Tag Archives: Bordeaux

Climate Change and Wine

 

Not to minimize, or take away from the tragedy currently unfolding in Napa/Sonoma… our prayers go out to the families who are dealing with such terrible loss.

It is difficult to discuss causes this early, but I think all of us can easily recognize these fires are being worsened by very dry conditions. I have been talking to folks in the industry for months about the unseasonably hot and dry growing season this year and its impact, well before these fires added a horrible punctuation mark to the conversation. This should put the topic of climate change front and center in the minds of those in the wine industry – not just in the U.S., but globally…

Rising Trends

The long-term impact of global warming should have the largest effect on vineyard varietal selection. In the next 20 years will we see Napa/Sonoma start replanting vineyards to warm climate varietals? Will the vineyards start to look more like the Southern Rhone? In 20 years will Oregon/Washington State become the new Napa?

The short-term impact will be on harvest timing/strategies and winemaking. Before the fires, I saw a few CA winemakers chatting on Facebook about how the unusually hot harvest in 2017 might cause them to adjust their approach from past years. It will likely be the estate wineries that can be flexible and creative enough to weather this transition well (pun?).

Let’s start with a very important basic presumption: balanced wines are preferred and desirable. Napa moving to easy drinking Lodi Zinfandel style wines just doesn’t seem like an option to me. I have spoken to several winemakers over the past five years that are already experimenting with interesting techniques… These conversations have led me to realize that the steady trend toward more single vineyard wines and estate wineries is happening for many reasons beyond marketing strategies. Winemakers are reaching the conclusion that more control over the growing process is vital to the production of premium quality wines. These techniques may have a more far-reaching impact though: as options to minimize the effect of a warming climate…

How Can the Industry Adjust to Climate Change Now?

I am sure there are much smarter people out there with more training and great ideas on this topic, but this thought occurred to me recently…

Multiple Harvest Windows?

This strategy is basically, separating a vineyard into blocks and varying the harvest timing… requiring multiple harvest passes at different times in one vineyard. I can’t tell you how many other winemakers have told me this is a gimmicky, trendy technique and is a waste of time and money. I have tried to see the negative viewpoint, but the final consideration always comes back to the supporting science.

Before a winemaker can consider this alternative strategy, he/she has to either: be working for an estate winery, or have influence and control over the grower. I have talked to several winemakers/winegrowers who split harvest timing across several days/weeks to handle individual vineyard blocks separately. This can take advantage of rustic elements present in the fruit from earlier harvest vs. more advanced flavors/phenolic development from later harvest. Although, if the nights are not at least cool during Fall harvest season, good acidity levels will still be difficult to achieve. Earlier harvest can also control sugar in the must (fruit) and subsequent alcohol content in the wine. Some are taking this thinking a step further and investing in the equipment and resources to perform small-batch fermentation of each separately harvested block… to add complexity and balance via blending. In a world where Fall is becoming warmer, an interesting investigation might be whether earlier harvest in one block could help offset the impact of a more traditionally timed harvest in another?

Popular Wine Grape Varieties and Vineyard Location

The Bordeaux grape varieties that comprise the majority of red wine currently sold in the world (Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec & Carmenere), do not produce classic wine styles when grown in warmer climates. That doesn’t mean there aren’t varietals grown in warm climates that don’t produce structured, balanced wines… Syrah, Grenache, Aglianico, Tannat, Tempranillo (to name a few)… but to go down this path, the majority of the world’s vineyards ( from 35th to 45th parallels) would have to be replanted AND the world would have to be re-educated on which varietals to drink.

When grown in a warm climate, the most common wine grape varieties in the world, tend to produce simple, easier drinking wines that do not pair well with food. Regardless of the necessities driven by global warming, it is unlikely that consumers will accept new styles of wine simply because current vineyards are not planted in cooler climates.

Forest Fires, Vineyard Fires & Climate Change

There will never be a good approach to bringing these pieces together. Vineyards need to be starved of water and nutrients in a carefully controlled process to concentrate flavors and produce complex premium wines. Vineyards cannot be over-watered, which means they will always be “dry” by definition. As global warming continues, it will be critical to clear an open space around vineyards, so scrub and forest cannot easily transfer fire conditions by proximity. I can’t tell you how many vineyards in the mountains around Napa and Sonoma are nestled in and completely surrounded by forest. What makes for a beautiful setting, may cause a fire risk that is no longer acceptable. Any change along these lines could dramatically change the picturesque nature of wine country (California?) moving forward.

