter Traminer from ‘Steintal’, and Weissburgunder from ‘Klausen’.



2007 Weingut Neumeister Morillon Moarfeitl Süd-Oststeiermark Straden Austria
Suggested retail price $18-21

Although still in a mountainous region, Straden is located in on of the flattest part of Austria, and far from the Mediterranean Sea, about 270 kilometers from Trieste in Italy (one of the closest beach town). Therefore it is a bit difficult to explain that slight saltiness, yet, as explained in the Salt article above, we may find an explanation in the ground.

Never heard of “Morillon”, well it is not commonly used, but it is just another name for Chardonnay in Austria. This wine was produced from hand-harvested vines planted on gentle rolling hills culminating at about 300 meters above sea level.

The soil of the 3 ha (7,5 acres) “Moarfeitl” vineyard is mainly composed of lime, sandy loam with gravel of schist, quartz and gneiss, which somewhat explains the freshness, minerality and slight salty touch of this wine (the soil high content of sand and minerals).

Behind its pale straw yellow color with green reflects, this wine offers a fresh nose, with floral and mineral notes, and fresh almond hints. The palate is fairly rich, fresh and balanced, elegant and mineral with zesty citrus and stone fruits, hints of blossoms and nuts. The finish is lingering with white fruit and mineral.

The saltiness is mainly appearing in the attack and mid-palate, and integrate fairly quickly. At first, I though that I was mistaken but 2 of my colleagues concurred, and we arrived at the same conclusion: "Great white wine with a slight perceptible saltiness!" Definitely a food wine to pair with fish and shellfish, but also white meat, poultry and cheese.

Try it for yourself and let me know, as always, I'm open to any comments and suggestions.

Enjoy,

LeDom du Vin

Winery info partly taken and edited from the winery website at www.neumeister.cc and from an importer website at www.mcselections.com

To be continued ....with more Salty wines... like: Amayna Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay from Chile; and Caruso Inzolia Terre di Giumara Sicilia; and more....


Step into the Green! Drink more Biodynamic and Organic wines (and food) from sustainable culture and respect the environment! Support the right causes for the Planet and all the people suffering all around the globe!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bordeaux Seminar at Heights Chateau and Bordeaux: brief history and key facts

Yesterday, I had my first Seminar on Bordeaux at the store. It lasted for nearly 3 hours and we could have continue for another 1 or 2 hours if it wasn't time to close the store. I enjoyed it and thought that it went pretty well and the customers who attended it seems pretty pleased. I thank them very much for being here, they were a great crowd. Let's hope that it is only the beginning of long series of classes and seminars.

Here is the list of the wines that we tasted, followed by a brief history and key factors on Bordeaux (I could have write much more, but it is already long enough and you can also read many other things about Bordeaux in some other previous articles and posts on my blog).


Tasted Wines


Lillet Rouge NV Aperitif Bordeaux red wine based $16.99
Lillet is a brand of French aperitif wine based. The Lillet brothers' company (distillers and merchants of wines and spirits) was created in the town of Podensac, South of Bordeaux. Lillet was first produced in 1887.It is a blend of 85% wine and citrus liqueurs made from a variety of oranges. Lillet is matured in oak casks and available in red and white versions. While it has been produced since the late 1800s with the same recipe, the current formulation dates from 1987 (1990 for Red Lillet) and is relatively less bitter and sugary, and more fruit flavored, than the historical one. Matthew, the owner, suggested that we start with it because people usually drink the white version, but few know or even drink the red which is also very nice.



2008 Chateau Ducasse Blanc Bordeaux $15.99
The vineyards of Chateau Ducasse are in Barsac, one of the many satellite villages clustered around the town of Sauternes and entitled to the use of its appellation. Made with 60% Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and a little Muscadelle, this Bordeaux Blanc is more aromatic and fuller bodied than most Bordeaux whites. There is a gunflint aspect, along with mineral and citrus perfumes like Citronelle and orange blossom. On the palate too, freshness and liveliness mirror the exquisite bouquet, with a smooth, creamy way of coating the palate, enhanced by great acidity and balance. A great Semillon based white to pair with soft cheeses, goat cheese, and a variety of seafood dishes.



2007 Rocher-Calon Montagne-Saint-Emilion Bordeaux $18.99
Chateau Rocher-Calon is located in Montagne Saint-Emilion, the largest satellite region surrounding Saint-Emilion. The region characterized by its production of exclusively red wines, produced from the grape varieties Merlot (75% of vines grown), Cabernet Franc (20% of vines grown) and Cabernet Sauvigon (10% of vines grown). Two other grape varieties allowed in the region, but very rarely used, are Malbec and Carménère. Chateau Rocher-Calon is an estate 12 hectares in size from which 80,000 bottles are produced with traditional winemaking methods in stainless steel vats with a long maceration of 20 to 25 days and ageing over 18 months. Michel Rolland and his team are used as consultants during the winemaking process.



2005 Moulin Haut Villars Fronsac Bordeaux $19.99
It will soon be two centuries now that seven generations of wine growers have been tending the vines at Château Villars. Today the estate is composed of 29.65 hectares of vineyard as well as 3 hectares of meadows and 3 hectares of forest. Since 1978, the wines of Château Villars are aged in oak barrels, one third of which are renewed every year. A full, fruity and elegant wine, the Fronsac from Chateau Haut-Villars is mostly Merlot with small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep aromas of cassis and redcurrants greet the nose, with notes of violet flowers and cedar. Full-bodied and round in the mouth, its big tannins and nice acidity suggest additional ageing or pairing with robust foods like braised or grilled meats.



2003 Château Guionne Cotes de Bourg Bordeaux $26.99
The Chateau Guionne is located in the Cotes de Bourg appellation located about 50 kms north of Bordeaux. In 1871, Chateau Giuonne's vineyards were classified as a cru. A blend of 40% Malbec, 40% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, Chateau Guionne “Cuvee Renaissance” is a ripe styled Bordeaux blend with a modern twist. Full, jammy aromas of red fruit, tar and smoky notes greet the nose along with hints of cedar, vanilla, earth and spice. It is lush and elegant in the mouth, its fruit flavors wrapped by finely-grained tannins that support the dark and earthy yet generous, structured finish. Enjoy this wine on its own or paired with fine grilled or roasted meats. I can't avoid being proud of my little appellation of origin, even if I'm not too inclined to the 2003 vintage in Bordeaux. But, hey, Cotes de Bourg is where I grow up and where my grandfather used to make wines, therefore I can only be smiling at the past with nostalgia.



2005 Les Fiefs de Lagrange Saint-Julien Bordeaux $35.99
Fiefs de Lagrange is the second wine of Chateau Lagrange, one the greatest yet low key estates of Saint Julien in the Haut Medoc region of Bordeaux. The estate which belongs to the Suntory group has kept its traditions of making juicy, fresh, earthy and food friendly Saint Julien, rather than follow the trend of the over-extracted and overly oaky style of some of the neighboring Chateaux. Riper and fuller than the 2000 vintage, the 2005 vintage is also a classic in Saint Julien and Bordeaux overall. It offers very good balance and harmony, delineated by great acidity and essential tannic structure, lifting and framing respectively the ripe red fruit flavors and other components. Beautiful now, it will age nicely and gain in complexity and nuances. It was the highlight of the night and remains one of my favorite wines. I have always been a huge fan of Chateau Lagrange.



2002 Château La Lagune Haut-Médoc Bordeaux $39.99
A 3rd growth located in the most southern part of the Medoc appellation, Chateau La Lagune is made by a female winemaker, which is rare, crafting elegant, balanced and expressive wines. The 2002 vintage in Bordeaux overall is surely the bargain of this last decade; somewhat restraint at first and a bit tight, most 2002s are now fully open and drink very nicely. The 2002 La lagune is no exception. A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc, it shows fresh, dry red fruit and a little bit of green spices. The palate is medium to full-bodied with some red fruit flavors mixed with hints of black berry, plum, tobacco, earth, cider, cinnamon and firm yet integrated tannic structure. The finish is fairly long with notes of spice. Showing superbly now!



2006 Château Les Tuileries Sauternes Bordeaux $34.99
Château Les Tuileries has a small vineyard in Fargues, close to the famous Château Rieussec. The label operates under the umbrella of Château Brondelle, a century-old Graves-based house owned by the Belloc family. Full bodied and fragrant, this Sauternes is mostly Semillon with just a splash of Sauvignon. Rich honey nectar aromas rise from the glass, while on the palate, deep, rich honey flavors are joined by layers of apricot, caramel and burnt orange. Delicious!



