It was election day in France and we were having our own kind of election – blind tasting the wines that we had chosen. We immediately realized that we had a problem. As we looked at the assembled collection of wines we had gathered at Waynes shop we realized we had too many wines to taste – even if we tasted over two different nights.
We had already decided to taste on two different evenings but now we realized we had too much wine for even that. So we pulled out the wines that were not from the 2009 vintage – fourteen wines – and made tham our first group to taste that night. That’s good, but we still had forty wines left. We then decided that we could do two tastings that night so we broke out the 2009’s from the Right Bank and Graves and seperated them from the 2009’s from the Left Bank. That were eight wines in that group and we now had thirty-two wines from the Medoc to taste the next night.
Our first set of wines were the wines from vintages other than 2009. We had fourteen wines from vintages including 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008. It was a tough go. Only one wine from the group that was good enough to make it into the Club Pack and overall it was pretty discouraging. In retrospect this is a picked over group of wines as the really great wines have probably been sold out by now, and only 2005 was a particularly great vintage. It was worth it to find the one wine, 2005 Chateau Esprit d’Estuaire, which we hope will be in the Club Pack next year. This is a classic wine that is ready to drink now and I think our members are going to love it.
After letting our pallets rest for a while we started the process again – this time with the eight wines from the Right Bank and Graves. When we blind taste we first remove the foil cover from the tops of the bottles, then cover each bottle with paper so the label is hidden, then remove the corks, then mix the bottles up, then number the bottles. We taste in silence and there is no talking until each person has finished tasting – and re-tasting – all of the wines. It is a fun but intense process of making sure we are picking wines we really love.
Once everyone is done tasting we go through each wine and talk about our ratings for that wine. Sometimes we argue and re-taste. “Are you kidding? This is one of my favorites in the whole group!” “You must be crazy. That wine is seriously flawed. Can’t you taste the flaw in it?” And so it goes. We don’t always agree, but for the most part Bill and I agree on what we like and don’t like so the process is pretty consistent and we are sure that when we pick a wine for the Club it is a wine we both really love.
This group fared much better than the previous group. Of the eight wines from the Right Bank and Graves we loved four of them. And I mean we Really loved them. It is not a surprise that all four were from producers we have purchased from before, but that is the advantage of doing blind tasting. We don’t know whose wine we are tasting until we unwrap the bottle. It is fun to take the cover off the bottle and realize that we have chosen a wine from a producer we like, but sometimes we have to tell a producer that his wine did not make the cut – and that is not fun.
We took the four wines we liked back to our hotel and sat on the deck outside our rooms and re-tasted them with different cheeses. Another dinner of wine and cheese, but this time the wines were incredible and we are really excited that we have found these wines for the club.
Tomorrow night we will taste the 2009’s from the Left Bank. I have invited two winemakers from the Right Bank to join us (whose 2009’s we have already chosen) as well as a friend from Perigeaux. We will begin tasting at 3:00 and when we are finished we will bring the bottles we like back to the Relais de Margaux for dinner with the whole group. It should be a great night and we have high hopes for the results.
Until next time,
The first time I visited St Emilion was in July of 1999. It was a hot day and I had no idea what I was about to experience. I was completely blown away that day. We wandered the steep narrow streets in awe and had dinner in the center square under a perfect Bordeaux sky and I thought I was in heaven. The town, the vineyards and the history never disapoint and each visit is as magical as the first. The cobblestone streets, the small artisianal shops, the abundance of wine shops and eating on “le terrace” all contribute to this being one of the most beautifully stunning places on earth.
Our day began not in the town but in a vineyard. We went to see my friend Thomas Thieu who makes Chateau Reclos de la Couronne – a wonderful wine we have had in the Club Pack several times. Thomas learned to speak English while he lived in Ireland, so he is French with an Irish accet in English.
I have visited Thomas’ place several times before and each time he gives us a warm welcome and an extended tour of his facility. Today I asked him to walk us through the vineyard and tell us about the various plots and the terroir. He showed us the small area where the grapes for Reclos de la Couronne come from and we talked about the importance of understanding your terroir.
