Bordeaux in Blue Jeans

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 08-19-2015

Jeans (Source: Wikimedia)

Source: Wikimedia

Discover the comfortable and accessible wines from Côtes de Bordeaux.

Generally I prefer not to recycle the marketing lines pitched to me in an effort to taste a wine or attend an event, but in this case, it is too fitting. The wines of Côtes de Bordeaux really are like “Bordeaux in Blue Jeans.”

The Côtes de Bordeaux falls outside of the five classified hierarchies in Bordeaux, the most obvious of those being the 1855 classification, but also including one for Graves, one for St. Émilion, the Crus Bourgeois, and Cru Artisan. The Côtes are a collection of four regions that have banded together under the appellation name.

“Côtes” translates to slopes and “Bordeaux” literally means “the side of the water.” The Côtes de Bordeaux are hillside vineyards, mostly south or southeastern facing, on the right bank of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. The four regions, in order of size, include Blaye, Castillon, Cadillac, and Francs.

Frankly, the appellation is much more about camaraderie and marketing nomenclature than it is about geology and terroir (i.e., 50 miles separates northern Blaye from southern Cadillac, not mentioning the fact that they are on different rivers). That said, what the regions do have in common is they tend to produce accessible wines, both in terms of profile and price, which are perfectly suited for everyday. A la jeans.

As expected given the clay-limestone rich soils of the right bank, the wines are predominantly Merlot-driven. Edouard Bourgeois, sommelier at Café Boulud, summarizes the appellation’s approach and style saying, “These family-run wineries proudly make approachable, affordable, Merlot-based cuvees. They aspire to a different Bordeaux that uses little or no oak and produce wines that don’t require aging and are perfect for by the glass programs or casual meals at home.”

In total, the Côtes de Bordeaux makes 5.5 million cases annually (of the 57 million in Bordeaux) from 941 producers (of the 6,800 in Bordeaux).

A map and quick descriptions of each region are below:

Cotes de Bordeaux map

Blaye: Northernmost region – just across the Gironde from Margaux and Saint-Julien. Blaye’s history dates back 2,000+ years when it was a prized Roman vineyard. Limestone cliffs and some clay.

Castillon: Ridges and plateau of limestone as you move away from the Dordogne. Here you’ll find very similar, but sometimes higher elevation terroir than Saint-Emilion. Closer to the river, the soil is predominantly clay with sand.

Francs: Pale limestone clay soils with several high elevation plots. Dry continental climate with cold winters and hot, sunny summers. Only 46 wine producers in this small region.

Cadillac: Southernmost region in the Cotes de Bordeaux appellation, lining the shore of the Garonne. Limestone (sometimes below shallow loam), a variety of clays (including a thick blue clay like in Pomerol) and stony, fine gravel. It’s warmer and sunnier here, which makes the reds more susceptible to rot, so it’s difficult to always let the grapes hang long enough to ripen in the acidic limestone soil.

La Cuvee Bistrot du Puy ArnaudRECOMMENDED BOTTLES
Chateau Robin (Castillon)
 SRP $19
A perfect bistrot wine. Round and plump, but enough acidity to match food.

Chateau Cap de Faugeres 2010 (Castillon)
SRP $18.99
Dark plummy perfume and a rich palate.

La Cuvee Bistrot de Puy Arnaud 2012 (Castillon)
SRP: $25
Biodynamic estate. A fun wine – 100% Merlot grown on limestone soil. Semi-carbonic maceration, all stainless steel. Serve it slightly chilled with the end-of-summer dishes.

Chateau Cru Godard 2011 (Francs)
SRP $17
Organic. Packed with peppery spice and begging for simply prepared meat.

Chateau Lamothe de Haux Valentine par Valentine 2011 (Cadillac)
 SRP: $28
Juicy and easy to drink with a nice vein of minerality.

* In full disclosure, I wrote this article before I started a new job, but I’m now working for a Bordeaux negociant and importer.


Millennial Wine Drinkers at Restaurants

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 02-24-2015

Millennials. Drinking Wine. At a Restaurant.