Bordeaux: a brief history and key facts


Location

Bordeaux is located just south of the 45th parallel, roughly at the same latitude as the city of Grand Traverse (Old Mission Peninsula, MI), which is experiencing a much colder, rougher climate (yet great Gamay wines can be found among others).

Compared to Grand Traverse, and many other places along the 45 parallel, Bordeaux benefits of a temperate oceanic climate, greatly imparted by the “Gulf stream”, a warm current crossing the Atlantic northeastern ward from the Caribbean to Spain, France and England, and continues along the coasts of Sweden and Norway. Therefore, the climate is fairly mild yet humid with pleasant yet rainy spring, hot summer, warm to hot fall season which is great for ripeness, and cool but not too cold rainy winter. In fact it usually rains about 200+ days a year in Bordeaux.

Roughly 69 millions years ago, the Pyrenees mountain chains formed, emerging from the ocean, and the southwest of France was washed away. Gradually, rolled stones (pebbles, shells and others) from the Pyrenees, covered the sandy soils of the western shores of France from the commune Biarritz, in the French Basque country, to Le Verdon-sur-Mer, at the opening of the Gironde estuary. A distance of about 275 kms of white sandy beaches bordered by extensive forests of pine threes, representing a natural protective barrier slowing down the ocean winds and avoiding the propagation of the sand too far inland.


Brief history from 300 BC to the 19th century

Depending on the various books and writers, it seems that Bordeaux was established between 500 and 300 BC, by a Celtic tribes from the North called the Bituriges (riges=kings & bitu=world).

They used the Gironde River and its confluents to access different parts of France, especially the Garonne River up to Toulouse, where after a short walking trip they could continue sailing on the Aude River to access the Mediterranean Sea. Boat was the fastest way at that time, and the Bituriges tolled anyone who wanted to use the river. They were roughly leaving out of that toll or “Droit de Passage”, and built the commercial and maritime foundation of Bordeaux.

Shortly after, during the 1st century AC, the Romans helped develop the town, which was then called “Burdigala” and transformed it somewhat into a little Rome, a booming prosperous city. Like everywhere else in the European empire, the Romans brought to Bordeaux the need to produce and consume wine, as part of their culture and traditions. Therefore, they exported their civilization, agriculture and winemaking “Savoir Faire” to these French Atlantic shores.

They planted an Albanian grape known as “Balisca”, which first thrived on the slopes of the right bank of the Dordogne River and seems ideally suited for the region that became Saint-Emilion and Libourne. Common ancestor of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, the grape was renamed “Biturica” by the Bituriges.

While the Right Bank, Sauternes and the Graves gradually increased in size and reputation, the Medoc was still a vast marshland between the Gironde River and the Atlantic Ocean. A swamp with a few patches of forest mostly surrounded by flat land, with humid and poor soils, rather unproductive for the vines. Wines produced in the Graves further south instigated a certain attention, but the Medoc generated poor interest.

Slowly, Bordeaux became an essential port for the commerce road between Portugal, Spain and England, Germany, Netherland, etc…Vineyard area continued to grow, as well as Bordeaux wines reputation up until the 10th -11th century. Bordeaux had a renaissance around the mid-12th century, when Henry Plantagenet, future King of England, married Duchesse Alienor d’Aquitaine, and the all southwest of France became English for 300 years (1152-1453).

Bordeaux wines were some of the main and most appreciated beverage of the court of England. Apparently, even Edward II, a British King who married in London in 1307, ordered millions of bottles to satisfy all of his guests and the rest of the royal crowd. Wines from the right bank were shipping by boat all over Europe. The city flourished, primarily due to wine trade with England and a few other countries. The vineyard area continued to expand to respond to the demand and drastically increased and spread up until the mid-18th century.

Bordeaux greatly evolved and experienced a golden age between the 15th and 18th century, more especially from the 17th. Although, certain of the current estates from the Medoc already existed as early the 10th century, the Medoc was still mostly a swamp, with no roads or really defined paths, only a few villages, mostly small ports, scattered enclaves along the western bank of Gironde which became Pauillac, Margaux, Saint-Julien and Saint-Estephe.

In the 17th Century, Chateau Haut-Brion and a handful of other estates of the Graves, Sauternes and Saint-Emilion area became the leading Chateaux in the Northern markets, having great success especially with the British and the Dutch, which also were among some of the most prominent Négociants (wine merchants) of Bordeaux.

The Dutch engineers, hired to restore the swampy area of the southwest of France, restructured the Medoc area by digging the “Jalles”, water drainage ditches or tranches, which are still used to this day. The British, Dutch and German developed the commerce of Bordeaux wines and established Négociants, three-tier system. Chateaux and growers sell to brokers who in turn sell to Négociants, who aged, bottled and marketed all Bordeaux wines.

Yet, by the 18th century, still only a small bunch of reds from both banks really transcended and were consistently exported to royalty and other aristocratic and “bourgeoise” families of the old kingdoms of Europe and beyond. Most of the rest of the production was sold in bulk to the Négociants and Merchants for local business and fairly short distance export, with hundreds of barrels directly embarked in the awaiting mostly French, English and Dutch galleons parked in the busy port of Bordeaux, ready to journey to various markets of the world.

Châteaux owners were often scions of old aristocratic families (French, English, Dutch, German, etc..) and were more considered as vine growers rather than wine growers. They rarely took on the role of negotiators and businessmen, they were more eager to satisfy the demand and quickly sell their must and juice in bulk to the Négociants, who in turn were ageing, bottling and labeling the wines. It resulted in immediate cash flow and peace of mind for the Chateaux owners, and barely or no left over wines to sell, because each Chateau commissioned several Courtiers to usually sell their entire crop.

To help the Chateaux owners selling their wines at the right price and to the right Négociants (who will in turn nurture, promote and market the wines), Courtiers (or brokers) acted as confident middleman and close representative of the Chateaux owners, negotiating and choosing the Négociants they wanted to sell the wines too.

Like the rest of the different levels and positions that form the “Bordeaux Three-tier system”, Courtiers still exist today and continue their job as decision translators (meaning as someone who mediates between speakers of different languages) between the Chateaux and the Négociants.

Négociants were (and for the most part, still are) the merchants that bought, promoted and marketed, bottled and labeled most Bordeaux wines up until the 50-60s; because most Chateaux and estates didn’t necessarily have the appropriate cellars and/or storage facilities to vinify and age their wines or even the necessarily costly tools to bottle their wines.

The 18th-19th centuries translated into the golden age for Bordeaux and its wines; more especially the town itself which has remained to this day a jewel of the 18th century architectural style. It also marked the renaissance of the “Quai des Chartrons” (Chartrons’ pier) where most Négociants established their headquarters for practical and economical reasons.

Being a pier along the western bank of the Garonne River at the northern edge of the town of Bordeaux, “Quai des Chartrons” was obviously a direct access to the port. It consisted into an ensemble of huge warehouses, built with the famous and highly recognizable pale yellow limestone as the prominent characteristic of most building from this era in Bordeaux, where the wine was aged and barrels were stocked before bottling or being sent away. “Quai des Chartrons” was the wine import-export center of Bordeaux.

“Quai des Chartrons” encompassed the “Place de Bordeaux”, a nickname for the Three-tier systems’ main actors, which consisted of the Chateaux owners, Brokers and Négociants. They were the ones behind the famous (or infamous) 1855 Bordeaux classification that was created for Napoleon III “Exposition Universelle de Paris”, based on the actual price of the wines at that time, which was somewhat indicator of the quality because of higher demand.

While Courtiers (or brokers) were only selling the wines between Chateaux and wine merchants, Négociants were the businessmen wine merchants, who pretty much did whatever they wanted with the wines once in their possession. Meaning that Châteaux owners had little or none to do with the final blend and the resulting bottled and sold wines.


Important Factors from the last century to present

Because it is often raining and humid in Bordeaux (climate also being influenced by the Atlantic ocean and the Gironde-Garonne-Dordogne rivers) and consequently full ripeness is difficult to reach, many Bordeaux wines usually shows high tannins with green, vegetal edges resulting in a dry, austere and tannic profile, that needed time to settle down and integrate. Techniques and technology in the last 30 years allowed to easily rectifying certain defaults and angularities, but before that Bordeaux wines needed a bit of help in certain cases.

To trigger more appeal, some wines were discreetly and anonymously re-enforced with high amount of sugar (heavy chaptalization) to increase alcohol level and/or be complemented (mostly enhanced in some cases) by an addition of riper grapes or even wines from warmer regions like Languedoc-Roussillon and even Spain and Algeria, to increase fruitiness, richness and depth.

