2017 at Domaine Zind Humbrecht

An excellent vintage, built for aging

14 March 2019

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com

It is always a pleasure to taste the latest vintage of wines from Domaine Zind Humbrecht.

And so it was on 12 March 2019, at the domain, where I joined various participants, including Paul Liversedge MW, who is based in Zurich.

Quite a contrast to 2016, a very good vintage, although some wines seemed a tad understated. Not so in 2017, a vintage of low yields due to a harsh spring frost and a hot and dry summer, which led to concentration and high quality, if somewhat lower-than-average acidities.

Indeed, summer temperatures were unusually high, classifying the vintage as the 5th hottest over the last 40 years in Alsace, by some estimates. As some readers recall, 2017 is known also for devastating morning frosts in April, which were widespread but localized to certain sectors, especially around Colmar, and did most damage on the plain and lower slopes.

Although many excellent terroirs, including the legendary Rangen de Thann, were not too affected, owner and winemaker Olivier Humbrecht MW explained that the “bit depressing” frost led to losses ranging between 95% and 30% for his potential production.

Hardest hit was Gewurtztraminer, more vulnerable to frost. Indeed, for some areas, Humbrecht explained how his father – who has 60 years of vintages behind him – had never seen so much frost damage. “In one morning, we were only able to harvest 42 hectoliters (nearly 1,110 gallons) of Gewurtztraminer, planted in seven hectares (17.3 acres),” Humbrecht wrote in his vintage summary.

For those grapes that withstood the frost, however, quite ideal weather conditions and an adequate level of rainfall encouraged steady growth of the vines leading to the precocious and fast harvest, which started earlier than usual in many areas, given the summer heat: Humbrecht writes of a veritable heat wave (la canicule) already in the latter part of June and July, that provoked some hydric stress. Thankfully August was not as torrid, so grapes were able to be picked at excellent maturity.

What is perhaps most fascinating about 2017 was how the low crop made the vines more drought resistant. Furthermore the quality of the phenolics was such that the wines leave you with an impression of structure akin sometimes to a red wine, Humbrecht said. It was especially important to pick at the right time in 2017, either for some vineyards that were late because of the frost or for others that could have exhibited too much potential alcohol if picked too late, as maturity came quickly.

With regard to late harvest wines, the drought brought less botrytis, as expected, but the passerillage ended up making the grapes became desiccated and dried out, which enhanced the impression of acidity and preserved the fruit more.

Humbrecht believes that 2017 is a “grand vintage” the quality of which will be proven with excellent aging potential. As you can see in the video, it was interesting how he compared the vintage to 1985, by opening a bottle of Muscat from the Goldert terroir from that vintage – a gorgeous wine by the way.

Huge thanks to Charles Amponsah for filming and editing the video.  Read More

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Pessac-Léognan and Graves from bottle 2016

Admirable vintage in red and white

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com 

11 March 2019

Favorite reds include a magnificent Les Carmes Haut Brion, as well as usual suspects Domaine de Chevalier and Haut Bailly

Among the whites, I really liked Domaine de Chevalier and Château Smith Haut-Lafitte and Château Malartic Lagravière (also try the second wine of this estate, damn good in 2016)

Stéphanie Libreau should be mighty proud of her Les Carmes Haut Brion: a top Bordeaux in 2016 to be sure!

As we saw, 2016 was especially successful in the northern Médoc and in Pomerol.

Of the wines that I tasted from the northern Graves – the appellation of Pessac-Léognan, created in 1987 – many also excelled, in both red and white. Alas, I did not get a chance to taste either Château Haut Brion or La Mission Haut Brion from bottle, but when I do, I will repost.

Based first on a tasting at Château Bouscaut in December last year (is that not just a gorgeous picture above?) with wine writers Jane Anson, Yohan Castaing, and Yves Beck, 2016 is one of those happy vintages (think in terms of 2010 for example, or 2001) where the quality of the dry whites equals that of the reds). More often, a vintage tends to favor one over the other.

These impressions were confirmed again when I tasted more wines from the Graves region at a tasting of the UGCB in Philadelphia last month.

