Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 52, Wines for the Holidays, December 8, 2017, Part 1

The holiday season is upon us again, and it is time to consider which wines you will want to buy for the many different occasions, events, and gifts you may want to give at this busy time of the year. You may need suggestions for wine as a gift, ranging in price from $20.00 to $200.00 or more. You may be going to a Christmas dinner with the family and want to bring a nice wine for the meal. You may be going to a friend’s Christmas or New Year’s Eve party and want to bring an inexpensive bottle, yet something that will not embarrass you. Buying wine for any of these occasions can be difficult for many reasons: lack of time, I have no idea what they like, should I bring a white or a red, my favorite wine is sold out – now what do I get, etc.

So what I have done is put together a fairly extensive list of wines in both Quebec and Ontario to give you some ideas as to what works, and why. I took several selections in Ontario from the latest Vintages release scheduled for December 9th, and I shopped for ideas for you from the SAQ Sélection stores. The selection is great, so read through these ideas.

You are going to a Christmas or New Years party, and you need to bring a decent bottle of wine, what should you get? There is plenty of selection in the $20.00 price range, but first you need to decide on a white or a red. When selecting a white, do not get an overly dry, coarse, young wine, instead try to pick up a wine with some character, and as old as possible (many selections will be 2 years or less in age and in many cases that is just too young). In reds, avoid a wine that is nowhere near ready to drink, get a bottle that is older, but if younger is your only choice then opt for a full, fruity vintage that drinks well even though ultra young.

In Ontario, I like the following inexpensive red wines for parties:

  • Joel Gott 815 Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 / $24.95 / 444059 – a full bodied fat California Cab, cherries and chocolate, decant 1-2 hours if possible.

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  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 / $21.95 / 269357 – Washington State, softer and silky smooth, no decanting required.

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  • Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2014 / $19.95 / 588731 – an Argentine Malbec, a little older, rated 92 points by James Suckling.

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  • The Black Chook Shiraz/Viognier 2016 / $18.95 / 066738 – an Australian full bodied Shiraz, rated 90 points plus every year for the last 12 years, decant 2 hours.

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  • Tom Gore Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 / $19.95 / 451336 – a California Cab, drink now, rich, ripe and fruity.

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  • Primus Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 / $19.95 / 486043 – from Chile’s Maipo Valley, smooth, currants, berries, mint, rated 92 points by James Suckling, older wine, more mature.

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  • Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 / $22.95 / 138818 – gold medal 2016 Australia wine show, rated 94 points by winecompanion.com.au, decant 3 hours as the wine is still young.

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  • Chateau Hauchat 2015 Fronsac / $16.95 / 123489 – medium body, fruity, Merlot blend, earthy and spicy, will age 3-5 years, but why wait, drink it now.

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In Quebec, I like the following inexpensive red wines for parties:

  • Joel Gott 815 Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 / $23.70 / 12257014 – same wine as above in Ontario, just $1.25 cheaper, (wow how is that for a switch, always used to be the other way around!)

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  • The Seven Deadly Zins 2015 / $23.30 / 11383473 – a California Zinfandel, refreshing and nice fruit, reliable, decant 1 hour.

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  • Monasterio de Las Vinas Reserva 2012 / $15.10 / 854422 – Spanish, full and fruity, aged and ready to drink.

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  • Monasterio de Las Vinas Gran Reserva Carinena 2010 / $19.35 / 10359156 – Spanish, 2 years older and slightly better quality wine, full bodied and ready to drink now, decant 1 hour.

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  • Michel Rolland Bordeaux 2010 / $21.65 / 12825894 – a Bordeaux blend from a good winemaker in a good year, at a good price. Decant 1-2 hours.

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  • D’Arenberg The Stump Jump Shiraz 2014 / $15.55 / 12505815 – full blown fruit, simple pleasure, refreshing and flavourful on the palate, great value for the price, ready to drink.

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  • D’Arenberg d’Arry’s Original Shiraz Grenache 2013 / $21.95 / 10346371 – a regular favorite, full chewy berry/ chocolate, round and soft, mature and ready to drink.

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  • D’Arenberg The High Trellis Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 / $22.00 / 10968146 – bring this only if you can decant it for 3 hours before drinking it at the party, it needs that time to soften up and let the fruit open up.

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  • Liano Sangiovese Cabernet Sauvignon Umberto Cesari  $26.60 / 12042603 – for those who love Italian wines this wine will do the trick, a full bodied fruity blend, decant one hour.

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In Ontario, the following white wines would be my suggestions for inexpensive party wines:

  • Familia Zuccardi Q Chardonnay 2016 / $19.95 / 232702 – from Mendoza Argentina, a crisp lightly oaked wine, still very young, decant one hour.

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  • Oyster Bay Pinot Grigio 2016 / $19.95 / 326090 – light, crisp, dry, lemon-lime flavors from New Zealand, still young, very versatile, something most people will enjoy.

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  • Trimbach Riesling 2015 / $22.95 / 734517 – rated 91 points by vinous.com, a great Alsace white, crisp, clean, dry Riesling from a great Alsace producer in a great year, try a bottle.

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  • Dr. Loosen Blue Slate Riesling Kabinett 2016 / $22.95 / 160846 – a great German producer, off dry Riesling with peach, lime, mineral and floral tones and flavors, an easy sipping wine that will pair nicely with cheese and party munchies.

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In Quebec, the following white wines got my attention as inexpensive party wines:

  • Oyster Bay Pinot Grigio 2016 / $18.60 / 12565789 – same wine as above in Ontario, but oh my goodness $1.35 cheaper in Quebec, pinch me I must be dreaming. Buy this by the case before thirsty Ontario wine drinkers clean us out.

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  • Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2017 / $18.60 / 316570 – lighter than the Pinot Grigio, but so very young, try one, for those who want something not Chardonnay.

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  • Caves de Ribeauville Pinot Gris 2015 Vendanges Manuelles / $20.30 / 11601670 – try this Alsace Pinot Gris, will be full bodied and smoky, will go great with smoked salmon, robust pronounced flavours, my personal favorite on this list of whites.

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  • Wente Vineyards Morning Fog Chardonnay 2016 / $18.65 / 10754084 – a California Chardonnay, I love the name, morning fog is the way I start most days, not an over-oaked Chardonnay so give it a try, still a little young.

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  • Zuccardi Serie A Chardonnay Viognier 2015 / $14.60 / 516443 – an Argentine Chardonnay blend, not too young and very well priced, try this wine, you should be pleasantly surprised.

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  • D’Arenberg The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne 2016 / $20.00 / 10829269 – I have tasted and rated this wine before in my blog post # 43, this is a great wine, a little young still, but a fun party wine because it has body, flavor, depth, and is not a Chardonnay, get one.

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The next category of wines you will need for the holiday season will be what I call dinner wines. I am thinking here about a Christmas dinner, or a family gathering where a special meal is enjoyed with family and/or close friends. This is not a party, so you need to honour the occasion with a better quality wine. You will also need to determine red or white or both, and you will need to make some adjustments in terms of wine selected depending on what is being served, and which family members drink only white or only red. For example, if 3 of 8 guests only drink white and the main course is roast beef, then you have to find a white wine that goes properly with roast beef. Fortunately turkey goes with both red and white wines.

In Ontario I like the following, both red and white, as dinner wines:

  • Conundrum White 2015 / $24.95 / 342824 – a lovely California Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc blend, full of fat fruit flavours and floral scents, lychees, the body and fragrance of this wine will go great with turkey.

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  • Domaine de Chevalier Clos des Lunes Lune D’Argent Blanc 2014 / $34.00 / 530642 – from the LCBO Classics selection so you may need to shop for this one, a great Bordeaux white from the Domaine de Chevalier estate who are highly respected for their white wines, dry, crisp, both delicate and structured at the same time, has enough age on it so any rough edges have already rounded out, this will go with turkey, any seafood, ham and pork. For red meats I would go with the Conundrum above. May be already sold out at the LCBO.

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  • Chateau de Beaucastel Coudoulet de Beaucastel Blanc 2015 / $34.95 / 048892 – a white wine Marsanne/Viognier blend, rated 90 points by winealign.com, a rich and smooth, full bodied white, decant one hour to let the wine open up and warm up a little.

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  • Cannonball Merlot 2014 / $24.95 / 342824 – a great California red reasonably priced, full fruit, spice, and chocolate, ready to drink now, pairs with all meats, turkey, chicken, duck, etc.

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  • Don Christobal Triana 2011 / $29.95 / 512863 – from Mendoza Argentina, a Malbec/Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, rated 95 points by Decanter Magazine and Best in Show, full bodied, smooth, lots of fruit, smoke, and spice, nicely aged and rounded out, decant for 1-2 hours, works well with turkey and all meats.

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  • Elderton Barossa Shiraz 2014 / $24.95 / 713024 – an Australian Shiraz showing lots of plums, cloves, and smoky oak, smooth and full bodied, a wine to pair with red meats, works with the gravy and stuffing of turkey if they are cooked with herbs and spices.

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  • Famille Perrin Les Christins Vacqueyras 2014 / $24.95 / 973453 – a Cote Du Rhone red showing rich dark fruit, perfumed, pepper, licorice and chocolate, but this wine needs 3 hours decanting to get those flavors out and on display. Works well with all red meats, works with turkey also when the wine has opened up, so decanting is important.

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In Quebec there are several reds that work, and only a couple of whites that I could find that I liked:

  • Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Cut Chardonnay 2015 / $29.05 / 12535512 – a full bodied, full throttle California Chardonnay, will match with turkey and most meats, guaranteed your guests will write down the name and buy some for New Years.

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  • Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2015 / $21.85 / 13426094 – a new release at the SAQ, this wine is bourbon barrel aged which adds a whole new taste dimension to this California Chardonnay. I am going to try a bottle paired with turkey this season. Sometimes if you have a gluten free gravy or stuffing it can be very bland, this wine will add such a new bourbon taste to the mix you will forget all about the blandness of the gluten free parts of the meal.

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  • Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 / $22.85 / 13426043 – like the Chardonnay above, this wine is also a new release at the SAQ, and it too is bourbon barrel aged. I was initially concerned that this wine might be too young for a dinner wine, but when I tasted it recently I was no longer concerned, the bourbon flavor gives it a nice spicy port-like kick that gives you that warmth and softness on the palate that one normally associates with a more mature wine. This wine will pair very well with turkey.

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  • Jean Pierre Moueix Pomerol 2014 / $32.60 / 739623 – this is essentially a Bordeaux Merlot blend from one of the most famous producers in Pomerol (Petrus). 2014 was a very good year, this Merlot should work well with turkey, I would suggest decanting for 1 hour or more.

