Posts Tagged ‘Bordeaux

What I Learned at VinExpo

VinExpo, one of the world’s largest wine trade shows, welcomed nearly 50,000 visitors last month — including yours truly. See below for a list, in no particular order, of what I learned from my whirlwind trip.

Warm climate wine producers have the coolest booths.

While the Piedmontese and the Burgundians took a low-key approach to their stands, not so the Corsicans:


Corsica VinExpo

the Lebanese:

Lebanon VinExpo

or the Brazilians:

Brazil VinExpo

Gamay is full of surprises.

I know my way around a cru Beaujolais, but I was still (very pleasantly) surprised to taste the wines of Joseph Burrier. The wines are subtle and focused, and Burrier — a 6th generation winemaker — was chock-full of quotable observations. One of my favorites: “the key with Gamay is to avoid vulgarity.” There was nothing remotely vulgar about these wines. They’re the Audrey Hepburn of cru Beaujolais. Graceful, elegant and unadorned. My favorites were the 2011 Saint-Amour “Côte de Besset,” refined and delicate, and, at the other end of the spectrum the 2001 Fleurie les Colonies de Rochegrès. Here it is, on the right, next to one of its younger compatriots. (You know the tasting starts getting real when the winemaker pulls out the unlabeled bottles.)


The very name Fleurie puts these wines at a disadvantage, says Burrier, as it inevitably prompts drinkers and even writers (ahem) to call these wines floral, charming, and unserious. He uses older vintages like this one to prove that Fleurie has a serious side. The wine is indeed drinking nicely now, and falls into what I think of as “October” wines.

Marketing can’t beat Mother Nature.

The boosterism that pervades events like this was no match for the cold (literally) hard reality of the weather. It was raining cats and dogs — or perhaps just cats if this whimsical sculpture installation was any indication:


In all seriousness, the horrible weather blanketing western France cast a pall on things. It remains to be seen how much the deluge will end up affecting the vintage, but, as they say in PR, “the optics were not good.”

The children are our future.

Tasting and drinking a lot of  wine was great, but the best part of my trip was meeting the next generation of France’s wine professionals, from sommeliers to winemakers and everything in between. A young couple who had abandoned their life in Paris to start a winery in Savoie focusing on indigenous grapes. One sommelier with the extremely quixotic, and extremely worthy, pursuit of introducing French people to wines from around the world. (Not an easy task. One Parisian diner, upon seeing Vega Sicilia on his wine list, asked, “they make wine is Spain?”) A Bordeaux winemaker who took as much pride in his Bordeaux Supérieur as his Pomerol. France’s obsession with rules and bureaucracy has a way of sucking the life out of its brightest young people, so it’s beyond encouraging to see all this dynamism and creativity.



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Why The Cool Kids Don’t Like Bordeaux (But I Do)

If you follow wine media, you probably saw this article on Bordeaux from New York Times wine columnist Eric Asimov. If you didn’t, here’s the quick summary: the cool kids don’t like Bordeaux. It’s too Robert Parker. Too corporate. Too expensive. In our quest for the newest, the most “natural,” the most biodynamic, the most idiosyncratic wines, the stodgy châteaux on the banks of the Gironde seem hopelessly passé.

I get it, really I do. But. Wine lovers rejecting Bordeaux is akin to Americans hating on George Washington. It’s an integral part of wine’s history, its mystique, and its hold on our imaginations. Plus a lot of it tastes really, really good.

I was fortunate to experience this first hand a few weeks ago, when Snooth Editor-in-Chief Gregory Dal Piaz opened a few choice Bordeaux for a group of wine writers. The line up included:


1986 Cos d’Estournel (a little stern, but likeable)

1989 Cos d’Estournel (velvety and seductive, if a bit hollow)

1986 Lynch-Bages (corked, alas)

1988 Château Meyney

1989 Château Meyney (my favorite of the bunch – well-balanced, highly drinkable, and remarkably fresh)

1990 Château Meyney

No single wine was perfect, but each offered a snapshot of what Bordeaux can offer: elegance, balance, structure and, of course, longevity. Old-fashioned virtues, I guess, but ones that every wine lover should learn to appreciate.

