Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wine Travel: T-Edward trip to Bordeaux 09.17.08 to 09.21.08 (2nd part)

So, remember, we just finished eating at Jean-Luc Thunevin's house with his wife Murielle who is a fantastic cook and were on our way to the Chateau Bel-Air Ouy to spend the night (that we will also use as a base camp for the next 3 nights and 4 days). 

After choosing our bedrooms within the various bedrooms of the estate (also used as a guest house for visitors like us and a House for rent with all the best conveniences and appliances for group of friends or big family), 

I do not remember if it was on Thursday before the dinner or Friday first thing in the morning, anyhow Jean-Luc gave us a quick tour of the estate and the cellar of Chateau Bel-Air Ouy. 

Chateau Bel-Air Ouy Saint-emilion

Chateau Bel-Air Ouy is a newly renovated Maison Bourgeoise located on the commune of Saint-Etienne de Lisse, next to Fleur Cardinale Grand Cru Saint-Emilion, roughly half way between Saint-Emilion and Castillon la Bataille

The back of the estate overlooks a beautiful slope covered with vineyards going down to a little valley surrounded by little hills planted with vineyards, and even more hills fading in the horizon. The view is quite breathtaking on sunny, clear day. Looking to the south-eastern direction, one can see the beginning of the Cotes de Castillon hills and vineyards.

Jean-Luc Thunevin bought this property and vinified the first vintage in 1999. The cellar is also used to make Valandraud and Virginie de Valandraud, and Chateau Prieure Lescours when they were rebuilding the cellar (of Prieure Lescours). Although some people may think that it is the 3rd or 4th wine of Valandraud, it only shares the same cellar and the same care and vinification, but it is a totally different beast.   

Vinification: The 6,5 hectares of vineyard are planted on clay and limestone. The average age of the vines is 30 years. They produce about 30.000 bottles. The cellar includes temperature controlled, cone shaped stainless steel tanks with double wall for a better control of temperature during fermentation with cold or hot water (running through the double wall). It also includes cone / oval shaped concrete tanks (better for inertia between wine and air). For your info, these concrete tanks that weight a few tones each were actually slowly rolled in the cellar (on rounded wooden beam) to avoid cracks. Like most of the wines of Jean-Luc, the wine of Chateau Bel-Air Ouy is aged in 100% new barrels from different barrel coopers: Saury, Seguin, Demptos, Radoux, Ameline and more). 


Before I carry on with the rest of my trip to Bodeaux with T-edward hosted by Jean-Luc Thunevin and his wife, I'd like to give you more info about these two great persons that I discovered during this trip:

Jean-Luc Thunevin, his wife Murielle Andraud and their wines. 

It apparently all started in 1989, when Jean-Luc and Murielle bought 0.6 hectares of vines on the side of a little road touching the village of Saint-Emilion, near Chateau Pavie-Macquin. Over the next few coming years, they acquired a few more small parcels in diverse locations around Saint-Emilion (in the valley next to the Dordogne river at Saint-Sulpice de Faleyrens where the soil is more sandy, but also in Saint-Etienne-de-Lisse on the limestone plateau east of Saint-Emilion, Medoc, and more recently Pomerol and Languedoc-Roussillon). 

It is during these first difficult years that they bought a small garage in the heart of downtown Saint-Emilion to be used as a house and a winery. Within a few years, they also bought the 2 houses next door (that they combined in one since then) where they still live. The old house / garage has been totally revamped and is now only dedicated to make wine. The living quarters, located next door, are still quite simple, but much nicer, warm, cosy and inviting than what they must have been in this little rearranged garage. 

For those of you who have some difficulties to understand, Chateau Valandraud and Virginie de Valandraud and 3 of Valandraud are 3 wines made out of grapes grown in many different parcels around Saint-Emilion. These parcels were bought over many years, one at the time, by a motivated and passionate Jean-Luc Thunevin, supported by his wife and driven by an insatiable ambition to succeed and achieve his dreams. Remember that Jean-Luc started with barely nothing, didn't even have the money to buy his first parcel of vines and was considered like an outsider for years.

