Category Archives: France

Why Bordeaux Blanc Should Be A Household Wine Staple

Sommelier Pouring White Bordeaux. (Image Provided by Bordeaux Wine Council)

Sommelier Pouring White Bordeaux. (Image Provided by Bordeaux Wine Council)

This article was previously published in Forbes on October 6, 2016.

Why have consumers generally ignored white Bordeaux? There’s a degree of absurdity to the fact that while wineries everywhere — in Australia, New Zealand, the U.S, etc. — strive to emulate this classic region, bottling Sauvignon Blanc with Sémillon to create “Bordeaux-style blends,” the original flounders and languishes on shelves. And it’s even more astonishing, giving the spectacular rise in popularity of Sauvignon Blanc, that many drinkers of the variety don’t connect the grape back to its spiritual homeland in France.

I attended the “Somm’ Like It Bordeaux” tasting last week at Sons & Daughters restaurant in NYC. In total, the Bordeaux Wine Council presented thirty-six very good wines, but the six that stunned me were white. They were fresh, lively, aromatic, intensely flavored and all around f’ing delicious. And isn’t delicious drinkability what we want in our glass? I kept thinking “If I didn’t live in a ridiculously tiny NYC apartment, I could order a case of this. And this. And also this one. And probably this one, too. I really need to move.” Several examples achieved that elusive balance between precise acidity and creamy texture, and they all demonstrated versatility with food. For an average cost of $20, producers over-delivered on taste and complexity. So, if you’re tired of Chardonnay, drink white Bordeaux. If you’ve had enough NZ Sauvignon Blanc, drink white Bordeaux. If you’re looking for a white with enough heft to pair to heartier autumn foods, try white Bordeaux. These wines solve a lot of conundrums and should be household staples. So why aren’t people drinking white Bordeaux?

In the 1950s, dry whites represented 60% of Bordeaux production. Today, they make up a fraction of that number at 7-8% with the rest given over to red. The turn to vin rouge came in the ’70s, largely due to changes in consumer preference coupled with commercial viability; growers responded by ripping out white varieties to plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But the partnership of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, with the occasional dollop of Muscadelle, is a classic for a reason. Sauvignon brings crisp acidity, herb and fruit flavors, and expressive aromatics, while Semillon adds body, ageability and a textural honeyed roundness.

The finest white Bordeaux (for many, measured by journalists’ scores and price tags), derive from Pessac-Léognan and Graves. Pessac wines are often oaked, expensive, and capable of improving in the bottle for decades. Producers like Château Haut-Brion, Château Pape Clément, Château Carbonnieux are household names for oenophiles and make exceptional examples. Alternatively, those who venture into the area of Entre-Deux-Mers can find charming, easygoing, and extremely affordable whites.

With the mantra “drink white Bordeaux” in mind, listed below are my tasting notes on the six bottles I sampled last week. If you can’t track these down, don’t worry; a bevy of options exist in the market at great prices. For a change, Bordeaux Blanc offers the chance to pay a better price for an original than a copy.

Vines in the Region's Characteristic Gravel Soils.

Vines in the Region’s Characteristic Gravel Soils.

Clos des Lunes “Lune d’Argent,” Bordeaux, 2014, $20

Delightfully vivid and aromatic, notes of grapefruit, white flowers, and clementine marmalade flecked with vanilla, pop from the glass. Medium-bodied, slightly waxy in texture, but full-flavored, shows great tension on the long, mouthwatering finish. This zesty wine would pair well to a seafood ceviche with mango and habanero, or fried soft-shell crabs.

Clos Floridene, Graves, 2011, $25

A vibrant hue of yellow-gold, this fuller bodied, lively wine offers a breath of fresh-snipped herbs and gooseberry layered behind grapefruit, golden apple, and lanolin. Beautifully balanced, the Sauvignon Blanc adds verve, the Semillon, roundness and texture. Try with spicy coconut mussels or spinach-stuffed chicken breast.

