German wine country, Part 2: the Rheingau – sample itinerary and a visit to Weingut Robert Weil

A visit to the Rheingau wine region of Germany presents a perfect opportunity to intermix visits to some of Germany’s top wineries with some unforgettable tourist experiences. I tried to combine most of the following into a single day but found we didn’t have enough time. But my loss is your gain, as I’ve reworked it into a two day itinerary that should bring you much pleasure.

Day 1: Kiedrich and Johannisberg

Start your day off in Kiedrich at the charming Weingut Robert Weil, which does a great job of blending a traditional German-styled exterior with a sleek new tasting room

weil exterior

bathed in modernity. The wines are widely regarded as among the top of the Rheingau. For tasting notes from my visit, see the bottom of this post.

Continue on to the town of Johannisberg, about a ten minute drive away, where the sprawling estate of Schloss Johannisberg offers a wine tasting studio, an outdoor restaurant and plaza, and an indoor restaurant with a picturesque view overlooking vineyards.

Nearby you will find other excellent producers including Johannishof, known
for riesling but also spätburgunder pinot noir, as well as a guest house and a wine temple(!) if you need accommodations; and Schloss Vollrads, which claims to be the world’s oldest wine estate, situated in a castle above the village of Oestrich- Winkel.

After a day of sampling wines and sights from some of the above, head back to Kiedrich to Kloster Eberbach, a monastery dating back to 1136 that houses a winery since with vinicultural tradition going back 900 years. A variety of tours and wine tastings are offered, and you can have dinner in the cloistered atmosphere of their restaurant to round out a full day.

Day 2: Rudesheim and Assmanshausen


The towns of Rudesheim and Assmanshausen offer more wine tasting opportunities but Day 2 is about seeing the sights. After arriving in Rudesheim, we wandered into the Drosselgasse, an area filled with kitschy (some might say tacky) tourist souvenir shops, and made our way to Breuer Rudesheimer Schloss to have some fresh seasonal asparagus dishes for lunch, alongside traditional German favorites like schnitzel and local wild boar sausage. The wine list offered some wines from the restaurant’s affiliated winery, including some back vintage riesling and spätburgunder by the glass.

After lunch we took the Rudesheim Seilbahn, a picturesque cable car ride over rolling vineyards, up to see the Niedervalddenkmal, a statue monument to the establishment seilbahnof the German republic. (For those of you who prefer to have lunch up in the hills, there are sone cafe-type concessions at the top)

After seeing the Niedervald, you can take the cable car back down to Rudesheim, but we opted instead to hike over to the nearby town of Assmanshausen. The 30-40 minute hike turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. Visiting in late May, we were a bit unlucky to get some rain on every day of our visit, but assiduously watching the forecast allowed us to time our comings and goings well enough to have glorious sunlight suffusing our walk. The fresh air of the hills invigorated us and really got us into the spirit of the Rhine valley.

When you reach the hills above Assmanshausen, there is a ski-style chairlift down to the town, but we chose to keep on hiking down and were rewarded at the bottom with a glimpse of these friendly faces:farm

The reward for wine lovers when they actually make it into town: Assmanshausen is espcially known for producing excellent spätburgunder pinot noir. Seek out August Kesseler, one of the top spatburgunder producers in Germany, before heading over to river’s edge, where one can take photos of Burg Pfalzgrafenstein, a castle situated in the middle of the river, and then catch a ferry back to Rudesheim.


Our visit to Weingut Robert Weil / Tasting Notes of 2012 Rieslings

A stop into Weingut Robert Weil was an eye-opening introduction to tasting German rieslings young, as many of the 2012 rieslings were newly-released in Germany and not yet available in the US, with most grand cru-type bottlings (Grosses Gewachs or Grosse Lage) available for tasting but not yet released, even in Germany. Amidst the sleek and modern tasting room at Weil, what I found was that the wines did not yet show much, if any, of the petrol aroma that many German rieslings exhibit, and while I personally dig some petrol from my riesling, without this element, the underlying terroir of these wines seems to shine right through. The style of Rheingau rieslings showed as well, exhibiting a subtler, and perhaps finer sort of minerality on the nose as compared to rieslings from the more widely-known Mosel region.

weil modern

On to my tasting notes:

  • 2012 Weingut Robert Weil Riesling Trocken – Germany, Rheingau (5/21/2013)
    Some floral on the nose, this is a solid gutswein. However, for the difference in price I recommend stepping up to the Kiedricher ortswein. 87 (87 points)
  • 2012 Weingut Robert Weil Kiedricher Riesling trocken – Germany, Rheingau (5/21/2013) Like the Rheingau bottling, this has floral qualities with a touch of herb on the nose, together with stoniness that I don’t often get from bottlings of this level. However this bottling is just richer and more complex on the nose. Fresh and light, transparent style. 88-89 (88 points)


weil bottles


Be aware, they accept only cash (no credit cards), so I had to cut my order down to a few choice bottles. Would have loved to walk out with an assortment like these!weil cases

One special part of tasting 2012s was that M was born in that year. The long-aging Grafenberg spätlese was our first purchase for M’s birth year case of wines. Tune in to the next post to see what else we picked up at our next stop, Weingut H. Donnhoff in the Nahe region. Cheers,


Burgs at L’Apicio

Before I continue with the Germany report in the next post, some quick notes from a fun byo group dinner last week:20130620-225012.jpg

We got off to a great start with a vertical of William Fevre Les Clos. First up was the 2007, which I was looking forward to trying in order to track its progression. A bottle I had last sunmer alongside an 07 Fevre Les Preuses showed just a touch of oxidation compared to the completely fresh Preuses. On this night, the first taste was happily, not flawed. However, the rich, ripe palate did show hints of butterscotch. Is it too much age for an 07?

We got our answer with the next wine – by comparison, the 2004 Fevre Les Clos is fresh and crisp. It’s more of what I look for in Chablis, and though I might rate these first two wines at roughly the same quality level, style-wise I easily prefer the 04. This is especially notable considering that 2007 has been my favorite vintage for white Burgundy pretty much since its release. The ’07 I rated last summer at 92-93 last summer has slipped to a straight 92 for me a year later, and while it’s perfectly delicious and should be for a while, it’s just not as fresh as it should be, especially considering how lively the acidity of 2007 is – that may be all that’s keeping this wine together as well as it is.

Things get even better when we step over to the 2002 Fevre Les Clos, which is the most complete wine of this vertical. It’s fresh and clean, with just a dollop of richness that plays as more age-appropriate than the butterscotch hints on the 2007 (though if a Burg enthusiast with more experience with aged Chablis were to argue that this should be showing a tad younger too, I would not argue.

All of these bottles of Les Clos exhibited typical Chablis aromas of saline mineral and oyster shell, but the funk factor got a bump up in the 2000 version, up to what one of my dinner companions described as blue cheese. On the palate, this was again, correct Chablis, with a slight herbal edge. It seemed about right considering the vintage, but couldn’t match the charm of the 2002 tasted alongside.

Next. I tasted a 1985 René Collard champagne, yeasty and showing some age, but held together still by an admirable acidity. The last white to hit our glasses before the reds was a showstopper: the 2000 Domaine Leflaive Bienvenues Batard Montrachet made an entrance amid a cloud of flinty smoky mineral, giving way to an opulent yet elegant palate. Close call between this and the ’02 Les Clos for best wine so far. The richness in the Leflaive made for some nice counterpoint to a spicy grilled octopus app.