Made in this little garage including minimum equipment, with barely no money, only the precious tips of Alain Vauthier (Owner of Chateau Ausone and great friend of Jean-Luc), and from the passion and efforts of two dedicated characters (Jean-Luc and his wife Murielle) managing primitively the fruit of a small plot of vines, Valandraud was born and the first released vintage was in 1991. 

The name Valandraud is a combination of two words: Vallee (name after the location of the first parcel located in the vallee of the village of Saint-Emilion) and Andraud which is his wife family name (in the name of love...). 

Michel Bettane, one of the most influential and leading french wine critics (who, by the way, invented the therm "garagiste" after Jean-Luc and a small group of other innovative producers / winemakers of the Bordeaux region) and Robert Parker Jr. (the Wine Advocate and also the most well known wine critic in the world) described them as the pioneer of the "Vin de Garage" movement.

Although, the Thienpont family with Le Pin may have been one the precursor of this movement in the 70's with their 2 hectares in Pomerol and already low yield, the Thunevins were surely and somewhat accidentally (because they didn't have any other choice, no other place to make their wine and no money to buy the proper equipment, build the proper cellar or even purchase more wine) the first to bare the name as garagiste in Saint-Emilion, others, like Michel Gracia and many more, quickly followed the movement.    

And the rest is history. In 1995, Robert Parker Jr. gave a higher rating to Chateau Valandraud than Petrus, which suddenly was considered as one of the best and finest Saint-Emilion Grand Cru almost at the rank of Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval-Blanc. The Thunevins slowly and constantly increased their prices. They started to see the looks of people (of Saint-Emilion first) changed by the mid 90's, from badly considered and criticized they became adulated and showed as an example, a model of winemaker making richer, more concentrated and somewhat less traditional wines. A new era of winemaking and winemakers awaked on the right bank of Bordeaux.      

Since then Jean-Luc Thunevin (the limitless, passionate workaholic) and Murielle Andraud (his lovely wife, chef de cuisine, also winemaker and fervent supporter of her husband) have bought quite a few more parcels and properties. They also manage a few, even if the they don't own them, consult for a few more and still find the time to take good care of their Negociant company distributing some the greatest estate of our world: Chateau Ausone, Dominio de Pingus and many more.  

I could write much more about everything that I learn about them and all the great moments that I shared with them during this little trip, but so many people have already wrote hundreds of pages on books and on internet (you can even read more on Jean-Luc's blog at, so I will just continue (in some other posts on my "Wine and Colors" blog) to develop my story of these few days spent in their company.  

And to conclude this post, I just would like to personally thanks them for what they are: two fantastic, generous and down to hearth persons who worked very hard and devoted all their time, patience and courage to arrive where they are now. Bravo! and Thank you again for you, your personalities, your wines and your beliefs. 

A tres bientot, I hope, in Brooklyn, New York or even Bordeaux. 


LeDom (aka Dominique) 

To be continued...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

2007 Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina Gipuzkoa Spain

2007 Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina Gipuzkoa Spain
Suggested retail price $22-$24
(imported by and distributed by

Made from the local indigenous grape, Hondarribi Zuri, Ameztoi is clean, fresh, juicy, racy, vivid and long. Mineral and full of zest, it is a must try for people who love bone dry white. I personally adore Txakolina wines, especially during the summer, and Ameztoi is one of my favorite wineries of this area.

Once, I visit the winery, about 3-4 years ago. The sight and the view were amazing. The vineyards planted on the hills and cliffs that makes this waterfront area so beautiful, are literally plunging into the ocean. The wine has iodine, salty hints that pairs fantastically well with fresh fish and shellfish. Usually, on Saturday, the owner transforms the winery into a hang out place / bistro for his family and friends but also for visitors. It is fun and convivial and the food is fresh from the market, cook on the spot.

