Man-Can-Wine | Winter Reds

The middle of winter is a fantastic time for enjoying wine especially for those  normally to big, heady and sort of all-around-too-ballsy to be easily digestible any other time of the year.

The Pairing

WHEN, in winespeak, we say “big” we mean a wine, usually red (although there are arguably some whites that will qualify as big[1]) with a thick coating mouth feel and a kick of tannin (mouth-drying astringency) and a whole lot of bramble and fruit to keep it interesting. Now, assy and horseshit laced reds are not everyone’s thing but some can be right down delicious and perfect for winter; hunt down a ten year old Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Rhone Red, FR) and you’ll see what we mean. The trick here is in the match—these ain’t exactly sipping reds, but if you’d like to drink your jerky you certainly can. Winter reds, and we’re for the most part leaving big flashy California Cab who’s often gobsmacking fruit makes it more apt to drink on its own, are meant to be enjoyed with something to eat;


A Gentlemen’s Directory of Food and Wine Pairing: Winter Reds


  • Big Steak: Old Bordeaux- St. Julien (Leoville-Barton) or St. Estephe (Haut-Marbuzet… if you can find it)
  • Lamb, roasted or otherwise: Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Hermitage (both from the beloved Rhone, home of big rugged bacony reds that are delicious and perfect with anything lamb) – not to mention Barolo (Piedmont, IT), Pesquera (Ribera del Duero, SP), and anything Cabernet from… Washington (l’Ecole 45, Matthew’s, or Andrew Will to name a few).
  • Roast or Stew: Porteguese Reds- they are wonderful (often a blend of Touriga Nacional and Cabernet).
  • Short Ribs: Aglianico, old Barolo
  • Ox-Tail: Rioja (we love Vina Tondonia)


[1] Clos Coulee de la Serrant by Nicolas Joly; Vina Tondonia Blanco 1998; and Belle Cote Chardonnay by Peter-Michael just to name a few that roll off the tongue. 

What you need to know: Pairing Food and Wine

Fear not!- TGG is not turning into a Perfume Blog!

Food and Wine, some pairing are meant to be…




The Pour: Beef and Reds

There is nothing more deliciously satisfying than eating fried snacks, whether fish and chips or pakoras, with a nice cold beer. The effervescence of the beer lifts the fat off the palate and refreshes the taste buds between every crispy, succulent bite. But this is not “pairing” not in the classical way. There is a difference between chasing a particular with food that happens to be nice (like beer with nearly everything, or sparkling water for that matter) and ‘matching’ in its pure form. For our purposes here we will define ‘matching’ or ‘pairing’ to the extraordinary effect that proper coupling has on the liquid being imbibed with the food it is being eaten with and visa versa; in English: the wine makes the food taste better and the food makes the wine taste better. The key word here is ‘better’ as opposed to ‘different’; a mouthful of fresh chilies (or anything Thai for that matter) followed by a tannic Cabernet Sauvignon or  Bordeaux will certainly make both of them different, but in a very awful, acrid way (actually the capsaicin in the chili, the actual compound which makes them spicy, reacts chemically with astringent tannins inherently in big red wines to produce a taste and sensation in the mouth unlike sucking on metal or chewing on aluminum foil).

Paring is an art form, not a science and while some people do it well, few, pros included, do it exceptionally well. The difference between a good pairing and a great pairing can be the absence or presence of a mild religious experience; but few ever reach it. Attempts, have of course, been made to reach a formulaic concensus: ‘white wines with white meat and red wines with red…’ and so on. These are handy and a great starting point, but what happens when chicken (a white meat) is char-roated in a tandoor giving it a slight smokiness that is enlivned by masala? Sure some whites will do well (buttery chardonnay or big Alsatian pinot gris), but some reds are better apt to tackle the heartiness of a murg tikka (petit syrah, shiraz, zinfandel, Grenache etc). What happens when the meat in question, whether beef or otherwise, is simply cooked and tossed with coriander, lime juice, freshly sliced onions, fish sauce and a hint of chilies? The inherent wualities of a red wine would clash unabashedly, like a joke in a funeral, with the acidity of the lime juice and the overall ‘green’ flavours of the coriander- this is white wine terrirtoy all the way (Gruner Veltliner, Australian Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, white Bordeaux, qurily Italian whites et al.)

For every rule there is an exception, especially in wine, nothing is solidly black or white, but shades of grey. There are, of course, a couple tricks to keep in mind:

The geography rule

Like with like:  the terroir-food principle

Sancerre is a small village on the east- of the Loire river in eastern France. Fourteen villages are allowed to make the wine labeled as Sancerre and always if white, only made from Sauvignon Blanc. One of those villages happens to be the village of Chavignol, home of the world famous hockey puck-shaped goat cheese; crottin du chavignol. The food grew up around the traditional flavours of the sorrounding areas wine culture and, conversely the wine was made within the context of the prevailing food culture and its flavours. Which is to say that there is no better pairing in the world than a buful Crottin du Chavignol with a steely and flinty Sancerre. Of course this can be extended to say that Sauvigon Blancs do very well with goat cheese overall; no matter where the cheese or the saivnong blanc are from.  What is the best wine with a tuscan steak? Tuscan wine. What does one best pair with Shnitzel and kndoel? German wine, etc. In Alsace the diet conisits of mostly sausages, saur kraut and foie gras, the wine pair, naturally, seamlessly.

Context of where the wine is from and the sorrounding food will tell you most of what you need to know about a successful pairing or at least which elements the wines go best with.

The minefield

Zero-in on the dominant flavors

Indian cuisine is characterized by its complex and layered flavours, in short, there’s a lot happening. The same goes true of many cuisines in Asia, Latin America, and the Carribean. It is futile to then try and compliment all the various flavours to the wine with 100% accuracy; instead focus on the dish’s dominant flavor. If the dominant flavor is the char from the grill then match the wine to that. If the dominant flvor is tomato, then match the wine to that- this will yield a much higher degree of success.

The pink truth

Pink with Pink

Shrimp, roast beef sandwiches,  and certain sushi and sahimi (think salmon and hamachi) is betuiful with dry rose.

The Meursault + sandwich

The simple vs. complex rule

If the food is very complex and incredibly multi-layered choose a simpler wine. If the dish is rather simple with one or two dominant flavours then the wine should be multi-layered, expressive and complex; otherwise both compete and none win.

Think a buttery, deep, profound and ethereal chardonnay with a biryanni or a simple, but delicious, fruity and spice-laden red Zinfandel or Shiraz with a tandoori raan.

The Decision


Compliment before contrast

It is easier to compliment the wine wih the food than to contrast it, although contrasting yields the greatest pleasure. If the dish has citrus flavors then the wine should too (think sauvignon blanc). If the wine has hints of cinnamon and gamyness in the nose, then the food should to (think lamb). A contrast is a much harder manouvre and definalty fraught with risk but worth if done right (a chardonnay with mushroom risotto).

The Exception

Wine enemies with food

There are just certain things in food, whether they are compunds enzymes or otherwise which have a negative effect ont eh taste of wine; there are things you just can’t pair (kind of) and you just need to accept it. Wine enemies are things like artichokes, asparagus, excessive acidity ( Salad? Forget) it!, chilies, and sweetness (like dessert; dessert wines being the exception, but here, the wine needs to be sweeter than dessert for it to work).

There is only one wine in the world that can tackle artichokes, asparagus and chilies without a problem, and that is the darling of the moment, dry fino or manzanilla sherry.

