Some Possiblities in the Friendly 2017 Bordeaux Vintage

Following the brilliant 2015 and 2016 harvests, Bordeaux’s 2017 was a challenge from start to finish. Severe frosts in the spring, a cool summer and then challenging conditions during the harvest all combined to slash yields and prevent any “great vintage” claims.

But. There are some terrific wines and even better values to be had in 2017, especially on Bordeaux’s Right Bank. As Neal Martin of Vinous writes,

“The wines frequently have a floral element, violets but quite often, more iris-like scents. The 2017s boast plenty of freshness with crisp acidity, noticeable but not strong or grippy tannins, more black fruit compared to recent vintages… I like this vintage. I am not saying it is the best, but they were mostly a pleasure to taste and fascinating to learn about.”

An Example from Chateau Moulinat
Unlike the “big boys” that won’t be in the market for another year or two, we’ve been able to taste the 2017 Ch Moulinat from bottle already. And, we think you’ll agree – this is a charming wine that actually may give more immediate pleasure than the fine 2015!

Ch Moulinat.pngMoulinat is a true family estate in Entre Deux Mers, currently run by the fifth generation of the Sage family who have owned the property since the early 1800s. The vineyard is first rate, with calcareous limestone soils leavened by gravel and sand for excellent drainage. The vines average 25 years old (with some 45 years of age), giving deep roots and naturally moderate yields necessary for excellent ripeness and flavor.

Like most Right Bank wines, it’s mainly Merlot (about 60%) for plump, generous, fruitiness with a dash of Cabernet Franc for pretty notes of tobacco and herb. But almost 40% of the wine is Cabernet Sauvignon, giving this “little wine” raised all in tank an extra gear of structure and refinement to go with the ample blackcurrant and black cherry fruit.

If you want to cellar this, you can do that for a few years (maybe 5?) and it will certainly be even better next year than this. But the wine’s delicious right now, with a plump, velvety, mouthfeel and a finish supported by a just-right dash of tannins and herb/tobacco complexity.

In short, it’s a very tasty 2017 Bordeaux you can drink this weekend and all year long. So come in on Friday, April 12, from 3-7 and Saturday, April 13, from noon-4 and try it for yourself! (Available only in store as a Carryout Case Special from $9.98/ea this weekend)

Ch Moulinat Bordeaux bottles

One Sip At A Time – Old World vs. New World Reds

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This month, our One Sip At A Time class focused on red wines, but with an added twist.  You have probably heard sommeliers and retailers like us go on and on about ‘Old World’ character or something being from the ‘New World,’ but what the heck does that actually mean?  Last Thursday, we spent the evening answering that question.

France, Italy, Spain, and the rest of Western Europe make up the Old World, according to most people, while the New World is basically everywhere else: the United States, Argentina, New Zealand, and, more recently, countries whose wine industries are still in their infancy like India and Canada.

To understand the influence climate and winemaking styles have on red wines, we tasted the same varietals or similar blends side by side, with the Old World example first and the New World second.

We started with Jean Michel Guillon’s 2011 Bourgogne Rouge, a classic example of Old World Pinot Noir, with its higher acidity and longer maceration with the grape skins, giving the wine a bit more tannin.  The Calera Pinot Noir that came after was much more lush and fruit forward, and a bit lighter in color and tannin.  Both delicious, balanced wines, but clearly very different!

Next we moved on to Bordeaux varietals.  The 2010 Ch Ducasse Graves Rouge served as a much more mineral, austere counterpoint to the smooth, lavishly oaked The Teacher from Thurston Wolfe in Washington State.  While the Graves would shine with food, The Teacher was pretty darn delicious all by itself!

For Rhone blends, we chose two benchmark producers.  For our Old World example, we had Guigal’s 2009 Cotes du Rhone blend, a meatier, more Syrah-heavy style.  Then it was on to Paso Robles, for Tablas Creek’s Patelin du Tablas Rouge.  Owned by the Perrin family of Ch de Beaucastel fame, the Tablas Rouge shows just how much influence climate and terroir has over the finished wine, since the winemaking method and even the cuttings used to plant the vineyards, are all from the Rhone Valley in France.

