Monday, May 21, 2012

Graves, red wine from this Bordeaux wine region?

Welcome back to the Grape News Importing, Ltd. blog and the continuation of my report from the Bordeaux wine trail.

The Graves (meaning small pebbles-and there sure are a lot of them in the clayey soils) is the southernmost appellation in the Bordeaux region, and is known more for it's crisp white wines made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Red Graves wine is less familiar to many, and usually a fabulous value!

I have been working for the last 16 years with Jean-Pierre Duprat, owner and winemaker at Chateau du Maine, just outside the city of Langon, and he is surprised to hear that you haven't yet tried the appellation's red wines, or at least his wine:

I assured him that his wine is very much appreciated in the Chicago market, and that I was working diligently to introduce more folks to his richly flavored, medium bodied red Graves wine, at which point he relaxed and agreed to fill my glass with his 2009 vintage (not yet released) for me to sample and enjoy with dinner.

There is an immense pride of ownership that he takes with his wines and I have bought every vintage since the 1993, which was released just as I made his acquaintance. That of course has grown into a warm friendship, and we often go out for a bike ride (velo- French for bicycle) in the late afternoon when I arrive so we can better enjoy the wonderful dinner (gastro - short for gastronomic) prepared by his wife Nicole. What Jean-Pierre calls our "Velo-Gastro" meetings.

With the first shipment of his 1993 vintage, there was a case of his 1992, a notably very difficult vintage in the entire Bordeaux region where some appellations didn't make wine at all. Upon asking why he included this case, free of charge, he responded "I wanted you to see what I could do in a difficult year", and the wine was just lovely.

You can find his wine at Binny's Depot locations in Chicagoland, and at many fine French restaurants such as Chez Moi, Kiki's Bistro, and others.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bordeaux vintages 2009-20111

Well, I'm back from Bordeaux with great news about upcoming vintages. I will continue with the series on my Bordeaux suppliers, but I just couldn't wait to spread the news, in case you haven't already heard.

Bordeaux wines from the 2009 vintage are simply luscious. There are gobs of fruit making the wines very approachable now, with lots of ripe tannins and soft acidity for balance.  As with many very warm seasons as in 2009, the vintage in general is somewhat lower in acidity, and with the ripe tannins in mind, a vintage to drink sooner than later, though I haven't yet met a Bordeaux that didn't benefit from time in the bottle, safely cached away.

The quality of the 2009 vintage also means that the top "classified growths" will be priced like investment-grade securities, and indeed much of this wine is bought by collectors for investment and resale.

Not to worry, there are hundreds of top notch producers in Bordeaux, the region being one of the world's largest (perhaps the largest) and most consistent producer of quality wines, and you will find lots of great quality Bordeaux wines for less that $25, and much from $10-20 on the shelves. There are many 2009 wines already on the market and more coming.

Ok, I'll let you in on the not-so-secret secret.................2010 is even better!  Take all the fruit from 2009,  add nothing less that an almost perfect growing season, and you have more tannic structure, yet still ripe and round, and just the right level of acidity to make magnificent wines. How so you ask? Well here it is in brief:

- Plenty of rain in the late fall, followed by a cold winter that knocked down much of the mold and mildew spores, reducing the pressure on the vines from powdery and downy mildew, and grey rot.

- Normal spring with good bud break and a short and vigorous flowering (floraison) providing a homogeneity of the grapes allowing a consistent ripening throughout the season.

- Warm, dry and sunny summer with little problems with mildew and mold, and a maturation of the skins (coloring or "veraison") that progressed gently and consistently, and aided with cool nights and warm sunny days moving into the month of September.

- Conditions for harvest were as good as they could be, dry and sunny at the end of September into October, so the grapes could be left on the vines to their peak of ripeness, no less and no more, and the cool nights prevented the development of the mold, Botrytis cinerea that can really ruin a good time!

The 2010 wines have come out of barrel late fall, early winter, and moved to storage in either stainless steel or concrete (epoxy-lined) vats for fining before bottling this summer, and you can expect to see the early entry-level quality wines arrive on the shelves this fall. The better quality wines will begin to arrive late fall or next spring.

Finally, 2011. Though not at the quality of either the 2009 or 2010 vintages, from what I have tasted out of barrel, this is a very promising vintage. Certainly a bit more heterogeneous but good producers were able to sort out the parcels to use only the best for their "flagship" wines.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sweet Wines from Bordeaux-St Croix-du-Mont

Most folks, when they think of Bordeaux, think of the richly flavored red wines made from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Not many are familiar with Bordeaux white wines typically made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (and more recently Sauvignon Gris), and even fewer with the sweet wines from the region.