The trick

The Chili conundrum

The enemy: capsaicin. There is no getting around this (sort of). The dicsion for me is made at the onset (especially when I’m in South-East Asia) either a) eat spicy and love it or b) have it mild and enjoy wine with it, otherwise the local beer will suffice. Chilies, black pepeer etcetera reach with the tannins of red wine often making the wine taste metallic and the food even spicier. There are evry few instances where the world can meet happliyl (see my note about tandoori raan with Shiraz or Zinfandel) and the trick here is “perceptual sweetness”; or,in other words frutiniess. If you absiluty must ead very very spicy and insist on drinking wine with it then opt for wines whoch are fruitier and off-dry to sweet. The sweetness balances out the chilies. A sauternes (the sweet wine from the southern region of Bordeaux in France can be wonderful with very spicy food (believe it or not) and the chilis make the wine less sweet. But no matter what, chili and drink at your own risk

The unlikely


Remember, if at first you fail, try and try again. One of my most wonderful food and wine memories was in New Delhi with the  indomitable local wine personality, Sanjay Menon at Dumpukht restaurant at the Hyatt orderig dish after dish surrounded by nearly a dozen bottles of wine; from super-Tuscans to obscure Spanish wines… and the wines paring were great! Burmese lobster bisque? Madeira. Butter chicken? HUGE Chardonnay or a Clos Coulee de la Serrant (an odd little wine the Loire Valley’s famous Nicolas Joly). French fries? Champagne! The sky is the limit.

The hunch

Follow you palate.

In everything, whether a novie or an expert, your palate will let you know whether you have landed on liquid gold, or liquid lead. Trust yourself, you palate is your guide and will seldom let you down. At the end of the day it does not matter what I say, or what any of the world’s selfrighout wine exprts purport to know. What matters is that you like it. So if you want to eat fried chilies with a bottle of Cheval Blanc, be my guest, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!

MY favourite pairings

Hot and salty French Fries
Champagne, poreffarbly Krug, Jaquesson or anything iwht a bit more body.
Spicy Tuna Roll
Rose d’Anjou or Tavel or any other um, masculine, dry rose.
Chicken Tikka
Big new world chardonnay; Calfornia or Australia
Syrah, shiraz, Grenache, or Zinfandel
Life Champagne, for everything, always champagne

Champagne Revisited

The Lady

I refused to believe that champagne was a myth,” she said, pressing a beautiful Riedel ‘grand cru’ champagne stem, the kind that looks more like a fishbowl-cum-wine glass than one made for fizz, to her pouty and elegant lips. “For me it had to be, it [champagne] must always be… a wine.” She should know, her name is Beatrice Cointreau (yes that Cointreau) but more recently she heads up the boutique house of Champagne Gosset.

Champagne is as misunderstood as Michael Jackson, and rightly so. To begin with we’ve come to know champagne (and here I make the distinction between Champagne, the place, and champagne the wine) as a “conceptual” thing; a wine with bubbles. We know champagne as the wine to celebrate special occasions (New Year’s or a new dress), impress a hopeful mate (a.k.a. nail the deal), or coyly sip before the ‘real’ stuff comes out, because beer is too crass at the stuffy party you’re at. Occasionally, at some trendy apartment or café, one stumbles on classic ‘vintage’ posters that pictures a svelte woman, in what is surely a black Chanel dress, while above her floats the header: “l’Istance Taittinger.” For others, bubbly conjures the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe prancing around with a bottle of Moet & Chandon. This is what champagne is to most of us; glamorous, slightly dandy, yet always celebratory. This is what, I believe, Madame Cointreau meant by the ‘myth’ of champagne.

Ask most wine lovers to tell you a bit about champagne, the drink, after all comes complete with its own creation myth: Once upon a time there was a monk named Dom Perignon who worked and toiled at all hours of the day and night confined to a medieval monastery in the tiny and equally medieval village of Hautvillers. One glorious spring morning the brothers fetched monsieur Perignon, apparently every single bottle in their cellars had spontaneously exploded. Every single bottle… But one. Exasperated the Dom opened it and took his first sip of the now bubbly wine (the “first ever”) and is said to have exclaimed “Come, come brothers, I’m drinking stars!”

This legend was carefully crafted in the 20th century by the trade commission put together after World War II to promote the stuff, but like many other things, was taken as gospel. To this day a regal statue of the monk stands outside of Moet et Chandon’s headquarters in Epernay, and the former monastery where Dom Perignon resided in Hautvillers (where he, in fact, worked diligently to get the bubbles out of the red wine produced there during his time) is now a museum.

And yet few people, if any, talk about the real Champagne… as in the eponymous place which actually gave the stuff its name. Perhaps it is because the story of the real Champagne, the place, dotted with gothic hamlets and two-street villages is not fancy enough in this age of single origin coffees, minimalist-chic hotels, Karl Lagerfeld and impossibly named teas. In contrast Champagne, the place, is simple, serene, a utilitarian landscape of vines speckled with little villages, surrounded by vines. The monotony of green grape-leaves and dark brown trunks serve as a severe contrast to the ivory white of the region’s chalky soil that makes champagne and Champagne so unique. It is in fact this anomaly (the chalk) area’s chalky soil, which insulates the vines and protects them from wild swings in the climate. It also radiates the sun’s warmth and light back unto the grapes and keeping them cozy in this north most wine growing region which is, incidentally, very cold. In fact Champagne and northern Canada share the same latitude, if it wasn’t for the slopes which weave through the regions terrain, and the snow-white deep-seated chalk which makes up its foundations, Champagne would be much too cold to grow grapes at all.

To say “Champagne” is like referring to the “hill stations of India” a region with a myriad of towns and peoples. Irrefutably the capital of Champagne is Reims. Reims (pronounced Re-hsse), with the backdrop of the rest of the region in mind, is big and modern by comparison. Only a 45minute ride from Paris’ ghastly Garre du Nord put me in the thick of a city, whose entire preoccupation is bubbly wine. Underneath the city run infinite mazes of caves called crayères, cut-into a bedrock of chalk, where the wines gain their magical effervescent and age. On top, Reims is bustling, the streets wide and lined with ornate creamy limestone buildings, somewhat reminiscent of Paris with a little bit of Bordeaux functionality, glow a pastel amber in the soupy sunlight of dawn. The Rue Jean d’Arc is a particular popular location with cafes, brasseries, and boutiques which range from an épicerie to a Chanel. Around the corner on Rue Bourriet is the ultra modern Hotel de La Paix, whose chic rooms accented with warm dark woods and fine lines, is more evocative of Barcelona and Miami than of Champagne (the place).

All of champagne is made with only three grapes deemed ‘noble’ enough to make the stuff. The trio is made up of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (yes, a red grape!) and the less revered Pinot Meunier (another red grape). Unless the champagne states clearly that it is either a Blanc de Blancs (and therefore entirely chardonnay) or a Blance de Noirs (entirely red grapes) then the wine, clear or otherwise is, traditionally, a blend of all three grapes. Chardonnay for elegance and grace, pinot noir for body and mystique and pinot meunier for bouquet and breadth, at least that’s the old adage.

In the sleepy Reims mornings, on the corner of the rues Bourriet and Jean d’Arc, a portly man with an omnipresent grimace sets up shop on a small metal and cement kiosk. There, in front of him, on shaved ice, is a glistening array of fresh oysters, mussels and fish. One of the best pairings with the area’s wines, and possibly the simplest in the universe, is a beautiful fresh oyster (skip the cocktail sauce) and a glass of Blanc de Blancs.

