Expensive Competition at the 2014 Left Bank Bordeaux Cup

Posted by | Posted in Wine Events | Posted on 03-03-2014

Photo Credit: Coline Rohart – Consulate General of France in NYC

Contenders show their responses at the 2014 Left Bank Bordeaux Cup in NYC. Photo Credit: Coline Rohart, Consulate General of France.

With over 40 teams competing, the Left Bank Bordeaux Cup is one of the largest amateur wine competitions in the world. The event itself is a rather smart marketing ploy run by the Commanderie du Bontemps, “one of the oldest and largest wine brotherhoods in France.”

The competition pits teams of three students from top graduate schools against one another in major cities, then brings the regional winners together to vie in the Final Cup held at Château Lafite Rothschild in June. Contenders prepare for the Bordeaux battle by memorizing all things 1855 Classification, studying current events in Bordeaux, and tasting various classified and unclassified wines from the Left Bank . This year’s U.S. winners were the teams from Yale Law School and NYU Stern Business School.

While the concept itself is a pompous ordeal – I participated last year and was all too aware of the pretension – an event that encourages deliberate study of a wine region and inspires a new generation to explore it deserves support.

That said, I take a couple issues with the LBBC.

First, the Commanderie cloaks the logic behind its scoring system. Participants have no idea how questions are weighted or how the blind tasting portion is scored. This is a problem, especially for a region that’s already viewed as cryptic and aloof.

Second, graduate students rarely have the resources to purchase pricey, classified growth Bordeaux. Rumors are circulating about how teams in other countries are being heavily sponsored and showered with classified growth wines. Securing similar support has been a struggle for teams in the United States.

Photo Credit: Coline Rohart – Consulate General of France in NYC

The Yale Law School team at the 2014 Left Bank Bordeaux Cup. Photo Credit: Coline Rohart.

I recently had a chance to talk to the winning team at Yale Law School, which is comprised of Laura Femino, Joseph Pomianowski, Webb Lyons, and Albert Pak. The group hopes that they can bring more awareness (and sponsorship) to the competition moving forward. In listening to them, I was  surprised at how much support they’ve already received. Kudos to the group for hustling and making it happen.

They were able to get a sponsorship last year from Sotheby’s Wine and they’ve retained their coach from Sotheby’s, Nicholas Jackson. Nick competed in the event a few years ago and was keen to “live vicariously through them” and help them train. Lisa Granik, a Yale alum and MW, has also been a critical mentor for the group. And finally, Mory’s, the Yale Club in New Haven, generously provided space and wine glasses for the team tastings.

When I asked specifically how the team financed tastings and how much they spent on wines. They said they “try to keep tastings to between $10-20 per person, so that no one is excluded for financial reasons.” They’ll attempt to split a bottle among 20 people with 1-ounce pours if necessary, which makes tasting the expensive wines a bit more feasible. However, getting 20 people together regularly is a challenge and often they’ll end up with just 10 people and only taste three wines at a time.

They work with their own limited budgets and the wine tastings that visiting Chateaux hold for students on campus. Of course, for the Yale team, the Sotheby’s sponsorship was also key to sourcing hard-to-find and finance wines, in addition to frequenting other New Haven wine shops.

When I asked  team members how they think their preparation stacks up to other competing schools, they were a bit envious of their British counterparts. “Our impression is that the teams from England have a real edge in their access to College wine cellars, and a more storied tradition to their teams, but we’re not complaining. We still like our chances.”

Naked in the Vineyards in Cahors

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 01-13-2014

Spoiler alert: A winemaker in Cahors likes to run around his vineyards naked.

In my last post, I talked a little about the history of Cahors, a region that began planting vines 50 years before Christ. As I’d mentioned, when visiting Cahors, everything feels hearty and almost suspended in Medieval times. It doesn’t have the grand chateaux of Bordeaux and it doesn’t have the pretty, provincial charm of Burgundy. It’s an area defined by something tougher and older.

It’s hard to imagine a lot of reinvention and novelty coming out of a place that conjures up images of knights and castles. However, Cahors has had to reinvent itself more than once after having its vines bulldozed by phylloxera and then by frost.

To better understand how the wine industry of Cahors views itself today and where it wants to go into the future, I talked to three youthful, exciting winemakers in the region: Julien Ilbert of Chateau Combel La Serre; Fabien Jouves of Mas del Périé; and Arnaud Bladinières of Mas des étoiles.

Julien Ilbert

Julien Ilbert with his father

Fabien Jouves

Fabien Jouves

http://www.mas-des-etoiles.com/content/images/bladinieres.jpg

Arnaud Bladinières

See the interview below the fold, including the aforementioned spoiler! Read the rest of this entry »

Cahors: Home of the Black Wine

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 01-09-2014

Valentré Bridge in Cahors

Valentré Bridge in Cahors

Vines were planted in Cahors, France as early as 50 BC.