Of course, people were closing their eyes on it, Châteaux owners were not necessarily aware of it and the resulting wines were almost costumed for the taste of the different regions and markets they were sold to. It was business as usual for the Bordelais.

Remember that before the arrival of new methods and technology, these kinds of things (cited above) used to happen quite often due to the raining and humid climate of the region (200+ days per year in average), and consequently resulting in lack of ripeness and diluted juice. Therefore, statically talking, most Bordeaux decades, since 1900 (and probably even before), can be divided in 3 categories: 2-3 good to very good vintages; 3 OK to good vintages and 3-4 mediocre to OK vintages (per decade).

It translates that Bordeaux only sells 2-3 good to very good vintages per decade on which Bordeaux Châteaux owners can make a decent amount of money and inflate the prices for higher profits (which has been especially the case in the last decade). Yet, it also means that the other vintages (good to OK and mediocre), especially the ones before the 50s, needed a bit of help to be better appreciated and consequently sold, except may be 1945, 47 and 49 which were the best vintage of the 40s.

Moreover, between 1900 and 1980, Bordeaux counted quite a few really bad years and vintages:

• Experiencing 2 World Wars (1914-18 and 1939-45) during which business was more difficult, yet still going quite well considering what was happening;

• The European Phylloxera plague that lasted until the mid 1930s (and despite better techniques to avoid it, we still haven’t found a cure for it) and destroyed more than 75% of most European vineyards between 1860s and 1930s;

• One or two great vintages at the most in the 40s and the 60s;

• The 50s and the 70s didn’t deliver much;

• The 60s and 70s overall were all about huge production with high yields per hectare, therefore lacking of quality, yet responding to the demand of an increasing market of drinkers as a result of the baby-boom (people born just after World War II);

• And it is basically only when new and more adapted techniques of vinification and more careful vineyard management (and deeper concerns about applying the rules) appeared in the 80s (with a slight increase of temperature), that most of the unlawful used recipes were dropped for a more respectful use of the rules but also more natural and traditional way of making wine.

• The 90s only produced a few very good vintages toward the middle and the end of the decade and saw the apparition and rapid growth of the sustainable, “Lutte Raisonnée”, Organic and Biodynamic movement, more developed on the right bank with the “Garagistes”.

• 2000s were obviously one of the best decades for Bordeaux, with the 80s, but it is partly due to the fact that with the new techniques and methods and rectification processes, bad or good vintages, rainy or not, it has become more difficult to produce bad wines in Bordeaux.

However, the unavoidable use of unlawful and uncontrolled methods, in the vineyards and the cellars (pretty much all over in France), leaded to the creation of the French AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée), in 1936.

Before that barely any control over the amount of yield per hectare, alcohol content and origin of the wine occurred. Barely any restrictions (now strictly ruled) existed and the few ones in place were not really followed and/or applied. In fact, it was difficult to check and too current in everyone business to really be able to entirely investigate and regulate it. These are the main reasons why systems like the AOC were invented: to certify the origin, acknowledge the particularity and characteristics of the Terroir (climate, type of soil, geography, topography, etc..); but essentially to control what is done in the vineyards and the cellars and more importantly what is in the bottle.

Also, just to remind you and despite certain preconceived beliefs, the notion and concept of “Embouteillé a la Propriété” or “au Château” (bottled at the property or at the Château), only dates from the 50s. At this time, only the elite and “crème de la crème” wineries like the first growth and a few more “privilegiés” had access to bottling machine.

A bottling machine mounted on a truck was passing by in the villages and the estates, and that was pretty much it. Before that, bottles were bottled and corked one by one, by hand with a rudimentary corking machine.

Most of the highly praised estates were only able to buy one of these machines in the late 60s. Moreover, the concept of protection and control of the “bottled at the estate” process was only firmly established by the early 70s. Before that, pretty much everybody, Châteaux owners and Négociants, could do what ever they wanted to the content of the wine to make it taste better, and to the label, without fears of having someone to look over their shoulders.

That are a few of the many reasons why connoisseurs, auctioneers, collectors and wine professionals will always remind you that it is very difficult to prove the origin and the quality of a bottle of wine bottled before the 60s and more especially the 50s.

Also to avoid frauds, a few of the long established Châteaux started to number their bottles and indicates the total bottle production on the label (take for example the labels of Château Mouton Rothschild starting in 1945 up until 1987 for the last vintage of Baron Philippe de Rothschild who died in 1988).

Before that time, way before the 18th century up to the 40-50s, Châteaux and more especially wine growers and small producers didn’t necessarily aged their wines and more particularly bottled their wines at the estate. Some did of course, but most the wines were mostly sold in bulk and a lot of small growers were selling to local cooperatives up until the 70s-80s. Rare were the ones who could take care of their wines from beginning to the end.

Quality of the final blended wine in the bottle depended mostly on the quality, care and professionalism of the local cooperatives and the Négociants to whom the wines were sold (in most cases). Moreover, wines from the same Chateau and same vintage were not always bottled at the same time, which increased the risk of defaults and diseases, but also the overall quality and difference of taste between the various batches.

Even now, blending still occurs at different stages of the vinification process, sometimes before the barrel ageing and in most cases after barrel ageing, just before light resting period and bottling. Bottling is now usually conducted at the same time for all the bottles of a same vintage, over a period of a few days rather than weeks (before).

Since the 50s, the situation has somewhat evolved in some ways but overall remained fairly the same despite a few changes in certain roles.

• Châteaux Owners remain Châteaux owners, yet with much more control and interest than ever before regarding the quality and the taste, and the overall profile of their wines. It is partly due to the strict rules imposed by the AOC system, but it is mostly due to the facts that most Châteaux now have their own cellars, ageing facility and bottling system to always keep a controlling eye on the entire production process from the harvest to bottling and even selling.

• Courtiers still do the same things and are still shared and pulled both ways between both the Châteaux owners and the Negociants.

• Négociants still are the merchants of the “Place de Bordeaux”, yet they do not vinify, age or bottle the wines anymore. They basically have lost the control over the taste and the production of the wines that they sell. That said, like before, they still are stuck in the position of buying their entire allocations from the Châteaux through the Courtiers, each vintage and every year, otherwise they could lose part of their allocations which could be a great lost, money-wise, especially for the best vintages.

Négociants are also more careful in their choices and which Courtiers they are pairing with. Over the years, the business relation usually becomes a trustee friendship and the Courtier-Négociants relationship usually last as long as business and personal understanding don’t clash. Négociants spend more time than ever before, counseling the Châteaux owners about the different markets and trends, tasting at the Château and traveling around the world to promote and market wines.

One thing hasn’t changed in more than 200 years and more especially since the Bordeaux classification of 1855, it is still the Chateau owners who fix the price of their wines at the property. The “Place de Bordeaux” which consists of the Chateaux owners, the brokers and the Négociants finding a consensus about the final prices usually fix prices. Yet, since 2000, it seems that internal estate politic, difference of point of view, opinions and needs and greed evolved together to dictate some of the insane price increases of the last decade.

Before Brokers and Négociants used to have a certain influence, now and since the classification, Châteaux owners decide their prices depending on their rank, their reputation and their habits, but more importantly, after spying on their neighbors. Yes, that is right, let’s say that if your neighbor decided to elevate his price because he estimated that his wine is worth a higher price than the previous year, because of its quality and the overall quality of the vintage (and the amount of yields); it is automatically sure that you will estimate your wine being netter than your neighbor’s wine, therefore you’ll apply a slightly equivalent or even a more (understandably) higher price than your neighbor.

Here is the logic of the Bordeaux pricing and it all depends on the first daring Châteaux that will be the first(s) to post their prices publicly; the rest is speculation, competition and always see yourself on a higher ground of quality than your neighbors within the same appellation or sub-appellation (mostly greed, vanity and jalousie).

Nowadays, Bordeaux production consists of 88% of reds and the 12% remaining are divided with mostly whites (dry and sweet) and an increasing amount of rosé wines, which were first created to remove juice from the vat by "saignée" to increase the richness of the reds in the 70-80s and were used mostly for the family consumption. However, the useful action of removing extra juice, due to diluted must, to produce rosé (because it usually rains about 200+ days a year in Bordeaux), became a trend and rapidly a profitable new market, which exploded in the 90s and 2000s.

Bordeaux now encompasses more than 12,000 so-called “Châteaux”, grape growers and wineries (including Domaines, Clos, etc…) scattered over roughly 116,000 hectares of vineyards, divided in 57 appellations, producing more than 850 million bottles a year.

