Tuesday, November 18, 2014

on a hiatus

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I'm still alive, in case anyone's worried. Just on a (not-so-brief) hiatus.

Travelling, mostly. Drinking, definitely. Making the most of the few months I have remaining as an IESE student, I suppose. Seeing new things, new places, but most importantly, spending this time with people I've come to deeply, deeply care about.

So. Bordeaux and Sitges in September. Munich, Islay, and Morocco in October. Alella in November, what figures to be a soft month because after all, we still do have classes to attend to. Still planning, but the north of Spain, Portugal, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic for the holidays. And in January, as Heineken so helpfully suggests, Shanghai.

It's good to still be alive.  

DF

Monday, October 20, 2014

crowns at Château de Fargues

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And so I ended my trip through Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes here, a true jewel of the region.
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The slow drive into the property was beautiful, tranquil and calm ...
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... noble and old.
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And while they are currently remodeling and remaking anew ...
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... some things are better left untouched.
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Sometimes, the old ways remain the best.
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That's it, ladies and gentlemen. This row and the row to the left. That's all there is of the 2013 vintage. A difficult, challenging one. As I learned, quality is a virtue that one fights for - that one commits to. It's not the grand vintages that make the estate ... it's the ones that keep you up at night that forge true character. 
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What a wine. A grand triumph of balance, nobility, strength, and character. What a wine.
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And how else to end this trip but to say goodbye to Philippe de Lur Saluces in front of the vineyards of Fargues. Inimitable charm, and a great ambassador of Bordeaux. What a trip!

Tasting notes:

2009 Château de Fargues: Great spicy notes, complex, and purity. Incredible depth, like staring into a dark well. What a gorgeous mouth - unbelievably spicy, with great length, tension, and extract. Complex, open, structured, and muscular - a powerful yet agile wine for the ages.

DF

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

the Château Coutet of my dreams

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You walk in, and immediately feel a sense of serenity. A truly grand estate, history and heritage. Beautiful. Sun shining, birds chirping, as they say. 
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I've been an admirer of Coutet for a long time. The wines always show well at big tastings - rich and creamy, great depth and presence. A family-owned business, the new generation is doing a great job bringing the estate (and Sauternes) into new markets, new times.
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It was a great privilege to visit. I got out early, making the nearly hour long drive from Bordeaux into the tiny commune of Barsac.
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Like many of their neighbours, the sauvignon blanc is close to harvest. Production volumes will be low again this year, following a challenging summer (cool and wet), but Coutet is anticipating good quality. Botrytis coming along nicely, and as long as the sunshine and mild temperatures continue, this could be a very good vintage.
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Barriques being quietly filled with sweet nectar. What a great privilege to finally visit Coutet, finally see the property I've dreamed of visiting for so long.

Tasting notes:

2012 Château Coutet: A big nose, ripe fruit, with lots of botrytis character but restrained. Mineral and very pure. Great freshness on the finish, very young and needs to settle down. Linear and extracted. A beauty.

2013 Château Coutet (barrel sample): Slightly woody aromas (for obvious reasons), already with great density and texture. Bigger than the 2012.

DF

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

tasting botrytis at Château Bastor-Lamontagne

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What a great pleasure to visit Bastor-Lamontagne - the first true wino's stop of the trip ...
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... Alexandre took me out to the vineyard first. Of course. We wouldn't have it any other way, would we - to be able to see the various stages of botrytis up close - in bliss.
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Botrytis just beginning to develop on the larger berry, while the shrivelled one is ready to harvest. Sweet, but with fabulously crunchy acidity as well. Real texture, even in the grape. The skin is dry and flakes off easily - very little juice. 
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This most precious nectar, bottled, and ready to share with the world. But first, a tasting ...
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... ending with an incredible example of how sublime mature Sauternes can be. An indescribable privilege to spend time here.

Tasting notes:

2011 Caprice de Bastor-Lamontagne: A blend of sauvignon blanc and muscadet. Fresh fruit, but lacking some depth and weight. Only half-botrytized fruit. Acidity needs time to settle in.

2010 SO Sauternes: Now as of 2010. Meant as an aperitif, but a more traditional Sauternes. Really elegant here, lots of apricots, freshness - honey and bitter orange peel, very spicy. Great length. Concentration with balance. Finish is linear and extracted - gorgeous.

