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.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 46-7Reg's Wine Blog - photo 46-12Reg's Wine Blog - photo 46-9

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).

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 46-28Reg's Wine Blog - photo 46-29Reg's Wine Blog - photo 46-23

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 46-21Reg's Wine Blog - photo 46-26Reg's Wine Blog - photo 46-22

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).

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 46-5Reg's Wine Blog - photo 46-9Reg's Wine Blog - photo 46-15

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.

reg's wine blog - photo 45.4

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.

reg's wine blog - photo 45.3

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.”

reg's wine blog - photo 45.2

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.

reg's wine blog - photo 45.1

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.
  • reg's wine blog - photo 44-10
  • 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.
  • reg's wine blog - photo 44-13
  • 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.
  • reg's wine blog - photo 44-9
  • 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.
  • reg's wine blog - photo 44.14
  • 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.
  • reg's wine blog - photo 44-1
  • 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.
  • reg's wine blog - photo 44-6
  • 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.
  • reg's wine blog - photo 44-5
  • 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.
  • reg's wine blog - photo 44-12
  • 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.
  • reg's wine blog - photo 44-11
  • 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.
  • reg's wine blog - photo 44-8

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.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 43.16

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.
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 43.7
  • 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.
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 43.6
  • 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.
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 43.10
  • 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.
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 43.3
  • 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.
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 43.2
  • 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.
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 43.4
  • 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.
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 43.9
  • 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.
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 43.8
  • 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.
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 43.5
  • 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).
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 43.1

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.
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 43.14

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 43.15

 

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 43.11

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.

 

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 43.21

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.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 43.20

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

Reg.

 

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Bordeaux price/quality trends, Post # 41, February 28, 2017

A week ago Liv-ex posted a blog update on the 2016 Bordeaux vintage as well as an updated ratings report from several major wine critics on the 2014 Bordeaux vintage now that it has been bottled. I found the results quite interesting and thought I would share my thoughts with you now.

According to Gavin Quinny, himself a Bordeaux grower and winemaker, as well as the author of the Liv-ex blog post in question, the 2016 Bordeaux harvest was the largest since 2006, producing 577 million litres of wine with 10% less vineyard acreage under cultivation. According to Gavin, this was a Merlot harvest, with the Cabernet Sauvignon not performing as well due to severe heat stress June through August. This usually means that Pomerol and St-Emilion will perform better than Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac, St-Estephe, and Pessac Leognan. Often we forget that these prestigious Appelations account for only 10% of overall Bordeaux production, and the sweet wine of Sauterne and Barsac accounts for only another 1%. By far the bulk of production is in the Vins de France and Vins de Pays designated wines, and it is in these categories where production has almost doubled in 2016 compared to previous years. In fact, Gavin also states that this is now the 3rd good Bordeaux vintage in a row, see link below to Gavin’s full article:

http://www.insights.liv-ex.com/2017/02/bordeaux-2016-largest-harvest-since-2006.html?mc_cid=ef2db154dc&mc_eid=d9373685f8

So we appear to be swimming in a sea of high quality Bordeaux wine, and in theory that should mean that prices will go down. Instead, as you know from my previous blog posts 22 and 23 last June 2016, consumers were hit with 20% to 50% plus price increases on their favorite 2015 Bordeaux futures. Ouch, that was cruel, with 1st growth Bordeaux from the 2015 vintage being offered last year as futures for prices ranging from $1,000 CDN to $1,200 CDN per bottle.

Also of interest in the same Liv-ex blog last week was another article reviewing wine critics scores for the 2014 Bordeaux now that the wine is in the bottle. Critics usually rate the wine initially while the young wine is still aging in the barrel, giving it a quality range, such as 91-94 points, allowing for wine scores to either increase or decrease once the wine is finally in the bottle. So this Liv-ex article was interesting because it recapped the critics wine scores for the now bottled 2014 vintage, see link below:

http://www.insights.liv-ex.com/2017/02/bordeaux-2014-scores-bottle.html?mc_cid=ef2db154dc&mc_eid=d9373685f8