And onto the reds, for which the loose theme was Burgundies, augmented by pinots from other regions, and anything else consonant that people might want to bring. The first two: a 2002 Mongeard Mugneret Vosne Romanee Les Orveaux, and an 02 Clerget Volnay. The Clerget is corked, so into the flight goes Matt N’s Blind wine 1. Mongeard Mugneret wines that I’ve had before have been slightly modern but still correct Burgundies – a style that doesn’t always appeal to terroir-focused Burg purists, but can appeal to drinkers who may be more used to New World pinot, perhaps cab, or other wines that are generally less austere. Here, the 2002 Les Orveaux showed damp earth and leather on the nose that you might expect from a correct Burgundy, with ripe fruit and good acid befitting a quality vintage.

Blind wine #1:  Alongside the Vosne, this clearly feels New World – vanilla oak and fruit uncomplicated by earth or leather-type notes. The fruit is not over-the-top but there’s just a hint of cola if you listen hard. Based on this, I guess California, and Rhys. It turns out to be Oregon, and Domaine Drouhin Cuvée Laurene. I’m satisfied with my guess, but after the reveal I go back to the wine and detect some signature Oregon pinot loaminess on the nose that I should have picked up on. Blind tasting is always a learning experience.

The next flight are two blind wines brought by Josh K. We are told that they are both 2006 Burgundies, one 1er Cru, and one Grand Cru. Josh further adds that I have had one of these wines before, because he’s seen a note from me on it. Intriguing. Now to figure out which one it is.

Wine A of the flight shows red fruit on the nose and palate, and floral aromas that are quite engaging despite the feeling that the nose is tight and has a lot more to show in the future. The mouthfeel is notably smooth, despite some considerable tannin on the finish. There isn’t much earthy complexity, but it’s clear there’s good material here. I have a hunch as to what it is, but before I settle on an answer I must look into…

…Wine B of the blind flight. Early on, Justin C suggests that this wine is ever so slightly corked, but most of us don’t get TCA, including me, though I do get a slightly green woodsy note. Ripe perfumed fruits show on the nose and palate, of a slightly lusher variety than what you get from Wine A, with even a touch of raisiny quality, together with some earth. When I come back to the wine for a second sniff, I get it – that faint first whiff of TCA. The next sniff, I”m not so sure. The mouthfeel is fairly smooth, so I guess that the wine is another Chambolle or a Morey St. Denis, from a producer who uses stems. It turns out to be 2006 Henri Boillot Volnay Fremiets 1er Cru, and I’m satisfied with my guess – at least it turned out to be a village known for softer, silky wines.

And Wine A?  It turns out to be what I guess it is – 2006 G. Roumier Bonnes Mares.  The wine is showing a bit more developed than when I last tasted it in 2011, but still way early in its development.  But call me a believer, this is going to be a terrific wine when it hits maturity.

The next flight are two wines that I brought. 2001 Jadot Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Feusselottes is expressive on the nose at first, but feels flat compared to the wines from the 2006 flight before it. Slightly green and a touch light in feel, perhaps this wine is all I should.expect from a vintage like 2001, but the wine gets a bit lost in this lineup.

Not so with the next wine; poured blind for a group of wine biz pros and serious wine drinkers who are largely Burgophiles, this wine passed for burgundy with almost everyone. Matt N sniffed it out though, calling this as California and guessing Rhys, a pretty good guess based on style; other comments about the wine included “damn good, whatever it is”.  Opening with flinty, smoky aromas, this wine does read like a burg on the nose… except for a slight sur-maturité to the fruit that is a sign for me of the Santa Barbara origin on the 2000 Arcadian Pisoni Vineyard pinot noir The Allen Meadows melted vinyl descriptor might even fit to a tiny degree, but not enough to be a fault – just enough to make this a lush, pleasing wine, in its prime now.

We finish with an 89 Merkelbach Urziger Wurzgarten auslese riesling, and the floral nose leads to an interesting if less than integrated feeling palate. Its age shows a bit in the form of apricot flavors that feel separate from the noticeable (but not quite sharp) acidity that keeps this wine lively.

One curiosity that occurred at the outset of the dinner: when I picked up my water glass, I got a strong smell of TCA.  I looked around at my dinner companions, but decided it might be too pretentious-sounding to declare that the water was corked.  I got up to tuck my bag away in the corner, and by the time I had returned I heard a few of the other attendees discussing the water, and I knew it wasn’t just me.  Yes, water can be contaminated with TCA, and the sommelier at L’Apicio  promptly replaced the water for us all.  The service all around was excellent, and the food similar in the level of deliciousness delivered at L’Artusi (if a little less consistent), its sister restaurant from the same group, also responsible for Dell’Anima.  Standout dishes included the roasted mushroom polenta, spicy with chilies, and the charred octopus that was so tender that I was able to split it with a spoon.  Just writing about it now flashes me back.  Yum.

Next post: back to my Germany series, with a visit to Weingut Robert Weil

A Guide to touring German wine country: the Rheingau, Nahe, and the Mosel Valley, Part 1

Over the last few weeks, I visited a number of wineries in several of Germany’s top wine regions. In my next few posts I hope to give readers some insight into the wines I tasted, especially from the excellent 2012 vintage, as well as some useful info to help readers in planning their own trips through German wine country. Part travelogue, part tasting reports, with the help of this guide, hopefully you can enjoy Germany as much as my family did.

Home base for me, my wife P, and our daughter M was mostly a homestay with friends living near Frankfurt, with a few strategically placed nights at accommodations on the road in the Nahe Valley and in Trier, one of Germany’s oldest cities, which also happens to serve as the perfect springboard to visit the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer subregions of the famed Mosel Valley.

Before heading off to Germany, I made appointments for visits to a number of my favorite German producers. While almost all had websites with contact info and in some cases, opening hours listed, only two responded to an email request for an appointment. For all others, a telephone call was necessary to get the ball rolling on actually getting an appointment confirmed. In all cases, I got someone who spoke English, so if you don’t speak German, don’t let that stop you from picking up the phone.

My first wine experience in Germany (not counting a glass of Rotkäppchen sekt poured by our hosts on the night of our arrival) wasn’t by appointment at all, just a serendipitous turn. After visiting the Lindt Chocolate Museum (Schokoladenmuseum), Ludwig Museum, and Cathedral in Köln (Cologne), we stumbled into Kölner Weinwoche (Cologne Wine Week) – undoubtedly the most elaborate wine-driven street fair I have ever seen.


Row after row of pop-up stands for what seemed to be small family-owned estates lined the Neumarkt square. The place names of origin on the banners were all familiar – Rheingau, Nahe, and in some cases, more specific, like the village of Neumagen-Dhron in the Mosel Valley – but I had never heard of the estates. A great way, I thought, to test the depth of quality of German wine, beyond what we get to see imported to the US.