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  • Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Cut Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 / $30.60 / 11383545 – this is a full bodied California Cabernet which I would decant for at least 2 hours to let the wine open up. You can expect lots of berry fruit, chocolate, and a full long smooth aftertaste. A little more on the punchy side for turkey (so you are forgiven if you opt for a Bordeaux instead), but this works well with all other meats so it is quite versatile.

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  • D’Arenberg The Galvo Garage Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2012 / $28.95 / 11155876 – a great Australian producer, a nice Cab/Merlot blend, and not too young either. This you must decant 3 hours to get the flavors all opened up, but when you do you will find this works with just about everything, turkey included.

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  • Dell’Ornellaia Le Volte Toscana 2015 / $28.60 / 10938684 – for my Italian friends who absolutely must have an Italian red on the dinner table, needs 2 hours decanting, and as a backup have a bottle of the Liano Sangiovese Cabernet Sauvignon Umberto Cesari at $26.60 per bottle described above as a red party wine (decant this one 2 hours as well).

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  • Bachelder Cote de Nuits Villages 2012 / $40.00 / 12089461 – made by winemaker Thomas Bachelder of Domaine Queylus in the Niagara region, Thomas makes very good wine and here is a chance to put a good quality Burgundy from a good year on the table for a reasonable price. This wine will pair nicely with turkey, decant for 2 hours.

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  • Chateau Lalande-Borie St. Julien 2014 / $45.25 / 12929589 – the second wines of the 2014 vintage from several classified Bordeaux chateau are on SAQ shelves now, and I think this wine shows good promise. Owner Bruno Borie also owns Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou, and he brings that pedigree to this relatively new label. This wine is smooth, rated 89 points and ready to drink now, also comes from a good year. It will match well with turkey and almost everything else, decant 1 hour.

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  • Chateau Larose-Trintaudon Cru Bourgeois 2010 / $25.90 / 11835388 – Stephen Spurrier gives this wine 88 points, great fruit, fleshy, well balanced, not overly acidic. From a great vintage, decant 2 hours to let the wine soften up and the fruit show. Turkey and red meats will pair nicely with this wine.

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These selections should give you plenty to choose from for the party circuit and the dinner table over the holidays. My next blog will follow shortly, where I will have some dessert wine suggestions, my suggestions for New Year’s Eve Champagnes, and most importantly, mid and upper end wine gift suggestions.

I hope you get some ideas from the suggestions above, try a few and broaden your wine knowledge base.

Cheers,

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 51, La Grande Dégustation, Montreal Wine Show 2017, Part 2, Nov 28, 2017.

Having tasted a lot of red wine during the first part of the show, I was glad to move into white wines with the Champagnes and Rieslings, so here is Part 2 of my tasting experience at La Grande Dégustation, The Montreal Wine Show, which we attended November 3, 2017.

Many Champagne houses were represented at the show including well known names such Moet and Chandon, Laurent-Perrier, Pol Roger, Pommery and Taittinger. We chose to spend most of our time in Champagne at Taittinger, where Carlos De Ipanema guided us through a tasting of six of their products, which was very impressive. Taittinger makes over 35 different Champagne products and ages them a minimum of 3 years in their cellars before they are released for sale. With annual production of over 6 million bottles, Taittinger has over 3 kilometers of underground cellars in Reims, clearly a large scale operation.

At $59.75 per bottle, the Taittinger Brut Réserve is their baseline non vintage product, a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, and 20% Pinot Meunier, fine bubbles, low foam, peach, vanilla and floral scents on the nose, fresh and zesty on the palate.

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The Taittinger Prélude Brut Grands Crus, at $79.50 per bottle is a step up from the Brut Réserve, a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir, rated 92 points by The Wine Spectator and 90 points by The Wine Advocate, and worth every point of those ratings.

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My personal favorite of the bunch was the 2006 Comptes De Champagne Blanc De Blancs which retails at $174.50 per bottle, 100% Chardonnay, fine bubbles, delicate froth, fresh nose with plenty of citrus, vanilla, lemons, almonds, and lime. Very refined with lots of class, a Champagne made to last 30-40 years, buy a couple to lay away and celebrate your retirement.

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The Taittinger Prestige Rosé at $81.50 per bottle is 55% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, and 15% Pinot Meunier, rated 92 points by The Wine Spectator and 90 points by The Wine Advocate. The bubbles are small and delicate, the nose detects aromas of raspberry, cherry and currant, with more red fruits on the palate and a touch of spice in the aftertaste, very pleasant, a perfect warm weather refreshment.

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The Taittinger Nocturne City Lights at $72.00 per bottle is a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir, and 25% Pinot Meunier, and was my second favorite Champagne of the group. Again well rated at 90 points by The Wine Spectator, you taste peach and apricots on the palate with a fresh zesty aftertaste.

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Finally, we tasted the Taittinger Nocturne City Lights Rosé, a blend of 30% Chardonnay, and 70% Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, rated 89 points by The Wine Spectator and retailing at $79.50 per bottle. My third favorite Champagne from Taittinger, full bodied and fleshy on the nose and the palate, yet dry and fresh on the aftertaste, a very versatile Champagne that would perform well on its own, with a light meal or even with a dessert.

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Six different Champagnes, one for every occasion or different type of meal, a very thoughtful, versatile and comprehensive offering of Champagnes from Taittinger, congratulations Carlos (shown below with some of our tasting team), very well done.

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Next we moved on to the Riesling section and of course I was drawn like a magnet to the Hugel booth where Jean Frédéric Hugel guided us through a tasting of five outstanding Riesling wines. If you want to get a full appreciation of Riesling wines at their best, the best place to look is at the Famille Hugel wines from Alsace – heaven, and often perfection in a bottle.

I have written about Hugel wines before in my previous blog posts 21 (June 7, 2016), 17 (May 10, 2016), and 6 (February 19, 2016), so by now you must realize that I am a big fan of Hugel wines. One of the reasons why it is so important to attend wine shows such as this one is because the owner, winemaker, or one of their team is usually there at the show pouring their wine for you. You also get a chance to taste and buy their best wines, wines that you may never see imported by your local provincial liquor board or your local wine shop. This time was no exception.

We tasted with Jean Frédéric the following wines from Famille Hugel: 1) the 2016 Classic Riesling, 2) the 2013 Estate Riesling, 3) the 2011 Riesling Grossi Laue, 4) the 2011 Riesling Vendage Tardives, and finally the 2010 Riesling Sélection de Grains Nobles.The Hugel family have been producing wine since 1639, they produce over 1.3 million bottles of wine per year, and Jean Hugel (Jean Frédéric’s grandfather) wrote the rules on Alsace late harvest wines.

The 2016 Classic Riesling was everything you expect from Hugel in the way of an honest, clean Riesling. Well made, the classic steely dry Riesling grape showing plenty of lemon, citrus, and lime flavors with a hint of flint like mineral tones on the aftertaste. This base line product you expect to find locally at about $20.00 per bottle, and will always perform well with any seafood.

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The 2013 Estate Riesling is the next level up at $43.25 per bottle and boasts tastes of apple, pear, almond, and honey. The grapes clearly come from their famous Schoenenbourg vineyards with that unique marley/mineral/chaulky character to the finish on the wine.

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But Jean Frédéric was just getting started with his enthusiasm for the terroir of his wines. It was great to watch the youthful energy with which he described his wines, like they were his children with their own unique behavioral characteristics. This reminded me so much of how his grandfather Jean Hugel guided us through a tasting of Hugel wines in Riquewihr in 1986, with that same Hugel passion that says the family has put their heart and soul into every bottle they make. That is another reason why I strongly recommend attending wine shows such as this one, let the winemaker impress you with their dedication, commitment to detail, knowledge of their terroir, and their passion to make you the best wines they can. Believe me, you will remember that winemaker every time you open a bottle of their wine, and that is an important part of your relationship with wine.

We then continued our tasting with the 2011 Riesling Grossi Laue, which retails at $113.50 per bottle. This wine also displayed the lemon/lime/citrus flavors, but also added in scent of flowers, pistachio nuts, almonds, peach and just a little salt. The combined effect was just a powerhouse Riesling, giving the impression that the wine needed another 5 years before revisiting – it needs time to open further. Great now but to be even better in 5 years time.

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The 2011 Riesling Vendages Tardives is made with 62 grams of residual sugar, and comes from vines averaging 30 years of age. The wine is smooth, sophisticated, elegant, yet full bodied, sweet, and balanced by perfect acidity. Intense floral scents, pears, honey. So much flavor, and such concentrated power, a pleasure to taste.

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The 2010 Riesling Sélection de Grains Nobles came to us from a 375 ml. bottle that retails at $185.00 per bottle. The wine is made with 120 grams of residual sugar, but the high sugar content is perfectly balanced with just the right level of acidity so that the finished product is light and lively, not thick and overpowering. The vines average 40 years of age, the wine was bottled in 2011 and according to Jean Frédéric “it has not moved in 5 years”, meaning that it has not evolved or aged in the bottle at all. This is a wine made to last at least 50 years. On the palate you get bombarded by lemon, peach, rhubarb, ginger, honey, and overripe grapes, combining into a smooth and creamy finish with enough acidity to cleanse the palate and leave you wanting more. Just stunning in every way, dare I say “perfection in a bottle”?

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The price tag reflects the high quality of the wine and it’s scarcity, which is exactly why it is so important to attend these wine shows and taste rare gems like this wine. Famille Hugel would love to make their Sélection de Grains Nobles wines every year (they have produced SGN wines from Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Gris grapes), but weather is often a factor limiting production to maybe 3 years in 10 for Gewurztraminer and even less frequent for Riesling and Pinot Gris. So having an SGN Riesling 2010 at the show available for tasting and purchase is just a wonderful treat. Very well done Jean Frédéric! Your grandfather Jean, and your father Etienne, would be proud of you, 13th generation Hugel ambassador!

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With only 15 minutes left before closing time we scampered over to the Treasury Wines booth where we tasted another 3-4 wines from Penfolds, Lindeman’s, Wolf Blass, and Wynn’s. The one wine among this group that left an impression on me was the 2016 Gentleman’s Collection Cabernet Sauvignon made by Lindeman’s. The wine was a full throttle cab, with lots of smoke and spice heaped onto a solid Cabernet Sauvignon base. Our guide told us they even add a small shot of port fortified wine to the final blend, which certainly explains the richness of the Cabernet Sauvignon fruit on the palate and that lingering aftertaste. This wine at under $20.00 per bottle is well worth adding to your buy list if you like a full bodied Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s on my own buy list now.