2009 Bastor-Lamontagne: A blend of 80% semillon and 20% sauvignon blanc. A huge nose - so much thick apricot, botrytis character. So rich, so thick and dense, but with great elegance and texture. Very long and incredibly spicy on the finish.

1989 Bastor-Lamontagne: What a treat to taste. Opened a day earlier. These indescribable notes of oxidized fruit, honey, dried apples - incredible depth and complexity. Totally integrated. Very spicy on the palate, still thick and vibrant. Perfection.

DF

Monday, September 29, 2014

starting new rituals at Château Doisy-Daëne

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"Limestone. You must understand why our wines are so unique. It's all because of the limestone." So says Fabrice Dubourdieu, member of the 4th generation of Dubourdieus running this estate.
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As in the rest of Sauternes, Barsac saw a lot of rain during the growing season, but the botrytis is coming along nicely. Again, another year of low volumes, although quality is promising.
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The chai was busy the day I was there. The sauvignon blanc for the dry whites had just been pressed, and a shipment of new barriques was waiting to be unpacked. There's no glamour in a working winery - just a lot of hard work and time spent on the Blackberry.
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It's so peaceful in here. Just the soft sound of barrels being filled. Like music.
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"You ask me how we tell the story of Doisy-Daëne and Sauternes to people who don't know us. We need rituals. If there is a ritual around drinking sweet wines - they will sell."

Tasting notes:

2013 Château Doisy-Daëne Sec: A dry white, 100% sauvignon blanc grown on limestone and bottled in early July. I tasted 2 bottles of this - one opened for 2 weeks, and one fresh bottle. The difference was remarkable. The older one was tired - still had some fruit, but otherwise a goner. The freshly uncorked bottle was tight, with slight notes of reduction. Delicate and mineral, fabulous smokiness on the palate. Plenty of dry extract and structure, finishing very dry. An exceptional wine. "Thanks to our friends from New Zealand, people now know what sauvignon blanc is." - Fabrice 

2011 Château Cantegril: Ripe, round; a simple but balanced wine. Fresh fruit, good concentration.

2011 Château Doisy-Daëne: Complex and smoky, a big, big nose. Viscous, very concentrated and dense. Lots of minerality and extraction, a little hot on the alcohol, but absolutely delicious. Needs time.

DF

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

from the vineyard into the bottle at Château de Rayne Vigneau

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What a beautiful estate. Look at it. Rows and rows of green, pert and manicured. A vision of health and centuries of steady stewardship of the land. 
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Rayne Vigneau sits on a plateau, looking onto the Ciron River.
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They've found precious stones in the vineyards - agate, onyx, amethyst, and sapphire. How they got there is anyone's guess, but it's clear this place is special.
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After a rainy growing season, September suns came, and botrytis is coming along nicely. 'Taste one', Nelly told me. A lesson in concentration - sugar and acidity. 
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With the new labels. A new face on a wine that's a direct line from vineyard to bottle, despite that tired cliche. To get it into new glasses, however, cliches have to be replaced with stories. Rayne Vigneau has plenty of stories to tell. Are we able to listen?

Tasting notes:

2011 Le Sec de Rayne Vigneau: The estate's dry wine, 100% sauvignon blanc. Fresh and delicate, but real power on the palate. Mineral and pure, dry extract gives real density and structure.

2008 Madame de Rayne: The second wine. So pure here, fresh - apricots, soft ercolina pears. On the palate, delicious. Texture and roundness with impecable balance and acidity. Some spiciness at the end. O, this is very, very good.

2009 Château de Rayne Vigneau: So much power and presence. Dense fruit, very young. Alcohol apparent. Great texture and raciness on the palate, plenty of extract and spiciness. Botrytis character booming. What a beauty.

DF

Monday, September 22, 2014

the crosses of Château Carbonnieux

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The holy cross looks over the barrels of Carbonnieux ...
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... and the library of dusty, old glories ...
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... but it's always just about the wine. Always just about the wine.
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Tasting notes:

2012 Château Carbonnieux Blanc: A blend of 70% sauvignon blanc, 30% sémillon. Oak here with bright fruit, minerality and that green sauvignon fruit. Lovely lift and energy on the palate. Great extract and focus.

2008 Château Carbonnieux Blanc: A blend 65% sauvignon blanc, 35% sémillon. Integrated oak, but fruit slightly dried. Subdued. Bright palate with focus, tension, and great acidity. Very elegant here, developing in a good way.

