Episode 13: Ch. Haut-Bailly interview

As the futures campaign for the much-hyped 2009 Bordeaux seems to be in full swing, I’ve noticed that the prices seem to be quite high (for me, anyway) – and when I see high prices, I tend to run the other way and think about value.

One of my favorite picks for top-flight Bordeaux at a comparatively reasonable price is Chateau Haut-Bailly.  This chateau has been getting crazy high scores in recent vintages from critics like Robert Parker – scores that rate them with the very best wines in Bordeaux.  Thankfully, the prices are still relatively affordable for those who may want top-tier Bordeaux but don’t have First-Growth budgets – many vintages are available in the $50-60 range while getting scores from pro critics as high as 95 points. Grab some bottles now before the masses catch on and start driving prices upward, as seems to be the case with Chateau Pontet-Canet (which seems to have become a popular favorite if you trust CellarTracker community holdings as a barometer) – it seems like the secret about the quality and value of Haut-Bailly has not fully hit the Bordeaux-buying masses yet.

Chateau Haut-Bailly is located in the Pessac-Leognan appellation (formerly known as Graves), and I find the house style to be very elegant, refined and structured.  To me, it has a classic Left Bank Bordeaux flavor profile (technically, Graves is not Left Bank, but the blend at Haut-Bailly is generally about 70% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot – so it has very Left Bank-like proportions), welcome news especially for people who are not into the ultra-modern, fruit-forward style that a lot of Bordeaux chateaux seem to be modulating toward.

Considering the price levels of the 2009 futures, my recommendation right now is actually to look for the 2006 vintage of Haut-Bailly.  The 2006 Haut-Bailly was wonderful when I tasted it last winter (I bought a bottle for myself the next day), and it’s available now at a price that’s about half of the futures price for the 2009 Haut-Bailly.  I find that there is a lot of consistency year-to-year in the quality of Haut-Bailly, and I like the 2006 vintage in Bordeaux a lot – it reminds me a bit of 2001 in that it’s a vintage with classic Bordeaux flavors (and by classic I do not mean “austere” ) and ample, appealing fruit at the same time.  Even the 2007 Haut-Bailly impressed me a lot, in that it was very close in quality to the 2006 despite 2007’s reputation as a weak vintage.  However, since prices are about equal right now in the U.S. for the two vintages, 2006 is the better buy.  Look for sales on both 2006s and 2007s, as a glut of these wines on the shelves as the 2008s start to come in may well result in some retailer discounting later this year or early next year.

Below are my tasting notes on the 2006 and 2007 vintages of Haut-Bailly, as well as a brief video interview with Mr. Gabriel Vialard, the Technical Director (head winemaker) of Chateau Haut-Bailly, recorded at the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting in New York in January.  Click on the video to hear about the terroir of Haut-Bailly and the winemaker’s take on the 2006 and 2007 vintages.  Enjoy!  -Alan

  • 2007 Château Haut-Bailly – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan (1/23/2010)
    This is well done for the vintage – very much in the same tight, structured style that the 2006 showed, with classic Haut-Bailly touchstones of lead pencil and dark cabernet fruit showing. 90-92+. (92 pts.)
  • 2006 Château Haut-Bailly – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan (10/24/2009)
    2006 Bordeaux Tastings; 10/24/2009-11/1/2009: Lighter nose than SHL – slightly estery nose at first, but that blows off. Palate is tannic and deep- refined red fruits and gravel. Tightly wound but pretty, needs time. When retasted later – a little more funk/earth on the nose. Very structured, perhaps moreso even than La Mission Haut Brion and Haut Brion; darker fruits here too. Hits alongside the big boys (but a bit less approachable now), at a fantastic QPR price. Perhaps the toughest to identify blind as a Graves, but this compares very well to top Pauillacs and St. Juliens, in my opinion. 93-95. (94 pts.)

I tasted 2006 and 2007 Ch. Haut-Bailly at a retailer tasting at Sherry-Lehmann and the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting in New York, respectively, in each case free of charge.

Xinomavro: a “baby barolo” from Greece?

Hello Amateur Winos out there!

I recently had the pleasure of attending a tasting event put on by New Wines of Greece, and while I was there, I discovered a red grape variety that I’ve never had before that I’m getting pretty excited about:  it’s called xinomavro (I’m told it’s pronounced “Zee-NO-mah-vrow”).  Why am I excited about it?  Well, if your budget is anything like mine, barolo (one of the great wine varieties from Italy) is a treat that you can engage in only rarely because of its high price.  At this Greek wine tasting, I was told that xinomavro is sometimes called “the barolo of Greece”.  After tasting some of the wines, I can say I do think there’s something to the comparison, and most importantly, xinomavro is much cheaper!  They mostly seem to sell for $25 or less, and at that price level, some of them approximate barolo about as well as some of the other Italian wines I turn to for a “baby barolo” experience, like aglianico or budget nebbiolo.

One note: you may need to search around to find some of these wines – I was able to find a few of these only in stores in parts of New York city that have concentrated Greek-American communities, like Astoria.  While not all xinomavros resemble nebbiolo/barolo (some are a lot more modern and structured) below are some of my favorite xinomavro wines from the tasting for the barolo-like experience. I encourage you to perhaps taste them blind or side by side with a nebbiolo/barolo; see if you agree with the comparison, and I think you’ll also discover that these wines also have a uniquely Greek character of their own in the process. Check them out if you get a chance!  -Alan

  • 2004 Boutari Grande Réserve Naoussa – Greece, Macedonia, Naoussa (5/20/2010)
    Four years in oak. Definitely lighter and prettier than the Tsantali, with some olive here. More balanced, less power, less structured, less oak. More towards the barolo-like spectrum. Quite nice on the palate, balanced. A bit fuller and more rounded than the Karydas. 90-91ish. (90 pts.)
  • 2006 Domaine Karydas Xinomavro – Greece, Macedonia, Naoussa (5/20/2010)
    Shows barolo-like qualities, as advertised: Old World leather and spice. Quite impressive on the palate – indeed reminds me of good nebbiolo: medium body, spice, with the medium-ruby color edging ever so slightly toward browning, that would make me feel like this wine is older than it is. No new oak on this, and large casks used I am told, so perhaps an oxidative style explains the age that I sense here. 89-91. A lot of character for the price, and has something pretty about it. (90 pts.)
  • 2003 Tsantali Xinomavro Epilegmemos (Reserve) – Greece, Macedonia, Naoussa (5/20/2010)
    Three years in oak. Has a bit of a Bordeaux-like sense on the nose. Red licorice fruits and kind of a stony thing going on too. Reminds me just a bit of a Left Banker, with darker fruits and more modern in feel than some of the other xinomavro I’ve tasted. Palate shows the darker fruits profile, some sweet oak, modern, structured; pleasing in a different way than the other xinomavro. 88-89 (88 pts.)
  • 2000 Vaeni Naoussa Coop. Xinomavro Grand Reserve – Greece, Macedonia, Naoussa (5/20/2010)
    Shows quite a bit of oxidation on the nose, and plum color, with some movement toward browning at the edges. On the palate, quite tasty – a good blend of of oak, exotic spice, red fruit, leather, tobacco. Shows some age but still plenty lively and showing some tannin, and with these elements in an Old World oxidative style, this reminds of a traditional Rioja or a nebbiolo with some age. Perhaps my favorite red from this Greek tasting, and a terrific value at under $20. Impressions confirmed in a second taste from a bottle I purchased subsequently. (90-91+ points)

Posted from CellarTracker on GrapeStories.com

The wines in this report were tasted free of charge at a tasting open to members of the wine trade/media.