Château Moulin de Launay, Entre-Deux-Mers, 2014, $14

Like perfume for the wrist, this affordable, fragrant wine impresses with its orange blossoms, peaches, pears, and spritz of mandarin on the nose. Packed with sweet fruit, the palate balances flavor with a bright line of tension, finishing long and round. Would pair nicely with grilled fish or autumn rice salad with dried fruits and nuts.

Château Auney l’Hermitage, Graves, 2014, $29

Concentrated with mouthwatering freshness, this layered wine offers aromas and flavors of honeycomb, pithy citrus, and white flowers with a zip of chalky minerality on the brisk finish. Delicious now, but will further integrate and evolve with more time in bottle. A great partner to sushi or lemony veal piccata.

Château Peybonhomme-les-Tours, “le Blanc Bonhomme,” Côtes de Bordeaux Blaye, 2014 $22

This 50/50 blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc mingles ocean spray minerality with golden apples, fresh herbs, and lemon custard to build a racy, yet exuberant wine. Texturally rich, but still fresh with a long finish, this should convert Chardonnay drinkers to white Bordeaux. Would go well with chicken with mushrooms or linguine with bottarga.

Château les Charmes-Godard, Côtes de Bordeaux Francs, 2014, $20

More mineral-driven than overtly fruity, this dynamic wine shows green, grassy flavors mixed with a dollop of orange marmalade and beeswax. Clean and taut with great focus from start to finish, at a nice price point. For a classic pairing, serve with a seafood tower or seared scallops with brown butter.

When she’s not in a vineyard or the ocean, Lauren Mowery covers drinks, food & adventure/luxury travel. Follow her around the world on Instagram and Twitter.

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Five Tips on Finding Value Wines in Bordeaux

Château Beychevelle

Sun setting on Château Beychevelle in Saint-Julien.

New year, new you, right? How about new drinking goals instead, like finding ways to experience the fabled Bordeaux that sommeliers like to brag ignited their passion for wine — but without going broke. Left Bank or Right Bank, Pauillac or Pomerol, the finest bottles from the chateaux of these vaunted lands, at hundreds of dollars, occupy an aspirational category few can afford to indulge in regularly, if ever. Unfortunately, the cheaper wines miss more often than they hit since quality varies wildly by vintage and producer. Unlike the reliability of a $15 Chilean chardonnay, one needs guidance when shopping for Bordeaux.

Looking for tips on finding value (as defined by QPR, or quality-to-price ratio), I turned to Hortense Bernard. Bernard is the general manager of Millesima USA (1355 2nd Avenue; 212-639-9463), the American arm of France’s leading online wine retailer. Bernard knows a thing or two about wine, and not only because she grew up tasting it as a bébé. Representing the fourth generation of a venerable Bordeaux family, Bernard moved to NYC in 2011 to lead the company’s U.S. operations. Millesima USA offers an impressive selection of fine and rare wines from France, Italy, and the New World, both online and in the brick-and-mortar store on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Bernard shared the following five tips, and does the homework for you by recommending wines she carries in each category. If you commit these to memory, however, you’ll be drinking better Bordeaux for a dime no matter where you are (well, more like a quarter).
(For an even deeper look at the region, check out the Bordeaux wine council’s website, which provides info on grapes, appellations, and deciphering a label).

Smaller Vintages: Smaller, according to Bernard, does not reference the actual size or quantity of production, but rather denotes a “classic” Bordeaux vintage that is perfect for drinking but did not make it to the investment market. These wines are ready to consume earlier, are less expensive, and easier to approach and understand by novices than the greatest vintages. Weather is a key factor in determining the characterization of the harvest, but winemakers also have a major impact. Bernard offers the 2002 vintage as an example: it did not get a lot of attention when it was released; the American market ignored it. However, she says 2002 is drinking “amazingly” right now. She adds that for some estates, the 2002 shows the typical aromas of mature Bordeaux without having to find (and pay for) a 20 to 30-year-old bottle. Bernard emphasizes that the wines won’t have the depth and complexity of long-lived vintages, but drinking them will help neophytes familiarize themselves with the pleasures of aged examples.