The controversial point is that people in general talk about Bordeaux as a whole, in general terms. But Bordeaux offers many different tastes and profiles from its 37 main appellations out of the 57 all together; yet people continue to talk about Bordeaux as one and only entity. This happens partly because Bordeaux never really promoted or marketed its wines, for the most part, they have been sitting and counting on their reputation for the last 200 years, to sell their wines.

It is also due to the fact that out of the roughly 12,000 Chateaux and estates in Bordeaux, only about 1,000-1,500 are really known to most markets, the rest remain in the shadow of that small group. And from those, only about 700-800 are really selling well every year. And believe it or not, but the whole reputation of Bordeaux only lies in the hands of the best 250-300 top-tier Chateaux, which sell for a lot of money ($40-$2000).

That is one of the main reasons why most people think that Bordeaux wines are expensive. Consequently, "Petits Chateaux" don't benefit of that reputation and suffer a great deal to promote their quality. There are some truly good deals between $8-$25, but it is in the mind of most people that inexpensive Bordeaux are not worth trying and buying or that they are not as good as they should be for the asking price. It is not necessarily true, but the market gives this impression and people tend to stick to what is advertised and criticized in the press, without trying to understand further or taste the wines (only a small amount of the amateurs and the connoisseurs do).


Nowadays

Nowadays like before, Bordeaux wines are still sold by many Négociants houses and Courtiers, who take their own respective commission or marge-in above the price of each other. Châteaux owners still decide of the original prices, and then Courtiers take their margin (small %) and finally the Négociants (a slightly bigger %). Prices also evolve with the different offerings (or "tranhes") during the "En Primeur" (or Futures) campaign. Not to mention, but prices take another toll when they are delivered and imported (importer's margin then distributor's and /or retailer's margin).

The last decade has brought a lot of controversies regarding price to quality ratio. The big question is what really justifies such prices? Super high quality? Reputation? The 1855 Bordeaux Classification? Or and more likely the constant soaring demand from the emerging markets?

In the last ten years, the soaring demand from emerging countries like China, Japan, Brazil, Russia, Corea and a few other countries, has help most Bordeaux prices to skyrocket and continue to trigger interest. Yet, Europe demands being quite slow, and America mostly buying the best vintages and booing the lesser ones, atop a difficult market, the expensive 2005 didn't sell as well as plan.

Moreover, the warehouses in France (and pretty much everywhere else) are full of unsold 2006, 2007 and 2008.... Bordeaux is eager to sell their 2009. And to catch up with their unmoving inventory and try to take advantage of this last vintage to make a bit of money based on the anticipated quality of the vintage and the excitation of the press over it...They did it again...(sigh)... they raised their price up for the 2009 vintage.

Based on the prices of the best 200-300 estates, the bad image of Bordeaux, which doesn’t benefit the smaller, lesser-known estates, is mostly created by greed and unashamed lack of attention to the different markets from the “Place de Bordeaux” (Owners, Brokers & Négociants). If you listen to the Bordelais, nearly every vintage of the last decade has been a “vintage of the decade” and their wines are always the best, and greater than previous year. It also always better than their neighbors.

Who to trust really? The generalization and lacking of details and biased attitude from the wine Press? The producers ego and greed? The new techniques and vinification methods that can turn wine into water and water back into wine? Is there any bad vintage anymore? and so on...

It all started with the magnificent 2000 vintage; the ultra overripe and inharmonious 2003; then the more balance and harmonious, rich and powerful, yet tannic and unsettled 2005; and 2009 seems that it will beat all these previous vintages and their respective prices, which will once again skyrocket and trigger a lot of talk.

Although apparently this year, there are no real consensus regarding the quality of a specific region compare to another, it seems that Bordeaux 2009 is a pick-and-choose vintage, mostly due to the unusual high alcoholic content and the ripeness of the fruit due to a beautiful end of the summer and harvest season. Not every wine, despite the quality of the vintage, justified the imposed 2009 prices. When are high prices justified? And why increasing the prices again?

With a world financial crisis, many natural devastating disasters, and a lingering vacillating economy, Bordeaux market is insane (in my opinion). They really are going to completely kill their reputation if they continue to rise their prices like this:

• 2000 was already quite high
• 2003 was 3 times the price of 2000
• 2005 was 5 times the price of 2000
• 2009 is way higher than 2005 for most wines...

Yet, and fortunately, they are still plenty of great Petits Chateaux to be discovered that won’t kill your wallet and still provide you with a satisfying experience that will, once again, prove that it possible to find interesting Bordeaux for a decent price. Some of the 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007 are drinking beautifully now and their price tag is definitely lower than the 2000, 2003, 2005 and the future 2009.

The “En Primeur” Bordeaux 2009 tasting is now finished, done and over and soon will start the craziness of the long established, yet somewhat archaic, three-tier selling system that the “Place de Bordeaux” has used for the past 200 years (at least).

The market is excited, the press is boiling, the critics have written their last verdicts and ratings, the buyers are impatient to know the results to start their wishing lists and the prices already started to crowd the emails of professional and private wine buyers, Courtiers, brokers, Négociants, importers, distributors, retailers and anybody else who could be involve in the Bordeaux game.

And yes, I said “game”, because it is a game after all, that has been working like a well oiled machine and never really stopped since the British and the Dutch somehow instigated it few centuries ago. It involves thousands of people in Bordeaux (and in the rest of the world), who somewhat, depend on it. And despite creating, every year, many controversies, critics, disputes, anger and joy, it constitutes one of the most awaited and lucrative markets in the wine world industry.

Think about it....

LeDom du Vin (aka Dominique Noël)

Step into the Green! Drink more Biodynamic and Organic wines (and food) from sustainable culture and respect the environment! Support the right causes for the Planet and all the people suffering all around the globe!

Friday, April 16, 2010

2007 Joseph Pimpel red “Carnuntum” Austria

2007 Joseph Pimpel red “Carnuntum” Austria

In my quest of bringing your attention to lighter, crispier red for Spring and Summer seasons, I thought that it will be a good idea to introduce you to a Zweigelt based wine. They are some delightful Zweigelt wines on our shelves, but the following wine seems to me more interesting because of its blend of Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and Merlot.

Blaufränkisch wine usually offers aromas of dark ripe cherries and dark berries, with spicy hints, medium tannin level and in general very good acidity. Young wines are deeply fruity and become more velvety, supple and complex with age.

Zweigelt is a red grape variety developed in 1922, at the Federal Institute for Viticulture and Pomology at Klosterneuburg, Austria, by Fritz Zweigelt. It was a crossing of Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent. It is now the most widely grown red grape variety in Austria.

Weingut Pimpel is a fairly small innovative Austrian property of about 23 acres, in Carnuntum, one of Austria's premier winegrowing areas.

Carnuntum was an important Roman army camp in what is now the eastern Austria, also called “Lower Austria”. Its remains are on the main road halfway between Vienna and Bratislava (Slovak Republic), on the "Archaeological Park Carnuntum" in eastern Austria, extending over the area of today's villages Petronell-Carnuntum and Bad Deutsch-Altenburg.

Joseph Pimpel is an enlighten producer, in love with his land, his vines and his wines. Fairly young and dedicated, it has a very natural approach regarding the vineyard and the cellar management.



2007 Joseph Pimpel red “Carnuntum” Austria
Suggested retail price $10-$13
Distributed by Savio Soares in NYC

A blend of two popular Austrian varietals, 40% Zweigelt and 40% Blaufrankish, completed with 20% Merlot, the resulting wine is highly aromatic with lush red and wild berry flavors. The palate is bright and dry, with ample acidity to provide a balanced structure. The intense yet soft and crisp fruit-forward flavors make it a good match for Thai or other highly flavored ethnic cuisine.

LeDom du Vin

Info partly taken from the winery website at www.pimpel.com

Step into the Green! Drink more Biodynamic and Organic wines (and food) from sustainable culture and respect the environment! Support the right causes for the Planet and all the people suffering all around the globe!

2009 Marc Roman Terret Vin de Pays d’Oc Languedoc France

2009 Marc Roman Terret Vin de Pays d’Oc Languedoc France

“Marc Roman wines are grown in the sun-drenched vineyards of the South of France and carefully selected and blended to our specifications by our own winemaker. Both wines, each delicious, a rich, smooth “Malbec” (red) and a refreshing, fruity dry “Terret” (white), will make any meal more enjoyable. We hope you will try and love both!” Frederick Wildman & son

This is pretty much the only quote I found about this wine on the Internet (and on the back label). Even on the importer website, I couldn’t find a thing about this little wine. It must be one this made-up brand, also called private label, from a small producer who devoted his entire production to these wines, or more logically from a “cave cooperative”, which produces it especially for the importer.