Millennials. Drinking Wine. At a Restaurant.

Millennials are a popular, nay hyped, topic among those in the wine industry. Wine marketers excitedly chase this demographic with the latest packaging, social media campaign, or on-trend red blend.

As a millennial myself, I tend to roll my eyes when I see wine news interspersed with phrases like, “targeted at millennial consumers,” “aimed at millennial males,” or “courting a new generation of wine drinkers.” Note: all of those are pulled from the last week of industry newsletters. Usually what follows, to my millennial sensibilities, seems insincere and manipulative. I want something that is authentic and truly appeals to me vs. a product and campaign that’s attempting to get more share of my wallet.

Plenty of research studies, both within and outside of the wine industry, are directionally useful to understanding younger wine drinkers. Gallo’s latest Consumer Wine Trends Survey featured a number of findings about millennials. The Wine Market Council has put out a succession of media alerts highlighting its recent annual research, including millennial consumption trends. Or for a more general understanding, the idea and content engine, psfk, publishes frequent opinion pieces covering millennial marketing and case studies. Given the hotness of this topic, the list of sources goes on.

However, in my opinion, the most insightful way to learn and to gain credibility with millennials is to go right to the source. Fill in the holes of millennial truisms with your own conversations & experiences, and with the experiences of others who are on the frontline of working with millennials.

To this end, I had the chance at this month’s Vino2015 to listen to a panel discussion all about Echo Boomers Growing Impact in the wine world. This panel included Jack Mason, wine director at Marta, a Union Square Hospitality Group restaurant modeled on the “rustic tradition of Roman pizzerie.” Jack, himself a 27-year old millennial, provided extremely useful and resonant primary observations on what millennial wine drinkers seek in their dining experiences.

He began, “Millennials are lazy and rebellious. They want to be in the know and they want a unique experience.” Read the rest of this entry »

Tasting by Shape and Feel

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 02-05-2015

While attending a New Zealand wine seminar last year, I tweeted:

Nick describes his Rippon 2009 Pinot, “It has layered, linear feel & phenolic drive forward.” #nzwine Tasting by ‘shape & energy’ is #hard.

Nick Mills, owner & winemaker at Rippon in New Zealand, was discussing how he likes to think about his wines beyond descriptions of flavors, but rather consider the shape, feel, and energy of the wine. Throughout the rest of the tasting, I made a concerted effort to observe and think about the texture and energy of the wines I tried. I struggled. Finding the vocabulary to express the “life” of a wine in that specific way really is hard.

Like many curious drinkers, I first learned to taste by attempting to copy the flavor and aroma profiles detailed in the oft obscure language of wine reviews and publications. E.g., “Toast and brown sugar notes frame crisp black cherry and plum flavors…” is a description used to review one of Rippon’s wines in the Wine Enthusiast.

I then moved on to the more structured, deductive language of WSET tasting notes – dry with medium acidity, medium tannin, light body, and flavor characteristics of [insert WSET approved floral/fruits, spice/vegetable, and oak/other notes here].

These methods are both useful in that they provide a familiar and somewhat common language for people to use when describing wine. They also require a degree of mindfulness, which Laura Mowrey recently notes, is a beautiful and valuable thing when tasting wine.

Another important way of tasting and remembering wine is, of course, through experience. For example, when I smell a Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc, I’m brought back to my sister visiting me at my first apartment in New York. Or as David heard a participant express in a seminar, wines can be likened to people or art…or to characters, music, or places. This way of talking about wine adds a memorable and personal dimension to what we taste.

However, Nick’s concept of tasting by the actual shape or energy of a wine was something foreign to me, especially when I tried to do it while removing all the other ways I’d previously learned to taste wine. And upon further thought & conversation with Nick, I realized this exercise was silly anyway. It’s about the whole, and about expanding the way we taste, vs. one prescriptive formula. So, let’s get a little geeky and expand. See my interview with Nick below the fold.
Read the rest of this entry »

White Rioja and Red Sancerre

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 11-12-2014

White Rioja on ice at an event 07/2013

White Rioja on ice at an event in NYC, 07/2013

The joy of discovery and the unexpected is one of the great delights in drinking wine.