Chateau Haut-Batailley, Pauillac, Grand Cru Classé, 2006, $51.99
Château Grand Corbin-Despagne, Saint-Emilion, Grand Cru Classé, 2004, $37.99

Fifth Growth: The 1855 classification in Bordeaux is one of the most famous aspects of the region’s wine industry. All collectors want classified wines, and the top Grand Cru Classés like Château Margaux or Château Latour have prices commensurate with their prestige and demand. The historic ranking (commissioned by Napoleon III for a world’s fair of sorts) of Sauternes and top cabernet-dominant Left Bank estates into five classes, raises some contemporary issues like the exclusion of exemplary estates and appellations (for example, everything on the merlot-heavy Right Bank), and the fluctuation in quality by several ranked chateaux. Regardless, Bernard advises that it’s easier to learn about this very expensive category by starting with the fifth growths because “most of them are affordable and real treasures.” She offers Chateau Batailley in Pauillac as a fifth growth that consistently receives Parker scores ranging from 88 to 94.

Chateau Batailley, Pauillac, 2012, $43.

Cru Bourgeois: “They are the best-kept secret and most misunderstood of Bordeaux wines,” says Bernard, explaining “the Cru Bourgeois classification is a list of wines from the Médoc that were not included in the Classification of 1855, but are still of high quality and represent great and approachable wines that typically retail for under $40 per bottle.” The wines, she says, are all about fruit, perfect for everyday consumption. Cru Bourgeois gives drinkers the opportunity to experience a renowned vintage from a famous appellation and a famous proprietor, relatively (a key word) inexpensively. For example, one can try the highly-regarded 2009 vintage for $25 with Chateau Peyrabon, or a famed Bernard Magrez property (he is the sole owner of four Grand Cru Classé estates) with the 2010 Grand-Chênes for $35.

Chateau Peyrabon, Haut-Médoc, 2009, $25
Bernard Magrez Chateau Les Grand Chenes, Médoc, 2010, $35

MillesimaNYC

Inside Millesima’s NYC store.

Second Labels: Bernard says that one of the best ways to experience great Bordeaux without spending too much money (again, relative), are second labels. Drinkers can buy wines from top estates, top vintages, and top winemakers, at a fraction of the price. The concept of “second labels”’ came into being in the 18th century when winemakers were deciding what grapes to use for their first bottling. Instead of disposing of the leftover fruit or selling it in bulk, producers bottled a second wine, derived from the same terroir and winemaker. The grapes were not damaged; they simply did not make the flagship cut. Second labels used to be reserved for the family, but they are now a strong segment of the market. Croix de Beaucaillou is a good example of a second label. The first label, Ducru Beaucaillou, a Saint-Julien second growth, on average retails for over $200 per bottle and is consistently a top-selling and highly rated wine year after year.

Croix de Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien, 2008, $42. 
Lacoste Borie, (the second label of Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, a fifth growth), Pauillac, 2004, $34.99.

Lesser-known Appellations: Bernard suggests looking for quality-minded estates in lesser-known appellations such as Moulis, or any satellite of Saint-Emilion, Barsac, Médoc, etc. Generally, those areas do not have the same reputation as the best-known appellations, since they lack classified estates, but they still have great terroir. Treasures can be found, but hunters should engage a Bordeaux connoisseur to help discover them as most estates will not have scores.

Chateau Beaulieu Comtes de Tastes, Bordeaux Superieur, $17

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Your Guide to Cru Beaujolais, Plus Where to Buy it and Drink it in NYC

BeaujolaisBottles

If last week’s article on Cru Beaujolais piqued your interest, here’s my guide to the Crus, plus where to buy it and drink it in NYC.

Despite burgeoning quality, the Cru Beaujolais category remains relatively unknown to the general consumer, thus prices hang terrifically low. Skip the $11 Nouveau and other entry-level stuff. At twice the price, you get five times the complexity, structure, and balance, plus all the fruit, with Gamay grown in the granite and schist soils of the Crus.