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In all we tasted over 35 wines in about 2 ½ hours, a full evening’s work, but we had a lot of fun and learned a lot about Washington State wines, Taittinger Champagnes, and I met Jean Frédéric Hugel for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed his presentation and tasting. Whether it be Jean Frédéric Hugel, Mickey Dunne, or Carlos De Ipanema from Taittinger, all three are passionate about wine, especially their wine. That passion shows in their presentation, their hospitality, and their product. This is why you need to attend wine shows, because it is people who make the great wines of the world, and meeting those people goes a long way towards fully appreciating the wines that they make, and the effort and passion that goes into that process. I can’t wait until next year and I hope to meet you there. I will be there, how about you?

Cheers!

Reg.

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 50, La Grande Dégustation, Montreal Wine Show 2017, Part 1, Nov 21, 2017.

The Reg’s Wine Blog staff and editorial team visited the Montreal Wine Show on Friday November 3rd. I have been attending this show for over 30 years now, I always enjoy myself at this show, and I always learn something. This year was no exception, the themes of the show were the Riesling grape, Washington State wines, and Champagnes. I am pleased to report that I covered all three major themes by visiting with several producers under each theme. Although there never seems to be enough time to visit everyone you want to meet, there is only room in my blog to report on the most interesting of those that we did meet.

I also want to congratulate the organizers of this year’s event for the smooth flowing logistics, the event was very well organized, ran smoothly, was well attended as usual, and well enjoyed by everyone that I bumped into, and if I bumped into you, I am sorry because I was having such a good time, I may have gotten a little carried away. The truth be known, my wife did not attend as she was ill that evening, so I had nobody reminding not to drink all the wine I was tasting. We will save that subject for a future blog.

I started the show by visiting with Thomas Bachelder from Domaine Queylus in the Niagara region. Queylus had five red wines available for tasting and I tasted them all. The best wine by a wide margin was the 2012 Pinot Noir Reserve, showing a rich and full fruit taste, round, mature, a well balanced and smooth aftertaste that kept on going.

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This 5 year old wine shows enough age to be mature and open, fragrant and luscious, and will easily stay together for another 5-10 years. An excellent Burgundian type effort that will be very interesting to taste and follow for years to come, if you can find any.

The Queylus 2014 Pinot Noir Tradition was clearly younger, still a little rough around the edges, and needs more time in the bottle to settle down and soften up.

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The 2014 Cabernet Franc Tradition needs more time to soften up as well, yet it is clearly a wine made for drinking young. A great black fruit fragrance on the nose, just a little too short on the palate, which left me thinking this wine would probably soften up nicely with 3 hours decanting, something impossible to do at a wine show.

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The 2012 Cabernet Franc/Merlot Reserve works very well on the palate, nicely balanced and nicely blended, but still not as good as the 2012 Pinot Noir Reserve.

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The 2013 Merlot Grande Reserve is still young and needs more time in the bottle, but is now already showing great black fruit and chocolate on the nose that carries on over to your palate. A little more age will smoothen out the overall effect and carry the full bodied Merlot fruit further into the aftertaste. A great Merlot in the making here, a wine that will easily last 10-12 years.

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About a week after the show I had an opportunity to taste the 2012 Queylus Chardonnay Tradition. Again I was impressed, the Chardonnay fruit was full, round, plush, and ever so nicely balanced with enough acidity to settle into a very pleasant flint/mineral aftertaste that one associates with a fine white Burgundy at 5 times the price. Wow, pretty good value in my opinion. Queylus is making some outstanding wine for such a young winery, a rising star to keep your eye on!

Moving on I was then introduced by Raymond Nantel of Nantel and Associates (local wine consultants representing several major Washington State wineries) to Mickey Dunne, the owner of Powers Winery in Washington. We tasted 5 Powers wines, starting with the 2016 Powers Viognier Columbia Valley, which I found clean, crisp, balanced with good fruit, and not overpowering.

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The 2016 Monde Eau Riesling was soft, fruity, mature and not green like many new world Rieslings, and it is an organic wine.

 

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The 2015 Powers Syrah Columbia Valley was a huge surprise as the Syrah fruit was soft and sweet, while I had expected something rough, course, and green. So often young Syrah is just unpleasant to taste, but Mickey’s Syrah was full, round, soft, and a very friendly sipping wine. Congratulations Mickey, this was the best young Syrah I have tasted in years, well done.

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The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley was a little light compared to what I had tasted a few minutes earlier at Domaine Queylus, but it was fruity, soft and delicate, so it worked quite well.

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The wonderful thing about all 4 of these wines is that they were priced at $19.95.

Finally, I tasted Mickey’s top of the line wine, his 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills Champoux Vineyards, listed at $35.00 per bottle. The wine was drier and easily in need of another 3-5 years of aging before opening. Grape vines averaged 41 years old, and this wine will last another 25 years in the bottle. A huge wine with black cherry, berries and caramel on the nose and palate, finishing with aromas of cedar, cigar box, and earthy tones. I had no idea Washington grapes had the capacity to make such full bodied, powerful wines.

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Next we had Ryan Strom from Alexandria Nicole Cellars guide us through a tasting of their 4 wines. We started with a rather standard Rhone styled 2016 Viognier white, with lots of fruit, rich on the palate, and a solid aftertaste.

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The 2015 Shepherds Mark is a Rousanne (62% ) / Marsanne (26%) / Viognier (12%) blend, with a very interesting and unique cinnamon aftertaste to the wine. This is a big wine that will work well with fish and chicken dishes and thick, rich sauces. An exotic blend of floral and fruit fragrances that finishes with a subtle but clearly present cinnamon spice aftertaste. I loved that aftertaste, and I still get hungry thinking about it!

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The 2015 Jet Black Syrah is a great wine in the making, aged in oak, dark purple in color, great legs on the glass, buzzing with rich cherry and plum fruits, offset and balanced by cedar, cloves and other spices. This wine needs another 2-5 years in the bottle to finish coming together, and in the meantime all the components are there to enjoy now if you cannot wait.

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The 2014 A Squared Cabernet Sauvignon was soft, fruity, but not as great a wine as the Jet Black.

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To me the Shepherds Mark and Jet Black were the stars at this tasting booth.

Our last stop in the Washington wine section was with the Seven Hills and Double Canyon producers, where we tasted the Double Canyon 2015 Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, which I found to be rather soft and flabby, too light on the finish, and certainly overpriced at $33.00.

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We next tasted their Seven Hills Red Wine 2014 from the Walla Walla Valley. This was a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot, this was also their first release of this wine, so do not look for it on their website, you will not find it. I found the fruit on the palate very ripe, forward and expressive, but I confess I was disappointed with the price of $51.00 per bottle.

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The 2014 Seven Hills Merlot Walla Walla Valley retails at $45 US and was $65 CDN at the show. The Wine Enthusiast rates the wine at 92 points, I found the wine still pretty harsh and green, so even though I am sure it will soften up in time, it is difficult to assess without having an older vintage to compare against, hard to determine if this wine is worth the price.

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We next tasted the 2014 Seven Hills Ciel de Cheval, their top of the line red with a typical Bordeaux blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Marlot, 17% Petit Verdot and 7% Cabernet Franc. Once again the wine was rated highly by the Wine Enthusiast at 92 points and retails at $55 US or $78 CDN at the show. So I was expecting more than I got, what I got was a fragrant nose of raspberries, but loose on the palate and not enough follow through on the aftertaste. This was from 27 year old vines and their 14th vintage on this product.

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Perhaps the Seven Hills wines did not travel well, but for whatever reason the whole group failed to impress, and did not convey the impressions one expects from a 92 point wine.

Alas, it was time to move on to Champagne to cleanse our palates. Next week I will post part 2, commencing with our Champagne tasting. In the meantime, as I reflect on the above wines, the most important observation I can make is the need to taste as many wines as possible at a wine show. Finding such delights as the Powers wines at under $20.00, and such disappointments as the Seven Hills wines at $60.00 – $80.00 is all part of the learning experience, and why I continue to find such value in attending this show year after year!

Cheers!

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 49, Ever Had a Bad Bottle of Wine? What You Should Do About It, July 21, 2017.

If you get a bad bottle of wine at a restaurant, you need to advise the sommelier immediately. He/she will taste the wine themselves, and if the wine is not good, they will replace the wine and taste the replacement themselves first, to make sure it is good. See my earlier Post # 4 dated February 3, 2016 for more details about unacceptable restaurant behavior by refusing a good bottle. It is also not acceptable to drink half the bottle and then tell the sommelier that the wine is no good.

When your waiter presents the unopened bottle to you at the table, this is your one opportunity to inspect the unopened bottle before you own it. You have about 15 seconds to conduct your investigation and check the following:

  • Make sure your wine is from the right year, restaurants often substitute a younger vintage without reprinting the wine list.
  • Check the foil wrapper for signs of seepage, and for signs of the cork having been pushed out, this is a good reason to refuse the wine.
  • Check the condition of the cork in the bottle, you want to be sure the bottle has not been stored standing up, so you want to see evidence of a moist cork on the bottom and the sides, especially near the bottom of the cork.
  • Check the wine for a proper fill level in the neck of the bottle. If you are ordering an older bottle aged 20 years or more, some evaporation is acceptable but under no circumstances should you accept a bottle with less than a high shoulder fill. An older bottle from a restaurant wine list is going to cost top dollar, so this is no place to be experimenting with a suspicious bottle.

Most of the time the wine is fine and in excellent condition, sometimes the wine can be spoiled, but that does not happen very often today. It is important to understand that a bad bottle can be the result of poor storage by the restaurant, or it can be the fault of the winery or producer with either a bad cork or poor winemaking. So obviously the restaurant is often not to blame for a bad bottle.

And what happens when you open a bad bottle from your own wine cellar? Who gets the blame for that one? I have been a wine collector for 40 years and in all that time I have only ran into bad bottles once. It was actually a very bizarre experience. I bought 6 bottles of 1988 Chateau Rabaud-Promis as a futures offering from the SAQ in Quebec and took delivery of the wine in 1991. A Sauternes, with 13.5% alcohol level, from a great year made by a property that had recently greatly improved their quality level. The colour of the wine was a deep luscious gold, promising years of improvement ahead of it as it matured further in the bottle.