While enjoying your food, if your glass happen to be empty, you can just go downstairs in the cellar where you will be able to refill your tumbler glass (it is the best type of glass to enjoy Txakolina wine, no fuss, no snobbery, just a tumbler...) straight out from the stainless steel tank. You will have to position your glass a few meters away from the metallic cuve and one of the cellar employee will open a tap projecting the refreshing, young and slightly effervescent white wine in the air to aerate it just before landing in your glass. This wine needs a good dose of oxygen to open up, release all of its flavors and attenuate the fizz.

The gorgeous port of Getaria, one of the most well known fisherman villages of the area, is a delight to visit and proudly encompasses two of my favorite restaurant for their wine list (incredibly cheap old Riojas, and other classic Spanish reds and whites at unbeatable prices: ). Getaria is just a few minutes away from San Sebastian, a great town to visit for tapas and especially for one of the great restaurant of this world : Arzak Restaurant. San Sebastian is the capital of the Spanish Basque country and surely the food capital of the northern part of Spain.

I try to go to San Sebastian and Getaria every year with my little family. It is worth the trip and I always enjoy it.

San Sebastian is fun and young with lots of Tapas bar, bistros, cafes and restaurants to choose from. The old town is beautiful. The night life is vibrant. And you can stay in their numerous hotels. My favorites: Mercure San Sebastian Monte Igueldo (for the view more than for the access or the comfort, but ok prices) and Londres Hotel (expensive price but exceptional view of the beach, the board walk and the bay).

Getaria is a picturesque fisherman village, difficult of access, but much more wild, charming and somewhat inviting than San Sebastian (my only issue: it was difficult to find a parking spot, but it is a nice price to pay when you want less tourist). The port and the mount San Anton (called "the mouse") are great for Sunday afternoon walk with the family after a nice, long lunch at Elkano or even better at Kaia-Kaipe restaurant. My favorite hotel for the quality, the view and the service is Saiaz Getaria Hotel ( I stayed at Saiaz nearly every year in the last 6-7 years and I have never been disappointed).


LeDom du Vin

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wine Travel: T-Edwar trip to Bordeaux 09.17.08 to 09.21.08

Hi everybody,

I just came back from Bordeaux where I spent 3 days and a half with the team of T-Edward Wines (an up-and-coming importer and distributor of fine wines from all around the world). It was great to be in France, the weather was good, the wine showed really well and the food was amazing.

We took off from JFK on Wednesday (09.17.08) in the afternoon, and arrived in Bordeaux (after a connection in Paris CDG... one of the worst airport in the world in my opinion) early morning on Thursday (09.18.08).

T-Edward team included: Tom Edward (the owner of the company), John Roesch (my rep and friend), John Coyle (another rep. and a funny guy), Chris Wilford (another rep. and also a funny guy) and Patrick Burke (Director Domestic and French Brands and also a funny guy). The T-Edward team is great, knowledgeable and they all have a good sense of humor.

The guest were: Bernie Sun (Sommelier / Wine Buyer from "Jean-Georges" Group); Michael Eigen (Wine Buyer and owner of "Premier Cru" wine retail store on Madison St., NYC) and myself (LeDom du Vin a.k.a Dominique Noël, Sommelier / Wine Buyer / Wine Director for and taster, writer and editor of this blog

Thursday 09.18.08

We picked up a rental car and headed to Margaux for our first appointment of the day at Chateau Bellevue de Tayac.

Chateau Bellevue de Tayac Margaux

Chateau Bellevue de Tayac is a small property of 3 hectares bought in August 2004 by our host of the week-end: Jean-Luc Thunevin (quite a predestinate name for one of the most renown personality of the right bank, isn't it?). The property is managed by Guillaume Queron who is also managing some of the other properties of Jean-Luc Thunevin.

The vineyard is mainly planted on gravel and limestone soil offering very good drainage. It encompasses the 3 classic Bordeaux grapes varieties 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc.