After all, it wouldn’t be surprising: colorful label, easy to remember big letters name, and very attractive price. The perfect combination for an uncomplicated, approachable and easy to drink white, but somewhat commercial yet interesting enough to buy more than one bottle.

What really intrigued me in these wines, it is not where they were from or even their price (which is the same for both), it was more the grapes varieties that they have been produced with: Terret (for the white) and Malbec (for the Red).

It is a little strange to find Malbec in the Languedoc, when traditionally talking, the grape has always thrived in regions like Cahors and Bordeaux and a few other parts of the Southwest of France (and Argentina of course, where it is king). But, why not? The resulting wine is quite nice and rounded, fruit forward and easy going.

The bottle specifies “mis en bouteille par CJA a F 11160”, which literally means “bottled by CJA in France 11160”. It tells you that the wine was made in the Languedoc, indicated by the number being the zip code, and more precisely in the Minervois area. In fact it is only when I looked on the box containing the wine that I realized that “CJA” stands for “Cellier Jean d’Alibert”, a cooperative with state-of the-art technology, located in Rieux-Minervois, which is associated with “Chantovent S.A.” (a cooperative regrouping various estates in Minervois).

Now that we know roughly where they were made, what about the white wine made with "Terret"? Terret? Did you ever try a wine made with 100% Terret? Did you even heard the name before? Me neither, I don’t think, until a few weeks ago when this wine found a spot on our shelves.

Terret is not a very common grape variety, which is usually blended. It exists in 3 colors:
  • Terret Noir is a dark-skinned grape grown primarily in the Rhône valley region of France. It is a permitted blending grape for Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Related to “Terret Gris” and “Terret Blanc”, the Terret Noir is a late budding grape that grows vigorously. In general, it produces light color wine that is perfumed and tart.
  • Terret Gris is a white grape planted primarily in the Languedoc, where AOC regulations allow the grape to be used in white wines from the Corbières AOC, Coteaux du Languedoc AOC and Minervois AOCs. The vine has a very long history in the region and is capable of producing medium to full-bodied wines with crisp acidity.
  • Terret Blanc is a white mutation, which derivates from the Terret Noir grape and is less commonly found. The clusters are medium to large and oblong berries are medium size. The cluster is truncated, compact and winged. The vine is moderately vigorous but productive. He gives according to soil type and wines 50 hl / ha in the hills close to 100 to 150 hl / ha in the best land usually in plains. Terret is generally conducted in “gobelet”, mnncncchnush of short size. It is insensitive to “excoriose” and “botrytis”, powdery mildew, but he fears mildew and to the cluster. It produces interesting light wine with a certain fruit weight, good acidity and versatile profile.
The weirdest part of this wine is that it is a 100% Terret white bottled on its own. Fairly rare in my opinion. The wine was vinified and rested before bottling in 100% stainless steel tanks, no oak whatsoever, just the clean, natural taste of the grape.




2009 Marc Roman Terret Vin de Pays d’Oc Languedoc France
Suggested retail price $7-$10
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons in NYC

Nice and simple, this wine is fresh and juicy, fairly dry with smooth and rounded fruit flavors and attractive floral aromas. It is pretty well balance between fruit and acidity. Very approachable and inoffensive, it is the perfect wine to pick for a party with friends and family. Serve as an aperitif with appetizers to open your taste buds and set the mood for a enjoyable moment.

Enjoy,

LeDom du vin

Step into the Green! Drink more Biodynamic and Organic wines (and food) from sustainable culture and respect the environment! Support the right causes for the Planet and all the people suffering all around the globe!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

2008 Domaine du Salvard Cheverny Red Loire Valley France

Domaine du Salvard Cheverny Red Loire Valley France

After my last post on the Cour-Cheverny from Domaine de Montcy (posted on 07.21.09 at www.ledomduvin.com) about their beautiful Romorantin based white wine, I’m bringing you back again to the « Garden of France », in the little village Cheverny.

The village of Cheverny is nestled about 16kms southeast of Blois, not far from highway “A10”, roughly halfway between Tours (75kms to the southwest) and Orleans (67kms to the northeast).

In the "département" of the “Loire-et-Cher”, Cheverny is small appellation surrounding its namesake village, located in an area where some of the most beautiful French Chateaux enhance and even embellish the landscape.

If you take the road going southwest from Orleans to Tours and if you venture around in some of surrounding villages, you may come across some of the most beautiful and aristocratic architectural vestiges from France’s royal history, like:
  • the charming “Chateau de Cheverny” (mid 17th century),
  • the amazing and imposing “Château de Chambord” (early 16th century),
  • overlooking the Loire river the “Château d’Amboise” (11-15th century),
  • the elegant and distinguished “Château de Chenonceau” spanning majestically above the Cher river (11th century),
  • the multiple façades of the “Château de Blois” (13-17th century),
  • the bold and rounded “Château de Valençay” with its picturesque garden (mid 16th century)
  • the low-key yet racy “Château de Azay-le-Rideau” (early 16th century);
  • the small and quaint “Château de Troussay” (mid 15th century).

Cheverny is often associated with its name-like neighbor Cour-Cheverny, located a stone-throw from each other. Yet they are totally different and produce unidentical wines.

Cour-Cheverny village lies in the Loire valley, north-east of Tours and about 12 km (7.4 miles) southeast of Blois and about 1.3 km (0.8 miles) north of Cheverny, on the road between Blois and the village of Romorantin-Lanthenay, where the Romorantin grape supposedly took its name from. Cour-Cheverny only produces Romorantin based white wines, which are fresh, slightly nutty with fresh almond notes, great acidity, structure and texture. They are quite unusual and are worth discovering.

Cheverny produces refreshing whites usually made with Chardonnay and Sauvignon, but also some light, earthy reds that are made from Cabernet Franc, Gamay and Pinot Noir, while Pineau d'Aunis and Grolleau are allowed for the few rosé wines produced in small quantities. Talking about a red Cheverny, here is a good example of it from Domaine du Salvard.


Domaine du Salvard

Existing for more than 100 years but firmly established in the 1930s, Domaine du Salvard is a small family-run winery owned and operated by Emmanuel Delaille and his brother Thierry, located in the small hamlet of Fougères-sur-Brièvre (11kms southwest of Cheverny).

Recognized for its Sauvignon based whites, Domaine du Salvard also produces great reds. Passed down through generations, the Domaine expanded from roughly 10 to 35 hectares of vines, which are managed under sustainable culture.

The vineyards have been planted with approximately 90% Sauvignon Blanc and a touch of Chardonnay to make their Cheverny white (85% Sauv. & 15% Chard.), with a complementing small amount of Pinot Noir and Gamay to make their red Cheverny (50/50). None of their wines see any oak treatment, and the resulting wines offers great balance, acidity, harmony and Terroir expression.

Representing the 5th generation Emmanuel and Thierry follow the steps of their ancestors and continue with conviction and even more enthusiasm to craft elegant, racy and earthy wines within the same family winemaking tradition.




2008 Domaine du Salvard Cheverny Red Loire Valley France
Suggested retail price $13-$16
Imported by Kermit Lynch & distributed by Winebow in NYC

A blend of 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Gamay, the 2008 Salvard red Cheverny is delightfully expressive, fresh and earthy, and unoaked. Behind its youthful bright ruby red color, this wine offers vivid aromas of freshly crushed wild red berries, minerality, earth and floral hints. The palate is zesty, juicy, racy and earthy with the type of flavors as in the nose. It is balanced and inviting, versatile and refreshing, with great harmony between the acidity and the red fruit. The lingering finish calls for another glass. Definitely a springy-summery wine to serve room temperature or even slightly chilled on cold cuts, appetizers, salad, goat cheese or simply on its own by a late warm afternoon.

Enjoy,

LeDom du Vin

Step into the Green! Drink more Biodynamic and Organic wines (and food) from sustainable culture and respect the environment! Support the right causes for the Planet and all the people suffering all around the globe!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

2007 Cascina Adelaide Dolcetto di Diano D’Alba “Vigna Costa Fiore” Piedmont Italy

2007 Cascina Adelaide Dolcetto di Diano D’Alba “Vigna Costa Fiore” Piedmont Italy

For over 100 years, Cascina Adelaide has been making high quality wines defined by their own "Cru" vineyards. In Piedmont, like in many other regions, "Cru" vineyards are recognized on the basis of their unique Terroir characteristics (exposure, altitude, climate and soil characteristics) that are capable of producing the highest quality grapes in the region.