The wine, made primarily of deeply colored, highly tannic Malbec and Tannat, flourished and was well known in the 12th century as the “Black Wine.” Eleanor of Acquitaine, one of the wealthiest and most influential women of the High Middle Ages, and Henry II, King of England, chose to serve the wine at their wedding in 1152. In the late 1600s, Peter the Great was fond of the wine and demanded that Cahors be the communion wine in Orthodox churches across Russia.

It was the Bordeaux of the world before Bordeaux mattered.

The wine was historically successful largely because it transported well – the deep color and powerful tannic structure enabled it to survive the long journeys up to Bordeaux and England.

However, in 1865 the history of Cahors changed dramatically when phylloxera hit, wiping out the entire region in less than twelve years. Farmers, who had for generations relied on the wine trade for their prosperity, fled the area. Some moved to Argentina to begin replanting the grape, which had been brought over by French soil expert, Michel A. Pouget, in 1852. You’re welcome, Argentina.

Gradually the vines of Cahors were replanted only to be wiped out again by frost in 1956. To provide context as to the magnitude of this destruction, in the 1800s, the region was planted with 60,000 hectares of vine; at present, plantings amount to around 4,000 hectares.

Walking around the city of Cahors today, you feel like you’ve been picked up and plopped back into the medieval times. Like its wines, it has a marked hearty and resilient character. You’ll find old stone buildings, a spectacular medieval bridge, and giant doors on building facades, where the horse carts used to be stored.

Read the rest of this entry »

Photos from South Africa

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 11-18-2013

October was a busy travel month for Terroirist. As you may have seen, David was in Rioja and I visited South Africa.

My trip was organized by Wines of South Africa. Along with a few other journalists and a group of sommeliers, we visited several regions over 10 days before the trip culminated in the Wines of South Africa Sommelier World Cup in Paarl.

I’ll have more interviews and posts to follow (the first interview was posted Friday), but in the meantime, you can check out my photos from the trip on Facebook. While you’re there, please “like” Terroirist too!

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Weekly Interview: Eben Sadie

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 11-15-2013

IMG_7113Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Eben Sadie of The Sadie Family based in the Swartland of South Africa.

Eben has traveled around the world, working in vineyards in Germany, Austria, Italy, Burgundy, and Oregon before returning to South Africa in 1998 to work at the Spice Route. In 1999, he started his own independent production under the Sadie Family label.

If you’ve ever met or even read about Eben, you know he’s a character. He’s fun-loving and seems to have a slightly mischievous and rebellious side. As you chat with him, he’ll probably bring up his love of surfing and he’ll likely drop a few casual f-bombs in conversation.

He’s also intensely ambitious, competent, and focused with a visionary plan for the wines he makes in the Swartland. He truly believes in old vines, in farming, and in respecting the earth. During my visit, I had a chance to try his Skerpioen, Columella, and Palladius. All of them were really freaking good. The Palladius was the only bottle I bought in South Africa and brought back with me.

At $50 and up, his wines retail at a price that’s higher than many of his peers in South Africa, which he attributes to the lower yielding old vines. They can also be tough to find in the U.S., which reportedly only sees 5-10% of Sadie Family’s ~3,500 case production.

Check out our interview with Eben below the fold. And if you’re interested, you can also hear him talk about the importance of old vines from a recording I took on my walk with him around the vineyards in South Africa last month. Read the rest of this entry »

The Story on Australian Wine

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 11-11-2013

Michael Twelftree from Two Hands Wines

The Australian wine industry has seen some tough times, to say the least. Following the surge of Yellow Tail and the soon after success of expensive, highly rated fruit bombs from Barossa, the industry is now grappling to find its footing.

Yellow Tail is attempting to stay relevant through new product launches. “You don’t want Shiraz? We’ll make Moscato! Sangria!”

Those pricier Parker darlings are now out of vogue with consumers, who (for now) seem to prefer Argentinian Malbecs.

And Australian wine companies, which for the last decade simply rode the wave of Shiraz’s success, are now doing things like taking $160 million write-downs and literally dumping excess inventory down the drain. And to layer on another blow, that same company is facing expensive legal action from its shareholders, who are angry that they didn’t know about the impairment earlier. What a mess.

As a wine writer, I have been reading what’s in the press about the state of Australian wine. Most articles fall into three camps: (1) Australian Wine is Doomed; (2) There is Hope for Australian Wine (e.g., cool climate wines are hot, not just in Australia, but all over); and (3) ____ is the New Australian Shiraz (insert grape/region in the blank. Hint: it’s usually Tempranillo).

However, the coverage has been overall pretty defensive in tone and, as a member of the media, I hadn’t heard much about Australian wines directly.

So when I learned that Michael Twelftree of Two Hands Wines was stopping through in New York, I was eager to meet with him and hear his take on the current plight of Australia.