Rioja typically conjures up images of luscious, oak-aged red wines made from Tempranillo. And, of course, Sancerre immediately brings to mind refreshing, lively, and mineral-driven white wines. Rightly so given that 85% of wines made in Rioja are red and 80% of the volume in Sancerre is white.

However, both Rioja and Sancerre have fun surprises in terms of their lesser known, respective white and red counterparts.

White Rioja

As the prevalence of Rioja wines grows in the U.S. (45% increase in Rioja exports over the last three years, according to Vibrant Rioja), consumers may see more and more white varietals on the market. Be prepared: there is a vast amount of diversity among the whites of the region – ranging from mellow and lightly herbal to powerful and smoky.

I attended a tasting of Riojas Blancos sponsored by Vibrant Rioja and discovered whites across the style spectrum. Some are great for lighter fare and some demand weightier and richer dishes of the fall’s cooler months. (Note: The whites of Rioja follow the same categories as the reds with Young, Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva, but with slightly different aging requirements).

Tasting notes of the wines, including a couple white Tempranillos, are below:

  • Muriel Blanco, 2012 Bodegas Muriel, $11/bottle: 100% Viura. Pale colored; lightly herbal with notes of lemon-lime and white peach. Mellow and easy sipping.
  • Dinastia Vivanco Blanco 2012, Bodegas Dinastia Vivanco, $12/bottle: Blend of Viura, Malvasia, and Tempranillo Blanco. Green-tinged and pale; strongly herbaceous and grassy (like “grassy” grassy, if you know what I mean) on the nose. On the palate, apple, sweet herbs, and fresh-cut grass.
  • ‘Inspiracion Vademar” Tempranillo Blanco 2011, Bodegas Valdemar, $23/bottle: 100% Tempranillo. Intense yellow in color; tropical peach, pineapple, and honeysuckle. Papaya, sea salt, and peach cobbler finish.
  • Placet Valtomelloso Blanco 2008, Bodegas Palacio Remondo, $25/bottle: 100% Viura. Reminiscent of oak and smoke on the nose; vanilla cream on the palate held in tension with the grassy, limey characteristics typical of Viura; texturally thick and oily; long finish.
  • Marques de Murrieta Capellania Reserva Blanco 2007, Bodegas Marques de Murrieta, $23/bottle: 100% Viura. The nose gives the impression of a slightly oxidative wine; nutty and waxy on the palate with a salty finish. A little like a Fino Sherry in profile.

Red Sancerre

When there is no Beaujolais to be found, or I should say red Bojo, since the region does make a small amount of white wine (~1% of production), red Sancerre is a lovely alternative. Read the rest of this entry »

Something Special in the Swartland

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 10-21-2014

If you doubt the quality of South African wine, the Swartland will make you a believer. Thanks to terroir, winemaking philosophy, camaraderie, and personality, there is something special going on there.

Named after the indigenous rhino bush that turns the soil a dark color during certain times of the year, the Swartland – which translates as “black land” — is about one hour north of Cape Town. In appearance, the Swartland is reminiscent of the Texas wild west combined with a Mediterranean climate. It has a rugged terrain and an untamed, wild personality complete with gnarly bush vines, rocky soils, and seemingly unkempt planted rows. It’s also a very hot region, tempered by the altitude and by the neighboring Atlantic Ocean.


Eben Sadie of Sadie Family Wines describes the region and his decision to make wine there in this way: “Why the Swartland? There are no people there! It’s the biggest appellation in terms of size in South Africa. And we have some of the best soil — iron rich soil like the Douro and also brutal, pure granite.”

The winemaking style is most loudly all about dry farming, old bush vines, and minimal intervention. Appropriately summarized by a South African Tourism article, “This minimalist, some might say old-fashioned, philosophy is at the center of a winemaking revolution, spearheaded by a new generation of boutique, family-run, and garagiste producers.”

Old bush vines in the Swartland

Old bush vines in the Swartland

The people of this “revolution” are mostly making Rhone-style whites and reds, along with some Chenin Blanc.