I was pleased to see such a vibrant wine culture in a country often associated with its love for beer (and the local beer I had on my trip was indeed very good). On a drizzly and sometimes cold day, there were throngs of people filling almost every table – some standing to enjoy a glass of riesling, maybe weissburgunder (pinot blanc), perhaps some sylvaner or scheurebe…

But it was spätburgunder (pinot noir) that piqued my interest on this day. During our trip we were going to visit a smattering of German wine regions but one that we weren’t going to have time to stop in on was the Ahr Valley, a region known for its pinot noirs. If you are a regular reader of these pages, then you know that pinot noir is probably my favorite grape, and a chance to try some pinot from an area whose wines are well-regarded but rarely imported into the US was suddenly possible when I found this:


20130605-234536.jpgJackpot! The Frühburgunder, I was told, is a variation of pinot noir producing small berries that give rise to a lighter-styled wine. The wine didn’t lack for color in any way though, giving forth a hue of true garnet. This was solid and competent pinot, with some Old World earth and nice floral perfume on the nose. The “früh” part of the name means “spring”, I believe, and if this was supposed to be “spring Burgundy”, the name was apt enough. This was the perfect drink for the setting, fresh and uncomplicated and quite enjoyable with a good German brezel. And this was essentially a random sample – someday I’d like to look into who the best producers of the Ahr Valley are and give their wines a whirl.


We also tried the Domina offered on the menu. Domina is a cross between pinot noir and blauer portugieser. I decided to try this unfamiliar variety, and it did have some pinot-like characteristics, but the true profile of this hybrid grape was obscured a bit by a noticeable amount of oak in this rendition of it. Darker and more brooding than the Frühburgunder, this was likeable, but perhaps trying a bit too hard, and I preferred the relatively unadorned frühburgunder.

Next post: a visit to the Rheingau at Weingut Robert Weil, and a suggested wine lovers’ itinerary for visiting the Romantic Rhine Valley.



Coming soon: visiting German wine country

Check back through these pages in the coming weeks, where you will see reports from my visits to some of the top producers of riesling, spatburgunder (pinot noir), weissburgunder (pinot blanc) and more from some of the top winegrowing regions in Germany, including the Rheingau, the Nahe river valley and the Mosel river valley.  As true riesling lovers, my wife and I are getting excited to visit the mecca of riesling, including stops to see some of our favorite producers, including Donnhoff, Emrich Schonleber, Von Schubert, Karthauserhof, Markus Molitor and more.  Stay tuned for tasting reports, recommended travel experiences and lots of photos and video from our travels through some of the most hallowed hillsides of world-class winemaking.

Learning more about Mourvèdre: a sampling of varietal wines from around the world

It recently occurred to me that I hardly ever drink mourvèdre. Or more accurately, I probably do without knowing it, as it’s often used as a blending grape that comprises a tiny percentage in a lot of wines, mixed in with other Rhone varieties like grenache, syrah and cinsault. I realized that, after all my years of tasting and learning about wines, that I couldn’t tell you what mourvèdre on its own tastes like.

Another factor complicating matters is that mourvèdre is like a secret agent among wine grapes – not just often appearing undercover, but also under many names. In parts of Spain like Jumilla, mourvèdre is known as monastrell. Some producers in Australia call it mataro. So, when it came time to choose a theme for the next tasting for one of my wine groups, naturally I chose mourvèdre.

I’ve had some good luck with monastrell from the Jumilla region of Spain in the past. In my early years of wine drinking, the Altos de Luzon bottling from Bodegas Luzon tarantas monastrellhas ranged from good to fantastic depending on the vintage – though that wine is only 50% monastrell, blended with tempranillo and cab.

Last night, I got a look at the 2011 Tarantas Monastrell, also from Jumilla. A wine of deep and rich reddish-purple color, the Tarantas gives forth aromas of dusty plums. On the palate, the fruit tastes more like slightly medicinal red and dark cherries, with plummy acidity and a slightly herby brambly edge on the finish to lend some interest. At $12 retail, this is a nice bargain-priced wine from 100% organically grown monastrell grapes and a good first glimpse into the character of this variety.

Next up, we had a French entrant, a 2010 Bandol called Le Galantin. 95% mourvèdre with a splash of grenache thrown in, this wine tastes true to its place of origin, with lavender and other Provençal herbs adding a floral edge to this rustic country wine.

Two New World takes on the variety took us to a slightly higher price range, with the 2007 D’Arenberg The Twentyeight Road mourvèdre at $31 and the 2010 Carlisle Two Acres, a California blend of mostly mourvèdre with small amounts of petite syrah, mourvedre 2syrah, peloursin, alicante bouschet and carignane. The D’Arenberg immediately justifies its higher price tag, with a perfumey nose that’s instantly appealing. To be fair, this is a bit older than the other wines, and has had time to become wine, as opposed to tasting like very primary grape juice. Ripe fruit and judicious oak have played their roles perfectly here, resulting in a slightly redder-fruited wine than the others, and it’s delicious.

The Carlisle shows a slightly meaty edge that the other wines didn’t. If we had had this double blind, I might have guessed from the nose that this was from the Rhone Valley, but the palate is classic Carlisle – dark, brooding but recognizably New World with its powerful, fruity style. The D’Arenberg wins wine of the night honors for me, but perhaps with the same amount of age on it, this Carlisle might be equally deserving.

So, after tasting these wines, what is mourvèdre like? My take is that the grape produces richly colored wines, and has a wild, brambly edge that feels part bushy, part peppery. There’s a thread of racy acidity that seems to come naturally to each of the wines tasted tonight, producing starkly flavorful and aromatic wines without forbidding tannins, even in youth. Fans of syrah, petite sirah and zinfandel/ primitivo might do well to check out mourvèdre/monastrell/mataro, in all of its guises. -Alan

The Tarantas Monastrell was tasted from a review sample bottle received free of charge from its distributor.

2010 Bordeaux: What to Buy / In-bottle tasting notes part 2: UGC and BurdiGala Grand Tasting

As promised, here’s the follow-up to my first set of 2010 Bordeaux tasting notes from bottle: this time I’m covering the value-priced appellations of Moulis, Medoc and Haut Medoc, and the Left Bank communes of Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac and St. Estephe.  These notes are from the UGC Bordeaux tasting in January and the BurdiGala Grand Tasting last week here in New York.  My faves/ recommended bottles for purchase are starred*.  If you are going to make any purchases now, you may want to make them before Robert Parker’s scores get released on the 28th, which may cause prices on high-scorers to rise.  You got the inside scoop first, right here!


Chasse-Spleen – showing leafy green tobacco herbal notes and licorice on the nose.  Brooding, with anise flavors on the palate. 89-92

Poujeaux – slightly higher toned nose than the Chasse-Spleen; fresher but a slight picklish(?) quality.  Licorice on the palate like the Chasse-Spleen, but the added freshness here gives this the edge this year in Moulis.

Cantemerle* – has a very pretty nose; sweetish fruits, and certainly some oak here, but nicely done.  A perfumed quality to the fruits on the nose makes this promising.  Palate is quite tannic, boding well for ageability, but


already delicious due to sweet fruits on the palate – with a freshness that makes this better than many of the higher classified growths today. A touch of red-fruitedness and delineation here.  One of the top outperformers of the day, for sure. A bit more giving on the palate than the more structured La Lagune tasted right after.  92-94

La Lagune – an herbal tobacco leaf quality on the nose, and sweet fruits and some oak to make it work as well.  Structured and fresh on the palate.  91-93

Tour de By – On the structured, graphite, stony side.  Very good.  90-92

Belgrave – green pepper and dark fruits on the nose.  Lead pencil palate, earthy. 90-91+

Beaumont – A lot of dirt on the nose with a bit of stinky mineral funk. Dark-fruited, with licorice and green pepper notes. A bit bitter on the palate. Not my favorite. 87-89.