Winemaking methods significantly affect flavors, and range from the region’s hallmark carbonic maceration (fermenting whole berries in closed tanks to produce a light, fruit-forward style) to Burgundian methods for more serious, structured wines (e.g., destemming the grapes). Interest in organic and biodynamic farming is growing, with a number of fine producers tipping into the natural winemaking category. As younger generations — and energized, historic families — pay closer attention to the attributes of their land and seek quality over quantity, Cru Beau will continue to be a category to watch.

The following list of villages includes expected characteristics in flavor and structure of the wines, with inevitable generalizations. Like anywhere, producer matters. Try to remember a handful of names (producer or region) or just ask your retailer or sommelier for assistance (find our three fave shops and restaurants, below).

The Ten Crus of Beaujolais
Brouilly Wines can vary greatly; it is the largest and most southerly of the Crus. Generally, expect soft and fruity wines with mineral notes. Producers: Georges Descombes, Domaine de Vissoux (Chermette), Jean-Claude Lapalu.

Chénas A small appellation, the wines are hard to find in the U.S. Known for red fruits, earthiness, and a heavier body/tannins. Sandwiched between Juliénas and Moulin-à-Vent. Producer: Domaine Piron-Lameloise.

Chiroubles The high altitude contributes great acidity to the wines, which can be tart in cool years, or fresh, perfumed, and bright in sunnier ones. Producers: Daniel Bouland, Damien Coquelet, Cret de Ruyere.

Côte de Brouilly Small appellation in Brouilly on the slopes of Mont Brouilly. Structured wines with strong mineral character, cherries, and firm tannins that allow it to age. Producers: Chateau Thivin, Terres Dorées (Jean-Paul Brun).

Fleurie Floral (think violets), rich, and round, some can be elegant and feminine, others more masculine. Prices higher than most. Producers: Sunier, Chateau de Fleurie (Barbet), Clos de la Roilette (Coudert), Potel-Aviron.

Juliénas Full-bodied, sturdy wines; sometimes rustic; can age. Flavors lean toward raspberries, cherries, and spice. Producers: Clos du Fief (Michel Tête), Pascal Granger.

Morgon Slightly less powerful than Moulin-à-Vent; mineral-laden wines come from the slopes of the Cote du Py. Known for a group of producers called the “Gang of Four,” protégés of natural wine pioneer Jules Chauvet: Jean-Paul Thevenet, Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, and Guy Breton. Chamonard deserves to make it five.

Moulin-à-Vent Most powerful, tannic (for Gamay), and structured of the Crus, with classic fruitiness. Ages well. Producers: Jean-Paul Brun, Diochon and Domaine de Vissoux (Chermette).

Régnié The newest Cru, wines often have a soft, round, and spicy profile with light tannins. Generally drunk young to enjoy the strawberry and cherry notes. Producers: Charly Thévenet, Guy Breton, Descombes, Chateau de la Pierre (Barbet).

Saint-Amour Northern tip of Beaujolais with limestone soil similarities to southern Burgundy. Intense red fruits and florals with well-integrated tannins. Producers: Domaine des Billards (Barbet), Chateau des Rontets.

SaintAmour

Where to Buy
When you’re ready to stock up on a few bottles or even a case of wine, you’ll find the investment in Cru Beau is minimal; the finest bottles fall predominantly around the low- to mid-twenties price range. Sadly, producers are hardly paid what the wines are worth (in fact many are struggling), but until (or if) the market corrects, it’s a buyer’s paradise.

Chambers Street Wines (148 Chambers Street, 212-227-1434) Owner David Lillie pointed out several selections: Roland Pignard, Tradition, Morgon, 2012 for $22: “Certified biodynamic, it’s a beautiful wine showing complex red and black fruits with saline minerality.” Chignard, “Les Moriers,” Fleurie, 2012 for $26: “from very low yields…it has gorgeous raspberry, wild-strawberry and violet aromas and a beautiful light- to medium-bodied palate with bracing acidity.”