For the vintage 2008, the veraison started quite late, around the middle of august. And the weather has been quite bad this summer in the Medoc, with 1 day of Sun and 2 days of rain, and vice-versa until mid september. Some vineyards are suffering of mildew and botrytis, and if the weather is not better for the next 10 to 15 days, the vintage should be really bad and deceiving. On the other hand, some vineyards present healthy bunches, the fruit taste quite good and seems to develop nicely, so most winemakers in Bordeaux are hoping that the sun will remain during the next 10 to 15 days to save the vintage. If it rains, it is over, but if it stays warm during the day with slightly cool night, the crop will be small with ok to great concentration and the vintage should be saved. Let's cross fingers.

Vinification: The gapes are double-sorted in the vineyard, harvested then keep refrigerated at low temperature to concentrate aromas and fruitiness. The alcoholic fermentation happen in stainless steel tank, followed by the malolactic fermentation in oak barrel. The wine stays in barrel for at least a year before bottling. They produce around 6000 bottles.

2008 will be the 5th vintage for J-L Thunevin and Guillaume Queron, and the 2006 wine that we tasted was bright with a good acidity but fairly tight, restrain with dry tannins. To be fare, I didn't write anything about this wine, I think that the next 2 or 3 vintages (if they have good weather) should show more complexity and fruit. A property to keep an eye on.

You can read everything about Jean-Luc Thunevin on his personal site:

We left Cht. Bellevue de Tayac to go to our 2nd and last appointment in Margaux (also in the Medoc area for this trip): Chateau Marojallia

Chateau Marojallia Margaux

Chateau Marojallia is also a small property of 4-5 hectares (for Medoc standard to be more specific) bought by Jean-Luc Thunevin in 2000. The 5 hectares included 3 hectares in Margaux, 2 hectares in Arsac and 1 hectare in Soissan. The first vintage was made in 1999 in a garage in the village of Arsac and was immediately considered like and called a vin de garage, partly due to its small production. The renovation of the Chateau and other buildings surrounding it started in 2000 and came to an end in 2006. Since then this totally refurbished elegant Chateau has been used for different events, diners and also welcome important guests in its few bedrooms.

You will find much more info at:

Vinification: The cellar includes 6 reverse cone shaped, temperature controlled stainless steel tank, 1 for each parcel divided into 3 tanks for Merlot and 3 tanks for Cabernet Sauvignon. The goal is to get the maximum extraction. The consulting oenologist is Michel Rolland. The yield is roughly 35hl/hc (approximately 6 bunches of grape per vine). The malolactic fermentation is done in 100% new french oak barrel. The cellar regroups about 60 barrels from 4 different cooper with 4 different type of toast per cooper in order to maximize the complexity of the aromas coming from the toasted oak and enhance the blend. They produce about 6500 bottles of Chateau Marojallia and 1700 bottles of the 2nd wine: Clos Margalaine. The wine rest after fermentations for a period of 14-18 months in French oak barrels. There are no filtration, no fining which explain the presence of sediments and the racking is done with slow pumping. Remember that the goal is to maximize the extraction in order to get the maximum of fruit, aromas and flavors.

We tasted a few wines: Margalaine 05, Margalaine 06 and Marjollia 06
Overall, I found them very bright with delicate fruit but once again (like in Bellevue de Tayac) the fruit was a bit restrain and the tannins were quite green. Here again, there is a lot of potential in this property and the wines are worth ageing. Although the wines that we tasted had green tannins, these tannins may settle down or ripen in the bottle with time (somehow, I doubt it...but you never know, the wines may show more open fruit within the next few years).

In resume, I will say that these 2 properties showed a lot of good positive signs for the futures and that the wines should get better and better. The wines offered good quality fruit in the attack and mid-palate, only the finish disappointed me a little with too much unintegrated oak and green tannins, but the combination Thunevin-Rolland worked already quite well in the past and it is only a question of small time before these 2 estates really start to achieve great wines.