Margaux – as a group, the 2010 wines from the commune of Margaux showed quite differently than any of the last 5 vintages or so; quite dense on the nose and tannic on the palate.

Rauzan Segla – a bit of floral perfume on the nose.  Somewhat silky onthe palate.  Good acidity, I think this will stay nice and fresh through its development.  Not overpowering, has an easy charm, and I think the Margaux character will come out more over time.  Really like the freshness. 92-95.

Prieure Lichine – A touch of coffee on the nose.  Much more dense, powerful and tannic than any vintage of Prieure Lichine I have tasted, even compared to the 2009, which was charming.  Not sure how this will develop compared to other vintages; first taste a bit confounding. Second taste: much better, showing much more open; nice and pretty. 91-94

Malescot St. Exupery -Definitely showing some oak and modern style, with some perfume on the nose.  Palate is way tannic but less brooding than a lot of the wines today.  True to reputation, this feels kind of modern; open, but not overextracted, and not as inscrutable as the Prieure Lichine on first taste.

Lascombes – A little lightish on the attack, which is probably good for a Margaux, especially given how modern recent vintages of Lascombes have been.   The power does kick in on the midpalate, continuing through with some spice on the finish.  Not as brutally tannic as even some of the Graves reds were. This chateau seems to have dialed it back a bit now.  92-94

Kirwan – Dense and extracted compared to the other Margaux wines.  Smooth, with a dense modern feel.  Tough to detect any Margaux typicity here.

Giscours* – Better than the Kirwan, with some detailed aromas, red-fruitedness, and cologne quality on the nose.  On the palate, there’s some real delineation and true Margaux feel here.  A surprise outperformer for me today.  92-94.

Du Tertre – Compared to its sibling Giscours, this has more of a lead pencil, darker profile – not as open and delineated.  Dense and tannic, this feels a bit broad.  Lacks charm, which is not the greatest quality in a Margaux.  Still, a very decent wine.  89-91.

Rauzan Gassies – Not a big fan of this wine – lots of licorice character on the palate, without much charm to the fruit to go with it.  Has rockiness, with an overpowering quality to the licorice flavors.  87-89

D’Issan – Pretty, definitely more structured and slightly cooler in fruit profile than the 2006 tasted before it.  On the palate, structured, nice, will be very good. 92-94.

Palmer* – Nose is very perfumed, with perfectly sweet fruit.  Perhaps a bit more dense, round and rich than I might have expected from a Palmer, but nothing like the Cos.  Palate is beautiful, perfectly balanced, sweet-fruited; impactful with finesse, with no need for high extraction.  A wonderful, complete wine.  96-98+

St. Julien

Beychevelle – showing damp dirt on the nose, which I like.  Tough to read, but falls within the house style.  Has a dark, brooding quality – clearly good, but not as readable as the 2009. 91-93

Branaire Ducru – shows more perfume and openness on the nose than the Beychevelle.  Not as broodingly tannic, either.  Has some slightly bitter licorice quality – one can see the comparison to the ’89s, with a bit more power.  Maybe like the 2000s?

Gruaud Larose* – the house style is very recognizable here.  Has refined mineral, a touch of leafy green, but also cigar/tobacco leaf sweetness to the fruit on the nose.  Very engaging sweetness to the fruit on the palate; among the most delineated wines today.  Easily among the best overall, as well.   Will be a very good Gruaud Larose. 94-96  Tasted again in February at BurdiGala, with consistent notes.

Lagrange – shows more lead pencil on the nose than Gruaud.  On the palate, very similar to the Branaire Ducru in its licorice flavors.  A little more dark perhaps.

Leoville Barton – showing sweet purplish fruits on the nose, with some peppery spice like the 2009.  Not quite as engaging though.  Still, very good.  92-94+

Langoa Barton – redder-fruited nose to it than the Barton.  Some perfume on the nose that I really like.  Has power and spice on the palate.  For once, I like this as much as the Barton.  The Barton has sweeter, higher quality fruit but the balance here, somehow with the slightly redder fruits and open style, make this just as good as its more heralded sibling wine.

Leoville Poyferre – some refined mineral on the nose.  Dark, powerful, anise-inflected.  Don’t like it as much as some of the other St. Juliens however. 91-93

Saint-Pierre – some sweetness to the fruit on the nose, and some tobacco leaf, cedary sweetness present too.  A little similar to the Gruaud. Has an oaky perfume, but a perfume nonetheless.  On the palate, has a tough-to-read density and power.  From the nose, definitely promising, in a way similar to the Gruaud.  92-93++, chance for some big upside, but tough to tell right now.

Talbot – has an interesting quality on the nose – some caramel oak, but also a certain nuttiness.  A touch of red fruits in the mix, with some licorice as well.  Stony mineral on the palate makes me feel very good about this wine.  More readable than a lot of the others – like the touch of delineation here.  Has a sense of dynamics – not all density.  92-94

Gloria – kind of a licorice-dominated palate.  A bit brooding, a little more detail than most vintages? Solid, competent for the vintage. 90-92

Ducru Beaucaillou* – Wonderfully perfumed on the nose – so much so that I checked – twice – to see if someone around me was wearing perfume.  Such sweet, pretty fruit.  Very good on the palate as well – juicy, balanced.  One of the best 2010 Bordeaux I have tasted.  Retasted at the end of the tasting (different bottle) with consistent results.  94-97


Clerc Milon – Has a liveliness to the flavors that I didn’t feel in a lot of the St. Juliens, definitely a step up from most of them.  Not as brooding, has a dynamic quality to it.  Excellent wine.  93-94+

Armailhac – Nose has a nutty, roasted oak quality.  Palate is tannic but a bit neutral.  90ish.

Pichon Baron* – A bit of the plummy quality that the Lalande has; very nice, showing easily better than the 2009 did last year. A little spice and power here, with a nice balance between red-fruitedness and darker fruits, with some engaging sweetness. Has the power I’ve come to expect from Baron, but also a finesse that almost feels more Lalande to me than Baron. Good acidity, a touch of floral here… this is definitely less ripe than the 1990 Pichon Baron. Probably my favorite vintage of Baron to date. 93-95+

2nd taste: denser and less floral than the first sample,

Grand Puy Lacoste – tannic, sweet-fruited, but feels a bit tough to judge. Looks to be quite good, but I think I preferred the 2009 at the same stage.

Pichon Lalande* – (January note) Has power, but also an easy quality to it.  Not overextracted, but has density, for a Lalande anyway.  Smooth, with freshness.  A touch of spice.  Power without being too expansive.  One of the beautiful wines of the tasting.  Will always be a dogfight between this and the 2009 Pichon Lalande as to which is better. 94-96

(February note)  Similar results as prior tasting at UGC.  At BurdiGala, this is more tannic and a touch less ripe than the 2009 tasted just before it, but the consistency from vintage to vintage is noteworthy.  Slightly brighter acidity on the 2010, boding for a long life; like this balance just a shade more than the 2009.  95-97+

Tasted back-to-back with Palmer 2010, this showed a bit stonier, with a darker-fruited perfume and not as sweet on the nose, and more anisette character.  On the palate, more structure, more tannin, more licorice flavor.