Although Neal Martin of The Wine Advocate has yet to review the 2014 Bordeaux since it has been bottled, Liv-ex did report on the revised ratings of James Molesworth (Wine Spectator), James Suckling (ex Wine Spectator and now on his own), and Antonio Galloni (ex Wine Advocate and now at Vinous). James Suckling was the most bullish at raising his ratings on his top ten 2014 Bordeaux wines in bottle. He has scored eight of his top ten wines higher than his initial range, and the other two wines at the top of his initial range. His biggest surprises are Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou rated at an impressive 99 points,

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.2

and both Chateau Cos D’Estournel and Chateau Leoville Las Cases rated at 98 points.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.3

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.4

Antonio Galloni scored his top ten wines at the top of his initial ratings ranges, while James Molesworth was more conservative by rating his top ten in the middle of his original ratings ranges. Worth noting was that both Molesworth and Galloni gave Vieux Chateau Certan high marks (Molesworth 96 and Galloni 97).

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.8

 

Galloni also gave Chateau Pichon Baron Longueville and Chateau Calon Segur high marks at 97 and 96 points respectively.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.6

 

Reg's Wine blog - photo 41.9

What I particularly like about this Liv-ex article is that we can see the continuing of a trend towards much more choice for the consumer looking for top quality wine at much lower prices. In years gone by you would see the usual first growth wines in the top ten with one or two other Bordeaux wines. By the time the 2009 and 2010 vintages were in the bottle, Parker had rated 19 wines from the 2009 vintage at a perfect 100 points, and 10 more from the 2010 vintage as well. You will recall that 5th growth Chateau Pontet Canet was rated a perfect 100 points in both 2009 and 2010.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.7

So this trend continues today, with Ducru Beaucaillou, Cos D’Estournel, Leoville Las Cases, Vieux Chateau Certan, Pichon Baron Longueville, and Calon Segur all getting high scores at or above the ratings given to 1st growth Bordeaux.

Does that mean it is time to stop buying Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Haut Brion and Mouton Rothschild? No, not necessarily, if you have $1,000 or more to spend per bottle then by all means go right ahead and do so. But honestly, if you can get the same quality of wine out of a bottle costing you $250, would you not rather prefer to have 4 bottles of great wine for the price of one bottle of first growth?

The LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) just ended their last futures offering of 2014 Bordeaux last week, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were several great values still to be had from their list, including the following, to name but a few:

  • Chateau Canon                                                       95-96               $109.00
  • Chateau D’Armailhac                                            93-94               $ 79.00
  • Chateau Gruard Larose                                        93-94               $112.00
  • Chateau Lynch Bages                                           95-96               $199.00
  • Chateau Pichon Baron Longueville                   95-96               $199.00
  • Chateau Rauzan Segla                                          94-95               $125.00
  • Chateau Talbot                                                      94-95                $ 89.00

 

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.15Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.10Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.11Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.12Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.17Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.16

The 2014 vintage will start hitting store shelves later this year, and when it does you can expect to see the above prices 30% higher. And that will be the last time that you see the 1st growths at or near $1,000 per bottle. The 2015 1st growths will hit the shelves in late 2018 at $1,300 – $1,500 per bottle. If I had to guess on how the trade will price the 2016 vintage, I would think most owners will price their wines similar to their 2015 prices. They will not lower prices, because that would simply cannibalize and hurt their 2015 sales in 2018. I also do not expect they will raise prices very much because they have a lot of good quality wine in the system, and they do not want to price themselves right out of the market. Besides, I think a lot of retail sticker price shock is yet to come when the major price hike last year on the 2015 vintage finally hits the retail shelves in September 2018.

Smart buyers will be buying high quality cheaper 2014 Bordeaux as the last of the futures offerings close out now (if still available), and snapping up the best 2014 bargains that hit retail shelves later this fall. They will also be watching closely for the odd bargain when the 2015 futures get re offered again this year. There is no doubt that 1st growth prices are going to be driving more and more people to look for the same quality in a cheaper bottle. Fortunately, there is an ample selection of high quality cheaper alternatives, and plenty of critics and advice to guide you towards those alternatives.

Ah, the free enterprise system is alive and well. Happy hunting!

Reg.