Blanc de Blancs is possibly the raciest and sexiest styles of champagne. Blanc de Blancs literally translates into white from whites and therefore purely made up of gorgeous chardonnay. Chardonnay in Champagne is different than the oaky buttery stuff from California and the New World, in fact it is closer to Chablis in style and weight. It’s cold in Champagne and the chardonnay, picked almost green, keeps all of its natural nervy acidity which is typically overran with oak and sun in the rest of the world. The resulting wine sings a high falsetto (as opposed to the tenor of Australian Chardonnay). Blanc de Blancs are complex with a nice light body yet very crisp and lacks any sort of “yeastiness” that turns some people off bubbly. This delicateness is what makes it ideal as an aperitif as well as making a perfect pairing with simpler foods such as briny oysters, even sushi, or anything fried.

Another very different style, which still verges on the exotic for most, is the venerable Blanc de Noirs, literally white from black. The color in a grape is only skin-deep; if the berries are squeezed and not allow to sit on their skins the resulting juice is pure white, while still retaining the grape’s signature deep aromas. Here one can go three ways: purely pinot noir, only or a blend of both. This style of champagne, deep and broody with aromas that can range from dried rose petals to figs in white chocolate, is one of the most intoxicating. They should not be drunk too cold, but closer c to ellar temperature (12-15C) and opened a few minutes before drinking. People freak out when they see me decanting a bottle of champagne. I have had many people look at me with that pitying face as they ask themselves “… what is that boy doing?” Yes, many are mystified and some outright horrified by my custom of decanting certain choice champagnes! I discovered the art of decanting champagnes in Champagne! Before the discovery of riddling, whereby the sediment of the second fermentation in the bottle is removed, champagne was decanted to separate it from the harmless but unsightly cloudy mass of yeast that would sink and stick to the bottom of the bottle. Back then, champagne (the wine) was much different that what it is now, most would not recognize it by tasting it. Before the onslaught of stainless steel fermenters and oceans of over-priced generic big-brand champagne the wines for champagne were aged in oak and heavy with Pinot Noir, yielding wines of great intensity which like any other white wine (like Grand Cru Burgundy, California Chardonnay and some white Riojas) needed to breathe a little and shake-off some of that bottle fatigue before it blossoms into the beautiful wine you paid for. Blanc de Noirs is good with richer foods; Lobster, Foie Gras, and even some kebabs to add an extra kick in.

My top five reccomendations that will redefine champagne:

  • Tarlant “Cuvée Louis” (Blanc de Noir)

  • Aubry Brut Rosé

  • Vilmart  & Cie “Cuvée Creation”

  • Francoise-Bedel “Cuvée entre Ciel et Terre”

  • Krug Clos de Mesnil

Bordeaux Vintage Round up: The Buying Guide- PAUILLAC 2009

IF Margaux is elegance and flowers; vinified potpourri, and St. Julien vinous garam-masala (Indian spice mix) then Pauillac is a leather-couch-ed cigar-room. From a lithe Margaux, to a irreverently flirtatious St. Julien, we go to something with brawniness and a whopping punch of tannins, brown spices and all the preciously Englihsh descriptors so often associated with claret: dark cassis, fresh pencil shavings, tobacco, cedar etc.

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron

In truth, I have always said that Pauillac is the proto-typical Bordeaux: it has the litany of flavours and aromas that are what most people talk about when they talk about Bordeaux.

Paulliac of course also boasts three of the five First Growths: Chateau Latour, Mouton-Rotschild and Lafite; although here the difference in character has more to do with there they are relative to the two contiguous appellations on its borders; St. Julien to the south and St. Estephe to the north.

The Place

Herein is the intriguing thing about these estates, Chateau Latour located at the most extreme south of the appellation (a frog could jump from Latour’s Pauillac vinyards to the adjacent vinyeards of St. Julien Chateau Beychevelle with little to no effort)-( a small estuary, the Ruisseau de Juillac serves as the borderline between the two). In contrast Chateau Lafite is located ath the most northern extreme of the appellation; the venerable estate is a stone’s throw away from Chateau Cos d’Estournel almosty literally across the street. Between the southern most vineyards of the appellation which include those of Chateau Batailley, the Pichon-Longuevilles (Baron and Comtesse) there is a wide spance of mostly Cru Classe Vineyards with, going from South to North (Chateau Latour towards Chateau LAfite) one passes by Pauillac’s other infamous names: Chateay Beychevelle, Lynch-Bages, and after a bit of a break when in the northern part of the appellation Chateau Pibran and more notably Pontet-Canet.

The "second label" of Pichon-Longueville Comtesse

I go through this painful recounting to illustrate a point and that is that we currenly, for the sake of the 1855 classification and our own sanity have divided up the northern Medoc into four major appellations (five if you count Haut-Medoc) but the truth is that even within Paulliac (a mere 8 kilometers or so top to bottom)there does exists ‘sub appellations’ if you will and some subtle differences between estates depending on when they are on the map and the subsoil’s. Here I refer to the differences (slight as they may be) between the wines of and around St. Lambert whifs of mild spice but heaftier, Bages and Pauillac proper, and further north when they become more angular (in a good way) in Pouyalet. But this is getting a bit excruciating. These variations are less notable in St. Julien as most of Estate’s vineyards are plots scattered across the appellation and through blending you end up with a faitly consistent set of wines, regardless of the estate, in different degrees of excellence. Some of that also goes for Margaux (which boasts several little-known ‘pseudo-sub appellations’), Pauillac less so.

Okay- if you’re new to the Bordeaux game forget all the BS above: just know this: Pauillac= powerful, red and brown flavors, proto-typical Bordeaux, drunk best after a decade or two depending on the estate and vintage. Overall 2009 Pauillac shined with far less inconsistencies than Margaux’s minefield

If you like smoking jackets and cigars (and most of you do…) then you’ll like Pauillacs. Pauillacs are smoking jackets, cigars and velvet slippers personified.

The following is a list of wines from the Pauillac region from the 2009 vintage. The wines were all tasted March 29th in a controlled temperature room out of Riedel wine glasses. The wines were not tasted blind. All wines were barrel samples. Any exception to the above are noted. Notes by Alejandro Ortiz.

Alejandro’s Ratings:

O/P: Ok/ Poor

G: Good

VG: Very Good

GR: Great

E: Excellent (an intermediary between Great but not Fantastic)

FA: Fantastic

AM: Amazing

The first sub rating a “+” or “-“ is given for original impression on the nose and palate followed by a subsequent sub-rating for it’s overall performance within its rating.