2016 is a very good vintage for Graves region in general. Perhaps the “highest red wine peaks” of 2016 are more likely to be found in Pomerol and in the northern Médoc, but a sign of a very good vintage is that even lesser wines performed well, and that was the case at the Château Bouscaut tasting, where second wines also were sampled, some providing quite good deals, should you encounter them at restaurants, for example.

As per usual, if the wine is in bold, I liked it in particular. If red and bold, even more. If underlined, too, then a nirvana of sorts. Read More

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Assessing 15 vintages of Léoville Poyferré

By Panos Kakaviatos for Wine-Chronicles.com

24 January 2019

Over the last nine years, I have been organizing comprehensive verticals of top Bordeaux estates, sometimes several times in one year, and often in Washington D.C. 

The most recent, a Friday evening 18 January 2019 dinner at the French embassy in Washington D.C., featured Château Léoville Poyferré, with estate co-owner and recently named director Sara Lecompte-Cuvelier presiding. The cover photo is by David Zimmerman, who took many of the photos for this blog entry.

We assessed 15 vintages, all ex-château and reaching back (not too far) to the celebrated 1990. Chef Mark Courseille of the French Embassy restaurant Le Café Descartes again showed some magic to go with the wines.

This was the second time I had organized a dinner at the French embassy. Two months before, I had organized a dinner for Château La Conseillante, with 16 vintages, which was reviewed in several media, including Isaac James Baker in his influential wine blog and by participants like Kevin Shin in Cellar Tracker.

With restaurant director Max Jacquet, myself, director of Château Léoville Poyferré Sara Lecompte-Cuvelier, restaurant chef Mark Courseille and sommelier Laurant Lala (photo by David Zimmerman)

The great Léovilles

For the 32 wine geeks who attended, it was both useful and fun to taste relatively recent vintages of this famous second growth in the appellation of Saint Julien, to see how the wines are evolving at this point in time.

As most readers know, Léoville Poyferré, Léoville Barton and Léoville Las Cases were once part of a single, sprawling estate, only divided after the 18th century, as the French Revolution had destabilized many a château ownership. From the single estate, Château Léoville Barton was established in 1826. Las Cases was founded some 14 years later, in 1840. Not too many years later, Poyferré was established.

Fast forward to today, and you have Eric Boissenot who consults Léoville Las Cases and Léoville Barton, and Michel Rolland who consults Poyferré (since 1994).

Methods and styles vary among the three, which makes it great to compare and contrast.

I had already organized over the past few years tasting dinners with Léoville Las Cases and Léoville (and Langoa) Barton, both in Washington D.C., so it was fun to finally organize one in Washington D.C. with Léoville Poyferré. As celebrated wine author Jane Anson wrote in 2017, “the Léoville trio is among the surest bets in the world of fine wine”. Read More

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Off to Philly to taste Bordeaux 2016

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com

18 January 2019

Dear Readers,

I am off to Philly this coming Sunday 20 January to taste many Bordeaux 2016 from bottle.

In October and December last year, I already had the chance to taste many Bordeaux 2016 from bottle, so this visit will fill in some gaps, such as Château Haut Bailly, which I did not taste late last year, among others.

As you can see in the video below, I think that Pomerol and the northern Médoc were quite bright stars based on tastings last year, but you can find excellent wines throughout Bordeaux, as I hope to confirm when I visit the gorgeous Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia, where the tasting is to take place.

Participants at the Union Des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting in Philadelphia will get a chance to not only enjoy an unparalleled Bordeaux tasting from more than 70 French châteaux across 12 appellations, but also to meet the owners or their representatives.

In case anyone is interested and can go, you should consult this webpage: https://www.phillymag.com/grandscrus

So stay tuned for my update on Bordeaux 2016 from bottle, coming next week, and if you can, please do consider a donation to my website of at least $30 per year, as it would help me to finance a revamping of this site. I also plan to organize high-end Bordeaux wine tours in the near future, which has been my intention for many years, but I just have not found the time to organize one yet. But that will be happening!






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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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