About 3 years after taking delivery of the wine, in 1994 or 1995, on conducting a routine inspection of bottles in my cellar I noticed much to my surprise that 3 of the 6 bottles had turned a cloudy white in colour, and the corks were being forced out of the bottles. There was some seepage from one bottle and when I tasted it the wine was sour. These 3 bottles had undergone a second fermentation in the bottle, and they were clearly spoiled. However, the other 3 bottles were still in pristine condition. Obviously, with half the wine good and the other half bad, the storage conditions (my cellar) were not to blame. The winery may have been at fault, maybe some yeast spilled on some corks, maybe a few corks had fungus spores embedded in them.

I should have kept my purchase receipt and returned the bottles to the SAQ for refund or replacement, but by then the receipt had long since been thrown out – my mistake. Keep your purchase receipts, most retailers will reimburse or replace a tainted product, repeat business depends on it.

As for the surviving three bottles I am pleased to report that they were great. I tried one in 1995, another one in 2010, and the last bottle about 6 weeks ago. It was excellent. Neil Martin wrote for The Wine Advocate in April 2012 the following tasting notes on the 1988 Chateau Rabaud-Promis:

Tasted at the property in Sauternes. The fantastic Rabaud Promis 1988 has a glorious bouquet with an almost Barsac-like persona: overripe oranges, marmalade and quince, all with great purity and control. It just unfurls with each swirl of the glass. The palate is extremely well balanced with a fresh, pure, life-affirming entry. Again, there is that keen thread of racy acidity that is succinctly entwined with the fruit. It has ample botrytis and is supremely well balanced towards the elegant, refined finish. The persistency is probably just a little longer and delineated than the 1983 or 1986. This is one of the best Sauternes wines of the vintage. Tasted April 2012.

Neil Martin gave this wine a score of 95 points in 2012.

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When I tasted the wine six weeks ago it was fully mature, yet full of fruit, lovely acidity to maintain a perfect balance, with no signs of having past its peak. Aromas on the nose and tastes on the palate were all in line with Neil’s comments: orange, marmalade, quince, mangos, pineapple, and apricots with great balance and a sturdy alcohol backbone. Wonderful aftertaste lasting over a minute leaves you wondering what more one could expect from a Sauternes dessert wine.

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So six bottles of the same wine, same year, all bought at the same time and subject to the same storage conditions. Three go bad and three are magnificent as long as 26 years later. I do not think the winemaker was at fault, I think the corks must have been exposed to a yeast or fungus that caused a second fermentation to take place. In over 40 years of wine collecting that is the only incident of a bad bottle either from my cellar or at a restaurant that I have ever run across.

Screw top caps on many lower end wines eliminates the possibility of bad corks spoiling those wines, so in future corks will be more limited to upper end wines meant to take longer aging.

When a bad wine comes to you at a restaurant, flag it right away and let the sommelier deal with it. When a bad wine comes from your cellar, make sure it is an isolated case and not a result of poor storage conditions. If you have kept your purchase receipt and the purchase was fairly recent, you might get lucky and convince your retailer to reimburse you, but then again you might just as easily be out of luck. Fortunately, this will not happen to you very often, if ever!

So don’t worry, just uncork another bottle, it will probably be fine.

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 48 – Wine Fraud, Happens More Than You Think, June 23, 2017.

If you subscribe to Netflix then take the time to watch the documentary “Sour Grapes”, it is all about the wine con artist Rudy Kurniawan, originally from Jakarta, who came to America in the early 2000’s and promptly began to execute the largest wine fraud in modern times, for which he was tried and convicted in 2014 to 10 years in jail in a California prison. Rudy is the first person to ever be convicted of “wine fraud” in the US, rest assured lots more wine fraud takes place, but most people get away with it.

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First, let’s focus on Rudy because his case was so bizarre. When Rudy arrived on the wine scene in Los Angeles, he had lots of cash with him, so clearly either someone had bankrolled him, or he had already ripped off lots of people before coming to America. Rudy bought lots of wine at local auctions and began hosting lavish dinners at expensive restaurants serving fabulous wines. He spent millions building his image as a wine expert and collector. One major red flag was completely missed by everyone at the time, he had the restaurants save the corks, foils, and empty bottles for him, and nobody wondered why.Reg's Wine Blog - photo 48-3

 There are several good articles about Rudy’s wine fraud exploits, start with this one if you want to read more about it: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/07/wine-fraud-rudy-kurniawan-vintage-burgundies.

Rudy operated a counterfeit lab in his basement where he used the empties to rebottle cheaper wine that masqueraded as rare old collectables worth a fortune.

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Rudy had fake labels made, aged to look old and tattered, lead foils, wax seals, all expertly faked to look like the real deal. Then he sold them at auctions across the US. At one auction held by Acker Merrall & Condit in 2006 Rudy sold $24.7 million US in wine, beating the previous record by $10 million, all fakes. When you sell that much fake wine, sooner or later something is going to go wrong, and indeed lots went wrong.

To begin with Rudy was creating fakes from years when the Chateau never produced any wine, and in some instances he sold fakes in large size bottles when the Chateau had never bottled the larger sized bottles. Most major wineries keep thorough records of their total production for the year, particularly in larger sized bottles. Tragically the auction companies were not able to spot the fakes (which shows a dismal attention to detail on their part) and all Rudy’s fakes sold through to buyers and collectors from all over the world.

Two people in particular picked up on some of the irregularities. Bill Koch, a wealthy American wine collector, bought some of Rudy’s fakes. He hired an investigator who discovered large sized bottles in his cellar from years when the Chateau never bottled large bottles. He also discovered through forensic testing that old labels had been glued onto bottles using modern glues. Laurent Ponsot from Domaine Ponsot in Burgundy also noticed that several bottles of his Clos St. Denis from older vintages between 1945 and 1971 were being sold by Rudy at auction. The only problem with this was that Domaine Ponsot only began producing their Clos St. Denis in 1982. Well hello, major red flag here!

So on the surface looking at this case from a distance, you might ask yourself how anyone could get taken so easily, and why were so many supposed experts fooled for so long. Well for starters, it would appear that Rudy made good wine, and his bottling efforts were superb. His labels were given that aged look, a little scuffed up, a little stain here and there, the odd small nick or tear. Corks were labeled, foils were crumpled up to look older.

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Every attention to detail was paid in the faking of the wine and the bottling. The wine itself actually tasted very good, enough to wow everyone at public events he hosted where his fakes were tested on the experts. Rudy mixed his wines, buying something cheap, adding something better, bringing it to the combined taste he was trying to fake. So in some sense he worked very hard at paying attention to detail.

With so much attention to detail in faking the wines, how on earth could he screw up so badly by faking a wine that never existed in the first place. To me this is just basic common sense research, and obviously Rudy was lacking in basic common sense.

But how about those auction houses, when you buy wine from a reputable auction house you pay a buyer’s premium in addition to the hammer (purchase) price, sometimes as much as a 30% premium, and for that handling fee that the auction house charge, you are paying for their expertise in assuring the wine is legitimate, fit for resale (not spoiled, etc.), and that it comes from a reputable source. In that process the auction house must certainly verify that the wine in question comes from a year when it was actually produced. For wines Rudy faked from years when a producer never produced any wine, the auction house has clearly been duped and not done their verification job properly. Ouch, someone is liable for negligence here, and the litigation was in full swing.

Now how about those buyers, those astute collectors with huge cellars, those guys who want a bottle of every Ponsot Clos St. Denis vintage that Ponsot ever produced. You would think that some of these guys would know that Ponsot only started bottling his Clos St. Denis in 1982. Nope, apparently not. You would also think that a collector wanting to buy a bottle of the 1949 Ponsot Clos St. Denis would ask the auction house for any tasting notes available before buying, since nobody had any tasting experience with the wine (because it was a fake wine from a vintage that did not exist). Nope, apparently not. And what about the auction catalogue itself, normally it would include tasting notes and general appearance (high shoulder fill, bin soiled labels, etc.) of the wine included in that lot. Nope, no tasting notes for you, no rating of 95 points from highly regarded wine critics, you just get to fly blind with this mystery wine, and pay thousands of dollars per bottle for the privilege of doing so. Wow, and some big name collectors fell victim to this not so clever fraud.

So it should come as no surprise that Rudy got 10 years in jail for wine fraud, but what does come as a surprise is that he was the largest seller at that Acker Merrall and Condit wine auction in 2006 for $24.7 million US worth of wine (all of it fake), beating the previous maximum by at least $10 million US, and nobody suspected a thing. Amazing, slick, smooth, and a lot of people got taken. Any anti-fraud safeguards that may have been in place at that auction were completely ineffective. Amidst all that fake wine, most reports were that the wine tasted very good, so it would appear that Rudy did have some talent as a blender with a good palate.

Over 10,000 bottles of Rudy’s fake wine went to landfills or was destroyed.

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Another famous “suspected” wine fraud was conducted by Hardy Rodenstock, who sold rare old Bordeaux wines at auction to the likes of Malcolm Forbes and Bill Koch in the mid 1990’s.

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The wine was allegedly from the Thomas Jefferson collection, dating to the late 1790’s, each bottle etched with the letters “Th.J”. Hardy is a German citizen and when Bill Koch finally did get around to suing Hardy in US court, Mr. Rodenstock was a “no show”. Bill had learned from his forensic investigators that the “Th.J” initials etched on each bottle had been done so with modern etching equipment, so it would appear that Hardy too was a fraud artist, but he seems to have evaded conviction for his past exploits.

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When you read the back and forth litigation between Koch and Rodenstock, Koch and The Chicago Wine Company, Michael Broadbent and Random House over the book written on the subject, “The Billionaire’s Vinegar”, and between Koch and Royal Wine Merchants (all nicely summarized in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardy_Rodenstock ), you cannot help but laugh at the horrendously complicated legal quagmire that only lawyers made money on.

It seems only fair that Robert Parker should have the last word on the subject. Parker had attended some of the Rodenstock tastings, including the famous Chateau Y’Quem vertical tasting of 125 vintages in 1998 that lasted for a full week. So Parker had tasted many of Rodenstock’s wines, some of which had turned out to be fakes. Parker attended Rodenstock’s Munich event in 1995 where he had the pleasure of tasting a magnum of 1921 Chateau Petrus which he rated at a perfect 100 points and “out of this universe”. But it turns out that Chateau Petrus never bottled any magnums of the 1921 vintage, so had Parker tasted and rated a fake? When asked about the experience by Patrick Radden Keefe of The New Yorker magazine for his September 2007 article on The Jefferson Bottles (read this article, it is very informative http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/09/03/the-jefferson-bottles ), Parker was quoted as saying:

“If that was a fake, he should be a mixer, it was wonderful.”

