Ringing in 2019 with good vintages (not “great”)

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com 

11 January 2019

After an annual holiday dinner with wine loving pals – this year at the French embassy in Washington D.C. – the overriding theme was “good” vintages.

Neither “off” nor “great”, but vintages that sometimes get overlooked by critics seeking to obtain fame with 100 point scores.

And to some extent, lesser known wines that official critics did not see coming.

Before I broke bread (and popped corks) with Ken Brown, Howard Cooper, Ken Barr, Chris Bublitz, David Zimmerman, Scot Hasselman, Charles Stewart, Paul Marquardt and Karl Kellar, I cracked open a wine with a highly regarded pedigree to be sure: Château Ducru Beaucaillou. I had tasted the wine along with Grand Puy Lacoste together, before the two brothers parted ways (Francois Xavier Borie exclusively owns Grand Puy Lacoste while Bruno Borie exclusively owns Ducru). That was back in 2003, just before the official release of the 2001 vintage.

It was $50 on release. Back when highly rated Bordeaux was more affordable.

Coming on the heels of the fabled 2000 vintage, dubbed a “wine of the century” (several others followed within the next decade), some derided 2001 as a “restaurant wine”. But I really loved the floral elegance of the Ducru 2001 and hesitated not one second before purchasing six bottles en primeur for about $50 a bottle.

Fast forward to January 2019 and those “restaurant vintage” naysayers remain oh so wrong. 2001 in Bordeaux can be fabulous and even beat 2000 in some cases, especially on the Right Bank and in the Graves region. The 2000 vintage is better in Saint Julien and in the Médoc in general, but this Ducru is excellent as it combines true elegance with refined texture. It exudes some tertiary aromatics and flavors but there’s much ripe fruit as the wine is still in a youthful phase. Call it late adolescence. I have two more bottles left from a six pack that I had purchased upon release and, really, there is no rush to drink this. But if you do open one, you will not be sorry. In terms of points? It easily gets a 93 and maybe deserves more.

After an annual holiday dinner with dear wine loving pals – this year at the French embassy – the overriding theme was “good” vintages. Neither off nor great, vintages that sometimes get overlooked by official critics seeking to obtain fame with 100 point scores. And to some extent, lesser known wines that official critics did not see coming.

So, read on 😉 … Read More

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Splendid cheese ceremony

For the Bucket List 

By Panos Kakaviatos  8 December 2018 If you ever find yourself near Basel, Switzerland, do yourself a favor and reserve an evening of the “Cérémonie des Fromages” at the famous Antony Eleveur de Fromages. The sheer talent of owners Bernard and son Jean-François (never – ever say “pasteurized”), shines bright over an all-cheese dinner. I am not a cheese specialist, but the quality and purity of flavor from the cheeses aged here is undeniable. Indeed, the owners seek only the very best producers of cheese across France and from other parts of the world and then proceed to carefully age the selected cheeses.
Jean-François Antony: Please never pronounce the words ‘pasteurized cheese’
From an 18-month aged Comté, by way of Reblochon, Laguiole (yes, the same place where they make the famous knives) and Brillat Savarin, to Brie de Meaux, the classic Alsace Munster and Fourme d’Ambert … among many others … some 20 cheeses are served over a five-course cheese ceremony. After each serving, Jean-François explains a bit about each cheese while relating his father’s story to found the business – and you can read about that in my report from a few years ago. Indeed, the dining room is chock full of famous celebrities who have visited the establishment, such is the quality of the cheese here.
The cost is 75 euros, but for 130 euros, you could have the five courses of cheese with selected wines. And for 150 euros, better wines. As serious wine and food fans, our group went for the gold and paid 150 per person. As you can see in the pictured menu, we were not disappointed. ? Read More
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Montecucco charm and quality

Or why I should have visited Tuscan vineyards earlier

30 November 2018

By Panos Kakaviatos for Wine-Chronicles

This is Part I of a three-part article on the Montecucco DOC of Tuscany 

A three-day, deftly packed visit of wineries earlier this autumn, with comprehensive tastings of Montecucco in Tuscany, proved one of the best wine tours ever. And it revealed Sangiovese-based wines of remarkably fine consistency, at competitive prices. Not to mention some other excellent wines from both white and red grapes.

