Sun 2 Apr 2017
My introduction to wine mainly occurred through reading books about wine and wine production, primarily centered of France’s storied Bordeaux region. That’s where the interest lay in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Learning about the legendary Bordeaux vintages of the past — 1900, 1928 and ’29, 1945 and ’47, 1959 and ’61 — certainly added to my knowledge about wine and whetted my appetite for experience, but the chances of actually encountering such wines, of course, was nil. Bordeaux doesn’t dominate the conversation as it once did, however, because the past few decades have seen a tremendous wave of diversity and change in the world’s wine industry, though the top properties in Bordeaux’s Right and Left Banks still demand high prices and receive the attention of the press and the auction houses. Very few people, though, will pay, say, $800 to $1,500 for a single bottle of wine, or even $200 to $500. The good news is that the region is filled with hundreds if not thousands of small estates that command not a lot of attention but are completely worthy of being investigated for their high quality and comparatively low prices. The wines under review today derive from properties located in what some would consider Bordeaux’s backwaters, appellations that may be familiar locally but scarcely get imported to these shores. These estates also exist at the forefront of contemporary thinking about Bordeaux wines. Most of these estates run on organic or biodynamic principles; most are family-owned and operated and pride themselves on their artisanal approach. They provided me — four whites and five reds — with a great deal of pleasure, and I urge My Readers to search them out.
These wines were samples for review.
This 24-acre estate, the property of Corinne and Jean-Michel Comme, is operated strictly on biodynamic principles. Only native yeasts are used, and the wine sees no oak, aging four months on the lees in vats. Chateau du Champs des Treilles “Vin Passion” 2015, Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux, is a blend of one-third each sauvignon blanc, semillon and muscadelle. The effect is of impeccable clarity and purity, beginning with the very pale hue that evinces the merest shade of straw-gold, with a faint green tint; the primary notes are lime peel and tangerine, talc and lilac, with hints of leafy fig and peach; it’s very dry yet juicy in its citrus and stone-fruit flavors, lightly dusted with cloves and dried thyme and expanding into shelves of limestone and flint minerality. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018. Very Good+. About $15.
Savio Soares Selections, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Pierre Lurton owns two of the most august and authoritative properties in Bordeaux, Chateau Cheval Blanc in Saint-Emilion and Chateau d’Yquem in Sauternes. He is also proprietor of this 146-acre estate in Entre-Deux-Mers, which dedicates 121 acres to red grapes and 25 to white. Chateau Marjosse 2014, Entre-Deux-Mers, is a blend of 50 percent sauvignon blanc, 30 percent semillon, 15 percent sauvignon gris and 5 percent muscadelle, fermented in cement and aged two months in French oak. The color is medium gold-yellow; this is all yellow fruit and flowers, like peaches and golden plums, honeysuckle and jasmine, with, in the background, a note of guava; as to minerality, it’s like drinking liquid quartz in its dryness, its scintillating glitter and its vibrant acidity. Alcohol content N/A. It’s quite attractive, but feels just a tad musky and funky, so drink by the end of 2017. Very Good+. About $16.
Peloton Imports, Naoa, Calif; Duclot La Vinicole, New York.
Chateau Les Charmes-Godard is owned by the Thienpont family, which oversees a startlingly comprehensive roster of fine properties, including Vieux-Chateau-Certan and Le Pin in Pomerol. The 16-acre Les Charmes-Godard is far more humble than those prestigious estates but is operated on meticulous standards. Of the area under vines, only 2.5 acres is devoted to dry white wine. Chateau Les Charmes-Godard 2014, Francs Cotes de Bordeaux. is a blend of 65 percent semillon, 20 percent sauvignon gris and 15 percent muscadelle, fermented in oak and aged eight months, one-third new barrels, one-third one-year old, one-third two years old. This is a pinpoint focused wine that offers a mild medium gold hue and lucid aromas of figs and tangerine, with the pertness of lime peel and the dusty richness of greengage; incisive acidity cuts a swath through a texture that deftly balances talc-like softness with crisp tartness. An indisputable limestone edge emerges from mid-palate back through the spare, chiseled finish. 13 percent alcohol. Terrific winemaking. I suspect that this wine possesses the tensile power and vitality to last beyond its immediate principle of pleasure, so drink through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
Imported by Monsieur Touton, New York.
Olivier Bernard, owner of the august Domaine de Chevalier in the Graves region, acquired Clos des Lunes with the intention of producing well-made and affordable dry white wines. The paradox is that the 136-acre estate lies in the heart of Sauternes, right next to Chateau d’Yquem, which arguably makes the best sweet wines in the world. (All right, among the best.) Clos des Lunes Lune Blanche 2014, Bordeaux, is an old-vine blend of 70 percent semillon and 30 percent sauvignon blanc, aged six or seven months in vats (70 percent) and oak barrels (30 percent). The wine displays a pale gold hue and offers beguiling aromas of lilac and talc, roasted lemon, with notes of ginger and quince, lemon grass and tangerine; it’s quite dry and spare on the palate, developing a profound element of limestone minerality, but also opening to touches of starfruit, papaya and grapefruit rind for a finish that’s both seductive and a bit austere. 13 percent alcohol. Great winemaking on view here. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $20, another Great Value.