Change is a disruptor we all have difficulty contending with in many areas of our lives. It is likely wineries and wine enthusiasts alike will have to change expectations in coming years.

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Another Pretty Margaux: 2000 Chateau Rauzan-Segla

2000 Chateau Rauzan-Segla

Margaux AOC, France

Tasting Note:

Soft decant and drank over three hours with a friend after dinner. The typical pretty, elegant Margaux character is very evident. What started out with a beautiful silky texture, thinned a bit after two hours. The very funky strong forest floor aroma lasted about the same time frame, before it blew off to reveal an interesting highly complex nose that was definitely not fruit forward. The nose was full of earth, leather, tobacco and graphite with a little blackberry. The palate is simpler leading with earth and graphite, followed by blackberry and plum, mid-palate of dark chocolate following through with a short finish. Still a highly structured wine, even after its age, having medium-high acidity and tannins and noticeable alcohol (not overwhelming). All in all a very nice, somewhat typical Margaux with most of what you would expect. Drinking window: 2012-2020.

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Filed under Bordeaux, French Wine, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Follow-up to: “Cabernet Sauvignon Blend Comparison”

A few comments from readers outside the U.S. highlighted the cultural bias I showed in this piece.  So, for my readers outside the U.S., I decided to write a follow-up with that in mind…

Bias Cartoon

I have written before about cultural differences and how it affects wine culture and wine jobs around the world.  It is difficult to shed the result of our up-bringing.  My point has always been – evaluating the quality of a wine is the same around the world, but whether it is enjoyed with or without food… or which foods pair best to local palates – are not simple questions with easy answers.

Cultural “Liberties”

I took many cultural “liberties” in the previous piece, assuming a shared understanding.  Also, I SHOULD have offered an evaluation regarding the best wine-food pairing…  As a starting point, keep in mind, all four wines were essentially Bordeaux style blends, the wines were similar in profile and this style of wine pairs well generally with red meat.

When I hold a tasting of varietally similar wines like these, it definitely allows a focus on evaluating structure and balance vs. flavors/aromas.  A more technical approach, but one I prefer. If you read my tasting notes, I ALWAYS discuss the structure and balance of the wine – regardless of the pairing.  I tend to evaluate wines based on how well they are made vs. how much I enjoy them.  This is the FIRST concept I was taught in formal Sommelier training.  The French wine was BY FAR the best balanced wine at the table.  So, in a tasting of similar style wines, it offered the best wine-food pairing of the four.  Which wine did I enjoy the most without food?  The 1993 Beringer Private Reserve.

In my opinion, this “Cultural Bias” is the biggest challenge that a wine professional can face when trying to bridge the chasm between Old and New World locations:  accommodating the local wine culture.  This affects every discipline in the wine industry, affecting how the wine is made, how it is marketed, serving decisions…  Perhaps, this thinking explains the importance of an involved U.S. importer to a European producer.

Cultural Differences

In the U.S., it is more common to enjoy wine without food.  One of the challenges I had to overcome in my training, but it also affects how I approach evaluating wine for my U.S. audience.  I believe there are a few ideas differentiating wine drinkers in the U.S. from many other locations around the world:

1) A significant share of the wine consumed in the U.S. is enjoyed before, or after dinner, without food.

2) Americans are looking for a less formal and relaxed wine experience.

3) When paired with food, wine flavors should enhance food flavors, rather than just complement the flavors.  Wine is not often consumed primarily to clear the palate as is common in Europe.

In closing, I was asked for a better description of the food prepared and enjoyed with the wines. So, here it is:

Beef Short Ribs – braised with a balsamic reduction for 3 hours in a pressure cooker.  They were rich, meaty, and very tender.

Mac & Cheese – a uniquely American comfort food.  This is an extremely rich pasta dish made with butter, cream and lots of cheese.  In this case we made the pasta from scratch vs. pre-packaged.

Succotash – another uniquely American dish.  A mixture of corn, butter beans (we subbed cannelloni) and okra (we subbed zucchini) in a light butter sauce with salt pork flavoring.

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Cabernet Sauvignon Blend Comparison

See a follow-up to this post at:  https://coolclimatewine.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/follow-up-to-cabernet-sauvignon-blend-comparison/

Tasted Friday, December 26, 2014

INTRODUCTION

I selected one each Bordeaux, Napa and Tuscan Cabernet Sauvignon blend to pair with dinner for this get-together. We invited friends over for a meal of braised beef short ribs, home-made mac & cheese with gruyere & cheddar sauce and succotash. All the wines paired extremely well with the meal served.