Despite its location just below the Castello di Barolo, Cascina Adelaide was basically unknown outside the local area until Amabile Drocco bought the property in 1999 and modernized it. Investment was made in new equipment, a top agronomist and winemaker were engaged, and a new, ultra modern, state-of-the-art gravity-fed winery building was added on the property. The last ten years slowly witnessed the ascension of Cascina Adelaide to the top tier of the best Barolo producers.

Cascina Adelaide's wines have a unique style. Sergio Molino crafts modern Barolos of great depth with a traditionalist touch. Young, his wines are quite approachable, fruity and full, yet with a bit of time they reveal harmonious and complex mouth-feel with traditional characters, unique to some of the better Barolo producers.

Obviously, the “Cru” vineyards Barolo (Per Elen, Preda and Cannubi) are excellent, more especially the 2001, 2004 and 2007 vintages which were some of the best vintage of the last decade in Piedmont. However, their Langhe(s), Dolcetto and Barbera(s) are delightful too.




2007 Cascina Adelaide Dolcetto di Diano D’Alba "Vigna Costa Fiore" Piedmont
Suggested retail price $21-$24
Distributed by Little Wine Company in NYC

The 2007 vintage was quite excellent in Piedmont overall and produced wines with interesting ageing potential that have a lot of ripeness and tannins. Due to high temperature during the summer and harvest season, the tannins and the alcohol content of certain Piedmont wines may accentuate a touch of bitterness, and due to lower acidity, compared to 2006, they may offer more fruit and richness upfront, but overall less balance, freshness and ageing potential than expected.

However, although quite young, this 2007 Dolcetto is beautifully balanced with chewy tannins, attractive earthiness and length. It was made from grapes of their vineyard located in Diano d’Alba. The 80 years old vines are planted on sandy and white clay soils.After traditional fermentation in stainless steel tanks occurred, the wine left on his lees for a short period of time and remain 4 months in steel vat before bottling, with another month in bottle before release. It didn’t see any oak treatment.

The resulting wine shows a garnet color with slight violet reflects. The nose is quite intense and warm with dark ripe cherry fruit, earth and minerality. The palate is still a bit tight, yet it already offers rich flavors of dark fruit, wild berries and spice. The palate is fairly soft, round and rich with good tannic structure. It may need a little decantation to fully open.

Enjoy!

LeDom du Vin

Info partly taken from the importer website at www.tesoriwines.com

Step into the Green! Drink more Biodynamic and Organic wines (and food) from sustainable culture and respect the environment! Support the right causes for the Planet and all the people suffering all around the globe!

A word on Savio Soares & 2006 Wilfrid Rousse Chinon Cuvée “Les Puys” Loire Valley France

A word on Savio Soares &
2006 Wilfrid Rousse Chinon Cuvée “Les Puys” Loire Valley France



It is not the first time that I’m really pleased by a wine from Savio’s portfolio. I can say that 75% of the wines that I tasted from his selection, literally agreed with my palate and talked to me (yes, wines talk to me in their own respective manner and attitude; go figure it has been going on for the last 18 years+). The other 25%, even if not as agreeable, still trigged something in me. I need to admit the guy is good and his wines are as inviting as they are healthy and racy.

There is no reason to introduce Savio Soares anymore. Although, just to say a few words, I will say that the personage is quite a character. Playful, ongoing and sympathetic, originated from Brazil, he apparently lived for a good part of his life in the US, including working for quite some time in the restaurant business as a waiter in New York restaurants, then a few years ago, put his own distribution company of exported wines.

Like Kermit Lynch, Neal Rosenthal, Louis/Dressner, Peter Weygandt, Jenny & Francois, amongst others before him, Savio makes a point to entertain a personal and durable relationship with most of his producers. He now spends most of his time traveling between Germany, France and New York, and elsewhere.

Over the last 3 years+, he has gradually gained the reputation of having a serious and distinctive palate inclined to earthy, focused, balanced, harmonious and crisped whites, rosés and reds from Germany, where he lives with his family, but also Austria, France, Italy and Portugal. Mostly from small producers, his wines are mostly organic or biodynamic or at least made from sustainable culture management.

Spring is now upon us. Temperatures have risen. Days are longer. Evenings are calling for BBQ(s) and late dinners outside, in the garden or seated at a restaurant terrace. Soft Rosé(s) and vivid White(s) from around the world will soon crowd the shelves of your local store. Therefore, it is time to go back on a quest to find lighter, juicer and crispier reds, made from grape variety like Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc, amongst other.

Lately, I tasted the 2006 Chinon Cuvée “Les Puys” from Wilfrid Rousse and was quite impressed with it. Although I think that his 2007, will even be superior and more age worthy, his 2006 was delightful with crisp red berry fruit and enhancing acidity. The wine is part of Savio Soares selections in New York.



Domaine Wilfrid Rousse

By passion for wine, Wilfrid Rousse started in 1987 with only 1 hectare of vines. He settled his Domaine at “La Haldabière”, which is in Savigny-en-Véron, a small village near the confluence between the Vienne and the Loire rivers, about 20kms southeast of Saumur and about 55kms southwest of Tours. Savigny-en-Véron is located a few kilometers northwest of Chinon, and is amongst the various villages that constitute the Chinon appellation.

He now represents one of the most established and renowned producers of Chinon, cultivating 18 hectares of Cabernet Franc planted on diverse type of soils. This diversity allows the application of various vinification principles, resulting in wines that can fully express the uniqueness and character of their Terroir of origin. His philosophy encompasses the respect of the Terroir and the environment, as well as the equilibrium and healthiness of the soils, to favor and protect the ecosystem.

Three type of soils can be found: Sandy and gravely alluviums around Savigny-en-Véron; Clay-Calcareous (limestone) around Beaumont-en-Véron; and mostly Clay-Siliceous around Chinon.

Benefiting from southern exposure and the presence of a favorable microclimate influenced by the two surrounding rivers, the Cabernet Franc vines, which age varies from 3 to 80 years, grow in ideal condition to produce flavorful and elegant wines of great quality and balance.

Grass naturally grows in between the rows and is voluntarily untouched and uncut, especially where the most vigorous vines are, to increase natural stress, enhance the ecosystem and allow better concentration. In other parts of the vineyards, the soils are ploughed. No herbicides or pesticides are used, and vineyard management is organically oriented.

Harvests are usually done by hand around the end of September, beginning of October, when grapes have reach perfect ripeness. After careful harvest and passing through the sorting tables, the vinification process occurs in stainless steel tanks. Fermentation can last from 8 days to 3 weeks depending on the Cuvées. The following malolactic fermentations can last for a month. Ageing in oak barrels is only done for certain Cuvées.

King of Loire, the Cabernet Franc grape produced in this Domaine, develops complex wines with fruity attitude (and I do not mean sweet), good texture and structure, and dense aromas. Wilfrid Rousse produces a few Cuvées that all received high recognition from the press and some that have been rewarded many times with accolades and medals.

FYI: The Domaine’s logo represents a crowned mermaid (about to eat a fish) "Girouette" (weathercock), which has culminated on the roof of “La Halbadière” since the 17th century.




2006 Wilfrid Rousse Chinon Cuvée “Les Puys” Loire Valley France
Suggested retail price $20-$23
Distributed by Savio Soares

“Les Puys” comes from a young vineyard of 3 hectares situated in the elevated part of Chinon, with full southern exposition and ideal drainage conditions. The amount of sun received by the grapes, due to the southern exposure, is essential for a perfect maturity. The Cabernet Franc vines are planted on clay-siliceous soils, where grass is left to grow inter-rows. De-leafing usually occurs to enhance sun exposure and aeration of the grapes, followed by green harvest if necessary, depending on the quality of the weather and the overall vintage. The wine was aged for 12 months in the naturally temperature controlled Domaine’s caves, carved in the “Tuffeau” (soft white-pale yellow limestone characteristic of the Loire Valley) probably between the 12th and 15th century.

The 2006 Wilfrid Rousse Chinon Cuvée “Les Puys” is quite nicely crafted. Although I think that his 2007, will even be superior and more age worthy, his 2006 was delightful with crisp red berry fruit and enhancing acidity. Behind its bright ruby red color, the wine expressed lovely and fresh earthy aromas intermingled with red berry fruit, mineral and slight green hints. The palate was the most surprising. Very focus, balanced, juicy, vivid with bright red fruit, good minerality, superb acidity and needed yet integrated tannic structure, this wine refreshed my mind and quenched my thirst. Serve it room temperature with lamb or duck, or even slightly chilled with cold cuts, “paté”, “saucisson” and “cornichons” as appetizers to open your appetite and wake your taste buds; or even with goat cheese and lettuce salad before desert.