  • Chateau Grand Puy-Ducasse
    • VG—
      • Muscled red fruit, deep and penetrating, tobacco et al: typical Pauillac.
  • Ch. Haut-Batailley
    • VG++-
      • Improving every year- very very nice.
  • Second Tasting @ UGC Tasting: GR—
    • Bing cherry, earth and very French.
  • Ch. d’Armailhac
    • VG+++
      • Never been a huge fan preffering Clerc-Milon’s playfulness more but this was beautiful, again typical Pauillac nose and taste. Will last!
      • Second Tasting @ UGC Tasting: G/VG+–
        • Velvety with a core of brambly red fruit and earth.
  • Ch. Clerc-Milon
    • G–+
      • Lighter than I ever remember it, lithe and pretty- but not great.
      • Second Tasting @ UGC Tasting: VG++1
        • Very different than first tasting- much brighter. Buy.
  • Ch. Croizet-Bages
    • VG—
      • Cedar, pines with nice red fruit- wow, what a great value!
  • Ch. Haut-Bages Liberal
    • VG+++
      • Best in a while although it is a very consistent estate- incredibly balanced, supple, red velvety fruit with a core of gaminess. Beautiful.
  • Ch. Lynch-Bages
    • G+++/VG+–
      • Muscular and a tart black fruit background but ostensibly a beautiful wine.
  • Ch. Grand-Puy-Lacoste
    • VG—
      • Lots of tobacco and deep red/brown fruit.
  • Le Petit Mouton
    • G+++
      • Not great (obviously)
  • Ch. Pichon-Baron
    • GR+++
      • Lilac, pink fruits, flower and an overall smooth and silky texture- beautiful! Fabulous, best in years!
  • Second Tasting @ UGC: FA+–
  • Third Tasting @ Chateau Pichon-Baron: FA++-
  • Ch. Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande
    • FA
      • Exceptional, my god! Could be confused with a Margaux, so beautiful, so much perfume. Amazing, velvet, red and purple fruit, a strong bouquet of Croatian wild lavender (ok, this may sound like bullshit but I was in and out of Croatia during this time and trust me that’s what it smelled like). Amazing, fabulous.
  • Second Tasting @ Chateau Pichon-Longueville Lalande: FA
    • My goodness, what consistent magic. This, guys, is frightingly exceptional with an undying finesse, great structure and a nearly infinite finish. Very impressed!
  • Third Tasting @ UGC: ?
    • This was so great, and I was so excited, I cannot read any of the notes I wrote about it, I can make out one expletive however.
  • Second Wine: Reserve de la Comtessee: FA
    • Tasted several times and always absolutely fabulous. Try the Latour challenge with this too (see below Latour notes).
  • Ch. Forts de Latour
    • FA+–
      • Holy enamel-peeling-tannins Batman! This boy’s huge! Together with almost every second label this year; there is such a conserted effort being paid to their quality and makeup that there surpass some off vintages of the Grand Vins, moreover they are wines onto themselves usually coming from plots of vines entirely dedicated to their production (as opposed to being blended from the Grand Vin’s leftovers). Spectacular, muscled—I challenge someone out there to serve this blind to a so-called ‘wine expert’ fifteen years from now and I will wager a small car, right here and now, if he doesn’t think this is a Chateau Latour!
  • Ch. Latour
    • FA+++
      • A brooding monster, monolithic, tobacco-dark-chocolate and dark tarry tobacco-dripping wine. Immense, beautiful and could very qualify as a “nuclear holocaust wine” (see previous posts here). Unbelievable.
  • Ch. Mouton
    • GR—
      • Better than I’ve tasted in a while, MUCH better
  • Ch. Lafite-Rothschild
    • AM—
      • Ethereal and magical as always, stupendous.

The Obsession (and yes 2001 is drinking great!)

Overall Impression of the Pauillac 2009

  • GR-FA : great to fantastic

Yes- while I didn’t remember before looking over my notes to write this post that Pauillac certainly provided some of the most memorable wines of the vintage. Moreover it did so consistently. From top to bottom the wines were exuding elegance within the broad-shouldered power that is common to all Pauillacs. These are wines that have upwards of 20-30 years worth of girth and power—but revisiting the irresistibly dismembered 1982’s it’s really anyone’s guess whether wines have been refined to the point of limited longevity. Still these all have a while. Notable, again, because it’s an overall trend this vintage was the high quality of the second labels with some, like Forts de Latour and Comtesse de Lalande being fabulous and complex wines on their own. If investment is what your after then the advice is always simple: buy from the top, and with Pauillac buy a lot and fearlessly.

If you are buying to drink, look for some early maturers like Clerc-Milon, Lacoste-Borie (second wine of Chateau Grand Puy-Lacoste), Lynch-Moussas, and Chateau Bernadotte because the big boys have a long long way to go.

2009 Pauillac Top 3:

  1. Chateau Latour
  2. Chateau Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande
  3. Chateau Lafite-Rothschild

2009 Pauillac Underdogs (buy to surprise)

  1. Chateau Haut-Batailley
  2. Chateau Haut-Bages Liberal/ Chateau d’Armailhac

Bordeaux Vintage Round up: The Buying Guide- ST. JULIEN 2009

The St. Julien spectrum

SEVERAL weeks ago i wrote a post (here) about the 2009 vintage of Bordeaux, which is being hailed as the vintage of the century (that, by the way, includes 1982– which in retrospect, was not that great since the wines are on their last legs) i agree with the critical praise, in spirit. The 2009’s were fabulous- but buyer beware! Not all of it was excellent. I will continue in various parts to share my impressions and tasting notes: we start with my personal favorite; St. Julien.

If Margaux is feminine and Paulliac is masculine with cigar and pencil shaving nuances then St. Julien is more of a rumbuctious young aristocrat somewhere between Eaton and a Manhattan bachelor pad who is aptly named Phineas or Cole and looks like Mika or the fashionista scion of the Ferrari family. Equal parts spicy, flirtatious and deep, St. Julien’s wines are the favorties of many novices to Bordeaux who, although love the tender flowriness (that putrid-rose perfume) that is Margaux’s calling card, want something with a little more punch. In truth, St. Julien’s are a different animal than Margaux and in the structure it can sometimes achieve a prowess not unlike its muscular northern cousin, Pauillac. But it’s in its differences to Pauillac and further north to St. Estephe which really makes St. Julien standout.

On the nose St. Juliens often smell of spice box with hefty doses of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg sometimes harkening me back to the spice-markets of Old Delhi. Alas the comparisons to India stop here (although with a Raan, a sort of marinated and tandoori-roasted leg of lamb which is so tender it can be cut up with a spoon, a garam-masala scented Ducru-Beaucaillou is just the perfect match). Unlike Margaux St. Julien (as is Pauillac and St. Estephe) is known for being very consistent year after year in terms of quality and overall profile, with nuances differing between one estate to another for various reasons we won’t get to here.

As I wrote in my notes: St. Julien makes me happy.

The following is a list of wines from the St. Julien region from the 2009 vintage. The wines were all tasted March 29th in a controlled temperature room out of Riedel wine glasses. The wines were not tasted blind. All wines were barrel samples. Any exception to the above are noted. Notes by Alejandro Ortiz.

Alejandro’s Ratings:

O/P: Ok/ Poor

G: Good

VG: Very Good

GR: Great

E: Excellent (an intermediary between Great but not Fantastic)

FA: Fantastic

AM: Amazing

The first sub rating a “+” or “-“ is given for original impression on the nose and palate followed by a subsequent sub-rating for it’s overall performance within its rating.