Originally, I was struck by the exceptional whites of the Swartland. Of all the wines I tasted over a week-plus stay in South Africa, the only one I brought home was a Swartland white — more specifically, Palladius from Sadie Family Wines. The blend of 10 grapes has layers of textures and flavors that hit all over the palate — a lush mouthfeel turns to a touch of smoke and then a refreshing zip of fresh apple and chalky stone, followed by lemon and white flowers, and a long, satisfying finish. Yum.

Terroir-driven "recipe" for Palladius

Terroir-driven “recipe” for Palladius

More recently, I had a chance to experience a more in-depth tasting of the reds from the Swartland during a vertical tasting with Eben (see our previous interview with him here). We tasted through his Columella line (a blend of Rhone grapes, mostly Syrah), from his very first vintage in 2000 through his current release, the 2012. There wasn’t a dud in the line-up.

That said, Eben’s maturity and viewpoints as a winemaker punctuated various vintages throughout the tasting. For example: Read the rest of this entry »

An Exploration of Older Beaujolais

Posted by | Posted in Wine Education | Posted on 09-15-2014

1998 Domaine J. Chamonard Morgon Le Clos de Lys. Beautifully aged Beaujolais.

1998 Domaine J. Chamonard Morgon Le Clos de Lys. Gracefully aged Beaujolais.

I adore Beaujolais. It has elegance, freshness, purity of fruit, and invigorating acidity, all with a slight touch of earthiness. When served slightly chilled, a glass of Beaujolais makes the perfect companion to a summer meal. It’s sippable and gulpable.

Among the wine press, it’s not unusual to find praises for Beaujolais and recently even for aged Beaujolais. In July’s Grape Collective article, David wrote that Beaujolais was one of the greatest secrets in wine. In the FT’s “Aged Beaujolais,” Jancis wrote that leading producers in the region were making “serious wine” and that Bojo, has been seriously underpriced for years.

Given my adoration for younger Beaujolais, I have been curious about older vintages and whether they can be as alluring at similarly great values. To test this, I first attended a vertical seminar at David Bouley Test Kitchen with Georges Dubouef, which included  the newly released 2013′s, as well as wines going back to the 2005 & 2009 vintages.

The good news was that the younger Cru wines represented fantastic values and provided all the liveliness and freshness that you’d expect. They were friendly, pleasurable pours. With most selling below $25 SRP, these wines are reliably good buys. The Georges Duboeuf Morgon Jean E. Descombes 2013 was perfumed with violets and juicy raspberry. The 2013 Julienas Chateau des Capitans was racy with deeper blue fruit and spice. The Moulin-a-Vent 2013 was reminiscent of mint, tea, and licorice.

The bad news is that I was disappointed by the older vintages. Expectedly, they’d lost the fruit and vigor of the younger examples, but sadly there was nothing left to replace it. I found the wines were one-dimensional and tired, even at just four or five years old.

RECOMMENDED PRODUCERS FOR AGE-WORTHY BEAUJOLAISBeaujolais from Jean-Paul Brun, Louis Claude Desvignes, Paul Janin, Clos de la Roilette Cuvee Tardive are aging extremely well. Foillard Morgon Cote de Py also ages pretty well, while maybe being for the medium term.” – Arnaud Tronche

However, while some examples of Beaujolais should (in my opinion) be consumed within a couple years, this certainly isn’t a blanket rule. I recently picked up a 1998 Domaine J. Chamonard Morgon Le Clos de Lys from Frankly Wines in Tribeca. At $50/bottle, it isn’t cheap, but it was what I’d hoped to find in an older gamay. Texturally light, but with depth; structured with layers of dried herbs, earth, and spice. The ’98 vintage can also be found at Gramercy Tavern and sells for $95, which isn’t bad for a well-made, 16 year old wine.