Lynch-Bages – Big, structured, with even more anise quality than the Pontet- Canet.  The acidity on the Lynch-Bages is a little livelier, racier, with cooler fruits than the PC.  Some real potential for this wine to turn out like the legendary 1989 Lynch.  Very good. 92-95

Pontet Canet* – A little darker, more powerful, and structured than the 2006 Pontet Canet tasted before it, with graphite notes.  Sweet-fruited, tannic, and rounded on the palate.  Very very nice.  Structured in style, this is very true to the nature of the 2010 vintage.  Has a slightly plummy quality to the acid, which I really like, and again, the lead pencil notes on the palate.  93-95+

St. Estephe – The St. Estephes seem to show a bit more mineral quality than the other appellations, based on a small sample size tasted so far.

Phelan Segur – showing plenty of mineral and open red fruits on the nose. Safe value pick – has got all you could ask for at this price level: pretty, open fruit, lots of structure, graphite and mineral notes. On the palate, lead pencil, touches of sweet fruit. 90-92.

Lafon Rochet – damp earth, a bit of primary-fruited magic marker pungency to the aroma on the nose, with some caramel oak and a touch of refined tobacco leaf peeking through too. Decent fruit, lots of mineral, nice typicity. 91-93

Cos Labory – stony, with fruit that’s not overdone, some sweetness showing through. 90-91+

Cos d’Estournel *- A recognizable house style for recent vintages is demonstrated by this range of 2006/08/10 Cos – a somewhat muddled style to be frank, characterized by dense fruits, some coffee notes, and damp earth on the nose, etc., which results in wines that don’t excite me in the 2006 and 2008 wines.  However, the 2010 is clearly a great rendition of this style, offering livelier fruit that lifts this above the 2006 and 2008 by quite a margin.  The fruit explodes with some sweetness but also charm and beauty, putting the elements together in a way the other two vintages don’t.  Tannic, but quite pretty on the palate, again with lively fruit, juicy acid yet sweetness to the fruit.  Lots of structure, some graphite notes.  I think this will be a great wine.  94-96

 Sweet wines of Sauternes/Barsac

Climens – very nice, not over the top. Good in a balanced way. Served out of decanter, which served this well.

De Fargues – more generously honey-fruited than the Climens, with a slight floral quality. Not over the top. Pretty balanced, really lovely.

Suduiraut – prettiest nose of the sweet wines so far, captivating in its floral qualities and sweet fruit. On the palate, the richest and most honeyed so far, but certainly very delicious.

Guiraud – lighter on the nose and palate than the Suduiraut. Has a slight herbal quality that comes across as a touch bitter on the palate, putting this behind the other sweet wines tasted thus far in quality. Certainly an engaging nose, though.

Coutet – [notes on nose truncated]. On the palate, nice and on the richer side but something doesn’t quite work here, lacking in the finish? Suduiraut is better today in this style.

La Tour Blanche – most captivating nose yet – floral, with a lychee fruit thing going on. Light in style, with just a touch of grapefruit and green apple that makes the nose intriguing. Smooth, lightish palate – very likeable, very very good. Delicate, with personality too. Best sweet wine here?

These notes are gathered from tastings put on both by the UGC and the BurdiGala Grand Tasting, which I attended free of charge as a member of the media.

What I’m Drinking: a casual President’s Day dinner with some winners from Austria and Portugal

Last night was an example of my favorite way to enjoy wine – a casual dinner with good friends, with a manageable number of wines ranging from unassuming (but perfect partners to the right foods) to transcendent.  Tasted over the course of a leisurely evening, the wines got sufficient air time to open up aromatically and unfurl their full flavors on the palate.  Things got off to a bang with a pair of wines that had been opened on nights previous and were ready to strut their stuff.  2006 Karthauserhof Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg Spatlese Trocken shows some nice late-harvest fruit in a dry package, but although my favorite rieslings are usual German ones, tonight it can’t keep up with the otherworldly 2005 Franz Hirtzberger Riesling Smaragd Hochrain from the Wachau region of Austria that my friend M has generously brought.  Every time I stick my nose in the glass, this wine sends shivers down my spine.  Light petrol and flinty mineral aromas float above golden orchard fruit, and I hirtzberger 2come back to it again and again. Dry and stony on the palate with a touch of bitter pith, but buffeted by deceptively generous fruit, this plants notions of nectar in your mind but goes down like glorious mineral water.  I’m enjoying and not scoring any wines tonight, but this one would clearly be in the exalted 95+ point range for me.

Next I pair a 2011 Casa de Vila Verde vinho verde from Portugal with a butter lettuce  salad with carrots and roasted butternut squash.  From the grapes arinto, loureiro and trajadura, this light, fresh white lives up to the “green wine” name, presenting a palate with fresh herbal green that manages not to come off as vegetal.  A nice citric snap here makes the wine lively and juicy. The next time you’re thinking of having sauvignon blanc, try a vinho verde instead –  this is better than the vast majority of the perfunctory sauvignon blancs in the same $11 price range.

Chicken and mozzarella ravioli is partnered with two pinot noirs, 2004 La Famille Claude Dugat Gevrey Chambertin La Gibryotte and 2010 Anthill Farms Demuth Vineyard pinot noir.  The Dugat, a negociant bottling, is from the 2004 vintage in Burgundy, in which a significant number of wines display a distinct green character of debated origin (one popular explanation involves pyrazines released by ladybugs).  I’ve had a number of bottles of this over the years, haven taken a chance on a number of bottles at a bargain $20 price, and it has generally shown some stalky, stemmy character that seems to be a manageable amount of the 2004 greenness, and tonight’s bottle still shows the same.  M and I agree that it’s not enough to be bothersome, and this wine delivers enough burgundy typicity and pleasure to justify the bargain price I paid.  M does a nice job of picking out the Anthill Demuth as an Anderson Valley wine when I serve it blind to him – and this one is true to the Anthill style – floral and fragrant tart red fruits and hints of beetroot, framed by oak in an accessible, cool-climate-fruited package.

I serve two blind wines with New York strip steaks, and though they are both from Portugal, they show very mariana alentejanodifferently.  The 2009 Herdade do Rocim Mariana comes across as a light-to-medium bodied red that’s smooth on the palate, with touches of a bushy, herby pepper on the nose to add interest.  All three drinkers who try this one one prefer it to the 2009 Quinta do Portal Colheita Tinto Douro, which is a good wine in a different style – darker-fruited, brooding and more intensely flavored on the palate.  A blend of alicante bouschet, aragonez (which you may know as tempranillo), cabernet sauvignon and trincadeira, the Mariana is from the Alentejano region and aged in stainless steel, which together with a nice plummy acidity, keeps it fresh.  On the other hand, the Quinta do Portal  tinto is a brooding, dark blend of tinto roriz (yet another name for tempranillo), touriga nacional and touriga franca from the Douro DOC, and shows the profile of an international red – French oak aging and dark, concentrated primary fruits.  Both wines sell for $15 or less generally, and to me the Mariana especially is a very solid wine for the money.portal colheita douro

As we linger after dinner, comparing the reds, I find I can’t help but keep going back to the fabulous Hirtzberger.  From there, we move on to a tasty 2003 Gimmeldinger Schlosser Spatlese rieslaner from Muller-Catoir, pleasing with light cinnamon-like spice inflections, and a perennial favorite producer of sweet wines, Alois Kracher of Austria, is the source of our capper for the evening, a 2002 Kracher Nouvelle Vague TBA chardonnay.  The residual sugar in both of these wines goes fabulously with a light and pleasing champagne cheddar cheese from the Finger Lakes, giving our guests a last bit of fortification before they venture back out into the blustery New York night.