  • Chateau Gloria
    • G++-
      • Black muddled fruit- the most serious Gloria I’ve ever had, wow.
    • Ch. Talbot
      • O / G
        • A bit weak in the middle and melancholic- something happened here (or didn’t).
        • SECOND LABLE: Constable de Talbot: G—
      • Second Tasting @ UGG Tasting: G+– / VG—
        • Totally different wine that what I remembered tasting before; this had bright brambly red fruit jam spread on a fermented tobacco leaf (this, at least to me, sounds delicious) with hints of mint and a leafy greenness which screams “picked too early” however.
    • Ch. Lagrange
      • VG++-
        • Supple folds of liquid mahogany with nuances of cherry and a velveteen mouth feel. If a Sweedish designer conceived a sex-chair for Betty Page using Versailles as an inspiration it would be similar to this.
        • SECOND LABEL: Les Fiefs de Lagrane: VG—
    • Second Tasting @ UGG Tasting: G++- / VG —
      • Elegant but not showing as well- the sample’s a bit shy.
    • Ch. Beychevelle
      • G++- / VG—
        • Meaty and chewy—where are my braised short-ribs? Can a wine be described as guttural?
    • Second Tasting @ UGG Tasting: VG—
      • See above.
    • Ch. Branaire-Ducru
      • G+++
        • Brown baking spices sprinkled on red fruit… put in a bowl, let it macerate in the spring sun for several hours. Smell. Get it? Very nice.
    • Second Tasting @ UGG Tasting: VG—
      • See above. This is one of the great values of St. Julien.
    • Ch. Gruaud-Larose
      • G+++
        • Typical: slightly feral and funky. Always… some people love this don’t get me wrong but I have never gotten this Chateau’s wines. There’s a core of red fruit with a sprinkling of black pepper but I need to put my glass down…
    • Ch. St. Pierre
      • VG–+
        • Interestingly flowery with spicy nuances- great value.
    • Second Tasting @ UGG Tasting: VG+–
    • Ch. Leoville-Poyferre
      • GR+–
        • Powerful red/black fruit compote, but nuanced.
    • Second Tasting @ UGG Tasting: GR++-
      • See above.
    • Ch. Leoville-Barton
      • VG+++
        • Good God! (my notes). The old man (Monsieur Barton) must be getting old… Like when grandpa turns the volume on the TV waaaay up so he can hear, this wine slams you in the face just in case Mr. Barton may not be able to taste it. And Taste it you do. Need a break…
    • Second Tasting @ Chateau Leoville-Barton: VG+++
      • Huge; this time I was ready for it otherwise you can pass out. The tannins are massive, dry, full of stuff Winston Churchill loves: Cohiba cigars, scotch, French whore and god knows what else. There is a sprinkling of Thai cinnamon and sun-dried cherries somewhere in there but it’s hard to find. This is definitely a “nuclear holocaust” type of wine. Buy it up! You’ll be drinking it at Rapture…
    • Ch. Langoa-Barton  (tasted at Chateau Leoville-Barton)
      • VG+–
        • Fabulous- in the same vein as Barton- huge, blown, and chock-full of brown mulling spices. Will last forever.
    • Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou (tasted at the Chateau)
      • FA+++
        • The chateau was decorated like a sort of carnival hall-of-mirrors motif and yet no mirrors. At the entrance two statuesque blondes in small black dresses welcomes guests: I liked the wine already. Once inside the tasting started with a new wine the chateau is producing which was surprisingly in its… how can I describe it: “Californianess…” Which is not a bad thing, but if I want a California wine with a French accent there’s a slew of wines to choose from (i.e. made by French wine makers or owned by French companies). The second label La Croix de Ducru-Beaucaillou was marvelous and in line with a truism in this vintage: the second labels of the top estates are amazing and at time better than the top wine on less fortunate vintages. When I think French garam-masala (Quare Epices) I think Ducru—this is a telltale feature of the wine and one that is hard to forget. Ducru and in this case the “Croix” is difficult to let go: juicy, flirtatious, bright red fruit with a solid dose of the above-mentioned spice mix… its beautiful. Of course, the prize has to go to the big brother which tempts you to jump into the glass and swim in it. The depth of the wine is near-infinite with waves of tobacco, spices, earth, and red fruit all enveloping in it in a pretty solid jacket of soft but present tannins; this is Bordeaux after all and this wine is not pretending to be anything it’s not. And what it is, is fabulous!

        The Favorite underdog...

    Overall Impression of the St. Julien 2009

    • VG-GR

    Overall the St. Julien appellation produced very solid wines across the board. Here again though the gulf between the premier estates, and everyone else was quite noticeable although not as dramatic as in Margaux, for example. St. Juliens are great because upon release they drink well for about a year or two until shutting down for about a decade. All Bordeaux do this: try them at release and then try them two years later: two different animals. These St. Julien’s will keep and keep and keep they’ve got a lot of guts and will deliver pleasure for decades (and decades) to come.

    2009 St. Julien Top 3:

    1. Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou
    2. La Croix de Ducru-Beaucaillou
    3. Chateau Leoville-Poyferre

    2009 St. Julien Underdogs (buy to surprise)

    1. Chateau Branaire-Ducru
    2. Chateau Dufort-Vivens (not reviewed)
    3. Chateau Gloria

    Bordeaux Vintage Round up: The Buying Guide- MARGAUX 2009

    From the desk of Alejandro:

    Chateau Palmer

    SEVERAL weeks ago i wrote a post (here) about the 2009 vintage of Bordeaux, which is being held as the vintage of the century (which, by the way, somehow includes 1982– which in retrospect, was not that great since the wines are on their last legs) which i agree with, in spirit. The 2009’s were fabulous- but buyer be ware! Not all of it was excellent. I will continue in various parts to share my impressions and tasting notes: we start with my personal favorite; Margaux.

    I will wax poetically about Margaux later- Margaux after all is known to be produce wines of feminine beauty and eternal grace. They are wines that are at the same melancholy and yet romantic; sort of like the lead of a plotless French film. YOu love it, and hate that you love it so damn much; only, because it is that sensual, that wonderful, that ethereal that loving it is somehow expected… and you hate it (and love it) and so it goes.

    The following is a list of wines from the Margaux region from the 2009 vintage. The wines were all tasted March 29th in a controlled temperature room out of Riedel wine glasses. The wines were not tasted blind. All wines were barrel samples. Notes by Alejandro Ortiz.

    Chateau Margaux

    Alejandro’s Ratings:

      • O/P: Ok/ Poor
      • G: Good
      • VG: Very Good
      • GR: Great
      • E: Excellent (an intermediary between Great but not Fantastic)
      • FA: Fantastic
      • AM: Amazing

    The first sub rating a “+” or “-“ is given for original impression on the nose and palate followed by a subsequent sub-rating for it’s overall performance within its rating.

    • Chateau Durfort Vivens
      • G+—
        • Massive with layered red berry fruit
    • Ch. Dauzac
      • G+
        • Broody and dark, muddles flavors.
    • Ch. Desmirail
      • VG+–
        • Deep black fruit with typical Margaux caress.