Besides, without Bordeaux, what would the cool kids have to rebel against?

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An Evening with Ruinart (Or, Thoughts on Texture and the Competitiveness of Wine Bloggers)

As you may have noticed, I’ve been on a pregnancy-induced blogging sabbatical. It’s been harder to keep up with STBNY during pregnancy than I would have hoped. (In fact, it’s been harder to do everything during pregnancy than I would have hoped, but that’s another matter.) I have made a few exceptions. Late last year I went to a tasting of Tom Seaver’s wines, where I got to meet the great man himself. (Yes, that Tom Seaver. More on him soon, I promise.) And last week I went to a dinner/”sensory experience” for Ruinart champagne. Given that most of my sensory experiences lately have involved discomfort, heart palpitations, back pain, and nausea, a night of champagne tasting seemed like an excellent alternative.

The experience went something like this: following a very pleasant half-hour of chatting with fellow invitees/bloggers and the supremely charming Jean-Marc Gallot, president of Ruinart, we took our places, which were set thusly:

Each of the 8 vials in the box contained a different scent, which, according to the brain trust (nose trust?) over at International Flavors + Fragrances, was present in Ruinart’s Blanc de Blanc champagne. It was our job to identify each of the smells and match them to the correct answer on a pre-printed list of 16 different aromas. Of course, we each had a glass of the Blanc de Blanc to help us along.

With Gallot teasing/encouraging us, we sniffed and scribbled away. Was #2 lemon…or grapefruit? The table arrangements held clues — like this little pot of pink peppercorns:

You’ve heard of blind tastings? This was more of a “blind smelling,” which put our collective olfactory skills to the test.

1. The folks over at LVMH are some damn fine marketers. Ruinart is the oldest continuous champagne house, and one with a slightly below-the-radar profile here in the U.S. This event was the perfect way to position Ruinart as a “boutique” brand, less mainstream than Moët or Veuve-Clicquot, but more accessible than Dom Pérignon or Krug. Gallot is the perfect guy to lead the charge. He has that all-too-rare combination (at least in the wine business) of American openness and French, well, Frenchiness. When I asked him what he liked to drink when he wasn’t drinking champagne he said he loved Bordeaux but…was beginning to really enjoy Burgundy. In New York, where obscurity is often touted as a virtue, and it’s nearly impossible to keep up with whatever the wine hipsters are drinking (“What you mean you’ve never had Grolleau? That was so 2010!”) it’s refreshing to remember that one can very happily stick to the classics. (If one has the budget for it, that is.)

2. Delicacy and simplicity are not the same thing. The chief virtue of Ruinart’s Blanc de Blanc is its finesse. Made from 100% Chardonnay — that’s what “Blanc de Blanc” means — this champagne is definitely on the lighter, crisper, end of the spectrum, which is the style I prefer. I think of champagnes like this as “lacy,” although I’m not sure how helpful that comparison is for anyone else. Nonetheless, it’s fair to argue that most of the smells they gave us were somehow present in the wine itself. I might take issue with the white peach, and I definitely wasn’t buying the pineapple (not coincidentally, the only one I got wrong), but ginger, jasmine, cardamom? Why not? Just because a wine is delicate or subtle, that doesn’t mean it can’t have a lot going on. I think it’s particularly difficult to detect this complexity in champagne, where texture (i.e., those bubbles) rather than aroma/flavor, makes the strongest first impression. Hence my classification of this wine as “lacy.” If that word doesn’t make intuitive sense to you, so be it: but I’d encourage you to pay as much attention to a wine’s texture as to its flavor. This is easiest to do with the extremes — say, sparkling at one end of the continuum and port at the other — but it’s not too hard to detect the silkiness of a good Pinot Noir or the roughness of a too-young Barolo or Bordeaux.

