Bordeaux Vintners: rock stars of the wine world?
By John R. Dunham
In writing this article I could not help thinking about how touring is so important for rock and roll bands. In fact, virtually free access to every artist’s catalog has effectively forced every band on the road to make any money. Just like rock bands, vintners go on tour throughout the world to promote their wines and their regions. One such tour came through Vanderbilt Hall at New York’s Grand Central Station on April 20, 2015.
Le Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux brings together nearly 200 wines from all parts of the Bordeaux region of France. These wines are selected because they come from vintners with a focus on innovation in terms of how they manage the land and the vines, as well as how they operate their wineries. In fact, one aspect of all members of Le Grand Cercle is that they welcome visitors to the estates, introducing passing callers-in to the vineyards, the landscapes and wines. The wines presented at the tasting all undergo a series of blind tastings to ensure that quality wines are represented.
At this particular tasting, new release wines (actually pre-release wines) from the 2014 vintage were paired with older versions. Bordeaux wines tend to not show well when they are young so this unique pairing allowed participants to better understand how the wines would age. I have mentioned this previously many times in advicesisters,com wine articles, but time is one of the important characteristics of wine. Like the terroir (or the land where the grapes are produced), the varietal and the technical skills of the vintner, time is important both in terms of the weather conditions during the vintage year, but also in terms of the aging process. Most wines change over time, and not all for the better. Bordeaux wines in particular are produced in a way that tends to require some additional time in the bottle. This need for age is not because the vintners want it to be that way, but rather because of the terroir itself. The Bordeaux estuary is an alluvial plain and the soils of the region are dominated by limestone, full of calcium and other minerals. This high mineral content helps give the wines a lot of structure, but also makes their tannic content high. In other words, the wines are tight when they are young. Over time, they become rounder and richer and the high degree of mineralization allows them to hold their structure as they age and their flavors become more complex. This is what is prized in a Bordeaux wine, but what also makes them less approachable in general.
At the Le Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux walk-around tasting wines from 35 producers were showcased. I sampled only a limited number in the time I had available. But I found the 2014 vintage to be more approachable than I would have expected from the region. Except for one, the wines could have use a few more years being held in the bottle. But the wine that was ready now was the 2014 from (LTC) which should be priced at about $40 a bottle. This wine which is 80 percent merlot and 20 percent Cabernet Franc, was purple in color and had a nose of sugar plums. The palette was super fruity with a lot of plum and sweet undertones. One has to keep in mind that this is a pre-release Bordeaux and resembled very much a new world merlot. The 2011 vintage of the same wine had a more earthy nose and had a similar taste profile, but with a bit more complexity, suggesting that the wine was well structured even without dominant tannins. This was an exception and shows a lot about the skill of the winemakers at Chateau Les Trois Croix.
Another wine that showed well young was the 2014 from Chateau Tour de Pez. While merlot tends to dominate at this house, the 2014 wine is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon. The dark purple wine with a slight licorice edge on the nose had a nice cherry flavor on the palate, which while still tight, was not overwhelming. The 2012, arguably a very different blend, was purple in color with a kind of woody old sock nose. The palette had a lot of plumb and some cherry and was very well balanced.
Most of the other 2014 wines that we sampled were extremely tannic but all showed well. The 2014 from Chateau Haut Lagrange (55 percent Cabernet Sauvignon.45 percent Merlot) was unfiltered and dark red in color. The nose was unusual– a bit soapy with some spice, and the palette was fruity up front fading to peppery notes. The 2011 was dark purple in color with a light floral nose. The 2011 was very approachable with soft tannins and cherry and plum on the palette. The peppery finish was also still present.
Chateau Fleur Cardinale (2014) was more of what we expected to see from a young Bordeaux. The wine was almost black in color and was extremely tannic. The 75 percent merlot, 20 percent Cabernet Franc blend featured the plum and pepper on the palette that one would expect from the blend, but will need some time in the bottle. So too will the Chateau Peyrat-Fouthon which was almost dusty due to the strength of the tannins. The 2011 of this wine however had round tannins and much more fruit with a taste of plum, concord grape and some currant on the palette.
Tastings like le Grand Cercle provide great opportunities or winemakers to show their skills to a wide audience, and this one did not disappoint. If you want to be a rock star too, consider doing a “tour” of your own — by tasting the wines of Bordeaux or perhaps, touring the beautiful wineries in France! For more information visit http://www.grandcercle.fr/en/
*thanks to John R. Dunham, our “wine reporter, for this report.