2018 marks 20 years of the recognition of Designation of Origin of Montecucco Wines so it was great to have been invited and met friends both old and new to mark the occasion.

We were joined on several occasions throughout the visit by Claudio Carmelo Tipa, president of the Consortium for the Protection of Montecucco Wines, at his Colle Massari Tenuta di Montecucco estate starting on Thursday 20 September for visits and tastings.

A quick history

To briefly recap the history of this niche region, it was only at the end of the 1990s that the the DOC Montecucco began, thanks to some young winemakers and their Sangiovese, which comes to life where the Maremma Toscana gives way to the slopes of the Monte Amiata, just in the middle of the Brunello di Montalcino and Morellino di Scansano’s DOCGs. Read More

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Northern Médoc: Sweet spots confirmed in 2016

A modern era 1986?

Great stuff in Saint Julien, Pauillac and Saint Estèphe ?

(Bordeaux 2016 from bottle, part 2)

11 November 2018

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com 

Just as we saw how well Pomerol excelled in 2016, another area of consumer interest, also in terms of quality across all price points, is the northern Médoc. And not only that, but many of the wines as tasted from bottle fulfilled their promise from barrel as you can consult my “sweet spot” barrel tasting notes:

Pauillac and Saint Julien: Sweet Spots

While I liked wines from the southern Médoc, the most interesting Left Bankers came from the north; at least at this very early stage from bottle. And this high quality applies also, if to a lesser extent, to cru bourgeois level wines, as I tasted some at the Grand Cercle.

Furthermore, for upscale wines, many of which I tasted blind as organized by the UGCB during my visit to Bordeaux last month, there is no need to spend tons of cash on first growths to get aristocratic quality.

Indeed, so called Super Seconds and other “over performing” wines not officially recognized as top tier, did very well in 2016, so much so that for example I would score, say, Château Léoville Poyferré just as high, if not higher, than Château Margaux in 2016.

Modern era 1986?

Philippe Dhalluin of Château Mouton Rothschild may have said it best when comparing the first growth to a “modern era 1986” because there of high tannins and highish acidities: I would think that many 2016s will close down for a period before starting to have a proper drinking window, say, 10 years down the line in your cellar. Now, 10 years is not that much compared to 1986, as some of those are kind of closed still in 2018!

Certainly Léoville Las Cases earns a 100 point score or somewhere close to that. Tasting it from bottle with Jane Anson, we agreed that the 2016 LLC is nothing short of superlative.

From Saint Julien to Saint Estèphe, the northern Médoc features many fine wines and even stars, from humbly priced wines like Château Château Petit Bocq to the mighty Château Montrose, by way of a downright excellent (and slightly more “mid- to high-priced”) Château Calon Ségur.

Unlike in Pomerol, we tasted many of these wines blind (with notable exceptions of Château Pontet Canet, Château Léoville Las Cases, Château Ducru Beaucaillou and the first growths that we were able to taste).It is a pity that such truly great wines do not allow themselves to be compared blind with their neighbors.

Let me just go to a quick “box score” of my overall northern Médoc favorites in terms of “price has no meaning” favorites to “price/quality ratio favorites”, as follows:

Six northern Médocs I really liked, where price has less meaning (we did not taste Château Latour from bottle) 

  1. Château Léoville Las Cases (100)
  2. Château Mouton Rothschild (100)
  3. Château Pontet Canet (98+)
  4. Château Léoville Poyferre (98)
  5. Château Ducru Beaucaillou (98)
  6. Château Lynch Bages (97+)

Six northern Médocs with (very) appealing price/quality ratios at varying price points 

  1. Château Grand Puy Lacoste (96+)
  2. Château Gruaud Larose (96)
  3. Château Calon Ségur (95+)
  4. Château Lafon Rochet (93+)
  5. Château Potensac (92)
  6. Château Fonbadet (92)

Special mention to Château Croizet Bages for a particularly fine performance from bottle!

Tasting Notes: As usual, if I liked in particular, in bold. If red and bold, even more. And if underlined, too? A kind of wine nirvana. Asterisks* mean a particularly good price/quality ratio.