Imported by Monsieur Touton, New York.
Chateau Mauvesin Barton is owned by Lilian Barton and Michel Sartorius, owners of Chateaux Leoville Barton and Langoa-Barton, classified growths in St.-Julien The 126-acre estate is run by their children Melanie and Damien. Chateau Mauvesin Barton 2012, Moulis-en-Medoc, is a blend of 48 percent merlot, 35 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent cabernet franc, 3 percent petit verdot, aged 12 months in oak, one-third new barrels, one-third one-year old; one-third from two Leoville-Barton wines. The color is intense dark ruby shading to a transparent mulberry rim; an aura of dust, graphite and cedar encompasses concentrated, rooty and tea-like black currants and cherries. It’s a mouth-filling wine, robust and vibrant, and it pulls up more intensity as the moments pass, revealing a kind of meaty core touched with tapenade, fruit cake and violets. For all that, it manages to be quite tasty. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent, and a Great Value at about $21.
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.
Clos Puy Arnaud La Cuvee Bistrot de Puy Arnaud 2013, Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux, is a blend of 70 percent merlot, 30 percent cabernet franc, certified biodynamic. Seeing no oak, the grapes fermented and the wine aged three months in cement vats. A bright medium but transparent ruby hue presages the wine’s notion of freshness and drinkability; hints of red currants and cherries are light and tasty, while the wine unfolds a spicy and slightly fleshy aspect and notes of iodine and graphite, mint and cloves; clean acidity keeps the whole package lively and balanced. 12 percent alcohol. Exactly what you might drink in a bistro or cafe with a roasted chicken, steak frites or rabbit and pork terrine. Very good+. About $25. Charming as it may be, I would like this wine better at $18. Drink up; the ’14 is on the market.
Imported by Duclot La Vinicole, Manhasset, N.Y.
I was supposed to receive the 2010 version of this wine, but got the 2008 instead, and I’m glad I did. We don’t often have the chance to try an eight-year-old red wine from Bordeaux, so this was instructive. And I’ll say that people who love the red wines of Bordeaux but don’t want to pay the gasp-inducing prices attached to the Big Names should consider buying Chateau Reignac by the case, for present and future drinking. The 200-acre estate in Entre-Deux-Mers is owned by Yves and Stephanie Vatelot. Thirty percent of the grapes are vinified in new oak barrels after cold maceration in stainless steel vats; 70 percent are vinified in wood and stainless steel. Chateau de Reignac 2008, Bordeaux Superieur, is a blend of 75 percent merlot, 25 percent cabernet sauvignon. The color is very dark and intense black-ruby with the slightest fading at the rim; notes of tobacco leaf, walnut shell and dried rosemary point toward the structural elements in this wine, finding a complement on the palate in dry, tightly focused tannins and sleek graphite-tinged minerality. The texture is lithe, supple and sinewy and supports concentrated, spicy black currant and cherry flavors showing a hint of plum. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2025 to ’28. Excellent. About $31.
Imported by Fruit of the Vines, Inc, Long Island City, N.Y.
Paul Barre, owner of the 17-acre estate Chateau La Grave in Fronsac, was a pioneer of biodynamic practices in Bordeaux, having instituted such methods to his vineyard 25 years ago. The word “chateau” carries many implications in the region, and at Chateau La Grave there is no 18th Century mansion; rather; rather, Barre, his wife and son and daughter-in-law live and work in a farmhouse in the midst of the vines. The vineyard is plowed by horse, the grapes are hand-harvested and only native yeasts are employed to start fermentation. Chateau La Grave 2011, Fronsac, is a blend of 66 percent merlot, 26 percent cabernet franc, 8 percent malbec. A very dark ruby robe shades to a bright magenta rim; there’s broad appeal and even charm here, in a wine that displays slightly fleshy, spiced and macerated black currants and raspberries in a dense, almost chewy texture bolstered by moderate tannins and vibrant acidity; it’s peppery and juicy on the palate, and as the moments pass, the wine acquires more substance and heft, through to a somewhat honed, graphite inflected finish. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $32.
Imported by Grand Cru Selections, New York. Image by Christine Havens.
The vineyards at tiny Clos du Jaugueyron — 7.4 acres divided into 16 separate parcels — are certified organic and biodynamic. The Clos du Jaugueyron 2012, Haut-Medoc, is a blend of 53 percent cabernet sauvignon, 40 percent merlot and 7 percent petit verdot, aged 12 months in French oak, 75 percent older barrels, 25 percent new. The color is dark ruby, with slight fading at the rim; the glass bursts with notes of mint and cedar, iodine and graphite and black fruit steeped in spiced black tea. These elements segue seamlessly onto the palate, where the wine takes on aspects of forest and loam and dry, well-knit tannins, animated by bright acidity. Granitic minerality in the finish feels chiseled and almost transparent. 12.5 percent alcohol. Beautifully fashioned and well-balanced for drinking through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $36
Imported by Selection Massale, Oakland, Calif.