Flatiron Wines (929 Broadway, 212-477-1315) The Cru Beau evangelists at Flatiron have a diverse array of bottles, like the elegant and earthy Michel Tete, Clos du Fief, Juliénas, 2011, showing savory beef bouillon and fruity cherry notes for $23, and Jean-Paul Brun’s bright, mineral-driven, raspberry-laced Domaine des Terres Dorées, Cote de Brouilly, 2012 for $22.

Astor Wine & Spirits (399 Lafayette Street, 212-674-7500) Cavernous and competitively priced, Astor carries a handful of options, including the dense, floral, cassis-imbued Clos de la Roilette, Fleurie, 2013 for $22, and the vibrant and taut, cherry-soaked Domaine Des Billards, Saint-Amour, 2011 for a mere $20. A no-brainer.

Where to Drink
Cru Beau is a growing darling of sommeliers citywide. Three wine directors who love the stuff weigh in on their favorites.

Partner and beverage director at Racines (94 Chambers Street, 212-227-3400), Arnaud Tronche particularly enjoys:
Chateau Thivin, Côte de Brouilly: The wine has amazing purity, minerality, plenty of fruit, and can age.
Marcel Lapierre, Morgon: Round, joyful with bright fruit; it’s a classic Morgon.
Guy Breton, Régnié: Earthy with dark fruits; dense, complex, and age-worthy. A minimal amount of sulfur is added.

Sommelier at Claudette (24 5th Avenue, 212-868-2424), Seth Liebman’s list includes at least one wine from all 10 Crus.
Chateau des Rontets, Saint-Amour, 2011: A pretty wine; very soft and beautiful with a nice center of character and structure. It is organic and “natural” in that they do not add any sulfur.
Joseph Chamonard, Le Clos de Lys, Morgon, 1997: The wines from this Chateau…are nothing short of heart-stopping. The 1997 vintage is terrific, though lean and focused with high acidity. It demands your attention.
Jean-Claude Lapalu, Croix Rameaux, Brouilly, 2012: Not to be confused with Lapierre, Lapalu makes wines with guts and strength; they are great drinking and deserve global attention.

Lelañea Fulton, wine director for the Dirty French (180 Ludlow Street, 212-254-3000)highlights:
Damien Coquelet, Vielles Vignes Chiroubles, 2012: The stepson of Georges Descombes, he makes a mean Chiroubles Vieilles Vignes.
Stephane Aviron, ‘Côte du Py, Vielles Vignes’ Morgon, 2011: An old-school vigneron, his Crus drink much like Burgundies.
Pascal Granger, ‘Grande Réserve,’ Julienas, 2009: Granger produces wines of deep dark fruit and amazing structure. They are powerhouse wines.

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Why You Should Drink Cru Beaujolais on Thanksgiving (and Every Day)

CruBeauLG

Last week, a Beaujolais disciple emailed to say he would sic Ted Cruz on me if I recommend anything other than ‘merican wines on Thanksgiving, and this guy loves Gamay (and is a Canadian). But at the risk of offending patriotic readers (and inviting that Texas hound to track me down), I am committing to the following statement: Drink Cru Beaujolais on Thanksgiving.

While this is neither the first nor last time you’ll read “Beaujolais goes great with turkey! Stuffing! Football!” it’s a point worthy of unbridled proselytizing: Cru Beaujolais, not to be confused with the basic Beaujolais or the marketing machine known as Beaujolais Nouveau, offers absurd — nay, criminal — value, given its range of expressions, vibrancy of fruit, layers of complexity, food-friendliness, and sheer pleasure for a very, very low price.

Unfortunately, in the short term, any discussion of Beaujolais requires a preface for clarification, like Australian Shiraz. “Yuck,” you say? Exactly. The stigma attached to it — what people think Beaujolais is — and what Beaujolais can actually be are continents apart. Here’s a quick rundown of why.