His thoughts reiterate some of what Jancis Robinson said in her interview with David. Australia needs to focus on regionality and subregionality; Australia needs to think beyond Shiraz to other grapes like Grenache and Riesling; Australia needs to continue listening and getting out into the market; and finally, the success of Australian wine rests on the shoulders of smaller, quality wines brands. Interestingly, Michael wasn’t too keen on the work of Wines of Australia and thought that the producers themselves needed to step up and market themselves, working from the vineyards backward.

Our lunchtime conversation is below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Weekly Interview: Santiago Achával

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 10-25-2013

ACHAVAL FERRER Santiago Achaval

Santiago Achával

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Santiago Achával (pronounced ah-CHA-vahl, like a big sneeze). Santiago is the founding partner and winemaker behind Achával-Ferrer.

Achával-Ferrer, launched in 1995, produces a line of beautiful, age-worthy Argentinean wines, which are now sold in 62 countries.

Born in Rochester, Minnesota, Santiago moved to Argentina when he was six years old. After graduating as Valedictorian from his high school, he went on to attend university also in Cordoba, Argentina. He spent the next few years working for a cement company before deciding to attend business school in the U.S. His life then took a turn when he caught the  wine contagion during weekend visits to Napa and Sonoma while getting his MBA at Stanford. He returned to Argentina and soon decided that his “main purpose in life would be to start a small, quality-oriented winery.” His first harvest at Achával-Ferrer was in 1998.

I had the chance to meet Santiago during one of his stops in New York this summer. He’s an absolute pleasure — his storytelling skills are superb and his wines, while often pricey, represent a sophistication and maturity not always found in the region.

Read more about Santiago and his wines below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Sommelier Interview: Matthew Carroll

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 10-04-2013

BRABO_083Matthew Carroll is the sommelier at Brabo Restaurant, Brabo Tasting Room, and The Butcher’s Block, all in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.

Matthew has been on a rather unexpected journey to get to his current role in wine. Prior to working as a sommelier, he was a school teacher for 10 years in Special Education, a job which he said was actually “good prep for a life in wine and restaurants.”

I met Matthew recently at a wine event at Brabo, part of a regular pairings series they are running to educate guests on various regions and styles. Matthew impressed me with his ability to teach (not surprising, given his background) and with the almost boyish fun he had in pairing the wines and talking about them.

He also has a knack for wine descriptions, a trait that, as a wine writer, I admire & enjoy.

A white wine aged in 35% new French oak “smells like money.”

Or a 1999 Chateau Lynch-Bages has a “nervousness” with the “tension between the fatty bacon in the dish and the graphite austerity of the wine.” It was a totally energetic pairing.

Or, my personal favorite, the 2005 Chateau Guiraud was the “baritone of Sauternes” with its low, muted acidity and rich rounded sweetness. That’s good stuff.

You can read more about Matthew and see the interview below the fold. And fun bonus fact NOT included in the interview, but disclosed to me by his PR rep.. .he apparently is covered in grape tattoos. Now that’s commitment. See more below! Read the rest of this entry »

Weekly Interview: Christine Scher-Sévillano

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 09-20-2013

IMG_0577Piot-Sévillano is a grower Champagne producer in Vincelles (Marne). As 8th generation winemakers, Christine and her husband Vincent decided to leave their very non-wine jobs (as a journalist and website designer, respectively) in Paris to take over the family business from her parents.

The vineyards are planted with mostly Pinot Meunier and almost all of Piot-Sévillano’s blends are primarily based on the varietal. This emphasis on the Pinot Meunier grape, quite unlike most of their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir –dominated neighbors, are what initially made the wines from Piot-Sévillano stand out to me. However, I’ve since learned that Christine and her husband are also very environmentally-conscious and are bringing a fresh energy to the house.

You can read more about Christine and her property below! Read the rest of this entry »

WineBec On the Road: Traveling to the Midi-Pyrénées

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 09-09-2013

Bonjour from Tououse!

Hi, Terroirist readers! On Sunday, I arrived in the Midi-Pyrénées region in the Southwest of France. Over the next few days I’ll be exploring and discovering the history, culture, gastronomy, and wines of this lesser-known part of France. You can follow the adventure under the hashtag #jadoresouthwest on Twitter & Instagram. I’ll also be uploading pics to the Terroirist Facebook page along the way.

And you can win your own free trip! My current wine tour is part of a larger media program (#JadoreFrenchWines) to discover “the best-kept secrets of French vineyards.” Enter the contest, which is a drawing for your own trip to Bordeaux, complete with airfare and accommodations at a fabulous hotel.

Finally, as part of #JadoreFrenchWines, four other bloggers are also in France now and exploring regions like Bordeaux, Alsace, the Rhone, and the Loire Valley. Check it out on Facebook. You can track their discoveries with the hashtags below:

#JadoreRhoneValley

#JadoreAlsace

#JadoreBordeaux

#JadoreLoireValley

Stay tuned for more!