Category Archives: Bordeaux

From WWI To President Trump, Château Le Puy Pours Vintages From A Century Of Wine

The 1917 vintage of le Puy was remarkably intact.

If you missed my story in Forbes, here’s a second chance to read it…

In 1917, Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war on Germany.

In 1926, real estate on Broadway and Wall Street sold for $7 per square inch.

In 1936, Robert Redford, John McCain, and Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy were born.

In 1944, The United States and allied troops invaded at Normandy, known thereafter as D-Day.

In 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat on a bus to a white person.

In 1959, the Cold War-Antarctic Treaty was signed, establishing Antarctica as a scientific preserve.

In 1967, race riots and Vietnam protests spread across the U.S. The 25th amendment was ratified.

In 2017, Donald Trump took office as president of the United States.

A few weeks ago, at the New York French consulate, family-owned Bordeaux estate Château le Puy opened a century’s worth of wine.

To an intimate room of trade and media guests, 13th gene

ration le Puy owners Jean Pierre and his wife Françoise Amoreau presented 27 vintages from 1917-2017, including ones from the consequential years noted above. Coincidentally, the arcane (to some) historical footnote from 1967 — ratification of the 25th amendment in response to the assassination of JFK — was in the news anew the morning of the tasting. (The amendment outlines the transition of power if the president is unable or unfit to serve; it gives the vice president and majority of the cabinet power to remove the president from office.)

Long before there was a president of the United States, however, the Amoreau family was making wine on the right bank in Bordeaux. Historical records for the property reach back to 1610. Vines blessed with views of the Dordogne Valley shared a rocky plateau with neighboring Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. The Amoreau’s called it the “hill of wonders.” Today, almost half of the 247-acre estate is under vine. Largely Merlot, of course, with a block of Semillon made into a varietal wine.

Le Puy media lunch at the French Consulate in NYC.

According to the family, their approach to viticulture hasn’t diverged far from that of their forebears. They eschew chemical agriculture, farm biodynamically (awaiting organic certification), and use a horse in the fields. I sat next to Françoise during lunch. She explained: “after WWI, fertilizers were pushed on the farmers.” While we commonly think of post-WWII as the start of the Green Revolution, she said it came “into vogue” far earlier in France. Around 1924, her husband’s grandfather, Jean, turned down the opportunity to make “vines more productive for less work” mostly because “he was stingy with money. The farm remained organic somewhat by accident” she said.

The Amoreau’s did find themselves seduced by the wave of mechanization that swept through France after the Second World War. “Modernity and convenience” drew them in, but they eventually recognized the adverse effects it had on the soil. Compact and uneven from the weight of machinery, the soil formed water pockets that harbored damaging fungal parasites. So, they returned to horse-drawn plow in 2009.

In the winery, Jean Pierre and his son Pascal work naturally with indigenous yeast. They forego fining and filtration on their top reds, use low- to no-sulphur methods, and work according to the lunar calendar. The red cuvées, “Emilien” and “Barthelemy,” are raised in barrel for 24 months.

The afternoon started with 90 minutes for guests to taste quietly through the wines, all from the Emilien line. Importer Neal Rosenthal was on hand to answer questions and interpret for Jean-Pierre, who admitted to a facility with English akin to that of a Spanish cow. The meal enjoyed after the tasting was prepared by vaunted Parisian chef Yves Camdeborde who flew in specifically for the occasion.

Starting exactly one hundred years ago, I worked through all the bottles twice. A through line of bright acidity, the backbone of an elegant house style that seemed immune to manipulation and trends, became the evident theme. Liveliness, too, especially given the extraordinary age of many wines.

The 1917—born of a year that forever changed the contemporary world — was delicate but still connected like fine, faded lace. Leather and spice served as savory canvas to the specter of cherry fruit. It haunted, much like the events of that era still do today.

When Manhattan real estate was cheap!

If I could go back in time, I’d buy Bordeaux, Burgundy, and New York real estate near Broadway and Wall Street. The 1926 showed a tinge of smoke and caramel, a silky palate still firm with acidity, although was a touch hollow on the mid-palate.

When John McCain was born, a statesman now nearing the final days of life, Jean Amoreau collected the fruit for the 1936 Emilien. According to his records included in our comprehensive tasting book, le Puy enjoyed a “great harvest and nice weather.” Last week, the wine showed vim, still evocative of its youthful days with notes of dried plum and fig.

1944 brought another year of tumult and heartbreak, the death of nearly 425,000 troops during the Battle of Normandy. It was also the only vintage of Emilien made by a woman. Aromas were delicate but still perfumed. “Earthy, sensual, with a touch of sweet fruit still lingering” I deciphered from my scrawl.

Great vintages were found across every decade, although the 2000s had just started to hit their stride. The 80s, such as the ’89, delivered that synergy of maturing fruit, soft tannin, and striking acidity that make drinking older wines so pleasurable.

While the opportunity to drink across a century of wine from an organic estate speaks for itself, taking a journey through history added another dimension of gravitas. Authentic wine, not liquid manipulated in a factory for a commercial audience, provides a snapshot of the people and conditions of a time and place. Granted, what’s in the glass tells a very specific story, but its mere existence decades or a century later gives the drinker pause to consider the events between now and when the grapes were picked, pressed, and bottled.

And if we’re to learn anything from history or a good bottle of wine, it’s that life, like the weather, is often out of our control. We do our best, take care of those around us, hopefully the land, and try to accept what’s beyond our reach. All this leaves me wondering: when someone pours a glass of Château le Puy 2017 in fifty years, what will they consider to be the defining events of our vintage? I can think of a few things, although the year’s not yet over.

2000 was an excellent vintage.

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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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