The Portuguese wines in this report were complimentary review samples received from representatives of Wines of Portugal.  


Galloni leaves Robert Parker’s publication The Wine Advocate: anatomy of a coup? And does TWA even matter anymore?

Back in early December, when the news broke that wine critic Robert Parker was selling a substantial stake in his long-running publication The Wine Advocate, pretty much every wine writer and blogger weighed in on the news.  I held off on saying anything on this blog, mostly because I generally try to write about wines and not wine personalities (the occasional exception being information about winemakers as further background on the wines), but also because I felt like the other shoe was yet to drop.

The other shoe (or at least the first of a series of “other shoes”?) dropped Tuesday, when Antonio Galloni, the TWA critic declared in the past by Parker himself to be his “heir apparent”, announced he was leaving The Wine Advocate to start his own venture,  This came as no surprise to me, because my view of the likely goings-on behind the scenes at TWA went something like this:

  • When Parker started announcing Galloni as his “heir apparent” a few years ago, I felt it was somewhat likely that this had something to do not only with the fact that Galloni has a good palate but also that his career in finance probably gave him the means, both in terms of personal capital and connections/knowledge, to put together a buyout over time to provide an exit strategy for Parker, who was nearing retirement age but not quite ready to hand over the reins yet.
  • When the news broke in December 2012 that Parker had decided to sell a substantial stake to a group of investors from Singapore who had originally approached the TWA writer covering Asia/Australia, Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Ms. Perrotti-Brown was also installed as editor-in-chief of TWA.  Though Parker downplayed the editor-in-chief duties handed to Brown as mostly ministerial, the timing seemed hardly coincidental. It seemed to me that Perrotti-Brown had engineered a deal that offered Parker more money than he could turn down, and more money than Galloni (who was presumably caught by surprise) could put together to match in the short time frame left (with Parker likely anxious to close by the end of 2012 due to tax reasons) and quite naturally, would include a more prominent seat for Ms. Perrotti-Brown in the new regime.  Surprise eleventh-hour coup in place, with Parker insisting he was still in charge for now, the rivalry for control among TWA: the Next Generation was on, but mostly over.
  • If my theory is correct that Parker and Galloni had a framework for handover in place previously, around which Ms. Perrotti-Brown was hoping to do a surprise end run, that would explain why she could not go to Galloni (or any of the other TWA writers) to try to cut a deal to keep him at TWA before announcement of the sale was inevitable, as one might have otherwise expected as part of such an acquisition deal.   And perhaps, it explains why, on the topic of which TWA writers would be retained, Perrotti-Brown would let this shot-across-the-bow quote  appear in the WSJ article about the deal: “There is a plethora of good wine writers out there. It’s a buyer’s market”.
  • Presumably that set the stage for Galloni to plan his own surprise announcement in response, that he would leave to establish his own wine writing kingdom rather than stay as usurped crown prince in the TWA domain.  Whether he can parlay his TWA cred into a successful, differently-styled venture of his own remains to be seen.

The question remains, what’s left of TWA with Galloni leaving?  While speculation has begun as to which experts on Italy, Burgundy, Champagne and California will be found to step into Galloni’s shoes, it’s hard for me to think that this model even works anymore, at least in the U.S.  The wine consumer in America has changed.

For the generation that grew up with Robert Parker, “cool”may have been discovering French wines, mainly from Bordeaux, and then-emerging wines from California.  And sure, there will always be trophy-chasers and speculators that will look for a Parker-like guide; perhaps, as TWA’s new owners seem to be betting, the real market for such a guide in the future is Asia.  But for America, let’s look at real drinkers as opposed to collectors.  Today, young American wine consumers are increasingly priced out of TWA’s traditional bread-and-butter regions like Bordeaux, California and Italy, so they don’t need The Wine Advocate.  Moreover, I don’t think they want to be told which wines to buy, the way that the generations before wanted The Wine Advocate to do for them.  The Millenials that I know are very open to wines from all regions of all varieties.  If they have mainstream tastes, they are just looking to graduate from the Franzia box wine that they chugged in college to say, today’s emerging market wines, like Argentinean malbec or a Portuguese red that gives value for the money.  They aren’t hell-bent on being validated as having the dozen highest-rated wines out there, they’re just looking for one good wine at a time.

Those that tend toward more geekery aren’t likely to look to the Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, or any single source to find new wines, really.  The young wine geeks I know in New York (granted, perhaps not a representative sample of what the whole country is like) are more likely to be turned on to wines in a variety of ways.  By trying it at their local wine bar (which in New York may well be Ten Bells, Bar Veloce, or Terroir, etc., where they’re more likely to drink lagrein than Lagrange) for example.  Cool and emerging for this generation is not drinking wines from the huge brand conglomerates that own Bordeaux and Napa, it’s finding some funky selection from edgy distributors like Dressner or Jenny and Francois at a geeky neighborhood shop like Chambers Street Wines,  Frankly Wines or Blanc et Rouge.  There, they’re buying grower fizz, gruner, or they’re not buying wine at all – they are just as open to craft beers, spirits like scotch, and mixologist creations.  Or they’re finding wines from Wine Disorder, from a blog like Brooklynguy’s, or more likely, a blog that one of their friends writes.

In this changing landscape, wine writers (and that includes bloggers and not just traditional, subscriber-model formerly-print “critics”) will succeed if they focus on artisanal wines, the stories behind them and the qualities that make them fresh, distinctive and worth a look.  While I don’t necessarily try to be that hipster with this blog all the time, I hope this site will be one of the many voices you’ll look to for ideas.  If the days where one voice could make or break winemakers and influence the style of wines made worldwide are in the past, I for one will be glad.


2010 Bordeaux In-Bottle Tasting Notes from UGC Bordeaux: Overview, blancs and Right Bank reds

Going into last week’s UGC Bordeaux tasting in New York, I was half prepared to reverse myself on a call I made after tasting some 2010s as barrel samples: that 2010 was almost as good as 2009, but not quite, unless you are a fan of classical vintages of Bordeaux instead of riper ones.  As a fan of classical vintages, I thought that I may well love the 2010 Bordeaux in a way similar to how I adore 2010 Burgundies above their 2009 counterparts in almost every case. Today I can report that no reversal is necessary, but I can modify my statement with a bit more detail.

To sum up, I find 2010 to be a very good vintage in Bordeaux, roughly on par with 2009, but in a different style. While a number of chateaux made better wines in 2010 than in 2009, overall I find 2009 to be more consistent across the board.  The most important point is the difference in style – where ’09s were lush, ripe and easy to like, I find the reds from ’10 to have a profile characterized by cool dark fruits, lots of structure and in a notable number of cases, a strong licorice note that is more than I care for, though I expect that will moderate in time.  I found some of these wines very difficult to judge – moreso than any of the last four vintages at the same stage, or even the 2010s as barrel samples. As a result, there were a number of wines I didn’t assign a score range to, wherebeauregard 2010 I didn’t feel that I could make a call with confidence. I think the nature of the 2010 vintage means these wines are less likable early than the ’09s, but in time, 2009/2010 will be very comparable to the 1990 vs 1989 dynamic of pretty equal but stylistically different vintages.