A few other restaurants in NYC also (deliberately) carry a range of vintages out of Beaujolais. I asked Arnaud Tronche of Racines and Patrick Cappiello of Pearl & Ash about the role of Beaujolais on their wine lists and their thoughts on older Bojo. The takeaway is to enjoy younger Cru Beaujolais with abandon. And when you can find them, snatch up older examples from select producers and/or try cellaring a few of their younger bottles. See below for Arnaud and Patrick’s thoughts. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Shadows in the Vineyard

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 07-29-2014

Sshadowsinthevineyardhadows in the Vineyard is the “true story of a plot to poison the world’s greatest wine.” The author, Maximillian Potter, initially covered the story for Vanity Fair in May 2011. In his book, he digs deeper into the crime and peels back the personalities surrounding the attack on the vineyards of Romanée-Conti in 2010. It debuted today and is available at Barnes and Noble.

As I read, I found myself feeling almost guilty. I tend to choose books that cause a little struggle — they’re satisfying, yet not always pleasurable. Shadows in the Vineyard is not that kind of book. It’s admittedly easy to read and, for wine lovers and novices alike, a way to soak in Burgundy through another appreciative discoverer’s point of view. Turning the pages, I noticed that I was loosely involved in the drama of the contemporary crime, and I more wanted to hear how the pieces of history fit together, framed by the book’s romantic narrative.

Feeling that same allure, Potter explained to me, “Crime is what took me to Burgundy. The poetry is what brought me back.”

He’d first heard rumors about the crime on a trip to Napa in the summer of 2010, traveling with his wife and a good friend from undergrad, who had just started making wine in the area. At the time, Max couldn’t tell a Burgundy from a Bordeaux, and frankly didn’t care. However, after touring wine country, he started noticing that all the stories were the same – good people, making wine, and lots of passion. He had spent the last 20 years writing about topics that weren’t always fun to cover and was feeling burnt out, losing faith in humanity. He thought, “I have to find a way to profile these folks. This stuff will be my Prozac!”

His friend gave him the perfect lead: a rumor that someone had poisoned or tried to poison the wines of the most revered vineyard in the world, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

The resulting article and book are, in my opinion, remarkable in that they reveal not just the vulnerability of DRC itself, but really the vulnerability of the people and the culture of Burgundy. Burgundy is a place of subtlety, nuance, and quiet introspection. The wines and the place are beautiful, but what make it magical is what’s below the surface: the terroir, the complexity, the community, the history. Read the rest of this entry »

Creativity in Wine PR

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 07-17-2014


Complexity New Zealand’s Grapes on a Train

Scrolling through the inbox of a wine writer would be an enlightening experience for most wine industry PR professionals. A quick perusal would reveal that the standard PR toolkit relies on the following common tactics:

- press releases (yawn)
- requests to send samples
- invitations to large, walk-around tastings
- invitations to seminars, often called “master classes”
- invitations to dinners or lunches, sometimes with winemakers
- invitations to press trips

It’s hard for a message to stand out when every producer or trade group wants their press release shared, their “master class” filled, or their wines reviewed. So, what can PR do to make their efforts more memorable and effective?

I can think of two recent programs that have been particularly creative.

The first one was crazy and random. However, I still find myself talking to other attendees about it. Complexity New Zealand organized an event called “Grapes on a Train,” where a group of press and trade attendees took a scenic, 10-hour train ride to Montreal via the historic Adirondack train from Penn Station. Six winemakers joined us from New Zealand – Matt Dicey of Mt Difficulty Wines, Brett Bermingham of Nautilus Estate, Ben Glover of Mud House Wines, Nick Picone of Villa Maria, Tim Health of Cloudy Bay, and Rudi Bauer of Quartz Reef.

On board, we were handed wooden trays with stemless glasses (new ones for each seminar – I can’t imagine the logistics that went into organizing this event on a moving train). Attendees were then ushered through four seminars, which highlighted the variety and quality of New Zealand wines.


The event was brilliant in that it held a group of busy, easily-distracted writers and somms captive for the entire day. And it got all of us talking. Why had we all agreed to do this? Why were a bunch of New Zealand winemakers going to French Canadian Montreal? How did they get the budget to pull this off, including accommodations for the night in Montreal and flights back to New York in the morning?