    • Ch. Du Tetre
      • VG—
        • Like walking into an abandoned flower-shop. Intense, animalic, and broody with just enough floweriness to keep it pretty.
    • Ch. Kirwan
      • G—
        • Boring but not terrible.
    • Ch. Siran
      • VG++-
        • Deep red with cluttered dusty flavors and velvetiness- sort of like an old stuffy yet handsome woman. That may not sound attractive, but the wine is very good!
    • Ch. Marquis d’Alesme-Becker
      • G+–
        • Bitter at tasting.
    • Ch. Rauzan-Gassies
      • VG—
        • Taut with perfumed center.
    • Ch. Prieure-Lichine
      • VG-GR
        • Maybe good rather then very good, nice and layered; one of the better PL’s yet from a usually boring estate (however well intentioned).
    • Ch. Giscours
      • VG+–
        • Deep and sensuous- fabulous!
    • Ch. Brane-Cantenac
      • VG-++
        • Seductive and bright- like a whisper of a long love gone
    • Ch. Cantenac-Brown
      • VG+–
        • Deep ‘brown’ oak and leafy aromas.
    • Ch. D’Issan
      • VG+–
        • Sensual, soft, timid and nervy- like making love to a virgin.
    • Second Tasting @ Chateau d’Issan: FA—
      • I interrupted a group of Korean delegates and was running late for another appointment but decided to be polite and taste the wine, again. I was totally surprised how different, or better, rather, the wine was. This happens, Variations are a fact of life—a side effect of a substance that is very much alive. The wine is an ethereal experience and carresesyour palate like sheets of red-stained silk duvet covers- marvelous! The second wine I fantastic- jump on this and don’t let go!
    • Ch. Malescot St. Supery
      • GR++
      • Second Tasting @ Chateau Malescot St. Exupery: FA—
        • Excellent red fruit- all the right angles of fruit, body, tannin with that silkiness and a refined acidity which betrays its patrician leanings. A fabulous wine. The second label if absolutely fantastic!
    • Third Tasting @ UGG Tasting: FA+–
      • See above
    • Ch. Lascombes
      • G–+
        • Massive, mysterious aromas of myrrh and Oudh mixed with a flowers. Could be toned down.
    • Ch. Palmer (tasted at Chateau Palmer)
      • FA—
        • The first tasted was the Alter Ego of Palmer, the estate’s second wine; and in truth it was spectacular and huge, massive. The tannins were more than I had ever tasted in a Margaux wine. Once you peeled away the heavy curtains of beefy tannins you arrived at a chocolate and cherry center without any sort of cloying sweetness—this is a French wine at heart, no doubt about it. But the Grand Vin made this colossus seem like Tom Thumb. Had there been a seat in the tasting room I would have had to sit down once I tasted the Chateau Palmer. The Alter Ego is probably the best Alter Ego ever made. The Grand Vin; well, I’ll tell you what—after a nuclear holocaust all that’s gong to be left is cockroaches and this wine. Frankly it was tough to taste and nearly impossible to see through. This is not a reflection on the wine, but rather the limitations of the human palate. The wine, ultimately, is spectacular. If you like Palmer this is a monolithic moment for the estate. If you don’t, then I suggest you get to know it.
    • Ch. Rauzan-Segla
      • GR+++
        • Pure seduction, velvet fruit and spice. Fabulous!
    • Second Tasting @ Ch. Rauzan-Segla
      • Things are done a bit different at the Chateau where you’re shown a lineup of several vintages including the 1996, 2007 and the 2008 for perspective (all great by the way); which I think is quite smart. Otherwise it’s like showing a person just one chord of a concerto without hearing the rest. Rauzan-Segla is one of these wines that I am fairly convinced I could pick out blind; as I write this I can almost smell it. It has a deep undercurrent of roses and red wild flowers soaked in wine with a powderiness that makes me wonder why people don’t wear it like perfume… then of course I remember its just better to wear it. RS sometimes borders on the “… is it getting to big?” but that has never happened as the wine never seizes to amaze with its grace and balance. An amazing wine. The second label “Segla” is better than some of the past Grand Vins, and that goes true with many second wines this vintage- not to mention because most second wines are only “second” wines in spirit as they are often from different vineyard sources spiked with second-tranche barrel selections and not merely the dregs of what’s been left from its big-brother. Nevertheless- Rauzan Segla you can’t go wrong!
    • Ch. Margaux
      • AM+++
        • It’s tough to not love Chateau Margaux and such a cliché to say “Best wine of the vintage” but if that’s what you heard—believe it. Pavillon Blanc of Château Margaux was marvelous, and one of their best so far—it has moved away from it’s waxy, Semillon-laden plainness to something far more elegant and whole. The Pavillon Rouge was flirtatious and coquette without betraying any of its breeding. But the Grand Vin solicited a communal gasp amongst the tasters when it was brought to their lips. It was mesmerizing. One wanted to take it into a corner and make love to it—figuratively of course.

    Chateau d'Issan

    Overall Impression of the Margaux 2009

    • VG-GR
      • Overall the Margaux appellation was one of the superstars of the vintage albeit with a great amount of variation. The estates closer to the Gironde produced far more superior wines with some of those a bit more inland producing wines which are a bit more “mudddled” and unfocused. Moreover this vintage shows off how economic resources in the cellar can pay off- sure, the vintage was a naturally excellent one (re: weather-wise) but the ‘haves’ made much much better wines than the ‘have nots’ (or the ‘have less’). As far as investment in the 2009’s are concerned—they’ll appreciate, but more importantly, if you want to hold them for a while and drink them later (much later) then the ’09 Margaux may be the longest living yet (unlike the 82’s, which are dying a slow, painful and ugly death).

    2009 Margaux Top 3:

    1. Chateau Margaux
    2. Chateau Palmer
    3. Chateau d’Issan/ Chateau Rauzan-Segla

    2009 Margaux Bargains and Great Underdogs:

    1. Chateau Malescot-St-Exupery
    2. Chateau Siran
    3. Chateau Brane-Cantenac

    The Almanac of What the Modern Man Needs to Know: Bordeaux- the rules.

    The 1855 Classification of the Medoc.

    An appellation is a legally defined wine growing region with a specific climate, soil type, and geographical boundary which endows its wines with characteristic unique to it. For more.

    Bordeaux is one of the world’s most famous wine regions and is located in western France in the Aquitaine region on the banks of the Gironde. The “right bank” refers to the wine regions found on the right of the Gironde (Pommerol and St. Emilion amongst the most prominent) while the Left Bank contains the much for familiar appellations of St. Estephe, Paulliac, Margaux and Sauternes amongst others).

    What was it?

    From Wiki-answer: For the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris, Emperor Napoleon III requested a classification system for France‘s best Bordeaux wines which were to be on display for visitors from around the world. Brokers from the wine industry ranked the wines according to a château‘s reputation and trading price, which at that time was directly related to quality. The result was the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855.

    The wines were ranked in importance from first to fifth growths (crus). All of the red wines that made it on the list came from the Médoc region except for one: Château Haut-Brion from Graves. The white wines, then of much less importance than red wine, were limited to the sweet varieties of Sauternes and Barsac and were ranked only from first great growth to second growth.

    The Deciders...

    The Médoc Classification of 1855 (brought to you by Wikipedia)

    In French Les Grands Crus classés en 1855. Châteaux are listed with their commune (village), and their AOC in parenthesis, if different from the commune.

    First Growths (Premiers or 1er Crus)

    • Château Lafite Rothschild, Commune de Pauillac, Haut-Médoc (archaically Château de la Fite, Laffite, Lafitte)
    • Château Latour, Commune de Pauillac, Haut-Médoc (archaically La Tour de Segur)
    • Château Margaux, Commune de Margaux (archaically Château Margau)
    • Château Haut-Brion, Commune de Pessac, Graves (archaically Château Hautbrion, Houtbrion, Ho-Bryan, Obryan, Ho Bryen)
The only Château situated in Graves rather than Médoc, and therefore the only Château on the list that is allowed to sell a dry white wine under the same name and appellation as the red wine.
    • Château Mouton Rothschild, Commune de Pauillac, Haut-Médoc
(reclassified from Second Growth status in 1973) (archaically Château Branne-Mouton)

    Second Growths

    (officially Seconds Crus, sometimes written as Deuxièmes Crus)

    Third Growths (Troisièmes Crus)

    Fourth Growths (Quatrièmes Crus)

    Fifth Growths (Cinquièmes Crus)

    Sauternes and Barsac

    • Barsac Châteaux may call themselves Barsac or Sauternes.