We then decided to stay in Margaux for a quick lunch at Le Pavillon de Margaux, an elegant and low key restaurant, on the road to Chateau Margaux (probably my favorite left bank Chateau).

Too early for lunch, we walked to Chateau Margaux. It was too tempting not to ask the question if we could get a quick visit, especially for some of us that never been in Bordeaux or even Margaux before and never seen or even visited Chateau Margaux. So I entered in the office, introduced myself (I come here every year for the Primeur so it was easier for me to ask). They promised us a visit around 2 pm, just the time for us to come back to the restaurant, eat quickly a nice lunch, simple but good, and return to Chateau Margaux.

We visited the different cellars, including the old cellar containing all the treasurable bottles of old vintages of Chateau Margaux (we only saw it from behind the iron gate because they rarely let people in but it was worth seeing it).

We finished the visit with a tasting of:

2004 Chateau Margaux 1st Growth Margaux
Suggested retail price $240-$260

The 2004 Chateau Margaux was subtle, elegant, extremely balanced and refined as always, just a bit tight and showing some light tannins, but overall fairly integrated for this difficult vintage and already quite pleasant. Chateau Margaux is very satisfying, even in lesser vintage, that is the beauty and the quality of a great wine.

We then left the left bank to go to Chateau Bel-Air Ouy (St. Emilion) and at our host's house in the middle of Saint-Emilion, on the right bank.

We arrived at Chateau Bel-Air Ouy which became our night house and headquarter for 4 days. After a quick shower and a bit of rest, enough to discover our new home, we drove to the heart of Saint-Emilion to Jean-Luc's house for an early dinner prepared by Murielle, Jean-Luc's wife.

Dinner at Jean-Luc Thunevin's house

Murielle, the wife of Jean-Luc Thunevin, who is by the way an excellent cook but also a very good white wine winemaker (#1 de Valandraud), prepared a nice, simple, tasty and flavorful dinner:

Jamon Iberico (as amuse bouche), followed by roasted beef black truffle complemented with a mashed potatoes with black truffle, and a piece of Reypermer cheese from Holland.

We drank some interesting wines:

1999 Chateau Cos D'estournel Saint-Estephe Bordeaux

This wine has really open up within the last 2 years and drinks beautifully now. The tannins are bit more integrated than they were in my previous tasting of this wine and the fruit seems more appearing and much more enjoyable. Lather, forest floor, mushroom, red berries are some of the character and flavors of this very interesting wines. A bit light and not as concentrated as some bigger and better vintage but very drinkable for a 1999 Bordeaux.

2001 Chateau Croix de Labrie Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Bordeaux

A bit young and tight, but overall pleasant. It needs some food to compensate the tannins that are touch dry.

2004 Clos Badon Thunevin Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Bordeaux

A bigger, fuller wine that the previous one, more complex with more character and oak notes. A light decanting will benefit this wine.

1998 Chateau Leoville Poyferre Saint-Julien Bordeaux (2nd growth)

Nice and easy with good fruit, although a bit light and not too long in the finish, but good acidity and texture overall. A classic in Medoc for the vintage but a light weight in character and style compare to what Leoville Poyferre has produced since the vintage 2000.

After this nice, convivial dinner, Jean-Luc sent us to bed early in order to be prepared for the next day

to be continued.....

LeDom du Vin

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tasting Session: Noble House (with Anthony Allport & Howard Glick)

2007 Blocks Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough New Zealand
Suggested retail price $18-$20

Surprisingly, compared to most of the brand coming from New Zealand and despite the very commercially oriented and marketed colorful label, this is a family owned winery... probably one of the last one fighting against giant money making corporate companies that swallowed nearly every vineyards in New Zealand within the last few years.

It is a classic New Zealander Sauvignon Blanc: the grassy and goose berry notes on the nose are quite powerful and inviting. The palate is overall clean, crisp and quite long with a lovely acidity accentuated by hints of citrus - lime flavors lingering in the finish. A good wine in my opinion but it doesn't command such a price. I guess it is the only way to survive for one of the last family owned estate in NZ. 