Enjoy,

LeDom du Vin

Info partly taken and translated from the winery website at www.chinonrousse.com

Step into the Green! Drink more Biodynamic and Organic wines (and food) from sustainable culture and respect the environment! Support the right causes for the Planet and all the people suffering all around the globe!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bordeaux: They did it again… (sigh) or a critical Bordeaux synopsis by an expatriated Bordelais, grandson of a winemaker


Bordeaux: They did it again… (sigh) or a critical Bordeaux synopsis by an expatriated Bordelais, grandson of a winemaker


Here we go again, the “En Primeur” Bordeaux tasting is now finished, done and over and soon will start the craziness of the long established, yet somewhat archaic, three-tier selling system that the “Place de Bordeaux” has used for the past 200 years (at least).

The market is excited, the press is boiling, the critics have written their last verdicts and ratings, the buyers are impatient to know the results to start their wishing lists and the prices already started to crowd the emails of professional and private wine buyers, Courtiers, brokers, Négociants, importers, distributors, retailers and anybody else who could be involve in the Bordeaux game.

And yes, I said “game”, because it is a game after all, that has been working like a well oiled machine and never really stopped since the British and the Dutch somehow instigated it few centuries ago. It involves thousands of people in Bordeaux (and in the rest of the world), who, somewhat, depend on it. And despite creating, every year, many controversies, critics, disputes, anger and joy, it constitutes one of the most awaited and lucrative markets in the wine world industry.

At the beginning, around the 8th century, believe it or not, Bordeaux was better known for its whites than for its reds. Slowly, the situation evolved with time, experience and experimentation, and Bordeaux red wines reputations increased dramatically in the 12th century. In fact, from the 12th to the 15th century, Bordeaux regained major importance following the marriage of Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine with the Count Henri Plantagenet (in the mid-12th), who became, within months of their wedding, King Henry II of England. The city flourished, primarily due to wine trade with England and a few other countries. The vineyard area continued to expand to respond to the demand and drastically increased and spread up until the mid-18th century.

Yet, by the 18th century, still only a small bunch of reds from both banks really transcended and were consistently exported to royalty and other aristocratic and “bourgeoise” families of the old kingdoms of Europe and beyond. Most of the rest of the production was sold in bulk to the Négociants and Merchants for local business and fairly short distance export, with hundreds of barrels directly embarked in the awaiting mostly French, English and Dutch galleons parked in the busy port of Bordeaux, ready to journey to various markets of the world.

Châteaux owners were often scions of old aristocratic families (French, English, Dutch, German, etc..) and were more considered as vine growers rather than wine growers. They rarely took on the role of negotiators and businessmen, they were more eager to satisfy the demand and quickly sell their must and juice in bulk to the Négociants, who in turn were ageing, bottling and labeling the wines. It resulted in immediate cash flow and peace of mind for the Chateaux owners, and barely or no left over wines to sell, because each Chateau commissioned several Courtiers to usually sell their entire crop.

To help the Chateaux owners selling their wines at the right price and to the right Négociants (who will in turn nurture, promote and market the wines), Courtiers (or brokers) acted as confident middleman and close representative of the Chateaux owners, negotiating and choosing the Négociants they wanted to sell the wines too.

Like the rest of the different levels and positions that form the “Bordeaux Three-tier system”, Courtiers still exist today and continue their job as decision translators (meaning as someone who mediates between speakers of different languages) between the Chateaux and the Négociants.

Négociants were (and for the most part, still are) the merchants that bought, promoted and marketed, bottled and labeled most Bordeaux wines up until the 50-60s; because most Chateaux and estates didn’t necessarily have the appropriate cellars and/or storage facilities to vinify and age their wines.

The 18th century translated into the golden age for Bordeaux and its wines; more especially the town itself which has remained to this day a jewel of the 18th century architectural style. It also marked the renaissance of the “Quai des Chartrons” (Chartrons’ pier) where most Négociants established their headquarters for practical and economical reasons.

Being a pier along the western bank of the Garonne River at the northern edge of the town of Bordeaux, “Quai des Chartrons” was obviously a direct access to the port. It consisted into an ensemble of huge warehouses, built with the famous and highly recognizable pale yellow limestone as the prominent characteristic of most building from this era in Bordeaux, where the wine was aged and barrels were stocked before bottling or being sent away. It was the wine import-export center of Bordeaux.

Négociants were the businessmen merchants, who pretty much did whatever they wanted with the wines once in their possession. Meaning that Châteaux owners had little or none to do with the final blend and the resulting bottled and sold wines.

For years, due to the fact that it is often raining and humid in Bordeaux (climate also being influenced by the Atlantic ocean and the Gironde-Garonne-Dordogne rivers). Consequently full ripeness is difficult to reach and many Bordeaux wines, which normally shows high tannins with green, vegetal edges, were discreetly and anonymously re-enforced with high amount of sugar (heavy chaptalization) to increase alcohol level and/or be complemented (mostly enhanced in some cases) by an addition of riper grapes or even wines from warmer regions like Languedoc-Roussillon and even Spain and Algeria, to increase fruitiness, richness and depth. Of course, people were closing their eyes on it, Châteaux owners were not necessarily aware of it and the resulting wines were almost costumed for the taste of the different regions and markets they were sold to. It was business as usual for the Bordelais.

Remember that these kind of things (cited above) used to happen quite often due to the raining and humid climate of the region (200+ days per year in average), and consequently lack of ripeness and diluted juice. Therefore, statically talking, most Bordeaux decades, since 1900 (and probably even before), can be divided in 3 categories: 2-3 good to very good vintages; 3 OK to good vintages and 3-4 mediocre to OK vintages (per decade).

It translates that Bordeaux only sells 2-3 good to very good vintages per decade on which Bordeaux Châteaux owners can make a decent amount of money and inflate the prices for higher profits (which has been especially the case in the last decade). It means that the other vintages (good to OK and mediocre), especially the ones before the 50s, needed a bit of help to be better appreciated and consequently sold.

Moreover, between 1900 and 1980, Bordeaux counted quite a few really bad years and vintages:
  • experiencing 2 World Wars;
  • the European Phylloxera plague that lasted until the mid 1930s (and despite better techniques to avoid it, we still haven’t found a cure for it) and destroyed more than 75% of most European vineyards between 1860s and 1930s;
  • one or two great vintages in the 40s and the 60s;
  • the 50s and the 70s didn’t deliver much;
  • the 60s and 70s overall were all about huge production with high yields per hectare, therefore lacking of quality, yet responding to the demand of an increasing market of drinkers as a result of the baby-boom (people born just after World War II);
  • and it is basically only when new and more adapted techniques of vinification and more careful vineyard management (and deeper concerns about applying the rules) appeared in the 80s (with a slight increase of temperature), that most of the unlawful used recipes were dropped for a more respectful use of the rules but also more natural and traditional way of making wine.
  • The 90s only produced a few very good vintages toward the middle and the end of the decade and saw the apparition and rapid growth of the sustainable, “Lutte Raisonnée”, Organic and Biodynamic movement, more developed on the right bank with the “Garagistes”.
  • 2000s were obviously one of the best decades for Bordeaux, with the 80s, but it is partly due to the fact that with the new techniques and methods and rectification processes, bad or good vintages, rainy or not, it has become more difficult to produce bad wines in Bordeaux.
However, the unavoidable use of unlawful and uncontrolled methods, in the vineyards and the cellars (pretty much all over in France), leaded to the creation of the French AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée), in 1936.

Before that barely any control over the amount of yield per hectare, alcohol content and origin of the wine occurred. Barely any restrictions (now strictly ruled) existed and the few ones in place were not really followed and/or applied. In fact, it was difficult to check and too current in everyone business to really be able to entirely investigate and regulate it. These are the main reasons why systems like the AOC were invented: to certify the origin, acknowledge the particularity and characteristics of the Terroir (climate, type of soil, geography, topography, etc..); but essentially to control what is done in the vineyards and the cellars and more importantly what is in the bottle.

Just to remind you, the notion and concept of “Embouteillé a la Propriété” or “au Château” (bottled at the property or at the Château), only dates from the 50s. At this time, only the elite and “crème de la crème” wineries like the first growth and a few more “privilegiés” had access to bottling machine. A bottling machine mounted on a truck was passing by in the villages and the estates, and that was pretty much it. Before that, bottles were bottled and corked one by one, by hand with a rudimentary corking machine.