To my surprise, despite reports from various critics about the freshness of the 2010s, based on my tasting I was a bit disappointed in this regard. While the pH numbers may indicate high acids, something about the overall balance of the 2010s, characterized by lots of tannin and high alcohol levels, left me feeling that most of the 2010s had adequate acid but not an impression of true freshness, at least at this young stage of their existence.  There are of course exceptions – Carbonnieux and Dom. de Chevalier among whites, and the Pichons among the reds, to name a few – but the whites from 2010 can’t come close to matching the lively 2007s, for example.

Early reports have cited high alcohol levels in the 2010s, and my overall impression is that the wines indeed feel quite alcoholic, despite their balance. In St. Emilion some wines are a bit extracted; by comparison, the Pomerols and Graves reds seem to have an easy (rather than full-throttle) power – a certain charm without trying too hard.  More on the other communes in my next post.  For now, here are my notes on Graves blancs and reds from the Right Bank – St. Emilion and Pomerol.

Graves whites (Pessac Leognan)

2010 Haut Bergey blanc – honeyed sweetness on the nose, with a slightly stinky mineral funk. On the palate, decent with Graves typicity. 89-902010 De Fieuzal blanc – not as strong in the mineral funk as the Haut Bergey, this is a more pleasing and harmonious wine. I like this better than most vintages of de Fieuzal, this may be an outperformer at the right price in the value category. 91+

2010 Larrivet Haut Brion blanc – dewy, quality fruits on the nose. Palate shows a rich style as is typical for this house, with fruit that’s on the tropical side (pineapples etc), again of a high quality. A shade better than de Fieuzal if you like a richer style. 91-92

2010 Carbonnieux blanc* – first sample very shy and tight, only giving up a tiny bit of mineral impression that is more refined than any of the wines tasted thus far.  On the palate, a citrusy acidity makes this wine fresh and portends longevity.  Retasted after some of the other top whites, this was a bit more giving.  Overall, like other recent vintages, this shows the most finesse and delicacy among the Graves whites.  Very good, but doesn’t seem to excite me as much as the 2009. Considering price, this is again the runaway winner in this category if you like nuance over power. 92-93+

2010 La Tour Martillac blanc – very consistent with prior vintage – a slightly stinky mineral funk on the nose.  Palate is competent but undistinguished.  Lacks freshness or liveliness.  87-88.

2010 Pape Clement blanc – very pretty nose – a mix of mineral funk and tropical, dewy fruits.  Feels alcoholic.  Very good wine, but doesn’t touch the 2007 and the extraordinary lift of that vintage. 92-93

2010 Smith Haut Lafitte blanc – Has a racy acidity but the fruit is not as attractive as that in the Pape Clement and even the Larrivet Haut Brion.  Still definitely in the top group of whites today but doesn’t quite move me.  91-92.

Accidentally skipped but tasted later before the Graves reds:

2010 Domaine de Chevalier blanc* – has a lightness and freshness on the nose with sweet, quality fruits – probably the prettiest of all the whites today.  On the palate, a touch heavy, a bit more powerful and dewy than I prefer.  Good acid here though, so this should age gracefully. 92-93


Right Bank/St. Emilion

2010 Canon – very dark-fruited, anisette profile.  Tight, structured.  If this is any indication, the 2010s are showing very differently from the 2009s, and even tighter than the 2010s in barrel.  Can hardly get anything from this, not rating it.

2010 Canon La Gaffeliere – Much more expressive nose than the 2010 Canon tasted before it: perfumed, dark sweet fruits with some damp earth aromas.  The palate is tasty but a touch bitter on the finish, but I think it will resolve; there is high quality fruit here.  Modern but the oak is not overpowering, actually. 93-94; liked this even better than the very good 2009.

2010 Figeac* – [Notes on the nose lost due to technical glitch] The Figeac is very good on the palate, also showing the graphite notes apparent on the nose. Feels alcoholic, but the exuberant, rich and mineral-laden 2010 Figeac is showing way better than the 2009 did last year at the same stage yet stays in line with the historical style of this chateau.  Probably the best Figeac I have tasted – this should be one for the ages. 93-95

2010 Clos Fourtet* – Excellent nose – perfumed, with a damp muddy earth that I really like.  Tannic and dry on the palate, this is gorgeous: beautiful fruit, very balanced with the structure, earthy elements, graphite notes, etc. Again, better than the 2009.  93-95

2010 Grand Mayne – Notes lost, but from memory, this did not particularly impress me; rated it at the time 89-91. Don’t think it will reach the heights of the very good 2005, which showed well recently.

2010 La Couspaude – Quite good – graphite notes intermix with sweetish fruit, and a touch of exotic Indian spices.  Peters out slightly on the finish.  An overperformer for the price? 92-93

2010 La Gaffeliere – has a tightly wound nose, like the Canon.  Has a touch of curry spice in there.  Palate is dark and structured, very tightly wound at this point. Not rating this at this time, but my feeling is that this will be very good.

2010 Larcis Ducasse – Shows a little modern, opulent and open on the nose, with a nice perfume to the fruit.  A little neutral on the palate; just didn’t seem to have much oomph.  The fruit on the palate doesn’t have either power or much charm to distinguish this at this stage. 89-91

2010 Pavie Macquin – Powerful, perhaps a bit extracted, showing a touch of bitterness on the finish but there’s a lot of sweet fruit of definite quality here to balance it out. 92-94.

2010 Troplong Mondot  A bit bitter on the finish, but should resolve okay considering the sweet underlying fruit. 92-94+


Right Bank/Pomerol

2010 Gazin – Nose is very dark-fruited and a little bit tight.  Palate again shows a dark licorice character. This vintage is not really hitting me compared to other recent vintages. 91-92+

2010 Beauregard*- a value play in Pomerol?  More red-fruited than most of wines today, plus a stoniness showing on the musky cologne nose as well.  Smooth, pretty but should show nice delinieation someday.  Refreshingly different in the context of this tasting filled with dense wines. 92-94.

2010 Clinet – has a balance between red- and purple-fruitedness that’s unusual in this tasting.  Smooth on the palate, not overextracted.  A very pretty wine.  Will outlast the Beauregard, but the Beau may well show better young.  92-94+

2010 La Conseillante*- has a refined mineral rockiness, dark  purple fruits, graphite.  Shows licorice notes on the refined but slightly austere palate, with a lot of earthiness. True to the house style, this wine is not really about the fruit, but is exactly what it intends to be.  Elegant, composed, regal. 93-95.  A complete toss-up as to which is better between this and the 2009.