2007 Strada del Sole Chardonnay Piemonte Castel Boglione Italy
Suggested retail price $16-$19 

A real discovery, this wine was quite intriguing, almost like a compromise between a Jura wine with wild fresh almond notes and a white Burgundy with fruit and depth, complemented with the minerality and the crispiness of a high altitude vineyards white from the northern part of Italy. I loved it. 

The nose boasts notes of golden apple, fresh almond, nut shell, minerals, and floral undertone. Showing a slight touch of oxidation (like a Jura white) that adds dimension, the wine is bright, vivid, with a good combination of yellow fruits, minerals and acidity. Balanced and quite long, it could definitely be enjoyed during the summer, but like Jura, Swiss and Savoie whites, it also the perfect companion for Cheese Fondue and earthy dish (creamy mushroom soup, etc) after a good snow day in the mountains. A Cheese tray with Livarot, Reblochon, Epoisse, Triple Cream will surely be enhances by such a wine. Try it, it is intriguing but very interesting, and quite good I must say (especially in this kind of price range). 

2007 Vini Menhir Novementi Rosato Salento #9 - Apulia Italy
Suggested retail price $14-$17

This 100% Negroamaro rose is lush, creamy, and food oriented, with a wintery mouthfeel. The palate offers a lot of fruit, richness and roundness. It will definitely please the people that drink rose all year old (and not only during spring or summer....). Earthy, fruity and robust enough to support red meats. 

2007 La Planta Ribera del duero Spain
Suggested retail price $16-$19

The entry level of the Arzuagua winery (neighbor of Vega Sicilia) is always an happy moment for me. I have been following this wine for the past 3 or 4 vintages now, and I have always been satisfied overall. 

Granted, some people may say: too rich, on the edge of over ripeness and too much oak.. and I won't say the opposite, but eh, it is a Ribera del Duero after all, and we are far from the old trend of Ribera's rustic and tannic wines. 

The new generations are producing much more fruit forward and heavier style than before. Vega Sicilia and Condado de Haza (some of my favorite wines in this world) are surely making elegant, harmonious and age worthy wines that are more traditional in style. However, Peter Sisseck's Pingus, Bodegas Aalto, Mauro or even Vina Sastre (to name only a few) are in the lead of some of the best wineries in Ribera and they produce much riper, concentrated style.  

La Planta is a dark, spicy, rich, concentrated, strong, inky little wine. Some may found trace of bitterness due to some tannins and the alcohol, but decant it first then drink it with a nice juicy steak on the grill or even better, the specialty of the region, Chuletillas de Cordero (small grilled lamb chops). Fantastic!



Monday, September 15, 2008

Taste buds in action and my motto

Hi everybody, 

A few weeks have past since my last post, but I'm back with new tasting notes. 

As always, I'd like to remind you that I only write about the wine that I loved. I may mention some that I enjoyed too, even If they gave me a lesser impression. However, you have to realize that I taste a lot of wines and many of them aren't that good or not even worth to talk about. 

Although, I consider, admire and respect the job of all the producers / winemakers, as the grandson of a winemaker myself, I need to admit that only few of them really achieve great, pleasing wines. 

Sometimes, certain flaws may add dimension or character to a wine, but too many flaws (too alcoholic, too green, too tannic, too thin, too acidic, too bitter, too jammy, too woody, too short, too strong, too ripe, unbalanced, disjointed, inharmonious, etc.. and the list is long) are just not good enough to excite my taste buds. 

As a wine buyer, It is my job to taste, analyze and dissect each wine that I taste (or drink), to find the ones that will please you the most. I try to keep an open mind and especially an open palate to be able to offer the best from both world to my valuable customers. 

My favorite Wine Motto is: 

"A good wine will always make you want to drink another glass after you finish the first one! Share it cheerfully!" (LeDom aka Dominique Noel)