Our own Arnie Millan has posted a Bordeaux en primeur primer. If you’ve ever been curious about the process, click here for a thoughtful and concise overview.
Our own Arnie Millian is chronicling his recent European wine adventure, starting with Bordeaux. If you are curious about the heavily hyped and highly regarded vintages of 2009 and 2010 (and what Bordeaux from 1949 and 1961 tastes like), click here.
I recently opened a bottle of 2000 Pagodes de Cos, the scond wine of the famous Cos d’Estournel in the St. Estephe region of Bordeaux. In the 1855 Classification of Bordeaux, it was designated a Second Growth. Regardless of the controversy over the subjective aspects of classifying chateaus, and the accordant lobbying and politicking, Cos d’Estournel is one the finest wines in all of Bordeaux. But its price leaves it out of the reach of the majority of wine drinkers. My advice would be to seek out the less heralded vintages, which often are ready to drink much earlier and can be had at a much lower price. (Avoid 2000, 2005, and the stratospheric pricing of the mega-hyped 2009.) But if you, like me, just had to get your hands on a pedigreed Bordeaux from a highly regarded vintage, seek out the second wines of famous chateaus.
The Pagodes de Cos comes from the same vineyards as the chateau’s first wine, but is produced from the estate’s younger vines. And the 2000 was a beauty. Medium-bodied and mature, it showed great secondary characteristics that only come out of a well-aged wine. Pure pleasure and elegance. If I had to quibble–and you know I will–I wished that it was a little more concentrated. I think that’s where you really get the difference from the younger versus the older vines.
A ton of wineries from all over the world offer second labels or “declassified” wines that allow you to experience the finest of vineyards and wine-making talent. Seek them out!
I would love to hear of your favorite wine discoveries; know of some famous names and places at (relatively) reasonable prices? Let me know in the comments.
Not to be outdone by my tasting in an ornate hotel ballroom, our Arnie Millan recently attended a whirlwind tasting of the 2008 Bordeaux vintage. Here is his report:
I flew into San Francisco last for an intensive tasting of top Bordeaux from the 2008 vintage. The Union of Grand Cru de Bordeaux put on this tasting of 100 top estates. It’s almost easier to list who wasn’t there: all the five First Growths (Mouton, Lafite, Latour, Margaux and Haut Brion), Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Petrus and other high priced exotica of that ilk.
Alas, we were to taste only the other remaining top classified, or otherwise renowned, estates and have the rare opportunity to meet the Chateaux’s owners; people whom we only heretofore knew by name, mentioned in print in somewhat hushed tones. How cool is that? And they were all pleasant and unpretentious.
Overall, this is an excellent vintage which favored the Right Bank (Pomerol, then Saint-Emilion) and the estates of the Médoc, particularly Pauillac, Saint-Julien and Margaux. These wines are drinking well now and I think they’ll show even better with age.
The biggest disappointment was the wines of Graves and Pessac-Léognan. They did not show well at this tasting. I hope age will be kind to them. This was the only region from which we tasted dry whites. The superior white was from Château Pape-Clément followed by Domaine Chevalier. One of my favorite estates there is Smith Haut Lafitte but the wines were disappointing, especially after tasting Pape-Clément immediately beforehand. On the plus side, I was able to meet and chat with the charming proprietress Florence Cathiard and her husband.
My list of the top wines of the tasting must start with Pomerol’s Château La Conseillante and Pauillac’s 2nd Growth Pichon Baron (de Longueville). They were extraordinary and smoked the rest of the pack. They were both distinguished by a vibrancy, a depth and complexity of flavor which was transparent and fresh. Amazing.
Other top wines were Les Ormes de Pez, a Saint-Estephe I tasted with Sylvie Cazes whose family owns this estate along with Lynch-Bages (tasted but not as good) and whose brother is the famed Jean-Michel Cazes. What a lovely, unassuming person!
Also, I enjoyed Saint-Émilion’s Pavie Maquin with owner Nicolas Thienpont (right), whose family also owns Pomerol’s elite Le Pin. Canon La Gaffelière was delicious, represented by the irrepressible and perpetually grinning Count Stephan von Niepperg (see below, dressed in amazing style).
A surprise was the Médoc’s Chateau La Tour de By. This is an obscure small estate whose inexpensive wine was first-rate. Here are the others I enjoyed, not already mentioned:
Léoville-Poyferré, Léoville-Barton, Talbot, Branaire-Ducru, Lagrange, Beychevelle, Gruaud-Larose and Saint-Pierre
D’Armailhac, Clerc-Milon, Grand Puy-Ducasse, Haut-Bages Libéral, Pichon-Lalande
Rauzan-Segla, Brane-Catenac, Giscours, Kirwan, Lascombes
Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
Angelus, Canon, Clos Fourtet, Figeac, Larcis Ducasse, Troplong Mondot
So those are Arnie’s thoughts on the 08 vintage. Do you have any questions for Arnie about Bordeaux?
Not to throw salt on the wound, but if you missed out on our Bordeaux Extravaganza last night (8 reds, 1 white, 1 Sauternes) you should be kicking yourself. The stars of the show were two offerings from the much-hyped 2005 vintage; now I’m beginning to understand why everyone went nuts over it.
The duo that stood out were the Calon Segur* and the Cos d’Estournel. Calon Segur has always been a favorite of mine; I’ve carried a torch for it ever since drinking a bottle of the 1999 with my coworker, Jeff. (Thanks, dude.) Impeccably balanced and elegance personified, the only thing that could keep me away from a bottle is knowing that it needs more time to develop. Buy now and tuck it away for five years. The Cos was remarkable for its concentration yet, for a wine with such depth, was not overwhelming on the finish. Hide a few bottles for another decade. (Coincidentally, I happen to know a place where you can store them.)
And although this was all about the reds, the white and Sauternes that were bookends to the tasting were pretty extraordinary. The white was a 2000 Carbonneiux Blanc, which at 10 years was no shrinking violet. It had a nice richness and texture from the bottle age but retained a lot of freshness. Behold the power of the Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend! I think I need to dedicate a future World’s Most Underrated Wines post wholly to White Bordeaux.
The Sauternes, the 2006 Coutet, was a revelation. Golden deliciousness but with lively acidity on the finish; great sweetness but very nimble. I um, think I need to dedicate another World’s Most Underrated Wines post to sweet wines in general.
*Tayrn Miller may have said it better while live-tweeting from the tasting:
So would you like to know about our next big tasting? Let me know in the comments!