    Superior First Growth (Premier Cru Supérieur)

    First Growths (Premiers Crus)

    (there’s more…)

    The Place: Chateau Margaux

    Word to the wise and novice alike: This list must be treated historical, as it is by no means a living document. A fourth-growth chateau may produce better wine than a second growth (and some do); but this classification is unmovable and therefore represents a once accurate snap-shot. As a guide It’s great, but not gospel

    Moreover the 1855 Classification if nores the St. Emilion classification in whose vineyards lie famous names like Chatau Cheval Blanc, Ausone and Canon whilst in Pomerol (both right bank) there is no classification albeit superstars like Petrus, La Fleur and Chateau Vieux Chateau Certan.

    See also on Wikipedia:

    Bordeaux 2009: Vintage Round-up

    1 of several…


    Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend what is colloquially known as “En Primeur” week in Bordeaux. This is essentially a week where Bordeaux chateau throw their cellar doors open to importers and journalists from throughout the world and offer them a “sneak peak” of the vintage—years before its actually released.

    Hundreds taste the wines, dozens write them up. Slowly the chateau release their prices to merchants who, in-turn, forward them to importers and down the line until they reach your friendly neighborhood wine store who then may call you breathlessly to tell you that “… Chateau Haut-Brion just released their prices; and it’s a steal… only 500.00 euros a bottle…” You pay upfront as does the store, merchant and upward through the chain. The wine, still in barrel, won’t be bottled for another year. In fact you won’t see it for about three to four years—but the point is that by the time you receive the actual bottle (or it arrives at your local wine shop) it may well be worth over 600-700Euros making you a nice profit, should you choose to sell it. The wine, in theory, should appreciate in value as the years and decades pass (in relation to the longevity of the vintage, the reputation of the Chateau to make age worthy wines and the auction index on that particular vintage/property).

    This is the futures game and, should you have some cash in the bank, a good guide and a great vintage on your hands, you could stand to make some money (or buy some really nice wines…).

    So- we have a guide: yours truly, and we have a plan:  We will present to you some of the outstaidn Chateaux of the 2009 vintage.

    Bordeaux 2009: The gist

    Without boring you we can tell you this: 2009 was an outstanding vintage (the eminent Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker both hailing it as better than the 2005!)

    Well is it? I’m not sure or, should I say, not totally convinced.

    The Bordelaise have been hit hard by the Great Recession and need a blockbuster badly—their lust for it was palpable. Just as obvious was their enthusiasm to keep spreading the idea of 2009’s God-given superiority to anything that has come before it.

    It so happens that back in 2006 I attended the futures week and tasted the nascent 2005’s first hand and I can draw some comparisons.

    2005 vs 2009

    • 2005 was consistently-great; everyone, everywhere in Bordeaux made great wine. 2009 is far more inconsistent—some appellations doing better than others while in some the differences between the “well heeled estates” and the “petit chateau” was huge.
    • 2005’s were dreamy on the onset; bright red fruit with a perfectly seamless balance between tannin and acid. 2009’s are more monolithic. HUGE tannin levels, these are furious wines which when great are amazing—and they know it.
    • 2009 brings with it lower overall alcohol levels in-keeping with global trends.
    • 2005 was released in the middle of a spending orgy while the 2009’s come out in the midst of the check-book dark-ages. What does that mean? They’ll be relatively more affordable and can, in theory, appreciate at a steeper climb over the years. The ’05 vintage was so top-heavy that not only have they lost a bit of their value but also they are largely unsellable.
    • 2009 is good, damn good, but unlike 2005 you need to be careful where and what you buy.

    Bordeaux 2009 Vintage Roundup: Appellation Sensations

    The Place

    An appellation is a legally defined wine growing region with a specific climate, soil type, and geographical boundary which endows its wines with characteristic unique to it. For more.

    Bordeaux is one of the world’s most famous wine regions and is located in western France in the Aquitaine region on the banks of the Gironde. The “right bank” refers to the wine regions found on the right of the Gironde (Pommerol and St. Emilion amongst the most prominent) while the Left Bank contains the much for familiar appellations of St. Estephe, Paulliac, Margaux and Sauternes amongst others).

    2009 will prove in the annals of history to be a breakthrough for Bordeaux; both in terms of hype and in terms of what is ultimately a reconciliation with what has been a dour global economy. This is not lost on the Bordelaise and they have been quick, energetic and unrealities in proselytizing the idea that 2009 may well top any vintage in the last century.

    It’s good. 2009, in fact, was great. Some wines reaching a monumental elegance balanced with a power seen nowhere in 2005. But, it’s a gilded boulevard with potholes. Unlike the evenly-high quality of the 2005s, ’09 delivers nothing short of magic but not consistently throughout.

    2009 Performance by Appellation: (a snap shot)

    • Moulis, Listrac, Cotes-de-Bourg: Great and amazing values. Comparable to ‘off’ years these wines are generous, balanced and delicious.
    • Margaux: a minefield if any. Some guys created magic (Margaux, d’Issan, Rauzan-Segla) while others were stalwartly disappointing making backwards wines with little character.
    • Haut-Medoc: overall very good (La Lagune, La Tour Carnet), some dogs.
    • St. Julien: Overall great and consistent.
    • Paulliac: a bit spotty but for the most part fabulous.
    • St. Estephe: Monumental, huge wines with power and grace unlike anything I have ever seen
    • Graves: Overall very good whites with wispy red-berry reds
    • Pessac-Leognan: Very, very good in both red and white; very consistent.
    • Pommerol: Overall good, not great—but when very good, they’re amazing.
    • St. Emilion: Very inconsistent. Clay-rich valley floor vineyards made uninspired and muddled reds (Cheval-Blanc amongst them) while the vineyards on limestone soils created wines of amplitude and sophistication (a stellar Chateau Ausone as a result).
    • Sauternes (and Barsac): fantastic!

    Bespoke Life: Champagne for New Year’s Celebrations

    WE at the Young Gentlemen’s Guide fully endorse champagne, in its myriad guises and endless incarnations; but not all champagne is made equal. Some are factory made product churned out with the soulless quality of a cola; other’s are fretted over and handcrafted by artisans whose livelihood depends on every drop of bubbly nectar. Our list of amazing champagnes would fill up volumes but for now we shall cut the chase; with New Year’s Celebrations around the corner Bespoke Life brings you a “special” list of three great, one-of-a-kind champagnes to bring in the New Year:

    “Cuvee Creation” by Vilmart & Cie, Rilly   1999

    Our esteemed Editor-in-Chief’s tasting notes: “Another grower champagne that makes me question the meaning of life– “Can anything truly be this good?” Decant, white wine glasses, forget all the willy-nilly champagne fluff… this is wine with bubbles, make no mistake–unforgettable. “