It didn’t make sense. But somehow, it worked. The execution was flawless. Read the rest of this entry »

Weekly Interview: Elena & Karoline Walch

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 06-27-2014

Karoline Walch, Elena Walch, and Julia Walch

Karoline Walch, Elena Walch, and Julia Walch

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Elena Walch and her daughter, Karoline Walch, proprietors and visionaries at Elena Walch in Alto Adige.

Born in Milan, Elena had been an architect before marrying into a winemaking family in 1985 and moving to the Alto Adige. When she first arrived, Elena says she “became famous in a quick way,” as there were not many women in architecture at that time.

To add to her new neighbors’ curiosity, she then transitioned out of architecture and began to overhaul and make changes at the family’s winery. “Twenty five years ago,” she says, “being a woman in winemaking was very ‘suspicious.”

When Elena took the reins, Alto Adige was making a lot of red wine, namely Schiava. However, Elena started to plant more of the whites – at first, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Bianco. She also drastically lowered yields, made investments in different trellising, implemented higher density plantings, and began using high quality clones.

Over dinner with Elena and her daughter, Karoline (who manages U.S. marketing), their wines all showed beautifully. My favorite was the Pinot Bianco Kastelaz 2012, which comes from the steep hilly vineyards behind the local church. The wine is crisp and clean with depth and lovely floral notes. Elena says, “I find this wine more expressive than the Pinot Grigio, but it is not more loved. It’s like a hidden beauty.” Her Pinot Grigios (as recently called out by Lettie Teague) were also excellent and distinctive. Adding to Elena’s grape resume, she’s also been dubbed the “Queen of Gewürztraminer” by Gambero Rosso after accumulating so many bicchieri.

Get to know Elena and Karoline in the interview below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Somm Secrets to Drinking French Wine

Posted by | Posted in Wine Events | Posted on 06-05-2014

Domaine La Bastide Corbières Blanc. (Credit: Aleksandra Sasha Arutyunova.)

Three sommeliers from Michelin-Star restaurants may not seem like the most likely trio to offer practical advice about drinking affordable French wine in New York City.

However, Bernie Sun, the beverage director at Jean-Georges Management; John Ragan, the wine director at Union Square Hospitality Group; and Pascaline Lepeltier, the beverage director at Rouge Tomate, recently joined Ray Isle of Food & Wine to do just that during a lively discussion at New York’s French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF).

The conversation was honest. Heard in the room, “Natural wines are overplayed. It’s an acquired taste and for me, I just never acquired that taste.” And quite informal. “When I plan a pairing, I put everything in my mouth – food and wine – and I just mush it around… I realize that’s not normal…”

Throughout the fun back-and-forth, we arrived at several useful tips to keep in mind when seeking out French wines:

Drink Corbières. And other “optional wines.”

If you look at the wine list and find a listing that’s a little unexpected — something that’s not from Bordeaux or Burgundy — take a closer look. “It should make you think: the somm doesn’t have to have this wine on the list,” says John Ragan, “The somm wants to have it on the list for a reason.”

These “optional wines” are good cues that you may get a good value or something interesting. For example, we tasted a Domaine La Bastide Corbières Blanc 2011 (SRP: $15.50). It’s a wine from a lesser-known region in the Languedoc-Roussillon and grown in an area that’s dominated by red wines (almost 95%). It was fresh and balanced with notes of sweet apple and lime blossom and really nice acidity.

For more on embracing the unknown at restaurants, check out David’s recent post on the topic.

Don’t be afraid of the cheapest wines.

These somms are tasting a lot of wine to select what will appear on their list; Bernie had tasted 75 wines earlier in the day. If a sommelier is tasting through, say 500 wines per month, many of which are in the $15 range, even the cheapest wine has been through a competitive, selective process to make the cut.

“People never take the cheap wine!” says Pascaline, “But the lowest-priced wines on my list are some of my best values.”

John agrees, “At lower price points, usually it’s not a money play, it’s a passion play. Something we really love.”

So try the “cheap” wine. It’s not a huge risk and you may find a new lifelong friend. Read the rest of this entry »