We retured to the Cave and he gave us a sample of his 2009 which was fabulous. We took a bottle with us to have for dinner and it was terrific at the table as well. We then sampled his 2010 – another great wine – and then he gave us samples of the 2011 from different barrels. We were able to taste the difference in the wine that different barrel makers give to the character of the wine. This was amazing as each barrel shows it’s own impact on the wine and clearly demonstrates that the art of winemaking is in the blending process.
I am hopeful that Thomas will come visit us in the States and look forward to showing him as much hospitality as he has shown me over the years.
We left Thomas and drove the short distance along tight, winding, one lane roads to the village of St Emilion. St. Emilion was “founded” in the eighth century by the monk, St Emilion. We knew that this would be a great opportunity for Dave to take pictres so Bill and I went to one of our favorite places for lunch and let Dave loose on the old town.
After our leisurly two hour lunch (this is France after all) we walked down the narrow cobblestone pathway to see my friend Anthony who owns Marche Soif – one of the better wine stores in the town. Bill and I met Anthony in 2007 when we happended to walk into his shop on the very first day he opened. We bought some very good wine from him that day and ever since he has been extra gracious to us whenever we stop by the store. Today was no different as I asked him to recommend some higher end wines that we might be able to have in the club. I lost track of how many different bottles of wine he opened for us for us to taste (always spitting), and eventually we were comfortably seated in his leather chairs at the back of the shop while he continued to bring us different wines to try.
One of the wines he showed us was a true blockbuster and we have a bottle for the blind tasting that we are very excited about. I also bought a bottle of Domain de Combes to have with dinner and it was stunning with our meal later that night.
On this trip we have purposely focused our attention on the Left Bank wines, but today we were reminded how much we love Right Bank wines also and we will be back in force there next year.
Tomorrow is the first blind tasting. Stay tuned…
Having conquered the Co-ops we have time to look for more Cru Bourgeois wines. These are wines that have made it into the classification ranks and can be excellent wines. Bill (Mr. Research) has been combing through all the wines in the Medoc to find ones that do not export to the United States and he has several that we are potentials for us. We spent the morning at Wayne’s shop – Cave L’Avant Garde in Margaux – making plans for the blind tasting and asking him for recommendations from the list Bill has put together. Wayne has identified two that he thinks are worth visiting and we call and make appointments to go see them.
By now it is time for …you guessed it…lunch. We can’t resist the omlet at the Relais de Margaux so we return and take our time with a relaxed lunch before heading out to the vineyards.
Our first stop for the afternoon is a small family run winery that has been in the family for three generations. The wife of the owner proudly poured their wines and gave us a tour of the facility. These are beautifully made wines with good structure and balance. We particullarly like the 2009 and Bill likes the 2008 – so we put both in the blind tasting.
We travel up the Medoc north of Pauillac and past Mouton Rothschild to visit Domaines Fabre. We have an appointment here and are met by a very nice and engaging representitive who gives us a wonderful guided tour of the facility and offers some great insight into the wine business. We taste five of their wines – including an ’06 and ’04 – and are very impressed by the quality of the wines and the value. Toward the end of our tastinng we are joined by Vincent Fabre (the owner) who is also engaging and tells us the key to great wine. He says, “if you don’t have great fruit out there in the vineyard, you can’t make a great wine in here.” He knows that the hard work of winemaking is in the vineyard and they are focusing on making sure the vineyard is great. Their efforts are reflected in their wines as we love five of the six and will put them in the blind tasting. This is what we are looking for: dedicated winemakers who have a passion for what they do and are making a commitment to producing great wine at a reasonable price.
We are done for the day. We dropped off our samples at Waynes and headed back to the Relais de Margaux. Again we decided to skip the big dinner and have wine and cheese on the balcony of our rooms instead. Unfortunately we have picked two more mediocre wines to have with our cheese so it’s not all perfect. We have had beautiful weather and it is a delight to simply relax on the balcony and take it all in. We are very fortunate to be able to do this, and we are soaking it up.
Tomorrow we head across the river to St Emilion. I can’t wait to see Dave in photo heaven when he gets to St Emilion. Until then.
Our goal is always to find great wines that are not currently imported to the United States. This is not always easy as most of the good wines are being discovered by other importers and are making their way to America. Six of the wines we have discovered are now in stores in the US. I am happy for those producers who have entered the US market, and glad that they are experiencing this level of success. For us it means that we need to keep digging to find the next great undiscovered wine.