So Rudy and Hardy both had talent, their fake wines tasted great, even wine guru Robert Parker was smitten! I wonder if these guys could mix a fake that tasted better than the original? Probably!

The "Jefferson bottles" that Bill Koch paid some half a million dollars for and later discovered were fakes.
The “Jefferson bottles” that Bill Koch paid some half a million dollars for and later discovered were fakes.

We think of wine fraud as something unusual that rarely happens, and when you look at these two examples they are indeed unusual, exotic and very complex frauds. They both seem to have a very basic flaw to the fraud by either poor research (bottling a fake from a property and year that never existed), or poor provenance (no idea what the chain of ownership has been).

When you compare these two cases to modern day wine fraud in China and Hong Kong that we often hear stories about, the same problem is playing out again. A bottle of plonk is dressed up to look like a 1949 Chateau Lafite, the difference being that these more local frauds in China are nowhere near as good, so the actual wine you bought is really not that good at all. This is actually more harmful wine fraud because the local Chinese consumer is left with the impression that old Bordeaux tastes like crap. Experts estimate that 70% of Bordeaux first growth available for purchase in China is fake (for more on this see my previous blog post # 29, dated September 22, 2016). At least Rudy and Hardy made fakes that actually tasted good.

The moral of this story is to be very fussy about knowing the provenance of the older wines you buy. In fact, you are better off buying older wines from someone you know and trust than from an auction house. If you can buy wine from someone you know who has been the sole owner of the wine for 20-30 years and has kept that wine under proper storage conditions, and you can buy that wine cheaper than new releases, and cheaper than they can be bought at auction (don’t forget to include the auction house markup, foreign exchange if applicable, and delivery and customs if applicable), then you should seriously consider this route. With new releases from Bordeaux coming to the market over the next two years at a combined 60% + price increase (see my previous blog post # 47 for all the details), buying older mature vintages at 25% – 50% less than the price of current releases begins to look very attractive.

Reg

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 47, June 19, 2017, the Bordeaux 2016 Vintage, Priced and Over Priced

The 2016 Bordeaux vintage has been appraised and evaluated by critics as a major success (see my previous blog post # 46 for details). A killer frost did some isolated vineyard damage at the end of April in the region, and clearly influenced most growers to raise their prices. Prior to the frost, about a dozen properties had announced their 2016 pricing, and the emerging trend was “no increase” for 2016 (which was expected since most growers had already raised prices for the 2015 vintage by an average 30%). Since the frost damage, most properties have raised their prices for their 2016 wines by about 25%, even if they themselves suffered no frost damage (which was the case for most of them).

So let’s take a look at the price increases applied to the wines in Reg’s Top 30 Bordeaux wine list for 2016. There are indeed a few surprises, some good and some not so good:

  • Leoville Las Cases – 30%
  • Palmer – 14.3%
  • Eglise Clinet – 25%
  • Pichon Lalande – 25%
  • Pontet Canet – 44%
  • Angelus – not released yet
  • Ducru Beaucaillou – 16%
  • Figeac – 47.1%
  • Haut Bailly – 27%
  • Vieux Chateau Certan – 28%
  • Cos D’Estournel – 0%
  • La Conseillante – 32.7%
  • Pichon Baron – 18.7%
  • Trotanoy – not released yet
  • Smith Haut Lafite – 28%
  • L’Evangile – 20%
  • La Fleur Petrus – not released yet
  • Lynch Bages – 14.2%
  • Montrose – 0%
  • Canon – 20%
  • Calon Segur – 17.7%
  • Leoville Poyferre – 19.5%
  • Pavie Macquin – 11.4%
  • Clos Fourtet – 23.6%
  • Pape Clement – 12.2%
  • Leoville Barton – 17.7%
  • Troplong Mondot – 23.2%
  • Domaine de Chevalier – 18.9%
  • Grand Puy Lacoste – 25%
  • Rausan Segla – 18.8%

Only 3 properties above have yet to announce their 2016 pricing. Of the 27 properties already priced for 2016 releases, only two properties, Cos D’Estournel and Montrose have kept their price the same as 2015. There is a strong message here, focus on buying those two wines for openers. But there is more information to be learned. Remember from my previous blog post # 46, Ducru Beaucaillou lost 40% of their 2017 crop to frost damage, yet they only raised their 2016 price by a very modest 16%, so take a good look at their wine as well. La Conseillante lost about 30% of their 2017 crop to frost, and they raised their 2016 price by 32.7%, and Haut Bailly lost 33% of their 2017 crop and raised their 2016 price by 27%. Both those price increases would be justified. It would appear that none of the other 27 wines on my Top 30 list lost any production to frost damage, so how can these other properties justify large price increase. If I am the owner of Haut Bailly and I have lost 33% of my vines to frost damage, of course I am going to raise prices to help finance replanting. But if I am the owner of Pontet Canet or Figeac and have sustained no frost damage at all, how can I possibly justify increasing prices by 44% and 47.1%, especially when I increased price by 30% the previous year? The answer my friend is “greed”, just pure greed.

In my previous blog post # 46, I highlighted 6 wines that I liked because of the low price at $100 or less per bottle in 2015. Those wines have price increases ranging between 11.5% and 25%, and because their base prices were already low, they still end up being reasonably priced in 2016: Leoville Poyferre at $125, Calon Segur at $123, Leoville Barton at $123, Grand Puy Lacoste at $112, Pavie Macquin at $111, and Domaine de Chevalier at $100. Domaine de Chevalier would be my choice.

So there are some good wines to look for as 2016 futures, including Cos D’Estournel, Montrose, Ducru Beaucaillou, Domaine de Chevalier, Pavie Macquin, and Grand Puy Lacoste.

 

 

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Remember, all these wines score over 95 points by the average of the best 5 wine critics in the business. Some others such as Figeac and Pontet Canet I would avoid on principle alone as they are clearly just price gouging the consumer.

Speaking of overpriced Bordeaux, I noticed that the Bordeaux first growth properties generally applied less of a percentage price increase for their 2016 wines, as follows:

  • Margaux – 9.7%
  • Cheval Blanc – 2.2%
  • Mouton Rothschild – 9.4%
  • Haut Brion – 9.1%
  • La Mission Haut Brion – 12%
  • Lafite Rothschild – 8.3%

Could it be that first growth owners are getting concerned that they may be pricing themselves right out of the market, as I have been suggesting for a while now? Or could it be that a modest 10% increase on these wines now costs between $100 and $150 per bottle, and their prices are just getting totally out of control. Of course there are always some who just do not know the meaning of restraint, so Chateau Ausone, a first growth from St. Emilion, and already one of the more expensive first growths, announced a price increase of 29.6% for their 2016 wine,ouch! This sounds like more greed in action.

There is an excellent interview reported on Liv-ex between Bernard Magrez (owner of Chateau Pape Clement and eleven other Bordeaux properties) and Liv-ex Director Anthony Maxwell conducted June 2, 2017 (to read the entire interview use this link, http://www.insights.liv-ex.com/2017/06/liv-ex-interview-bernard-magrez.html). In that interview Bernard makes several interesting comments:

When asked about Bordeaux price increases in general, Bernard responds saying:

“In my opinion, the error of some in Bordeaux is to believe that prices can keep going up. It happened with very great wines due to demand from China, but it won’t happen again.”

When asked about the speed at which some growers are raising prices, Bernard responds saying:

“It is an issue of ego and greed. They just want to have higher prices than their neighbors.”

When asked about the price a consumer will pay for his wine, Bernard responds by saying they will pay a decent price. When pressed to define what he means by a decent price, Bernard responded as follows:

“It’s the price that the consumer is willing to pay. If he thinks it’s too high, he won’t buy. And that’s life! Our boss is the consumer who puts the bottle on the table to drink it with his friends.”

So indeed it is the consumer who is the boss, and sometimes we have a tendency to forget that. Bernard states elsewhere in the interview that it is a much more competitive wine industry today with so much high quality competition from other maturing wine regions, the implication being that Bordeaux must be careful not to overprice their product, or they stand to lose their traditional markets to the competition.

I also found Bernard’s comments about the influence of wine critics on wine prices since Robert Parker’s retirement to be very interesting:

“I think there will be less speculation. 100-point scores today are not the same as they were from Robert Parker. Currently there are four or five major critics such as Suckling or Galloni. It is clear that the merchants look at the average of the top five as well as the competitiveness of prices.”

In fact what I gave you in my previous blog post # 46 was the combined average score of those top 5 wine critics (Martin, Suckling, Galloni, Molesworth, and Anson). I also gave you Reg’s Top 30 list of the most competitively priced wines rated 95 to 98 points by those 5 top critics in the business, and I quoted current 2015 futures prices on all 30 wines. Now in this post you can see the actual 2016 increases, and you have plenty of information by which to make your own purchasing decisions. You even have the thoughts of Bernard to guide you in terms of fair pricing, greed, and that consumers have the power to say “no”.

Here’s to Bernard for having the courage to tell it like it is, and for having seriously upgraded Chateau Pape Clement since he bought it in the 1980’s.

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You the consumer can see for yourself how producers such as Cos D’Estournel and Montrose are far more consumer friendly by not increasing their 2016 prices at all, verses producers like Figeac and Pontet Canet who are out of control by raising prices over 40% in 2016. You can also see how much the quality standards with properties such as Domaine de Chevalier, Pavie Macquin, and Grand Puy Lacoste have risen to rival the quality of top producers. Now it is up to you to shop for your 2016 futures wisely. I know I will be doing the same, happy hunting!

Reg.

 

 

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 46, May 13, 2017 Bordeaux 2016 – Reg’s Top 30

In my previous Post # 44 about the 2016 Bordeaux vintage I suggested that collectors should take a good look at buying 2016 Bordeaux futures, and focusing on the cheaper 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th growth properties because the quality of those wines was looking very good. At that time only some of the best known wine critics had reported on the 2016 vintage so some critical information was still missing.

Over the last 4 weeks three very important developments have taken place: 1) the rest of the wine critics have reported, 2) the first few Bordeaux Chateau announced their 2016 prices, and 3) there was a major killer frost April 27, 28, and 29 that did serious damage in Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne.

In Post # 44 I discussed in detail the high scores issued by James Molesworth and James Suckling, and since then Antonio Galloni and Neal Martin have released their own reports and scores, and they too are just as high. So all the critic scores are now released, and those scores are all high, higher than 2015. Early pricing by the first few Chateau to release prices was as expected, prices were the same for 2016 as 2015, which you will recall I had expected because the 2015 increases were much higher than expected at 30% or more.