2012 Château Carbonnieux Rouge: Racy nose, dark fruits and spice. Aggressive tannins, good acidity. Very young now, but already elegant, with very obvious potential.

2010 Château Carbonnieux Rouge: Very ripe, pruney nose - quite one-dimensional at this point, but a HUGE palate. Big tannins with good acidity behind it, needs a lot of time. A crunchy, visceral wine.

DF

Sunday, September 21, 2014

a new story at Domaine de Chevalier

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I've wanted to visit Domaine de Chevalier for a long time. Because of the wines, bien sur, but also because of the man. The man behind it - what an incredible force. I've met Olivier Bernard many times in Toronto and his energy, his enthusiasm, are infectious. He simply radiates excitement when you ask about his projects. There was no doubt - I had to come see this estate for myself.
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Newly installed concrete vats for fermenting the white wines ...
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... followed by a slow, steady aging in cask ...
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... sometimes even in the mother egg.
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This is what I came for. A new story that M. Bernard is telling. A story of new beginnings, of authenticity, and of great possibilities. A 55 hectare plot of vineyards in Sauternes, producing both dry and sweet wines. Pure excitement.
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DF and the man himself. Thanks very much to Veronique for showing me around, and M. Bernard for always being a source of inspiration.

Tasting notes:

2011 Domaine de Chevalier Rouge: A blend of 65% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 5% petit verdot. Inky with good depth; a fine and complex nose. Dark berries, still very young. Coating tannins, but very elegant.

2013 Clos des Lunes Blanche: The most widely exported bottle, through exclusive distributors. A beautiful nose, pure fruit with a touch of spice. Vibrant and sparkly on the palate, some creaminess. Lovely and bright, missing a bit of concentration, but a very, very exciting wine. Look out for these.

2012 Clos de Lunes d'Or: The flagship of the dry whites here. Immediate oak, great creamy, buttery notes. Bright fruit, viscosity is obvious - some alcohol showing (14% abv). Apricot on the palate, like a Sauternes, with great weight and roundness. A beauty in crushed velvet.

2013 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc: A barrel sample, but oak is very integrated. Elegant, fresh fruit, lots of dry extract and power on the palate. Pulsing with energy.

2013 Clos des Lunes Sauternes: Sulfur hits here. Apricots and freshness on the nose, but dries out on the palate. Very thick, but remains juicy. Balance is spot on ... I mean absolute finesse. Perfection here.

DF

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Visiting Château Smith Haut Lafitte

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It was a foggy morning. The first day of estate visits. Slightly nervous climbing behind the wheel of a car again after more than 12 months, to do some real driving out into the countryside.
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But why you nervous man? You've been wanting to come here since you were 18. You've read and researched the wines, the terroirs, the personalities of Bordeaux countless times. You've dreamed of them, and finally you're here.Untitled
Yet I was nervous. Coming here, to arguably the greatest (and certainly most famous) wine region of the world ... sometimes living up to expectations is hard.
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A first stop at Smith Haut Lafitte. A history lesson, first. Then a tour through the chai. Large oak vats to macerate and begin primary fermentation in ...
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... as well as their on-site cooperage (750€ per).
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This is amazing to see. To be here, to see the birthplace of the wines I've not only come to admire but to love. Shit I can't believe I'm here.
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Quick ... what are the 3 types of wood used in a traditional barrique bordelaise? The staves are oak, of course. The trim, chestnut. And the bar across the ends is pine.
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I started thinking ... you know how a mark of a great chef is how clean and orderly the kitchen is? The same must also apply to winemaking. The installation is impressive, but considering the money behind it, it better be. It's the attention to detail, the constant maintenance that makes the difference ...
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... from staining the barriques used to age the red wines in with sponges soaked with racked off lees ...
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... to the absolute alignment all the way down the chai.
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I wasn't nervous anymore. There's a sense of peace here, total tranquility. And it's not just because of the expensive topiary or modern art scattered around the estate ...
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... it's the sense that everything here is what it was meant to be ...
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... authentic, purposeful, and of the highest quality. No need to be nervous no more.

Tasting:

2012 Les Hauts de Smith Blanc: Bright citrus nose, minerality which follows on the palate; great extract, tightness and energy, mineral and very linear. Touch of roundness from oak, alcohol comes up on the finish.

2007 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge: Earthy, slightly bretty, thick mushroomy fruit. Sharp acidity on the palate, lean, and just not much there in complexity. Thin fruit, prickly tannins, bitterness on the finish.

DF