We decided to visit some of the Co-ops that are in the Medoc. Small winemakers band together to share wine making facilities and storage, thus cutting their cost of production. At the co-ops you can find some wonderful wines at very reasonable prices. The wine the club was built on – Chateau Grand Saint Brice – is a co-op and we decided to get back to our roots.
Our first stop was a co-op we have driven past many times and ignored. This time our stop was rewarded with two fabuloous wines that we are including in the blind tasting. These are very small producers (30,000 bottles) and wines we have never heard of, but they are wonderful. Ah, success; time for lunch. It’s a simple French lunch – omlet, small salad and fries with a half bottle of Rose to wash it down – but in France a meal is never simple and the omlets here are incredible. Lunch is just one of the things I love about being here.
Our next stop was at Canterayne – a co-op in the Haut Medoc that I didn’t think we would ever find. It has occurred to me that more Americans have probably been on Safari than have been to the places we go in the wine country. But I digress. At Canterayne they were bottling the latest vintage and there was a buz of activity surrounding the place. But our very nice hostess gave us six wines to taste and we were blown away by two of them. Now we are getting to the great wines of the Left Bank and we are excited.
On to another cave cooperative. We wound our way up to the north end of the Medoc and the co-op Uni Medoc. This is collection of all the wines from several other co-ops and is a great one-stop shop for us. Here we were met by the lovely Marie-Dominique who remembered me from Vinexpo last year. I honestly don’t have any idea why so many people remember me but at times it gets a little freaky.
We were able to taste eight of their wines that Marie – Dominique recommended and we loved five of them. We are finally tasting what we thought we would be experiencing in the 2009 vintages.
The 2009 vintage has been touted as a fantastic vintage in Bordeaux. All of the wine writers have been estatic about it since it was harvested three years ago and we had been exxpecting great things. At several of our tastings this week we have been very disapointed by the ’09s, so we have been wondering where all the great wines are. We have found some today. These wines were absolutely stunning. They are huge and tannic with great balance between terroir and fruit. Now we get what all the hype has been about.
From here we went back to Cave St. Brice to buy more of the 1999 Ch La Calonne and then stopped at a grocery store for fromage. We have eaten too many big meals and tonight we are going to simply have wine and cheese. It was a great day and we now have over forty wines to taste in the blind tasting. We are encouraged that we can still find great wines and that there are many more to discover. It’s tough work but….
Below is this evenings Sunset in Margaux.
Bill is here and we are now in full wine searching mode. We have decided to spend today looking for more Cave Cooperatives. The cornerstone wine for the club has been Chateau Grand Saint Brice – from a Cave Cooperative in St Yzans de Medoc. It is a wonderful wine in small production at a fantastic price. Another wine from the same Co-op is Chateau La Calonne and we bought a bottle of the 1999 the other day and had it for dinner that night. It is incredible (we’re going back to buy more) and at 11 euros it is a steal.
Our first visit of the day was to the Co-op in Listrac where we met the ever engaging Marie-Laurence our guide through the various wines of the C0-op. We tasted eight of their wines and were very impressed. We chose four for the blind tasting and there is one that I am sure will make it through to the Club Pack. We are pretty excited.
Next it was off to lunch. Hey this is France! Marie-Laurence graciously gave us two of the bottles we had opened for the tasting and made a reservation for us at a local restaurant where we were able enjoy a fabulour meal outside in the glorious sunshine (the weather has been fabulous).
After lunch it was off to a small winery located between Mouton Rothschild and Lafitte Rothhschild. The old farmer met us and was very proud of his wine – and even more proud of his location. His wine is very good and in some ways a classic Pauillac. We have put it in the blind tasting but I have my doubts about how it will fare. We’ll see.
Our next stop was another Co-op; this time in St. Estephe. St. Estephe is the home of some great wineries including Cos D’Estournel and Lafon Rochet. Again we tasted from six diffeerent winemakers and like two of the wines very much. The group was not as impressive as Listraac or St Brice but there are some solid wines and they may fare very well in the blind tasting. It was a very good day and we now have over thirty wines for the blind tasting – Le Grand Deegustation. Time to return to Waynes, and begin setting up our plans for the rest of the week.