3. Wine bloggers are a competitive bunch. I’ve been to some fancy schools over the years and live in a city filled with Type A personalities, but nothing compares to a roomful of wine writers trying to out-smell and out-taste each other. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps the subjectivity of wine-tasting makes it all the more important that we state our opinions with authority? Or because an evening of sipping champagne in each other’s pleasant company doesn’t feel enough like work, so we have to be extra-serious in our wine analysis? Whatever the reason, I’ll cop to it as much as the next wine blogger. God knows, I’m still annoyed I only got 7 out of 8 right. Do you think I can turn in an extra-credit assignment?

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Looking 2 Gift Wines in the Mouth: 2006 Clarendelle and 2004 Larose-Trintaudon

First of all, apologies for the slow pace of posts lately. It’s been really busy at STBNY HQ, in part because of some exciting news that I’ll be sharing with you guys soon. In the meantime, thanks for bearing with me.

OK, on to business.  A few weeks ago I got an offer via Twitter (I’m @spinthebottleny, if you’re so inclined) for free samples of Bordeaux from the region’s trade promotion council. I’m still new enough to this game to be thrilled by an offer of free wine, so I signed up. And as a PR/communications professional by day, I was curious to see how Bordeaux is marketing itself these days. Believe it or not, these guys are actually in a lot of trouble. Once you get beyond the famous names that sell for stratospheric prices — Lafite-Rothschild, Château Margaux, Château d’Yquem — there’s a lot of undistinguished plonk coming out of Bordeaux and many small producers are totally unequipped to compete in the global wine marketplace. (Michael Steinberger goes into great detail on this in his book on the demise of French cuisine, Au Revoir to All That.) Wine is poetry, wine is transcendent…but wine is also a business, and a hard one at that, filled with people who struggle to make a decent living.

That’s why I died a little inside when I tore into the “Life Goes Better with Bordeaux” FedEx package they sent me. Not to look gift wine in the mouth, but I was beyond bummed to see the marketing materials they had enclosed.
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My Brush With Greatness: Château d’Yquem 1997

I try to avoid the “here’s what I drank last night” approach to wine blogging, just because I don’t think it’s that useful or that interesting. However, I do make exceptions if I think the wine is particularly notable.

Last night was one of those exceptions. My dear friend Marco opened a (half) bottle of 1997 Château d’Yquem, one of the world’s most acclaimed wines. It’s a sweet white wine from Sauternes, a region in Bordeaux, that’s incredibly expensive to make. When the weather’s just right, botrytis rot attacks the grapes, causing them to shrivel up and concentrating the sugars and flavors. The rot takes its time to work its way through the vineyard and affect the grapes, which means that it requires several passes during the course of harvest to collect the grapes at just the right time. The picking is done completely by hand, sometimes grape by grape, which, as you can imagine, is pretty laborious. (And also helps to explain the astronomical prices. My buddy Marco got this half-bottle as a gift, but it would have set him back nearly $200 if he had paid retail.)

The botrytis rot, age, and the predominant grape variety used (Sémillon, accompanied by a smaller percentage of Sauvignon Blanc), all help to explain the stunning gold color. White wine darkens as it ages, and Yquem and other Sauternes take on beautiful amber and tawny shades as they get older. Aromas of dried apricots, buckwheat honey, toasted almonds, and even mushroom jumped right out of the glass. The palate wasn’t quite as complex — at least at first — with flavors of dried apricot and peach taking center stage against a backdrop of savory smokiness. I wasn’t disappointed, exactly, but Yquem is such an iconic wine, I was practically expecting the skies to part and reveal a chorus of angels as I took my first sip.

Then a funny thing happened.
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Better Know a Grape: Petit Verdot

Inspired by Stephen Colbert and his genius “Better Know a District” segment, I’m kicking off an occasional feature profiling some lesser-known grapes. Nothing against Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and the other big celebs of the wine world, but there are thousands of other varieties out there. Many of them deserve to remain bit players, but some of them are unfairly kept out of the spotlight, marginalized because they offer unusual flavors, or they’re produced in tiny quantities, or even because their names are too hard to pronounce.
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