Then a killer frost struck and did serious damage to several properties in late April while the vines were full of buds. Damage was extensive in St. Emilion and Pomerol, but Pessac, Graves, and the western edge of the Medoc escaped. Some properties report up to 90% of vines have been wiped out, particularly if they were in lower lying vineyards. Early reports have Ducru Beaucaillou losing 40% of their vines, La Conseillante losing 25-30% of their vines, Haut Bailly losing 33% of their vines.

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The immediate effect of that event was to halt any further announcements about 2016 release prices while owners assess the damage and decide whether or not to raise prices immediately to finance replanting. So if you are the owner of Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou where 40% of your vines may have been wiped out, you are now rethinking your pricing strategy for your wonderful 2016 vintage, and instead of pricing 2016 the same as 2015, you are probably now thinking of raising the price by as much as you dare.

So here is what I have done. I have put together my own shopping list of what I consider to be the Top 30 Bordeaux Chateaux of 2016, representing Best Value for Best Quality. I have taken the wine scores of my 5 top wine critics for the 2016 vintage. My top critics are:

  • Neal Martin (The Wine Advocate)
  • James Suckling (James Suckling and ex Wine Spectator)
  • James Molesworth (Wine Spectator)
  • Antonio Galloni (Vinous and ex The Wine Advocate)
  • Jane Anson (Decanter)

I have taken an average score based on the scores given by all five critics. On my Top 30 list I have not included first growths because they will be overpriced, first growth second wines like Les Forts de Latour because they are all rated below my cutoff point, and clearly overpriced wines like Petrus and Le Pin. I have also eliminated anything scoring an average of 95 points or less, and I have eliminated anything that has too wide a variation in scores between the 5 critics (so if one critic rates the wine at 90 points and another rates it at 99, the wine comes out because we are looking for consistency). The result is 30 properties rated between 98.3 points and 95.3. This by itself is an incredible display of quality rarely seen.

Next, I have also listed the average wine critic score for each of these 30 wines in the 2015 vintage so you can assess consistency and improvement in quality in 2016. In all 30 cases, the wine’s score in 2016 is the same or higher than 2015, another indication of improving production standards by these producers and the high quality of the 2016 vintage. Finally I have listed current international prices for the 2015 vintage of each wine (in Canada add an average 30% to these prices due to foreign exchange rates and provincial liquor board taxes). Keep in mind the 2015 vintage is not yet released, so these prices are up to date futures prices. These prices are what you want to see for the 2016 vintage when they eventually do get announced. This becomes your target price to pay per bottle (in Canadian dollars), which you may not see if the Chateau decides to raise prices to finance replanting of frost damaged vines.

The result is a pretty interesting list that I call Reg’s Top 30. I have listed the wines in order of wine scores, top to bottom. But I have also given the wines a best buy number reflecting the cheapest price, keep in mind all these wines range in quality from 98.3 to 95.3 points, so every one of them is an excellent wine and worthy of purchase as a future.

Quality   Property Name        2016 Avg. Score     2015 Price    2015 Avg. Score    Best Buy Rating

1         Leoville Las Cases                 98.3                  $250.00                 96                             23

2         Palmer                                     97.5                  $380.00                 96                             29

2         Eglise Clinet                           97.5                  $340.00                 95                              28

4         Pichon Lalande                     97.3                  $180.00                  95                              16

5         Pontet Canet                         97.25                 $150.00                  95                              12

6         Angelus                                  97.25                $460.00                  95                             30

7        Ducru Beaucaillou                97.1                   $220.00                  95                              21

7        Figeac                                      97.1                   $215.00                   95                              19

9        Haut Bailly                             97                      $135.00                   96                              10

9        Vieux Chateau Certan          97                     $335.00                   97                               27

11      Cos D’Estournel                    96.75                $215.00                   95                               20

12      La Conseillante                     96.7                  $210.00                   94                               18

12     Pichon Baron                         96.7                  $175.00                    95                               15

12     Trotanoy                                 96.7                 $ 290.00                   95                               26

12     Smith Haut Lafite                 96.7                  $115.00                     95                                 7

16     L’Evangile                               96.5                 $280.00                    95                               25

16     La Fleur Petrus                      96.5                 $250.00                    94                                24

16     Lynch Bages                           96.5                 $155.00                     93                                 13

16     Montrose                                96.5                 $185.00                     94                                 17

20      Canon                                    96.3                 $240.00                    96                                 22

20      Calon Segur                         96.3                  $105.00                     93                                   4

22      Leoville Poyferre                95.9                   $105.00                     94                                  5

22      Pavie Macquin                    95.9                   $100.00                     92                                  3

22     Clos Fourtet                          95.9                  $135.00                      94                                 11

25     Pape Clement                       95.5                  $120.00                      93                                   8

25     Leoville Barton                    95.5                  $105.00                       94                                   6

27     Troplong Mondot                95.4                 $155.00                        94                                  14

28     Domaine de Chevalier       95.3                  $  85.00                       94                                    1

28     Grand Puy Lacoste             95.3                  $  90.00                       93                                    2

28     Rausan Segla                       95.3                  $120.00                       95                                    9

 

This “Top 30” list can be very useful to you when 2016 Bordeaux futures finally do get offered. There are several advantages to you that this list will bring, such as:

  • If you want the best quality and highest rated wine you can get without paying 1st growth prices, then select a wine with as high an average 2016 score as you can get from this list, I suggest the top 10 wines rated 97 points or higher.
  • If you want the cheapest wines then select a wine from the best buy column rated 1 to 10. Keep in mind that even though these wines should get priced between $85 and $135 per bottle, the lowest rating on all of them is still a very respectable 95.3 points. Frankly I like the thought of being able to buy a 2016 future of Domaine de Chevalier or Grand Puy Lacoste, both rated at 95.3, for less than $100.00 per bottle, knowing that I can get between a case and 15 bottles of either one for less than the price of a single bottle of first growth. Now that is good value!
  • When the 2016 futures do get priced, use the current 2015 price column as a guide, and look for a wine where the 2016 price is closest to the same wine’s 2015 price. In Canada, you should expect all wines to be about 30% higher than the numbers quoted above, so if you see the 2016 Chateau Rausan Segla offered at $150 per bottle in Canada, then the pricing is pretty good.
  • Watch out for properties that have not suffered any frost damage last month raising the prices of their 2016 futures. They really have no reason for doing so, and are only trying to capitalize on the misfortunes of those Chateaux that did suffer losses. You should expect properties such as Ducru Beaucaillou, La Conseillante, and Haut Bailly to raise prices by maybe 15% for two years to recoup their losses and replanting costs, but others who have no frost loss have no such excuse for raising prices.
  • Finally, note that the 2016 score, IN EVERY CASE, is equal to or higher than the 2015 score. This is both an indication that the 2016 vintage is at least as good if not better than 2015, and that 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th growth properties are making steadily improving, first growth level quality wines.

When I look at this Top 30 List I am really excited to see some great choices at close to $100.00 per bottle, such as Domaine de Chevalier ($85.00), Grand Puy Lacoste ($90.00), Pavie Macquin ($100.00), Calon Segur ($105.00), Leoville Barton ($105.00), and Leoville Poyferre ($105.00).

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I am also looking very seriously at some very high scoring wines at some very reasonable prices, such as Pontet Canet (97.25 points, $150.00), Haut Bailly (97 points, $135.00), and Smith Haut Lafite (96.7 points, $115.00).

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These would be my top selections for 2016 futures if you can buy them close to these prices quoted above (remember to add 30% in Canada). Do not be surprised if you cannot get Haut Bailly at $135.00 per bottle, they may have no choice but to raise prices as it appears they have lost about 1/3 of their 2017 crop to frost damage.

So which would you rather have, one bottle of 2016 Chateau Lafite, Latour, or Mouton Rothschild at $1,500 per bottle and scoring 98.3, or 10 bottles of Chateau Pontet Canet at $150.00 per bottle and scoring 97.25. I know for me, the decision is obvious, the price for first growth Bordeaux has increased too fast and way out of proportion to the rest of the market, while at the same time, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th growths have greatly increased quality levels so as to be almost as good as first growths. Plain and simple, this is a crossroads where consumers now have the ability to buy first growth quality in a 3rd, 4th, or 5th growth Chateau at 10% of the cost.

Shop carefully, shop wisely, buy quality in quantity, and follow Reg’s Top 30 list!

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 45, tasting 1988 Chateau Lynch Bages and 1991 Graham’s Vintage Port, April 21, 2017.

In February this year we had the good fortune to taste the 1988 Chateau Lynch Bages, and last month at my son’s birthday dinner we opened a bottle of 1991 Graham’s Vintage Port, from the year he was born. Both were great wines, and worth looking at in more detail.

I bought the 1988 Chateau Lynch Bages in 1992 or 1993 at an LCBO Vintages outlet in Ontario at $43.45 per bottle. This was the last of 3 bottles I had bought. The 1988 vintage at the time was not viewed by critics as outstanding, but it was respectable. It was much better than 1987, which was a complete washout. It was not as tannic or meaty as 1986, but it was more traditional than the softer and fruitier 1985 vintage. And of course it got completely forgotten when the wonderful 1989 and 1990 vintages were harvested. The key adjectives I would attribute to 1988 Bordeaux would be “traditional” and “classic”. I did not buy a lot of wine from 1988, but those that I did buy were meant to mirror or compliment those characteristics, and Chateau Lynch Bages fits well.

The 1988 Chateau Lynch Bages in February 2017 was fully mature and in perfect harmony and balance, showing no signs of advanced age or going downhill. Still a strong rich ruby black in color, long tears ran down the glass after swirling the wine in your glass. On the nose there was wonderful cedar, smoke, black cherry, raspberry and currant aromas. On the palate the wine was in perfect balance, soft, fleshy, round and plump. The classic cedar and cigar box flavors took over, then emerged the fruit, with black berries and currants, figs, and raisins. After the fruit came hints of leather, wet damp earth in a forest, ending with  nice spicy cassis on the finish.

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This was not an overwhelming wine, this was not a blockbuster. This was a mature, rounded, balanced wine, in perfect harmony. The wine improved in the glass, even after having been decanted for over an hour. No sign of being over aged or in decline, but pleasantly parked on a plateau basking in the late afternoon sun. At 29 years of age, I would easily expect this wine to last another 10 years effortlessly, and at least 5 of those years in the current condition. My rating was 93 points, well deserved.