From Waynes it was time for dinner – again outside – and we opened two old bottles that we bought at the C0-op in Listrac. The first was a 1982 that was corked and the second was a 1990 that was tired and done. So we were disapointed with our old wines but that is what the discovery process is all abouut. We will keep looking tomorrow and hopefully find more great wines to add to the blind tasting.
May 1st is a holiday in France – Labor Day – so all of the shops and wineries were closed. On every corner there are people selling tiny flowers as part of their cultural holiday tradition. It is supposedly good luck to receive rose on Labor Day. Bill arrived today on the TGV into Bordeaux, so we spent most of the day in the city of Bordeaux catching up and discussing our strategy for finding new wines.
I invited Dave Christenson on this trip and you have already enjoyed his pictures. Dave is a professional photographer and I asked him to come along and capture what Bill and I do as we visit with winemakers and search for great wines. I am already blown away by his photographs and I encourage you to follow the link to his web site where all the pictures are posted. He has already captured some amazing images of Paris, the vineyards in the Medoc and the Chateaux and you will enjoy his perspective and artistry.(www.ChristensonPhoto.com)
Last night we had a fabulous dinner at the Relais de Margaux (our hotel for the week) and opened a 1997 Grand St. Brice. It was amazing. What is particularly amazing is that 1997 was a terrible vintage in Bordeaux. I have often thought that they should have poured the entire vintage back into the soil. I have tasted many wines from well know chateau that were awful. But St. Brice made a very good wine and it is holding up remarkably well. This is what we are here looking for: the next St. Brice.
Today we begin in earnest looking for more hidden gems. They are hard to find. There are over 1000 wines in the Medoc and everyone is looking for the same thing. We will begin with more of Waynes recommendations but we are also going to search out some wines we will find on our own. Keep tuned for what we come up with.
Our first stop was Chateau Cornelie. Patrick doesn’t want anyone to know where his cave is, so there is no sign for it. We were told to make a right after we passed another chateau, then look for a red door and a white Fiat. That is like looking for grey hair at the Union League Glee Club. After driving around for too long we finally called and to our surprise his friend who spoke english answered the phone. We met them in front of another winery and they escorted us to the little cave where he keeps his barrells and makes his wine.
Patrick assembled several pacels of various vinyards several years ago and his first harvest was in 2005. We were able to taste his ’05, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’09, and ’10 and see the difference in quality with each vintage as he learned the terroir of his vinyard. We liked the 2008 and 2009 and will put both in the blind tasting. Unfortunately they are both 80% merlot and this year we are looking for more classic left bank, cabernet based wines.
Fom here we stopped at the Toutist Information in Pauillac and then drove up to St. Brice. II have always loved St Brice and in good vintages they make a stunning wine for an amazinng price. We tasted the 2009 and it is very good and will be included in the blind tassting., along with its cousin, Chateau La Cordonne. Our last stop was Chateau Bois de Roc. We parked our car and saw the owner cutting her grass, so we stopped her and askedd if we could taste her wine, which she was happy to let us do. Again, I was not blownn away by her 2009 like I thought I should be. We will include it in the blind tastig but I am a little shicked at how light these last four 2009’s have been.
We are off to a good start. Tomorrow is a holiday in France so I dont’t think we’ll get much tasting done, but you never know what will happen once you are here. Until next time.
Even as the new wines are being shipped to you, Bill and I are leaving for France tomorrow to search for next year’s Club Pack. It will be a quick trip – just 8 days – but we have already started the search process. We have contacted some of our favorite winemakers from previous trips and asked them to send samples to Wayne – our negotiant in Margaux – for us to taste as soon as we arrive.
Our main goal on this trip will be to find new wines – particularly on the left bank. We have selected a lot of wine from the right bank in the last two years and we feel it is time to return to the wines that got us started – the big terroir driven wines from the left bank. So we’ll be going to new places and trying a lot of new wine in search of the great wines that define the Medoc.
We’ll also be tasting the 2009 vintage which has just been released. We tasted this vintage in “en premieur” and were very impressed. Now those wines have been bottled and are ready to taste again.
Keep checking back to follow the trip as we find new, great wines for our members.
2003 Chateau Puygueraud – bought in futures and is fabulous. Complex, deep dark fruit, gorgeous terroir. Wow!