Arguably the most famous sweet white wine appellation in Bordeaux is Sauternes. But Sauternes can be expensive, for many reasons. Primarily, it is due to the low yields of the vines, as the grapes are picked after the grapes for both the dry white wines and the reds are harvested, and, if Mother Nature is kind, the grapes are affected by a fungus called Botrytis cinerea or more commonly the Noble Rot, a disaster for red grapes if affected, but hoped for in Sauternes as this fungus has a unique affect on the white grapes by cracking the grape skins and allowing the water in the grape to evaporate thus concentrating the juice. A vine of Semillon, unaffected by the noble rot, can produce up to 8 glasses of wine per vine, but an affected vine will produce only one. What's more, the grapes are harvested only at maximum ripeness, and since no two grape clusters ripen (both fruit and noble rot) at the same rate, there is often 4 or even 7 passes through the vineyard for harvest, ALL BY HAND. This takes time and manpower, thus a high price at offering.

However, due to the strong demand for Sauternes, market dynamics over-value the wine, for those of us looking for good values. Luck for us there are alternatives. My favorite is Sainte Croix-du-Mont, literally just across the Garonne river from Sauternes. These wines are delicious and very affordable. I have been working with Chateau Crabitan Bellevue for the last 16 years and their wines never disappoint.

Some of the wine is vinified in vat, 
and some is aged in oak barrels to aid in maturation and flavor.
And all of this is lorded over by Nicolas Solane, one of a generational line to make wine on the property.

And Nicolas is always has a warm welcome in his modest tasting room for those visiting the property.
You can find the Crabitan Bellevue 2007 Saint Croix-du-Mont at many Binny's Depot locations in Chicagoland for less than $20. As I said, a great value and if this is your glass of wine, a must find. Try it with blue cheeses, you know, salt/sweet is a great blend. You can also use wine like this for a delicious preparation of duck. Visit my website for the recipe.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Chateau Valentons-Canteloup Bordeaux Superieur

Chateau Valentons-Canteloup Bordeaux Superieur is a family-owned property that sits just along the Dordogne river in Bordeaux (in the village of St. Loubès just about 1km east of the A10-autoroute from Paris to Bordeaux for all you map nuts). It is owned by the Meynard family and Jacques Meynard makes all the wine on the property from white to rose to red. I have been working with Jacques for the last 5 years and his wines consistently please the Chicago consumer as I have sold 1000's of bottles of his wine.
Jacques Meynard and his father, Monsieur Meynard.

The vineyards are planted to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, depending on the parcels and their respective "terroir". To this end, Jacques has two different wines holding the Bordeaux Superieur appellation, Chateau Valentons-Canteloup, dominated by Merlot, and Chateau Bois Malot, dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon:

Jacques is very proud of his wines and it shows:

Jacques also makes a wine under the label of Chateau Valentons-Canteloup that he calls "Cuvee Excentrique", and it is truly eccentric for a Bordeaux Superieur, made from Petit Verdot (70%) and Merlot (30%). More on this in another blog.

Bordeaux & Bordeaux Superieur Wines-What are they really?

Bordeaux is probably the world's largest wine producing region, and among many of the oldest, with over 12,000 producers. The region itself has over 25 different appellations, most referring to a specific and geographically defined area that offers unique soils, microclimate and sun exposure. However there are two appellations that are often confusing for the average consumer and they are "Bordeaux" and  "Bordeaux Superieur". These are not specific appellations like the Cotes de Bourg, or St. Emilion, but appellations that encompass the entire region.

If a producer grows grapes anywhere within the Bordeaux wine region, and then produces wine from those grapes, the wine can be labelled as Bordeaux. This includes negociants (wine brokers) and anyone who purchases grapes and/or finished wines and bottles them. Thus the range of production can be enormous from a bottling of 5000 to 500,000 bottles, and quality ranging from basic industrially produced wines to good basic wine offering good value.

How is the consumer to know from what he/she finds on the shelf? Difficult question indeed.  However, here is something you can use everyday.

Look more for Bordeaux wines displaying the appellation "Bordeaux Superieur". Why you ask? What is the difference? Is the wine actually superior to those labelled "Bordeaux" and does it warrant the few dollars more in price? The short and simple answer is yes!

Wines offered for consideration for the Bordeaux Superieur appellation are judged by a juried panel from submitted samples and must meet the same criteria as "Bordeaux" wines, and additionally show superb ripeness (meaning that the wine must reach 12% alcohol by volume from entirely natural grape sugars; inferior or less ripe grapes require added sugar to reach 12%) in addition to a quality level that would merit aging for a number of years, to warrant the granting of this appellation.