The Le Petit Haut Lafitte was the standout of the night. This was extremely well-balanced, with good structure and had a very pretty, refined character that spoke of a well-made wine. A mix between Old and New World with a fruit-forward palate.

The surprise of the night was the ’93 Beringer. Wow, what a great aged Napa Cab. Just an excellent bottle-aged wine. This wine was made to age well and actually has a few years left in it, if anyone has this in their cellar… it isn’t dead yet!

FLIGHT 1 – CABERNET SAUVIGNON BLENDS (4 NOTES)

All great choices and enjoyed by all!

USA, California, Napa Valley

After one hour decant. This was the most surprising wine of the night. At 21 years old this bottle was singing! The nose showed plum, blackberry, black cherry, graphite and earth. The freshness of fruit on the palate was nothing short of amazing for a ’93. The palate followed the nose with beautiful fruit. The structure was spectacular for an aged wine, with medium-high tannins, good acidity and well-integrated alcohol. Nice mid-palate of tobacco that added complexity, but the mouth-feel is what got me. The balance was good and the tannins had a great velvety texture that filled the mouth. It needed more layering of flavors and a stronger finish to move in to the exceptional category though. This wine actually has a few more years under its belt! This is my first Napa cab sauv that has stood-up well to 20 years of bottle aging.

France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan

After one hour decant. This was the most spectacular wine of the evening. It was extremely well-balanced, with a refined, classically old world character… while still being fruit forward. The wine showed great QPR and is a substantial effort for a second label. Plum, blackberry, creme brulee, tobacco and earth were on the nose. The palate follows the nose. The wine is very accessible for only five years in the bottle. I would suggest your prime drinking window to be 2016-2018. I don’t believe this wine will age successfully beyond that. Everyone at the dinner agreed this was the best wine of the evening. With medium-high tannins and strong acidity the structure was spot-on. The alcohol was noticeable, but did not dominate. This contributed to a superb pairing with braised short ribs. This is the best value I have tasted from Bordeaux in a long time.

USA, California, Napa Valley

After 30 min. decant. Popped this half bottle looking to see how close this wine is to its drinking window. This needs another few more years. The nose is full of plum and rich red tomato. The palate is fruit forward with plum and blackberry moving to a hint of tomato. Nice spicy character leaning towards cinnamon and clove. The wine had medium-high tannins with very high acidity. It was slightly hot and not integrated enough yet to be well-balanced. This was definitely starting to move towards a soft mouth-feel. I enjoyed this now, but believe it will be much better when I pop the next bottle in a couple of years.

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

After 60 min. decant. This improved with more time in the glass. Fruit on the nose was of cherry and plum with vanilla and herbal mint. The nose was too hot to really enjoy. The palate followed the nose. Medium-high tannins and high acidity for good structure, but not well-balanced. The alcohol was very noticeable. The other characteristics were a little out of kilter. I will save the next bottle for a couple of years, hoping it will come together.

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Filed under Bordeaux, Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, French Wine, Italian Wine, Napa Valley, Super Tuscan Blend, Toscana, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

1969 Chateau Potensac

6807

Chateau Potensac

France, Bordeaux, Medoc

Wine Tasting Note:

This was just a bit of fun… bought this at auction a while back. Wasn’t expecting much, but it was an opportunity to see what 45 years would do to a decent wine. Opened this at a party last night. As expected, the cork was a challenge. The first pour had a nose of barnyard and must and the initial taste was thin, a bit oxidized and closed… but, if you can believe it, this ol’ gal still had enough structure to require time to open up. After an hour, a nose of sour red cherry began peeking out. The tannins were still very present and it had good acidity. Several of our guests tasted the wine and were not particularly impressed, but some had a background with French wine and understood it well enough to appreciate what it was. We added a cheese plate to the tasting and it handled the cheese well. So, now it’s the next day. I let the bottle sit on the kitchen counter and amazingly – it is still holding up! It is too watery, the fruit is almost gone and it is a touch oxidized, but all-in-all… a surprisingly decent wine after 45 years.