Most of the highly praised estates were only able to buy one of these machines in the late 60s. Moreover, the concept of protection and control of the “bottled at the estate” process was only firmly established by the early 70s. Before that, pretty much everybody, Châteaux owners and Négociants, could do what ever they wanted to the content of the wine to make it taste better, and to the label, without fears of having someone to look over their shoulders.

That are a few of the many reasons why connoisseurs, auctioneers, collectors and wine professionals will always remind you that it is very difficult to prove the origin and the quality of a bottle of wine bottled before the 60s and more especially the 50s.

Also to avoid frauds, a few of the long established Châteaux started to number their bottles and indicates the total bottle production on the label (take for example the labels of Château Mouton Rothschild starting in 1945 up until 1987 for the last vintage of Baron Philippe de Rothschild who died in 1988).

Before that time, way before the 18th century up to the 40-50s, Châteaux and more especially wine growers and small producers didn’t necessarily aged their wines and more particularly bottled their wines at the estate. Some did of course, but most the wines were mostly sold in bulk and a lot of small growers were selling to local cooperatives up until the 70s-80s. Rare were the ones who could take care of their wines from beginning to the end.

Quality of the final blended wine in the bottle depended mostly on the quality, care and professionalism of the local cooperatives and the Négociants to whom the wines were sold (in most cases). Moreover, wines from the same Chateau and same vintage were not always bottled at the same time, which increased the risk of defaults and diseases, but also the overall quality and difference of taste between the various batches. Even now, blending still occurs at different stages of the vinification process, sometimes before the barrel ageing and in most cases after barrel ageing, just before light resting period and bottling. Bottling is now usually conducted at the same time for all the bottles of a same vintage, over a period of a few days rather than weeks (before).

Since the 50s, the situation has somewhat evolved in some ways but overall remained fairly the same despite a few changes in certain roles.

  • Châteaux Owners remain Châteaux owners, yet with much more control and interest than ever before regarding the quality and the taste, and the overall profile of their wines. It is partly due to the strict rules imposed by the AOC system, but it is mostly due to the facts that most Châteaux now have their own cellars, ageing facility and bottling system to always keep a controlling eye on the entire production process from the harvest to bottling and even selling.
  • Courtiers still do the same things and are still shared and pulled both ways between both the Châteaux owners and the Negociants.
  • Négociants still are the merchants of the “Place de Bordeaux”, yet they do not vinify, age or bottle the wines anymore. They basically have lost the control over the taste and the production of the wines that they sell. That said, like before, they still are stuck in the position of buying their entire allocations from the Châteaux through the Courtiers, each vintage and every year, otherwise they could lose part of their allocations which could be a great lost, money-wise, especially for the best vintages.

Négociants are also more careful in their choices and which Courtiers they are pairing with. Over the years, their relation usually becomes a trustee friendship and the Courtier-Négociants relationship usually last as long as business and personal understanding don’t clash. Négociants spend more time than ever before, counseling the Châteaux owners about the different markets and trends, tasting at the Château and traveling around the world to promote and market the wines.

One thing hasn’t changed in more than 200 years and more especially since the Bordeaux classification of 1855, it is still the Chateau owners who fix the price of their wines at the property. Before Négociants used to have a certain influence, now and since the classification, Châteaux owners decide their prices depending on their rank, their reputation and their habits, but more importantly, after spying on their neighbors. Yes, that is right, let’s say that if your neighbor decided to elevate his price because he estimated that his wine is worth a higher price than the previous year, because of its quality and the overall quality of the vintage (and the amount of yields); it is automatically sure that you will estimate your wine being netter than your neighbor’s wine, therefore you’ll apply a slightly equivalent or even a more (understandably) higher price than your neighbor.

Here is the logic of the Bordeaux pricing and it all depends on the first daring Châteaux that will be the first(s) to post their prices publicly; the rest is speculation, competition and always see yourself on a higher ground of quality than your neighbors within the same appellation or sub-appellation (mostly greed, vanity and jalousie).

Nowadays, Bordeaux production consists of 88% of reds and the 12% remaining are divided with mostly whites (dry and sweet) and an increasing amount of rosé wines, which were first created to remove juice from the vat by "saignée" to increase the richness of the reds in the 70-80s and were used mostly for the family consumption. However, the useful action of removing extra juice, due to diluted must, to produce rosé (because it usually rains about 200+ a year in Bordeaux), became a trend and rapidly a profitable new market, which exploded in the 90s and 2000s.

Bordeaux now encompasses more than 12,000 so-called “Châteaux”, grape growers and wineries (including Domaines, Clos, etc…) scattered over roughly 116,000 hectares of vineyards, divided in 57 appellations.

The controversial point is that people in general talk about Bordeaux as a whole, in general terms. But Bordeaux offers many different tastes and profiles from its 37 main appellations, yet people continue to talk about Bordeaux as one and only entity. This happens partly because Bordeaux never really promoted or marketed its wines, for the most part, they have been sitting and counting on their reputation for the last 200 years, to sell their wines.

It is also due to the fact that out of the roughly 12,000 Chateaux and estates in Bordeaux, only about 1,000-1,500 are really known to most markets, the rest remain in the shadow of that small group. And from those, only about 700-800 are really selling well every year. And believe it or not, but the whole reputation of Bordeaux only lies in the hands of the best 250-300 top-tier Chateaux, which sell for a lot of money. That is why most people think that Bordeaux wines are expensive. Petits Chateaux don't benefit of that reputation and suffer a great deal to promote their quality. There are some truly good deals, but it is in the mind of most people that inexpensive Bordeaux are not worth trying and buying or that they are not as good as they should be for the asking price. It is not true, but the market gives this impression and people tend to stick to what is advertised in front of their face, without trying to understand further (only a small amount of the amateurs and the connoisseurs do).

Nowadays like before, Bordeaux wines are still sold by many Négociants houses and Courtiers, who take their own respective commission or marge-in above the price of each other. Châteaux owners still decide of the original prices, then Courtiers take their marges (small %) and finally the Negociants (a slight bigger %). Prices also evolve with the different offerings (or "tranhes") during the "En Primeur" (or Futures) campaign. Not to mention, but prices take another toll when they are delivered and imported (importer's marge then distributor's and /or retailer's marge).

The last decade has brought a lot of controversies regarding price to quality ratio. The big question is what really justify such prices? Super high quality? Reputation? The 1855 Bordeaux Classification? Or and more likely the constant soaring demand from the emerging markets?

In the last ten years, the soaring demand from emerging countries like China, Japan, Brazil, Russia, Corea and a few other countries, has help most Bordeaux prices to skyrocket and continue to trigger interest. Yet, Europe being quite slow, and America mostly buying the best vintages and booing the lesser ones, atop a difficult market, the expensive 2005 didn't sell as well as plan. Moreover, the warehouses in France and pretty much everywhere else are full of unsold 2006, 2007 and 2008.... Bordeaux is eager to sell their 2009. And you know what, to catch up with their unmoving inventory and try to take advantage of this last vintage to make a bit of money based on the anticipated quality of the vintage and the excitation of the press over it...They did it again...(sigh)... they raised their price up for the 2009 vintage.

If you listen to the Bordelais, nearly every vintage of the last decade has been a vintage of the decade. It all started with the magnificent 2000 vintage; the ultra overripe and inharmonious 2003; then the more balance and harmonious, rich and powerful, yet tannic and unsettled 2005; and 2009 seems that it will beat all these previous vintages and their respective prices, which will once again skyrocket and trigger a lot of talk.

Although apparently this year, there are no real consensus regarding the quality of a specific region compare to another, it seems that it is a pick-and-choose vintage, mostly due to the unusual high alcoholic content and the ripeness of the fruit due to a beautiful end of the summer and harvest season. Not every wine, despite the quality of the vintage, justified the imposed 2009 prices. When are high prices justified?

I know that the vintage seems to be promising and even better than the already highly expensive 2005. However, if we take an example without naming the Château, I have just been offered a 2005 vintage (Chateau X) that was selling for about $16, and if I take the 2009 vintage at $170 a case (the price offered to me this year for the 2009), I will have to sell it for $21.99 a bottle, which is crazy to me.

Even if the vintage is slightly better than 2005, how do you want me to explain a difference of $6 to my customers, on a small Bordeaux wine that used to be somewhat of a bargain before.

With a world financial crisis, many natural devastating disasters, and a lingering vacillating economy, Bordeaux market is insane (in my opinion). They really are going to completely kill their reputation if they continue to rise their prices like this:

• 2000 was already quite high
• 2003 was 3 times the price of 2000
• 2005 was 5 times the price of 2000
• 2009 is way higher than 2005 for most wines...

Will they ever understand? ....

Think about it...

Enjoy,

LeDom du Vin