Beaujolais is a region in central-eastern France (actually, the southern tip of Burgundy) which produces light-bodied red wines from the Gamay grape (Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc, in full). Akin to Nebbiolo from Piedmont (Italy), the wines have an inimitable quality that comes from the unique match of grape to soil to climate, a/k/a terroir. Gamay just doesn’t taste interesting when grown elsewhere (except, perhaps, in a small pocket of the Loire). But unlike Barolo or Barbaresco, the heralded villages of Beaujolais — e.g., Morgon, Fleurie — are foreign, in both name and concept, to the majority of consumers who’ve mostly only known the wine as Nouveau.

In the medieval villages of Beaujolais, a long tradition of celebrating the harvest with freshly fermented wine took place annually in November. The wines were drunk locally and were rarely, if ever, exported. Michele Peters of NYC-based David Bowler Wine, an importer and distributor with a particularly strong portfolio of small-production Cru Beau, reflects on the tradition: “My first experience with Beaujolais Nouveau was in Paris. It was always a fun day and involved trying the newly released wines with friends and noshing on dried sausages.”

But a quaint custom with honest intentions became twisted into a marketing gimmick that would ultimately reduce perception of Beaujolais down to a synonym for cheap, young, mediocre juice celebrated more for the party than the wine (like a vinous vodka). Vignerons were not innocent victims: The willingness of many to compromise farming and winemaking standards for a chance to sit at the global table besmirched their own reputation.

Despite its connotation, the question of whether Nouveau has helped or hindered consumer awareness of Beaujolais remains up for debate. Lelañea Fulton, wine director for the Dirty French, believes “it overshadow[s] Cru Beaujolais and creates an ignorance surrounding Gamay Noir and the terroir of Beaujolais. Like Liebfraumilch of Germany, the extensive distribution of what can’t be seen as anything more than a lipstick wine can have a negative impact on the general public.”

Paul Grieco of New York’s Terroir wine bars, on the other hand, thinks “nothing overshadows the Crus of Beaujolais. Since the majority of us cannot afford the Grand Vin from further north…we can still get our Burgundian fix from the original Burgundian grape, Gamay.”

Peters finds a positive aspect of the Nouveau release each year: “It gives smaller retailers who rely on customer education a chance to teach [them] about the variety of Crus available.”

Which brings us to the 10 Crus of Beaujolais. Wines from these villages sit at the top of the quality hierarchy (of which Beaujolais, the region, has three tiers), each village offering an expression of Gamay considered distinct enough to warrant its name as the appellation. The village names are: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié, and St.-Amour. Immediately below Cru Beau is Beaujolais-Villages, and at the bottom rung sits entry-level Beaujolais.

Why are these wines still relatively undiscovered? First, they are labeled with their village names (although “red Beaujolais wine” is found in smaller print on the label), so consumers need to ask their retailer for help or have a few names memorized. Second, recognition takes time, especially in light of the region’s recent history. Finally, better vintners produce fewer bottles, so it’s harder to find. They are focused on lower yields, less manipulation of the wine, and expression of terroir. This philosophy makes for interesting, soulful wines, but is incompatible with large-scale production.

Peters has noticed an uptick, though, in interest: “Beaujolais sales seem to increase every year at every level, Nouveau, Villages, and Cru. Cru delivers the best value because you can spend $15 to $30 a bottle and keep the wines for years.”

Fulton, too, has seen an escalated interest in Cru. “I have never been asked for Nouveau…I find that our list tends to attract consumers who want to experience different types of Cru and want to discuss it to understand the intricacies of it.”

Cognizance of Cru Beau is inevitable, given its affordability, quality, and utter deliciousness. For Fulton, “there is no other region that can produce Gamay Noir so boldly and beautifully as the Cru of Beaujolais. The amount of variation in the characteristics of the grape varietal from Cru to Cru is immense and stunning.” Sounds like a reason to drink Cru Beau not just on Thanksgiving, but any day of the year.

Here’s my guide to the ten Crus, including where to buy it and drink it around NYC.

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