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Filed under Bordeaux, Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, French Wine, Wine by Varietal, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Old AND New World Style Wines

Drinking Too Many Napa Cabs…

Our trip to Italy last year brought one aspect of my wine consumption to the forefront… I drink too much New World style wine. The beginning of our trip, I was missing the oak and vanilla that I am comfortable with in many of the Cali & Washington reds I drink. American oak is much more of a flavor component, compared to the French, Hungarian and Slovenian oak used in Europe. In fact, of the 30 some odd wineries we visited in Italy, most were aging on neutral used oak… So why should this bother me? It is the idea of being able to enjoy and appreciate the subtleties of less manipulated wine. When we returned, drinking a Napa cab was a challenge initially. This realization has caused me to rethink how I would like to enjoy wine. Since then, I have expanded Italy and France in my cellar and pushed myself to drink more variety. No, I am not a masochist. I do really enjoy well made, balanced, less manipulated wines. I just find, now that I understand my palate better, I can appreciate both styles more fully.

Diversifying Your Cellar

This caused an interesting realization for me. Is it possible to move back and forth between each style and enjoy both? Certainly, there are extremes on both ends of the scale. Would I want to drink a Silver Oak Cab versus a Cain, or Ladera – where my palate is today? NO, but the Silver Oak is an extreme. Do I enjoy young Bordeaux, or Barolo in a cold vintage year? Not so much. You get the idea. I am trying to develop the palate and (I think more importantly) the mindset to appreciate both. This has been a challenge, especially after the change in palate I experienced after the two weeks in Italy. I think it was a good thing, though. Now, I find myself moving towards embracing more different wines. I may not choose to drink certain styles regularly, but I can enjoy the well-made ones, based on the quality they represent. I had a superb 2007 Sassicaia in Italy and last week I popped a wonderful 2001 Pride Mountain Reserve Cab. They were radically different, but I enjoyed them equally for what they were. Maybe this sounds ridiculous to some? Maybe it isn’t worth the effort? Don’t know… we’ll see where my palate takes me, as I continue down this path.

Drink the Wine You Like

OK, I am not saying you should drink certain wines strictly because of their quality, rather than the appeal to your palate. In fact, I truly hate that kind of wine snobbery. I am just trying to share what two weeks in Italy did to change me… Once the U.S. bias to my palate was purged, I discovered that I found some of these very subtle wines to be truly spectacular. A view that I had not reached, prior to the trip. If you too are immersed in wine as a hobby, perhaps, consider exploring a few weeks of wine that is a departure from the Parker faves. It may open your eyes to a deeper understanding of how you can enjoy less as more… one night, and then be hit over the head the next night… and be bowled over by both.

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2009 Chateau Pindefleurs

101310

Chateau Pindefleurs

France, Bordeaux, Saint Emilion

Wine Tasting Note:

Right after pop, disjointed nose and palate of strong alcohol. Takes 30-60 mins. to blow-off. After a couple hours open, fruit forward nose of plum and black currants, with a bit of mint and the alcohol is still prominent for 13.5%. High tannins – typical of a young Bordeaux, but not as refined as the better wines from St. Emilion. Medium high acidity and a light texture. Very little fruit on the palate, mostly bitter chocolate from beginning to end. There is a bit of underlying minerality. This wine does not have a particularly balanced approach and very little complexity. It is crying for a steak to accompany it, but will not add to the flavor, just clear your palate between bites. Not unpleasant, but not enjoyable either.

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Filed under Bordeaux, French Wine, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Can You Justify Spending on Premium Wines?

Okay, I know there aren’t many wine drinkers out there that maintain a diverse cellar of bottle-aged wines, but for those of you who do, and invest in the spendy, premium wines… how do YOU justify it?

Which Wines Are in Your Cellar?

2/3 of my cellar is made up of moderately priced red and white wines of good value.  The other 1/3 is reserved for more expensive, special red wines.  So, just what constitutes a “special” wine worthy of a premium price? It has taken me 20 years of collecting wine and an evolving palate to finally arrive at a couple of answers.  My justifications for spending $75+ on a bottle of wine are:

1. Wines that have structure, balance, texture, be complex, BUT ALSO be accessible in no more than 5 years, and be able to age (AND improve) for 10 years or more from the vintage date (yes, even Barolo).