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Our final pair we tasted blind, and it was a very surprising set of wines indeed.  Almost everyone was fooled by the Guild 6 Rhone-style blend, assuming that because of its lighter body and higher acidity it was from the Old World, rather than Washington State, where it’s from.  And If You See Kay, a full-throttle fruit-bomb from Lazio in Italy, was a dead-ringer for a California red blend.

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So while terroir and tradition usually have a big influence over the style of a wine, where there’s a will, there’s a way!  Thanks to everyone who attended our One Sip At A Time class for May – your participation and questions are what make these classes so much fun.

Surviving Wine Deserts

We’ve all been there.  An airport lounge, an unfortunate happy hour, a wedding with an open bar and…limited choices.  When confronted with these situations, you could just have some sparkling water and sit it out, but at a party or social event, it’s nice to have a glass of something.  It can’t be Grand Cru Champagne and First Growth Bordeaux every night – and if it is at your house, well, we’ll be right over!  So here’s what to avoid and what to try when presented with less than ideal choices.

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Whites.  Typical offerings include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and sometimes an aromatic varietal like Riesling or Viognier.  Our advice is to avoid Chardonnay of nebulous origins whenever possible.  Some of the greatest wines in the world, and some of our favorites, are Chardonnays, even Chardonnays that see significant oak.  However, at a happy hour at an anonymous chain restaurant, the Chardonnay on offer is generally an inexpensive New World style, which means it’s fruit-forward and sees a lot of ‘oak.’  Why the quotation marks? Because often the ‘oak’ is in the form of oak chips, oak dust that comes in tea bags (yes, this is a real thing!) or oak staves that are planted in stainless steel tanks to give Chardonnay oak flavors and aromas.  When this oak fakery is done badly, it’s really unpleasant.

On the other hand, an inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio you’ve never heard of probably won’t change your life, but it’s more likely to be crisp and pleasantly quaffable rather than cloying.  A New World (from New Zealand, California or Chile rather than from France) Sauvignon Blanc will almost always be unoaked and fermented cool to preserve its citrusy, grassy aromatics.  Drunk cold on a warm day, it’s pretty easy to like!  Pinot Grigio from Italy, similarly, may be overcropped or uninteresting, but even the worst versions are merely bland rather than offensive.

Aromatic varietals like Riesling, Gewurztraminer, or Viognier should also be avoided in these situations. Viognier and Gewurz become overripe and therefore unpleasantly boozy very quickly, and while sweet and off-dry Rieslings can be life-changing, cheap, sweet-ish Riesling is often awful and headache-inducing.

Reds.  Of the well-known, international varietals, Pinot Noir is the most difficult to make inexpensively. If it’s underripe, what little fruit is there will be overpowered by oak, and if it’s overripe, it won’t even taste like Pinot Noir.

High in food-friendly acidity, Sangiovese-based wines like Rosso di Montalcino or Toscana Rosso are a good bet. If you’re in the mood for something fuller-bodied, Bordeaux is, surprisingly, a good call on a restaurant glass list if it’s available. The word Bordeaux calls to mind expensive, because we associate it with the famous estates of this region. The truth is that Bordeaux is one of the larger wine-producing regions in France and churns out a lot of wine that doesn’t need to be snapped up at auction and aged for decades in your cellar.

In a pinch, California Merlot can also be a good choice, as it’s usually softer and fruitier than Cabernet and less likely to be oaked into a complete stupor. Just stay away from any wine that’s named for a baked good or dessert – trust us.

Whether you’re looking for red or white, it’s always a good idea to favor wines from the most recent vintages, as storage is likely to be suspect, and most inexpensive wines taste best right when they’re released.

And if all else fails, there’s always beer!