2010 La Pointe – A bit of dirt/earthiness on the nose.  Good and smooth on the palate, red-to-purple fruited; profile a bit similar to Clinet, so this might be a good value alternative? 91-93

2010 Le Bon Pasteur – flavor profile is more cherry here than most of the other wines here, which tend toward dark plums.  This is ok, but doesn’t particularly move me. 89-91+

Stay tuned in the coming days for reports on Graves reds, Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac, the Medoc and Sauternes/Barsac!  -Alan


2009 Bordeaux tasting notes in bottle, Part 4: St. Julien and Pauillac

With 2009 Bordeaux having arrived in many stores now, and the Union des Grands Crus  tastings for 2010 about to start around the U.S., it’s a good time to revisit my notes from the UGC tasting of 2009s.  Today’s post focuses on what I felt were the two strongest appellations of the 2009 tastings – St. Julien and Pauillac.  Pauillac is often considered the grandaddy of them all, with its powerful, structured, regal wines like Lafite, Latour, the Pichons, etc.  But St. Julien may well have had the strongest showing across the board at the UGC tastings of 2009s – with most wines showing as open and lovely, with ripe, appealing fruit.  True to reputation, though, I believe the Pauillacs will age best among 2009s, not only because of their structured, tannic profile, but also because the producers of Pauillac seemed to do a great job of controlling the considerable ripeness of the 2009 vintage, imbuing the wines with a nice, lively plum-like acidity that should serve as a wonderful backbone for the wines to age on.  The prices for the 2009s are high – be prepared – but for the dollars spent, there are some legendary wines to be had, like the Pichon Lalande and the Leoville Barton.  I’ll be back with more on Bordeaux again soon, after next week’s tastings of the 2010s – it will be interesting to debate for many years as to which of these two exceptional vintages is the better one.  In the meanwhile, here are my notes on the 2009 St. Juliens and Pauillacs:

St. Julien

  • 2009 Château Léoville Barton – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)Has a very nice nose – great balance between ripe fruit and mineral and classic varietal character. On the palate, a little more tannic than a lot of the wines tasted today, but clearly has the fruit to back it up. Doesn’t rely on oak for the spice; not showing a lot of minerality now, but I predict it will come out in time. One of the best wines here today. 94-96. (95 points)
  • 2009 Château Gruaud Larose – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)Has a prettiness, a refined floral quality, a touch of green pepper and some slatey minerality as well. Showing good ripeness with leafy underpinnings, this has all the earmarks of a classic Gruaud Larose in the making, and in the long run, will stand up to pretty much any wine in the vintage in my opinion. 93-95 (94 points)
  • 2009 Château Langoa Barton – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)Lots of sweet fruit on the nose – very appealing. Ripe, rounded – shows the vintage. Some mineral as well; very comparable to the Lagrange in a slightly riper style. 93-95 (94 points)
  • 2009 Château Léoville Poyferré – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)Nose very similar to the Leoville Barton in its balance between sweet fruit and rocky minerality. One the palate, the fruit is not quite as engaging as in the Barton, but slightly more plummy acidity makes this a great choice for anyone wanting a little less sweetness to the fruit. Very, very good. 94-95 (94 points)
  • 2009 Château Saint-Pierre – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)The 2009 St. Pierre is very pretty, with perfumed fruit and a touch of mineral – a slightly fuller feeling nose than some of the other St. Juliens. Nice stoniness on the palate, with slightly plummy acidity. Almost tastes more like some of the Pauillacs from this tasting, in its combination of fresh acidity and controlled ripeness. 93-94+. A great under-the-radar choice that has pleased me in prior vintages. (94 points)
  • 2009 Château Branaire (Duluc-Ducru) – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)On the nose, slightly riper and more appealing than the Beychevelle, with more quality to the fruit. Peppery on the palate, with the ripeness of 2009 showing well. 92-93+ (93 points)
  • 2009 Château Lagrange (St. Julien) – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)Nose a bit more refined than Beychevelle or Branaire. Really quite good on the palate – minerality makes this a nice cheaper alternative to Gruaud Larose? 93-94 (93 points)
  • 2009 Château Talbot – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)As in many years, the 2009 Talbot feels like a good, lower-cost alternative to Gruaud Larose – stony with good fruit. 92-93+ (93 points)
  • 2009 Château Beychevelle – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)Has a touch of a certain sweetness to the fruit, very typical of Beychevelle. Cherry licorice flavors, like many of the Left Bank wines today. Smooth, middle of the road, solid with the character of the vintage, but nothing to particularly distinguish this from the other wines tasted today. 92-93 (92 points)
  • 2009 Château Gloria – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)A lot of coffee on the nose, relying a bit on the oak here, but ripe fruits, very appealing wine, given the price level, this is fine. On the palate, decent concentration, middle-of-the road ripeness for the vintage, with some dark notes to anchor the wine. Good for what it is. 92-93 (92 points)


  • 2009 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac (1/25/2012)Nice stone/crushed rock aromas on the nose here; excellent balance with very pleasing, fullish fruit here, without going over the top. With a sweet perfumey note as well, there’s an excellent balance between fruit, acidity, minerality – really good stuff. 94-96. Right up there with the Leoville Barton. Great Bordeaux typicity. Factoring in price, this is one to look for in this great vintage. (95 points)
  • 2009 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac (1/25/2012)The opposite of Pichon Baron right now, in terms of how each is showing on this day. Pretty, refined, among the best wines of the day already, just on the nose. Has a sweetness to the perfumed fruit, which is of incredibly high quality (perhaps only the Pape Clement had fruit of similar quality in this tasting). Nice plummy acidity underpins the fruit here, boding well for aging. Not a power wine at all – finesse through and through. The pretty, perfumed fruit and superlative fruit pushes this to the top of the pack. Might even be hard to identify as a 2009 – it’s so not playing the ripeness game here. 94-96, at least. (95 points)
  • 2009 Château Lynch-Bages – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac (1/25/2012)Has considerably more heft than the Pichon Lalande tasted just before it. Notes of exotic Asian spice and mossy earth show on the nose. Classic Pauillac with real power to it, but characterized more by floral beauty than spicy power like some other wines today. Plummy tart acidity here, like many of the Pauillacs today, which seem to have controlled the ripeness of the vintage very well. Excellent wine. 93-95. (94 points)
  • 2009 Château Clerc Milon – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac (1/25/2012)After slipping in the 2008 UGC tasting, the 2009 Clerc Milon rounds back into form to beat out stablemate Chateau d’Armailhac – a little fuller, slightly higher quality fruit here with a touch of damp earth. Palate doesn’t quite live up to the perfumey nose, but still a good claret. I might still prefer the 2005. Has a slightly tart acidity like some of the other Pauillacs today. 92-93 (92 points)
  • 2009 Château d’Armailhac – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac (1/25/2012)Has fairly full, slightly pruney fruit, with a touch of perfume on the nose. Palate is also quite full for Armailhac, smooth, fairly round. Will be a good Pauillac; not much mineral showing now, but you can see a touch of leafy green, and some stone and graphite. My favorite Armailhac of recent years, better even than the 2005, for my palate. (92 points)
  • 2009 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac (1/25/2012)First taste doesn’t do much for me – smooth but not refined in feel, with surprisingly plummy acidity for the vintage. Not much power or ripeness considering the vintage. 90-91?  Second taste from different bottle: better, with some lead pencil character, fairly tannic with again, the plummy acidity. Perhaps given the character of the vintage, I was expecting something powerful and opulent like the 1990 Baron, but this is surprisingly middle-of-the-road in feel to me. Still, undoubtedly better than the first sample, 92ish and I’m willing to give upside up to 93+ on this one based on track record and the structure showing here. (92 points)