That doesn’t mean the wine will be in its prime drinking window then, just that I can enjoy it and then look forward to another beautiful experience down the road.  Enjoying wines this way, requires a purchase of several bottles of a wine, per vintage.  I will rarely do this until a producer has proven a good match for my palate and been consistent with quality vintages, year over year.  Although, sometimes you just know from drinking a wine… and I say “drink”, not taste.  This has happened too many times… Tasting Room Attendant hits you with attitude, goes on and on about the wine and presses you to purchase his/her amazing $100 (speaking of Napa here) bottle.  Then, you are hit with a 1 oz. pour!  Who needs a direct relationship with a winery, when you are treated like that!  With a good experience, enjoyable wine and the right value, I will become a year-over-year customer and they can start thinking of me as a revenue source for years to come…

2. Wines that my family and friends enjoy.

An example in this category for me is expensive champagne.  Not what I personally would spend big dollars on, but I really enjoy sharing good bubbly with friends who appreciate it!

Overview

IMHO, the holy grail of wine is the 1st category.  Examples for me would be vintages of Barolo, Southern & Northern Rhone (also CA “Rhone Style”) and mountain fruit Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (Veeder, Spring, Diamond & Howell).  Yeah, I know… no classified growth Bordeaux & cru Burgundy included.  I have not tasted Bordeaux meeting that criteria under $75/btl. AND other regions bring the same level of enjoyment for $50.  ENTRY LEVEL Burgundy STARTS at $50/btl and I just don’t enjoy pinot noir enough to explore that varietal for that kind of money.  My Oregon Pinot is just fine thank you.  I have Bordeaux and Burgundy in my cellar, but just to provide a representative collection, and it skews my average bottle price more than I would like.  I know many of you DO spend that $150+/btl for Bordeaux and Burgundy.  I wonder, how do you justify devoting the disproportionate percentage of your wine budget?

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Filed under Barolo, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Howell Mountain, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, Northern Rhone, Southern Rhone, Spring Mountain, Wine Cellar, Wine Collecting, Wine Tasting

Should the French AOC System be Changed?

In a country where consumption of table wine is decreasing, you would think the government run wine industry (for all intents & purposes) would figure it out. There is a huge export market for reasonably priced, quality wines. Why shouldn’t the moderately priced producers in Bordeaux be allowed to use the Bordeaux name and relax the regs?

French Wine Laws Need to be Revised

As a consumer, I resent Bordeaux as a wine region.  If I want to explore the very best of Napa, I can afford it on a splurge.  The very best in Bordeaux is priced very close to insanity.  It has created a backlash with many consumers.  A perception of the damn cultural elite, dictating accessibility, creating an image that does not appeal to the average wine drinker.  It doesn’t need to be like this.  Bordeaux is at a cross-roads.  The majority of wine production in Bordeaux is actually more reasonably priced, but I rarely buy affordable Bordeaux.  With declining consumption in France, what will happen to the wine classifications Vin de Table, and Vin de Pays?  The answer should be:  allow a product geared for the export market to be developed.  Very similar to what Italy has done with the “IGT” designation.

French Wine Laws That Make Sense

I will now introduce sacrilege to the discussion… beyond the 1st-5th Growth wineries, the rest should buck the system and start a co-op outside of the AOC system and pool marketing dollars to enter new export markets.  Relax the production requirements to allow more accessible, new-world styles.  Permit label changes to make them more understandable for the typical New World consumer.  Spend money advertising  to introduce these new wines to the world… AND allow them to use the “Bordeaux” name.  

The Horror!

Why would this be so crazy?  If I had the cash to invest, I would learn French and reach out myself to get these winemakers to leave the system and step out on their own.  A group of value priced Bordeaux producers banding together and pursuing export markets outside of the limitations of the AOC system?  Wouldn’t that ruffle a few feathers?

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2006 Tenuta Monteti Monteti Toscana IGT

Tenuta Monteti IGT

Tenuta Monteti

Italy, Tuscany

Wine Tasting Note:

Not sure I have tasted a better bordeaux blend under $20 from any country. Nose of red plum, blackberry with slight vanilla, cinnamon and oak. The texture of this wine hits you like a ton of bricks – almost chewy. The 50% petit verdot is fantastic here. Good acidity, with medium tannins. Nice balance and structure. You can tell the fruit has begun to fade, but still has enough left to be fruit forward (must have been a bomb when young) with a big black fruit profile. I really like how this wine is totally dry on the palate, despite the fruit and vanilla. This would be a fantastic food wine for rich foods.

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Filed under Italian Wine, Maremma, Super Tuscan Blend, Toscana, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes