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What I've Been Drinking Lately: Only in Massachusetts!
By John Anderson
Aug 24, 2021
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While on August vacation at Cape Cod, I am always struck by the effects of the three-tier distribution system—even today with the rapid emergence of internet retail wine sales.  The simple fact is that what you find on the shelves of retail wine stores in the Commonwealth is quite different from what you would find in similar retail outlets in New York State or elsewhere.  And, I might add, when it comes to wine, this is not the infamous Commonwealth of “Taxachusetts” at all.  For one thing, there is no tax on wine!  And most retailers will also give you a smacking 20% discount on mixed cases of their wine!   Beat that, Fellow New Yorkers!

My big-value-for-buck discovery from last summer’s Cape sojourn—and the topic of this column—has disappeared from the shelf at the local store I most often frequent these days.  But it was an eyeopener—and the same or similar wines, being widely distributed, are available elsewhere at very good prices.  They should be snapped up!  These are the second wines of the Graves Grand Cru Classé Château LaTour-Martillac located in what is now A.C. Pessac-Léognan.  LaTour-Martillac is, moreover, one of only six such châteaux classified for both red and white wines.

The property has since 1930 belonged to the famous old Bordeaux négociant Kressmann family and has always been best known for its white, a classic blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc.  To quote the noted Bordeaux specialist David Peppercorn, M.W.: “The white wine is elegant and fresh with quite an original character.  It has delicacy, real breed, and a fine finish.  This is high-class white Graves.”  It is indeed, and I could not have said it better.  But it’s also true that the red has over the course of the past few decades greatly improved.  The grand vin, both red and white, is today one of the great bargains of Classed Growth Bordeaux.  Not least because the Kressmanns are notably less greedy than some of their peers—and have also chosen to spend less on wildly expensive and often gaudy “improvements” to their cellars.  To which I say:  Good for them.

But another reason why the grand vin at this property so good today is:  The high quality of their second wines, allied with their obvious bang-for-the-buck appeal.

I can’t say too much in praise of the growth of second and now third wines and the impact they’ve had on the grand vin of the top Bordeaux properties in recent years.  A rigorous selection for the grand vin, rejecting in some cases almost half the wine that could be sold under the château name, has resulted in ever more elegant (and expensive) brand names.  But at the same time, the second wines have also improved to the point where selection is practiced here too, with significant amounts going into a third wine or sold off to the négoces.

In the case of the Kressmann second wines from LaTour-Martillac, these are, in fact, exemplary.

I first spotted the wines sitting on the shelf at the local retailer last August and knew, more or less, what they were for the obvious reason that the bottles bore the same, familiar Art Deco-inspired lion-and-sword image so familiar from bottles of LaTour-Martillac.  (It turns out that this marvelous “gold and sandy striped” label was designed in the 1930s by the then-owner Alfred and his son Jean Kressmann.)  Both red and white retailed for $33 (or $26.39—and no tax!—as part of a mixed case).  I bought a half-dozen of each.  I was ultimately so taken by the wines that I later bought a case of each from a supplier in the Boston suburbs for $25 a bottle.  

These are the 2011 LaCroix-Martillac Rouge and 2016 LaCroix-Martillac Blanc.  Interestingly, if you go to the Website (latourmartillac.com) which I can highly recommend—would that more wine producer Websites were like it!—you’ll find that LaGrave-Martillac, white and red, is the official second wine of the estate while LaCroix-Martillac rouge is a selection made to emphasize the Merlot grown on the property.  But…Jean-Sébastien Calvet (he comes from yet another old Bordeaux family), whose Berkeley-based Aquitaine Wine Company is the U.S.  agent for the Kressmanns, and the very helpful Wilfrid Groizard, deputy managing director at LaTour-Martillac, explained to me that, for distribution reasons, the white LaCroix found in this country is, in fact, the same wine as the white LaGrave distributed in France, so is actually the second wine but under a different label.  I have no reason to doubt them.  The white is really remarkably good.

And then there is a separate estate not located in Martillac, and hence not within the Pessac-Léognan A.C.  This is Château Langlet, located in the township of La Brède, and which also produces red and white Graves.  These too represent real value, being even less expensive.  

I tasted all these wines over 4-5 nights at our home.

My Notes:

2018 Château Langlet Rouge, from a blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% stated alcohol.  “Still quite youthful in both structure and color.  The wine doesn’t taste so much Merlot as Graves, and though it lacks the smoky, minerally Pessac-Léognan character, it does have a touch of the silky Graves tannins about it.” Still tannic and slightly green, but with a surprisingly nice texture to it.

2019 Château Langlet Blanc, from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes.  13.5% stated alcohol.  You’d think it would scream Sauvignon Blanc, but the language is again that of the Graves.  Minerally—the smell and taste of oyster shells—and extremely well made.  Still very light lemony in color.  Very youthful and would make for a wonderful summer drink.

2016 LaCroix-Martillac Blanc.  13.5% stated alcohol.  Somewhat more yellow in color than the ’19 Langlet blanc, but also a youthful lemon.  Obviously Sémillon in character, but beautifully balanced with the Sauvignon Blanc.  Very minerally.  Again, and even more so, the smell and taste of Bordeaux oyster shells.  Drink it just slightly chilled.  No more than that.

2011 LaCroix-Martillac Rouge.  The nose, which leaps out of the glass, is tobacco.  A slightly green kind of wine—it reminded me of an ’88 Bordeaux red—but I rather like that!  And, as with the ‘88s at this stage of their maturity, still quite tannic.  60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon.  13.5% stated alcohol.

I love Graves, and I especially love Pessac-Léognan, both reds and whites.  These second wines from the Kressmann family are wonderful ambassadors for the region—okay, they’re counselors at the embassy—but well trained and terribly charming!
 
Santé!
 


Read more wine columns:    John Anderson