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I was really disappointed when I went to check tasting notes on this wine on www.winesearcher.com while researching what the critics have said about this wine recently. Wine Searcher has 5 critic scores ranging from 93 points to 80 (4 of the 5 over 90 points), the 80 point revue was from La Revue du Vin de France done in June 2000, nothing from Robert Parker (in spite of the fact that he has reviewed this wine 3 times, the latest in June 2000 where he gave it 92 points) and nothing from the Wine Spectator. I don’t know about you, but when I go to check critic reviews I want to see what the best critics are saying, and it is pretty clear to me that when 4 critics appraise the wine at 90 + points and one gives it 80 points, La Revue du Vin de France has clearly goofed, especially when Robert Parker tasted the wine at the same time in June 2000 and gave it 92 points. So what do you think www.winesearcher.com is doing with their sketchy and poor selection of critic reviews? In my opinion they are doing a pretty poor job.

In Parker’s June 2000 review of this wine, where he rated it at 92 points, he expected this wine to keep going strong for another 10-12 years. Well it has been almost 17 years since that date, and this wine is still pristine, and showing all the signs of going another 5-10 years. My reason for going on and on about this is to simply point out that you, as a wine collector and consumer, need to be careful to pay proper attention to the information you get from information websites like www.winesearcher.com or you can be easily misled. Mixed reviews leave doubt, which generally results in one moving on to something else, and in this case you would be really missing out on a classic mature claret in great shape now and for years to come. Too bad that was my last bottle!

The 1991 Graham’s was tasted in late March 2017 on the occasion of my son’s 26th birthday. Eight of us polished off this beauty in record time, so it must have been very good. The 1991 was the first declared vintage port by Graham’s since their 1985, and it was considered to be a small but high quality vintage. This wine has been reviewed in 1993 by Clive Coates for The Vine (magazine) where he rated it 97 points, in 1994 by James Suckling for The Wine Spectator (magazine) where he rated it 93 points, and by Robert Parker for The Wine Advocate (magazine) in 1995 where he rated it 94 points. Parker noted in his comments that the 1991 Graham’s was without a doubt the best port of the vintage. He described the wine as “…explosive nose of black fruits, licorice, spring flowers, and tar. Thick and full bodied, with a satiny texture and a blockbuster, alcoholic finish, this is a top-notch vintage port.”

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When we tasted this port 3 weeks ago, we observed a dark ruby color in the glass, no longer purple/black as it was in its youth. Great glycerin legs in the glass. On the nose this wine was nicely perfumed with aromas of sweet dark berries, grapes, and tar. On the palate any coarse tannins that may have once been present (as noted the last time I tasted this wine 8 years ago) have  faded away, leaving rich fruit flavors of berries, and plums, as well as licorice, tar, tobacco and chocolate. Sweet without being overpowering on the mid palate, giving rise to a long satin smooth chocolate finish. There is still a little sharpness in the alcohol on the finish, but you can tell that this is diminishing as the wine ages. A very pleasant wine that is now only middle aged, and will continue to improve over the next 10 years before it reaches full maturity. This wine will easily last another 20 years, and will only reach its peak in roughly 10 years by 2027. A very fine port that I rated at 94 points. Drink now and hold for further development.

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Unfortunately, once again when I was researching ratings and critic scores for this wine on www.winesearcher.com I ran into bad information. WineSearcher rated the wine at 89 points on the strength of 3 ratings of 80 points from Jancis Robinson (date not mentioned), 92 points from Cellar Tracker, and 93 points from The Wine Spectator. No mention of the Clive Coates rating of 97 points, or the Parker rating of 94 points.

So what is the big deal about ratings and wine scores you might ask? Poor data collating by WineSearcher (not properly compiling critic reviews and scores) causes them to rate the 1991 Graham’s as the second worst Graham’s Vintage Port of the 18 Graham’s Vintage Ports declared since 1990, at 89 points. This is just plain wrong, simply because they included the Jancis Robinson rating and excluded two other much stronger ratings. Bad data leads to an inaccurate rating and a bad rap for a really good wine. The moral of the story, and the message behind this blog is twofold:

  • Old wines properly kept live much longer than the critics expect them to. A wine critic when he/she forecasts a wine’s lifespan will always err on the younger side, they never want to overestimate a wine’s lifespan, and they never want to assume the consumer has state of the art storage conditions. So properly kept, you should expect your wines to last longer than the lifespan predicted by the critics.
  • Do not blindly believe what an information collating site like www.winesearcher.com reports on a wine’s statistics. Do your own homework, use them as just one of several information sources. Their stats are often selective, incomplete, and lead to the wrong conclusions. If you trusted their information to be accurate and complete, your logical conclusion would be to avoid the 1991 Graham’s, and what a mistake that would be. Similarly, you might think the 1988 Chateau Lynch Bages was too old to be bought safely today, and again how wrong you would be.

30 years ago you had no access to online information about critic tasting reports and scores, about latest auction prices, or what wine the Chinese were now buying. Liv-ex and www.winesearcher.com did not exist, and if you wanted tasting reports and scores you subscribed to The Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate publications. You also relied more heavily on your own tasting experience, and that was very important because it taught you more about what you yourself like, not what a particular wine critic likes.

So do yourself a favor, do not rely too heavily on what an information and search website like www.winesearcher.com says about a wine, because inaccurate or incomplete information will often lead you to the wrong conclusion. My suggestion is that you use it as only one source of information, and that you do your own analysis of the facts it presents to you. I will write another blog soon to give additional pointers on how to research wines on an information collating website. But above all else, always remember that there is no substitute for trying these wines yourself. So drink wines young, old, and in between. Learn to recognize the difference between young and tannic verses fully mature, soft and rounded, and decide for yourself which you prefer. This is all part of your wine learning and appreciation experience.

Learning what you like can be so much fun!

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 44, 2016 Bordeaux – Best Wines and Best Buys

Wine critic reviews of the 2016 Bordeaux wines have started, with James Suckling releasing his thoughts at the end of March, and most recently James Molesworth the first week of April. So far critics are very high on the vintage, especially James Suckling who says this is a strong year for Medoc and Grave wines, especially in Pauillac and St.Estephe. Suckling rates an astonishing 23 wines between 98 and 100 points. Within that group of wines there will be some relative bargains that you should watch closely for.

By contrast James Molesworth is more conservative with his praise and his ratings, rating 15 wines at 95 points or higher. In total, we have seen James Suckling review 92 different Bordeaux wines from the 2016 vintage (both red and white), and he has rated all but one of those wines at 90 points or higher. That is high praise indeed. James Molesworth has released ratings so far on only his top 37 wines which all range from 93 to 100 points. But oddly enough Molesworth has either not included yet or has not sampled yet all the first growth wines and all three of the wines that James Suckling has rated at 100 points.

Missing in action so far are some important wine critics such as Neal Martin, Jancis Robinson, and Antonio Galloni, so it is a little early yet to form any final opinions.

In my earlier blog # 41 on February 28th I noted that Gavin Quinny, Bordeaux grower/winemaker and frequent writer for Liv-ex, has described the 2016 Bordeaux vintage as an especially good year for Merlot, therefore favoring Pomerol and St. Emilion. Now we have James Suckling describing 2016 as a Left Bank Year, meaning the best wines are from the Medoc and Graves regions, particularly in Pauillac and St. Estephe, where Merlot is not as prevalent. So we clearly have differing opinions, and therein lies opportunity for consumers and investors.

I have also been talking in Blog # 41 and earlier blogs about how Bordeaux first growths have been pricing themselves right out of the market for the average Bordeaux collector, and therefore the need to migrate to other less expensive alternatives where the quality is almost as good as first growth at 10% to 20% of the cost. First growth Bordeaux from 2015 and 2016 is going to hit retail shelves at an estimated $1,000 to $1,200 CDN per bottle. So with Bordeaux 2016 futures soon to be offered, where will the smart money get the best quality for the lowest price?

I looked at the ratings from both James Suckling and James Molesworth for the 2016 Bordeaux vintage, specifically looking for the cheapest wines with the highest ratings by comparing the 2016 ratings against today’s prices for the not yet released 2015 vintage on www.winesearcher.com. I think this is a fair comparison because I expect the 2015 and 2016 vintages to be similarly priced. I came up with my top ten suggestions for 2016 Bordeaux futures, check out my list below:

  • Chateau Leoville Barton – rated 95-96 by Suckling and 96-99 by Molesworth at $100 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 94 points. This price is only 10% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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  • Chateau Calon Segur – rated 98-99 by Suckling and 94-97 by Molesworth at $100 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 93 points. This price is only 10% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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  • Clos Fourtet – rated 95-96 by Suckling and 96-99 by Molesworth at $130 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 94 points. This price is only 13% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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  • Chateau Haut Bailly – rated 98-99 by Suckling and not yet rated by Molesworth at $130 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 96 points. This price is only 13% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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  • Chateau Pontet Canet – rated 98-99 by Suckling and not yet rated by Molesworth at $145 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 95 points. This price is only 14.5% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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  • Chateau Lynch Bages – rated 98-99 by Suckling and 96-99 by Molesworth at $150 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 93 points. This price is only 15% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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  • Chateau Pichon Baron – rated 98-99 by Suckling and 96-99 by Molesworth at $170 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 95 points. This price is only 17% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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  • Chateau La Conseillante – rated 99-100 by Suckling and 93-96 by Molesworth at $205 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 94 points. This price is only 20.5% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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  • Chateau Figeac – rated 96-97 by Suckling and 95-98 by Molesworth at $210 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 95 points. This price is only 21% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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  • Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou – rated 97-98 points by Suckling and 97-100 points by Molesworth at $215 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 95 points. This price is only 21.5% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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Well I don’t know which you prefer, snob appeal or value for your money, but I would much prefer getting 10 bottles of Chateau Leoville Barton or Chateau Calon Segur for the price of one bottle of Lafite or Latour, especially if the critics view them to be of similar quality. So while first growth estates have raised their prices relentlessly, lesser chateaux have been busy focusing on raising the quality of their wines to the point where today they are very similar in quality to the big names. We as consumers therefore have a tremendous opportunity here to send a clear message by switching to much cheaper 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th growth wines without sacrificing much in quality. Hopefully, if enough people switch to better value the first growth producers will stop raising prices as much as they have been doing over the last 5 years.