From an importer's point of view (read: Grape News Importing), the Bordeaux Superieur appellation is a great source of wonderful and very affordable wines ($12-16), but the search can be long, evaluating many wines that are fine, but don't meet my severe criteria for wines that represent the efforts of winemakers that are true artisans. I represent 3 different properties that make truly superior wines in the appellation of Bordeaux Superieur and you will read about them this week as I make my rounds.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Everyone is always looking for a good value in their wine purchase, and for those who appreciate wines from Bordeaux, the appellation of the "Côtes de Bourg" is a great place to start. Lesser known than many of the other known appellations in Bordeaux (like Margaux), this small appellation is host to a number of very good producers. One of whom I had the great fortune to meet many years ago. His name is Jacques Rodet and he and his wife Martine live and make wine on the property known as Chateau Brulesecaille. I was very impressed when I first met him and tasted his wines back in 1996, and remain so as I bring his 2009 vintage to market. Good value? His premium wine sells for less than $20 on the retail shelf.

After working with these folks for 16 years, a visit to the property is a relaxed dinner among friends,

 but we always start with a visit to the winery to taste wines from the barrel:

The wine is aged in barrels that are new, 1 wine (used once) 2 wines (used twice) to help in the maturation of the wine, without making the wine oaky, just adding the touch of wood to make the wine more appealing and balanced.

Smaller wineries in Bordeaux sometimes use the barrel aging room to store wine in bottle that is not yet prepared for shipment, as seen in these stainless steel cages that store 600 bottles each:

I always follow the lead of the "Maitre du chai", Cellar master in English,

as he guides me through the tasting of wines from selected barrels that he feels best represents the vintage, in this case the 2011, and what the wine will be when finished.

The 2011 vintage has been in barrel for a little over 3 months. Contrary to what many wine enthusiasts think, tasting wine from the barrel is not easy as the wine is quite rough around the edges. Wine from the new oak barrels has the taste dominated by the wood, which will soften in time and with blending from wine from older barrels. Even professionals have difficulty saying what the wine will be from tasting from the barrel. Only an extended history with a property and its master (Jacques Rodet) will provide the ability to judge the nature and quality of the finished wine, after many cycles of tasting the wine from the barrel, to the final blend, and finally bottled.

Yes, I know, its a dirty job, but someone has to do it!

Wines from Chateau Brulesecaille are available at many of the Binny's Depot locations, and I will be pouring this wonderful wine, among others, in the near future. Stay in touch to find out when.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Greetings from Bordeaux! I am working through the region meeting with many of my suppliers, tasting the 2010 and 2011 vintages. My plan is to keep you abreast of my activities so you can get an idea of just what an importer does (one that works directly with the producers that is) when visiting suppliers, as well as to provide a window into each supplier that I visit and work with year after year. Why do I stay with the same producers year in and year out?  You see, I don't select wines, I select producers, folks who know that the real work is in the vineyard and make great wines in good years (read: easy, where the wines essentially make themselves) and difficult vintages where a more severe grape selection is necessary and more effort is needed to care for the vines, so the resulting wine not only tastes good, but is balanced and well-made.  This is their story.

I am starting off today with Chateau Mangot, my supplier of fine red Bordeaux wine from St. Emilion, probably the best known appellations in Bordeaux, surrounding the ancient city of St. Emilion, with its monolithic church carved right out of the rock in the 13th century, and now a UNESCO historical landmark.

Here Yann Todeschini stops for a quick photo in the welcome corner of their winery. In this room is stocked the wines that are kept for future orders and orders ready to go.  As the grapes are harvested in the fall, their stems are removed, and the grapes are pumped into vats made from stainless steel, temperature regulated, to conduct and monitor the fermentation so everything goes just right, not too hot or cold.

This room is called the "Cuverie" as it contains the vats known as "Cuves" in French. Following the fermentation, the wine is transferred to barrels in a large room dedicated to barrel aging.

Here sleeps the 2011 vintage of Chateau Mangot in barrels from multiple cooperages to offer balance and complexity to the aging wine.  Following barrel aging, the wine is transferred to concrete vats to rest and for fining, where egg whites are used to clarify the wine. The different cepages (varietals), vinified separately, are stored and clarified here before the final assemblage (blending) to produce the complete wine.
We often taste from these concrete vats to see what each cepage (varietal) will bring to the final assemblage. The wines are then blended and the final assemblage is transferred back to the stainless steel cuves to wait for bottling within a few months.
Here Yann and I are tasting their wine that will be bottled (2010 vintage) in a few days. We also compare vintages, and here in the photo below, we are tasting through the 2009, 2010, and barrel samples of the 2011 vintages:

The vintage of the Chateau Mangot St. Emilion Grand Cru currently available in the Chicago Market is the 2008. Their premium cuvée (meaning simply, blend) the Cuvée Quintessence, is available in the 2009 vintage.

I hope you enjoy these wines as much as I do and it is a pleasure to bring them to market.