Monday, June 22, 2015

The Battle Between Banks: My Journey to Bordeaux

                Where terroir and vintage triumph over just about everything, and the battle between two feuding banks remains very much alive- like the war of the Capulets and Montagues in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The wine-lover’s paradise that is Bordeaux finds itself in southwestern France in the Gironde department on the Garonne River. Internationally noted for some of the most sought after and expensive wines in the world, Bordeaux also produces a very high quantity of everyday value wines.

                One of the most distinguishable characteristics of the wines of Bordeaux is that they are all blends. This allows the Chateau to produce the best wine for each vintage, taking into consideration the conditions for each varietal during harvest. By the laws that govern California winemaking, there must be 75% of said varietal in order to apply its name, such as “Cabernet Sauvignon” or “Merlot,” on the label. In Bordeaux, it is about the location of each Chateau, as the labels express the vineyard’s appellation with highest importance, and often the components of the blend are unmentioned.
                The ongoing battle of Left Bank vs. Right Bank has become a conflict of which grape reigns as King. The Left Bank most often boasts wines predominately based of Cabernet Sauvignon, whereas the Right Bank has crowned Merlot as King. Left Bank has the famous wines of the Medoc, ascending much masculinity and firmness, and the Right containing the esteemed elegant wines of St. Emilion and tiny Pomerol, offering femininity and remarkable texture.

                The reputation of the prestigious Left Bank wines and its monopoly of 1st growths had always swayed me to believe that its wines must be superior. However, it was during my journey through Bordeaux that I realized the beauty and elegance in the wines of St. Emilion. This charming village dazzled me first with its beauty, then with its dining, and most importantly its luscious fruit. Built by the Romans, the stone walls surround many of the winding roads, and centuries old Chateaux line the hectares of plantings. 

                Our journey brought us to France to attend the internationally acclaimed “Vinexpo,” the world’s largest wine tasting of the year. Here hundreds of thousands of people in all facets of the industry combine for a few days of tastings, meetings, discussions and panels. Winemakers and importers try to get exposure and acquire new clients, and businesses like ours at Wine World are sifting through thousands of wines trying to find the highest quality at the best values for our market. This is unlike any exhibition I’ve ever been to, as the booths are far from mundane with no standard black linens in sight. In fact, each booth averages about $20,000, and some over $100,000 in cost for production. For example, Jean Claude Boisset’s booth had 6 rooms; a red velvet room with all red velvet furniture, a glass room with dazzling chandeliers, a private chef executing food for visitors, and even an outside lounge where guests could catch a glimpse of sunshine as they sip his JCB sparkling rosé.

                After hours spent at Vinexpo evaluating potential wines and passing around the spittoons, we filled the rest of our days with appointments and tastings at several different Chateaux.

Chateau Lynch Bages-

 Appellation: Pauillac, Left Bank/ Classification: Grand Cru Classe
Important to note: We tasted the 2007 vintage of Lynch Bages, which was overall considered a below average vintage for Bordeaux. Their 2007 was drinking beautifully, with firm yet refined tannins, evolved and luscious fruit. Bordeaux Chateaux are individually making superior wines outside of what is dictated by the overall vintage. Consumers are now starting to focus on the quality of production and style of each Chateau, and their ability to still produce fine wine even during what may be considered an average vintage.

Chateau Mouton Rothschild-

Appellation: Pauillac, Left Bank/ Classification: Premier Cru Classe (Classified First Growth)

Important to note: As a first growth, it was noticeable from the tour that this Chateau receives a lot of visitors, and their winery was equipped with impressive up-to-date technology. We tasted their 2014 which will be released in 2017. Although premature, one could see this wine has started developing its elegance and texture, with perfectly ripe and supple fruit. Tasting “en primeur,” or before the wine is bottled/released, requires a different tasting skillset, as the wines are not yet developed and are strikingly youthful.

Chateau Cos d’Estournel-

Appellation: Saint Estephe, Left Bank/ Classification: Grand Cru

                Important to note: This dynamic Chateau has an interesting cultural identity as its founder was inspired through his travels to India and imprinted many Indian furnishings and touches on this property. “Cos” is located between Pauillac and Saint Estephe, separated by Chateau Lafite. We tasted the Cos d’Estournel 2008, which demonstrated the intersection of masculinity and elegance. We also tasted the Cos d’Estournel Blanc 2012, consisting of lychees and exotic fruit with tremendous minerality.

Chateau Pontet Canet-

 Appellation: Pauillac, Left Bank/ Classification: Grand Cru Classe
                Important to note: Pontet Canet hit another new stride in 2010 when they scored their second 100pt score two vintages in a row. Ranked as a Fifth Growth, Pontet Canet is producing wine as high of quality as the Super Seconds, and in some vintages the First Growths. They have recently just aligned their vineyard practices with biodynamic and organic farming. Officially certified, they are proud to claim using no pesticides, no machines, and only manual labor during harvest. We caught a glimpse of their estate’s horses trotting through the vineyards to massage their soils.

Chateau Clinet-

Appellation: Pomerol, Right Bank/ Classification: No Classification System in Pomerol

                Important to note: Chateau Clinet is one of the most prestigious wines of the Pomerol appellation. We had the pleasure to meet CEO Ronan Laborde, who has not only been an innovator at Chateau Clinet, but is pioneering a new segment of Pomerol’s wine industry. Starting with the small production of Chateau Clinet, the Merlot based wine leans on Cabernet Sauvignon as a higher percentage in its blend than Cabernet Franc, uncommon for Pomerol. Also uncommon, they incorporate barrels for aging using oak sourced outside of France. Ronan has also developed a second wine which is vinified and bottled eye distance from their flagship property which has tremendous quality at a fraction of the price: Ronan by Clinet. Here he sources 100% Merlot fruit from only a few selected quality producers, and uses only stainless steel- making this wine completely approachable and ready to drink now.

Chateau Barde Haut-

 Appellation: Saint Emilion, Right Bank/ Classification: Grand Cru
                Important to note: A good friend of Wine World, vineyard owner Helene Garcin welcomed us to her fabulous Barde Haut property which sparkled with sleek equipment and luxury style. She took our palates on a tour as she poured through several of her different properties 2004 vintages. Chateau Barde Haut of Saint Emilion, Chateau Haut Bergey of Pessac Leognan, and Chateau Clos l’Eglise of Pomerol (neighbors with Chateau Clinet and Eglise Clinet). One component that she and husband and winemaker Patrice’s properties share, is the consistent quality of fruit. Patrice says, “Wine is made from grapes, and should taste like fruit!” She also allowed us to tour her newest property, Chateau Poesia, which is a work in progress but already producing impressive quality wine. “This might be my 100pt wine,” says Patrice.