30 years ago the 1982 vintage was on store shelves, Chateau Lafite, along with Latour, Margaux, Mouton Rothschild, and Haut Brion were all selling retail for $40 US per bottle, and all rated 95 points plus by Parker. At $25 you could get all the super 2nd growths like Leoville Las Cases, Pichon Lalande, and Palmer. At $15 to $20 you could get everything else like Ducru Beaucaillou, Cos D’Estournel, Figeac, L’Evangile, etc. Super seconds were rated at 92-95 points, just one rung down the ladder and frankly for the additional $15 per bottle it was much easier to just buy the best.

By contrast, today the difference between second growths and first growths is completely different. In terms of price the first growths are going to hit store shelves at over $1,000 per bottle, while second growths will cost about $400 per bottle. So that price differential is going to be $600 per bottle, that is very significant. But, as this article clearly demonstrates, there will be many high quality 3rd, 4th, and 5th growth wines in the $100 to $150 range. Perhaps the biggest and best surprise is that several of those have upgraded their quality so much that some of them are equal to or better than the 1st growth wines. My how times have changed!

My personal favorites among my top ten suggestions above are Calon Segur, Leoville Barton, Pontet Canet, Pichon Baron, and Ducru Beaucaillou. In great years these are all fabulous wines.

Watch for these names when the 2016 futures become available, I expect these will sell out quickly. Happy hunting.

Reg.

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 43, the wines of d’Arenberg, Australian wines worth knowing, March 23, 2017.

I love the d’Arenberg lineup of wines offered by the Osborn family. When I researched this blog before writing it I was amazed to learn that d’Arenberg makes 63 different wines, of which I had tasted only 14 prior to writing this blog. That means they make 49 more different wines that I had not yet tasted, wow.

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The Osborne family, led by Chester Osborne, 4th generation winemaker, have been making wine at the d’Arenberg estate in the McClaren Vale area of South East Australia (just south of Adelaide) since 1912. Chester took over from his father d’Arry in 1984. The estate took its name from d’Arry’s mother Helena d’Arenberg in 1959.

D’Arenberg produces both single grape varietal wines, and blends. They produce whites and reds, they produce sparkling wines, sweet dessert wines, ports, and they produce a lot of single vineyard Shiraz reds. The single vineyard reds are meant to showcase the different flavors brought out by different soils (terroir). The estate produces all organic wines, with little or no use of pesticides, fertilizers, and irrigation. To control weed growth in the vineyards they use sheep, which also do double duty as a natural fertilizer source. The winery uses traditional production methods, including foot trodding (see photo at end of this blog) to crush the grapes, basket pressing, no fining or filtration prior to bottling, and very minimal use of oak so as not to mask or artificially enhance the natural grape flavors.

This all sounds delicious and very healthy, but there is more. The estate produces grapes from up to 33 different grape varieties, and includes in the whites Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, and in the reds Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Mourvedre, Merlot, and others in various blends.

Perhaps one of the most interesting features of this estate is the very unique names given to the various wines they produce. Names such as “The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne”, “The Footbolt Shiraz”, and “The Custodian Grenache” are all unique enough, but many of the others are hilarious. Take for instance “The Noble Mud Pie Viognier Arneis” or “The Noble Botryotinea Fuckeliana Semillon Sauvignon Blanc” in their sweet dessert wines, or “The Feral Fox Pinot Noir”, “The Broken Fishplate Sauvignon Blanc”, “The Witches Brew Chardonnay”, or how about some of their many single vineyard Shiraz wines such as “The Fruit Bat”, “The Swinging Malaysian”, or “Shipster’s Rapture”. All these names have a specific meaning, which the estate explains on their website in a one page summary about each wine. I particularly enjoyed the explanations behind some of their more colorful wine names such as “The Daddy Long Legs Extremely Rare NV” and “The Old Bloke and The Three Young Blondes Shiraz, Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne”. Check them out for yourself by visiting their website at www.darenberg.com.au .

D’Arenberg does not publish any breakdown of production levels for each their 63 different wines produced, so it is difficult to know how much they produce and sell of each different wine. They do buy a lot of fruit from other growers in the region (from 120 other growers covering 700 hectares of vineyards) to supplement the 200 hectares of their own under cultivation. Their total annual production is about 4,500 tons of grapes.

In two of my previous blogs I have tasted and rated three d’Arenberg wines. In my blog # 7 February 23, 2016 I rated the 2012 d’Arry’s Original, a 50/50 Shiraz/Grenache blend, and one of their flagship products. A steady performer year after year, I rated the wine at 17/20. In my blog # 37 December 21, 2016 I rated the 2012 Stump Jump Shiraz at 17/20, and the 2011 Laughing Magpie, a Shiraz/Viognier blend at 18.5/20. In fact I judged them to be the top two wines of the tasting, giving the edge to The Stump Jump for being the best price/quality wine of the evening at $17.50 per bottle.

So I decided it would be a good idea to host a tasting totally dedicated to tasting the wines of d’Arenberg, which was held recently on March 10th. We tasted 10 wines, 4 white and 6 red, with dinner. The only repeat wine tasted on this evening was The Laughing Magpie, all the others were new to me. The wines were all priced between $20.00 and $31.50 CDN, and the idea was to give our tasters a wider appreciation of the many different styles of wine made by Chester Osborne under the d’Arenberg label.

We tasted the following wines in order, see my comments below:

  • The Dry Dam Riesling / 2016 / $19.95 / SAQ # 11155788 / citrus and lemon, not too steely and dry, just the right level of sweetness and residual sugar, goes great with shrimp cocktail, very pleasant / 90 pts.
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  • The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne / 2015 / $20.60 / SAQ # 10829269 / citrus without acidity, full fat and round, ginger, nuts, soft delicate fruits with a spicy trailer / 88 pts.
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  • The Olive Grove Chardonnay / 2015 / $20.55 / SAQ # 11950360 / full thick Chardonnay with olive taste and citrus, nice offsets and balance between the citrus and olives on the aftertaste, leaves a light and refreshing aftertaste, not oaky or overpowering / 89 pts.
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  • The Money Spider Roussanne / 2015 / $22.70 / SAQ # 10748397 / rich and loaded with fruits of all kinds, soft fat and rounded, great legs on the glass, the combined effect is greater than the sum of the individual taste components, this was the best white / 92 pts.
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  • The Galvo Garage / 2011 / $29.00 / SAQ # 11155876 / the wine has good legs but was harsh, astringent and thin, this was a major disappointment and most likely a bad bottle / 85 pts.
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  • The Twenty Eight Road Mourvedre / 2011 / $31.50 / SAQ # 10250804 / you can taste the iodine on the palate and smell it in the nose, comes up flat on the finish in spite of a rounded fleshy grape feel, very odd and off balanced wine, again could be a bad bottle / 86 pts.
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  • The Custodian Grenache / 2013 / $22.65 / SAQ # 10748389 / thick, chewy, great legs, cherries, spicy on the aftertaste and keeps improving in the glass, definitely a wine to buy, to drink now or hold for improvement / 91 pts.
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  • The Footbolt Shiraz / 2013 / $21.95 / SAQ # 10959717 / spice and smoke covering the rich Shiraz fruit, more supple flavors of mushrooms, leather and tobacco, chewy round tannins, pairs nicely with beef, will take more age, buy to drink now or hold / 90 pts.
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  • The Love Grass Shiraz / 2013 / $24.75 / SAQ # 12882864 / very dry, mouth puckering tannins make it hard to cut through to the underlying fruit flavors, there is evidence of earthen tones, smoke, and sour cherries, but any elegance and balance you might expect in this wine is overshadowed by the oh so very dry tannins, maybe time will improve the balance and tone down the tannins / 89 pts.
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  • The Laughing Magpie / 2012 / $27.95 / SAQ # 10250855 / dark fruit with earth, spice and herbs, sits full and fruity on the palate, balanced and young, will age and open up more to further secondary aromas and tastes in 3-5 years, buy to cellar / 90 pts. (Note that in my blog # 37 from December 21, 2016 that I rated The Laughing Magpie 2011 vintage at 92.5 points, similar but more evolved in the bottle being one year older).
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To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the reds, there were three I did not like at all, being The Galvo Garage, The Twenty Eight Road Mourvedre, and The Love Grass Shiraz. That was a surprise given they were all more expensive wines. The wines were all opened 6 hours before the tasting so they had plenty of time to breathe and open up, and given that The Custodian Grenache was still improving in the glass, the weaker reds cited above should have been opening up by the time they were tasted, and they did not.

The best performing wines of the evening were, in order:

  • The Money Spider Roussanne 2015 – $22.70 – 92 pts.
  • The Custodian Grenache 2013 – $22.65 – 91 pts.
  • The Dry Dam Riesling 2016 – $19.95 – 90 pts.
  • The Footbolt Shiraz 2013 – $21.95 – 90 pts.
  • The Laughing Magpie 2012 – $27.95 – 90 pts.
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Buy any of these five wines now to drink or hold, they are all reasonably priced.

Prior to this tasting I have had the pleasure of tasting 14 different d’Arenberg wines, with this tasting I have added another 9 wines to that total (having previously tasted The Laughing Magpie in December). It amazes me that even though I have now tasted 23 different d’Arenberg wines, there are still another 40 of their wines that I have yet to taste. Some critics think that winemaker Chester Osborn is scattered too thin by managing the production of so many different wines, and having tasted three reds above that did disappoint, I can understand how some critics might think that way. However, we cannot blame the winemaker for those poor showings when they could just as easily be caused by poor transportation or storage.

I have tasted some of Chester Osborn’s top of the line products, including The Dead Arm Shiraz, The Ironstone Pressings Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre, and The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon from various vintages. These retail today at between $50.00 and $55.00 per bottle in the SAQ (Quebec) and the LCBO (Ontario). In fact The Dead Arm Shiraz 2012 vintage, rated by James Suckling at 94 points, is available now at the SAQ for $50.00, and at the LCBO for $54.95. These wines represent great value for the money, easily the equivalent of a $150.00 to $200.00 California Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux classified growth. They also reward medium term aging of 5 – 10 years in the cellar.

 

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So with d’Arenberg’s excellent value in their Stump Jump wines (there are 7 of them: the Sauvignon Blanc, the Riesling, the White, the Lightly Wooded Chardonnay, the Shiraz, the Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, and the Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre), all priced in the $17.00 – $18.50 price range, along with their very reasonably priced top quality icons, d’Arenberg is producing great wine at eye opening attractive prices.

Personally, I find it very refreshing to find a talented, prolific winemaker and producer like Chester Osborn pumping out a full lineup of high quality and reasonably priced wines.

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Cheers to Chester (that is him on the left raising his glass), keep up the great work!

Reg.