    “Brut Entre Ciel et Terre” by Françoise-Bedel et Fils, Marne

    “This is the champagne that opened my eyes to the wonders of everything non-commercial grower/ artisan champagne could be. Madame Françoise Bedel is a stout quiet woman, who shies away and smiles a tight smirk every time I tell her how much I love her wine… “It’s because of my son, you see…” she tells me in her heavy Champenoise French. Her son was a sickly child and when Françoise took him to a doctor in Paris she was told that part of his asthma was the pesticides and fertilizers in the vineyards where they lived; “He told me we had to move out of our house and I refused… I knew there had to be another way.” So she made a few calls and found out about the still little known practice of biodynamic and organic viticulture, she tried it out, and it worked. Better yet, her son’s health dramatically improved… and so did the wine! Madame Bedel was convinced. Her son, who I am sure has heard the simply several thousand times, simply stands by proudly as the muse of an incredible champagne, “We do it all naturally,” he assures “most importantly we do it all ourselves.” To me this is one of the best, if anything for its shear value; it is not about power but about ethereal grace a round crispness and minerality mixed in with a mother’s love and tenacity.” (Buy it here)

    « Cuvée Œnothèque » by Dom Pérignon 1966

    (all right, we give, not from a small producer but rare and amazing…)

    “Haunting, it could have been the fact that I was tasting these in the caves that Dom Perignon himself made his first champagne or the crisp cool air of fall in the tiny tucked-away town of Hautviller? Mostly I return to this champagne, whose sparse bubbles hold together a canvas of candied blood orange peel, ginger, brioche, and creme brulée in with nuances of pear, white tea. I can still remember the taste of that bit of a dream which has not wasted nor faded away in half-century since the grapes were picked– no champagne glasses here!” (buy it here)

    A Note from Alejandro: Why on bubbly Earth decant Champagne?

    I have had many people look at me with that pitying face as they ask themselves “… what is that boy doing?” Yes there have been many people mystified and some outright horrified by my custom of decanting certain choice champagnes. I discovered the art of decanting champagnes in Champagne! Yes Virginia, they decant champagne in Champagne. A fact not well known in Paris perhaps, but the decanting of champagne has existed since bubbly wine came into existence. Before the discovery of riddling, whereby the sediment of the second fermentation in the bottle is removed, champagne was decanted to separate it from the harmless but unsightly gooey mass of yeast which would stick and sink to the bottom of the bottle.

    Champagne back then was much different that what it is now and most people would not recognize it by tasting it. Before the onslaught of stainless steel fermenters and oceans of over-priced generic big-brand champagne, the wines for champagne were aged in oak and heavy with Pinot Noir, yielding wines of great intensity which like any other white wine (like Grand Cru Burgundy, California Chardonnay and some white Riojas) needed to breathe a little and shake-off some of that bottle fatigue before it blossomed into the beautiful wine you paid for. The same with some, I stress, some, champagnes. They are wines first and sparkling wines second… the base-wine of these special champagnes (namely grower champagnes and cuvées de préstige) are absolutely incredible. One only looses about 5% of the bubbles in the process as champagne is not carbonated but has had the carbon dioxide, which the yeast gives off; naturally dissolve back into the liquid. By decanting it one slightly heightens the intensity of the acidity and lets the mature wine, which has been cramped in a bottle like a butterfly in its cocoon, spread its wings and show off its magic. Cheers!- AO

    Meur… what? Meursault and Meur-friggin’ delicious

    Burgundy... the place

    Driving into Volnay, once at the center, I followed the signs to the larger town of Meursault, further south, home to some of the best white Burgundy around. Meursault does not have any Grand Cru vineyards, which I find a crime as I would not hesitate to say that the region’s Premier Cru vineyards of Les Perriers, Les Charmes and Les Genevrières are as good and capable of producing great wines as any of those Grand Cru vineyards of neighboring Pulingy Montrachet. A fact that was proven to me bythe kind and gentle Pierre Morey and his incredible wines.

    The Man

    Pierre Morey, a tall, friendly, soft-spoken man of a d’un certain age waived me down as I had driven past his house about a dozen times trying to find it, in the outskirts of Meursault in a non-descript building where he both lives and works. As we walked in to the warehouse his wife bid us hello. She wasn’t decked out in Oscar de la Renta, but wore jeans, a shirt and thick goggles as she stood in front a clanking and ancient bottling machine preparing the latest shipment.

    Pierre, which also owns the negociant firm Morey-Blanc, led me to a cellar underground. No show, no fancy lighting, just a cement underground warehouse lined with bottles. If there was any shows of touristy-driven pretension it was a barrel-cum-table with a spittoon and a wine map on the wall. It was 45o Fahrenheit and I was freezing. the other four dozen or so cellars I would visit in the following days didn’t get any warmer. Burgundians drink their wines, red or white, the same way: cold and traditionally out of a snifter. When you put a stem on a snifter it takes the shape of the more familiar classic Burgundy glass.

    Pierre looked at me and apologized, “I hope you speak French,” he said, in the cleanest French I had heard in a while (Burgundians have a heavy accent) “because,” he continued, “my English is not so good, and I could tell you about my wines much better in French.” I asked him not to worry, I had been reading Tin Tin and the Petit Prince the entire previous week to re-calibrate my French, and we began our journey. In this bout we would taste all of the Morey-Blanc wines’ beginning with the Aligoté and while I wouldn’t say that Aligoté is the bastard-child of Burgundy, it is predominantly used to make a straightforward interesting crisp white, which is locally consumed and seldom leaves the region, let alone the country (ok, so it is the bastard-child of Burgundy). It has soft bosc pear tones, peony and flowers … beautiful. I spat, chatted a little bit about the wines and moved on. Every so often I looked at my watch. Soon I would have to make my way to the venerable house of Domaine Leflaive and I certainly did not want to be late, but I kept getting lost in the raciness of Morey’s wines. “Finally,” Pierre cut in as I held my shivering glass in the weak light of the cave, “Les Perrier, for me one of the most interesting crus.”

    The Place, in all its dingy glory

    To me, this whole deal of a vineyard or “cru”, from a vintner’s perspective is fascinating. In the case of Meursault, the commune possesses no official Grand Cru vineyards, although three Premier Cru vineyards are recognized amongst the best, those being Les  Charmes and right across the narrow road Les Perriers and Les Genevrières separated by a small stone wall. Having walked the vineyards the day before I can attest for the slight soil variation in each, along with the large stone galletes, here called perriers, which give the one vineyard its name. But alas, they are within less than five feet from one another while Genevrières and Les Perriers are contiguous. Can and do the finished wines, made from the same Chardonnay grape on each vineyard truly differ? How does a winemaker account for this? “Do you,” I asked, “approach each vineyard differently? That is to say, do you have one approach for Les Perriers and another one for Genevrières? Or do you use the same blanket recipe and just let the terroir (that indomitable French idea of sense of place) speak for itself?”

    He gazed into the distance and thought for a bit, almost confused by the idea. “No,” he said a minute later, “I let the vineyard tell me what it needs, they’re all different… and each year they require something different.”

    It truly was that simple. Let the grapes speak—and Chardonnay here does so loud and clear. So I might as well ask this humble vingneron what distinguished one from the other. “Les Perriers is always heavy with minerality, but well built. Les Charmes is massive, mineral, but supple. Les Genvrieres, a woman, with a bouquet of white flowers.”

    I took a whiff of the Meursault “Les Perriers” 1er Cru 2001 and the first thing to hit me was a slight smokiness with a background of river stones lightly bathed in fresh quince. An incredible depth of flavor and aroma wrapped around a near perfect core of fruit, acidity, and, I must say, sense of place. I was in the presence of a master, although I did not know it yet, but I had an inkling merely based on his wines.

    I felt, well… happy.