Visiting Château Léoville Las Cases

Well, let’s just start with one of the best wines of the 2016 vintage, hands down. Of course this estate is part of the Domaines Delon, so we tasted some others, too, among which counts very possibly the best price/quality ratio for the Médoc, so here goes.

Château Potensac* – Lovely nose, with juicy fruit, red and black. There is more than your usual elegance from this estate, as the winemaking has gotten more fine tuned. Blending 44% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot, this wine clocks in at 13.8% alcohol, with an IPT of 75 and a pH of 3.48.  Bottled in April, it is a bit closed now, but that is normal. What is foremost important is the suave nature that you get from this humble AOC Médoc. I would recommend purchasing magnum formats to serve at upscale garden parties or any parties, over the next 5-15 years. Magnums require more bottle aging, so crack it open in, say, 2023 for an early drinking window and pour away. The magnum price lies between $50 and $60 and will reward you more than that!  92

Clos du Marquis – This estate is getting better and better, and – mind you – it is not the second wine of Léoville Las Cases (anymore). Blending 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc, this wine was made from grapes of vines that average 35 years old (youngest are 18). The name of Clos du Marquis, created in 1902, was inspired by the Petit Clos adjacent to the Château de Léoville, residence of the Marquis de Las Cases. The Clos du Marquis is produced from top terroirs of the Saint-Julien Appellation that were not part of the old Domaine de Léoville cadastre. These terroirs are located slightly to the west and are surrounded by many of today’s Super Seconds, including Léoville Poyferré, Léoville Barton and Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. The 2016 Clos du Marquis offers a fine expression of the Saint Julien character, with pure cassis and pencil lead aromatics. The palate exhibits fine tonicity on a long and lifting finish. One of the best Clos du Marquis I recall enjoying. And there is structure and potential complexity with aging potential. The alcohol is just over 13.5% with 3.87 grams per liter of acidity and a rather high IPT of 78. 93+

The Clos du Marquis has improved since the estate made selections more refined, with the recent second wine of Clos du Marquis, dubbed, La Petite Marquise, which offers succulent fruit on the palate, with a cool blueberry aspect. Fine for restaurants, this smooth blend of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon and 48% Merlot. 90 Read More

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From 1522 to 2018: Enjoying Philipponnat Champagne

Champagne evening at Mirabelle Restaurant in Washington D.C.

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com

9 November 2018

When asked by Heidi Arnold of the famous Heart’s Delight Wine Auction here in Washington D.C. if I wanted to join a special Champagne dinner with Charles Philipponnat, I hesitated to reply for … not even a second.

Over the years, I have always enjoyed the Clos de Goisses cuvée of this famous Philipponnat Champagne house.

But I had not yet tried the “1522” bottling, which is made partly from grapes grown on vines on a plot that had been purchased by the Philipponnat family way back in… 1522, and which is still part of the Champagne house today.

A blend of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay, the Pinot Noir comes from that famous and very old plot purchase called “Le Léon” in Aÿ. The Chardonnay in the blend comes from vines at Mesnil-sur-Oger. Owner Charles Philipponnat inaugurated this wine only in 2000, and it was great to enjoy it with delicious roasted quail, stuffed with mushrooms, spinach, chestnut bisque and hazelnuts and bacon.

A wine that you just want to grab!

The quail was tender and tasty – and the wine matched it perfectly, as this 2007 vintage of “1522” conveyed richness yet fine acidity and bubbles, very elegant. Indeed, the wine’s freshness is preserved as a portion of the wines are vinified in wooden barrels without malolactic fermentation. Dosage is low at 4.25 grams per litre, which is just one third of the “conventional dosage” for a brut champagne. It is aged for eight years in bottle on the dead lees, which lends complexity.

About the venue and the people

This and other excellent bubblies were enjoyed by some 24 participants at a dinner gathering at Mirabelle Restaurant in downtown Washington D.C.

I had met restaurant director Jennifer Knowles at a wine dinner I organized at the famous Ripple restaurant in Washington D.C. a few years ago. Her grace and precision in describing each food that was paired with the wines impressed us all, as did the creative, refined cuisine of executive chef Keith Bombaugh, as you will read in further descriptions of his culinary work paired with Philipponnat wines below.

With Sarah Bray of VinConnect at the Philipponnat dinner

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