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May 16, 2007

A Bordeaux Lover's Lament

I've got email!

Reader Stephanie Madsen writes:

I strongly disagree with your
comment on pricey Bordeaux wines.

For everyday use I buy Chateau Mayne Guyon 2003 Premieres Cotes de Blaye Bordeaux, which received the bronze prize at the general agricultural contest in Paris in 2005.  You can find it at Trader Joe's (a California retail chain) for $7.50 including tax.  It is a great deal.

I had a fancy dinner last Saturday night at my place and opened a grand
clu classe Chateau Prieure Lichine 1998, Bordeaux again.  This wine is exceptional and I bought it for just $25.

Dear Stephanie:

Indeed, you are correct. There are some very fine value-priced Bordeaux available in the U.S. market despite the overall upward spiral in Bordeaux pricing and the weak U.S. dollar.

My beef with Bordeaux pricing is directed more at the Bordeaux collectibles. These are wines that are prized by wine collectors, in particular Bordeaux aficionados, because of their reputation for longevity, their overall cachet, and the likelihood they will appreciate in value over time.

As a collector myself, I used to purchase a case each of the first growths (Chateau Lafite, Mouton, Margaux, Latour and Haut-Brion) each vintage. I also dabbled seriously in a number of other top chateaux - Palmer, Leoville Las Cases, La Mission Haut-Brion, Cheval Blanc, etc.

These wines, some of which sell for upwards of $400 per bottle upon release, are no longer within reach of most ordinary wine enthusiasts, myself included. Except as a rare treat. I still love Bordeaux. I still drink Bordeaux. But I can no longer stock my cellar with great chateaux, even from so-called off vintages, the way I once did.

That is my lament.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 11:07 AM

May 3, 2007

Concours Mondial Day Two: Blockbusters in the Languedoc

MAASTRICHT, Netherlands -- On Day Two at the 2007 Concours Mondial my jury started out with light-bodied aromatic whites. Though none were impressive, two were quite fine and I scored them at the low end of the scale for a gold medal. It turned out the first was a 2006 Rioja Blanco from Marques de Caceres and the other a 2006 Sauvignon Blanc from Storks' Tower in Castilla Leon.

Neither, however, achieved a rating of 90 points on my scorecard. Our next flight took us to the south of France, to the region of Languedoc-Roussillon and more specifically the sub-region of Coteaux du Languedoc La Clape, a highly regulated district remarkable for its Rhone blends, with Grenache serving as the backbone.

A couple of these wines were spectacular, earning my vote as Great Golds. The first was the stunning 2005 Chateau Rouquette sur Mer Cuvee L'Esprit Terroir (97 points), a richly layered and textured red with remarkable depth and supple tannins. The second was the 2005 Champs Rouge (98) from the same district. The 2005 Chateau Rouquette sur Mer Cuvee Henry Lapierre barely missed Great Gold on my card with 95 points.

Other impressive wines were the 2005 Les Quatres Pins (92) and Domaine Peuch Auger's Les Dolomies 2005 from Coteaux du Languedoc Montpeyroux (93). Again, two disclaimers. I know not at this time how any of these wines fared with my jury overall (results will be posted soon at the Concours Mondial website) and I have no information on pricing or the importer, if any.

I found one Great Gold in our next flight, a gorgeous unaged Mourvedre, the 2006 Zenizate Monastrell from Spain's Jumilla region. Valcorso 2006 Monastrell Barrica (Yecla) narrowly missed Great Gold on my card at 95 points.

We finished up with an unimpressive flight of wines from Saint-Emilion, a flight in which none of the top growths were represented. Though there were two gold medals, neither attained a score of 90 points.

Photo: Rebecca Murphy of the Dallas Morning News is in wine evaluation mode on the second day of the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles.


Posted by Robert Whitley at 4:52 AM

May 2, 2007

Concours Mondial, Day One

MAASTRICHT, Netherlands -- I've had my nose buried in a wine glass for most of the past week, so blogging has been light. The event that has occupied nearly all my waking moments is the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, a wine competition of significant international import.

Hundreds of wine judges from every aspect of the wine profession -- and literally every corner of the globe -- convened in this quaint Dutch city to evaluate nearly 6,000 wines.

My jury of six judges was led by Elie Maamari, an enologist and export manager of Lebanon's Chateau Ksara. I was part of a small U.S. contingent that also included WRO Columnist Leslie Sbrocco, Rebecca Murphy of the Dallas Morning News and Laurie Daniel of the San Jose Mercury.

Each panel tasted approximately 50 wines per day and ranked wines using a 100-point scoring system developed by the Concours Mondial. The system is quite generous in that a correctly made wine with no obvious flaws and a modicum of character stands an excellent chance of taking a gold medal.

The medals awarded are Silver (82-86 points), Gold (87-95 points) and Great Gold (96-100 points). On Sunday, the first day of judging, I gave 16 gold medals from 50 wines. While all of the wines that I rated gold had merit, I hasten to point out there is a huge difference between an 87-point gold medal and one that commands 95 points. And very little difference between a 96-point Great Gold and a 95-point Gold.

I also freely admit I am not familiar with many of these wines, but feel it is useful and educational to share these findings as they relate to global wine quality. The tastings were blind. Judges knew neither the producer, the region of origin, the grape varieties nor the dryness/sweetness levels of the wines presented.

I will list my golds with scores (sorry, no pricing or importer information was available, and I'm sure many of these wines never reach our shores) the way they were listed by the Concours Mondial. At this point, I have no idea how my gold-medal wines performed within the group vote.

Domaine Saint Hilaire Advocate 2005, Languedoc-Roussillon, Vin de Pays d'Oc Blanc. 94

Joly Brut Cuvee Speciale, Champagne, France. 90
Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve, Champagne, France. 96
Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Rare
, Champagne, France. 92

Chateau Haut-Meneau La Clie 2005, Cotes de Blaye Rouge, Bordeaux. 90
Chateau Segonzac 2005, Cotes de Blaye Rouge. Bordeaux. 94
Chateau de Haut Coulon 2005, Cotes de Blaye Rouge, Bordeaux. 94
Chateau Les Violettes 2005, Cotes de Blaye Rouge, Bordeaux. 93
Chateau Le Joncieux 2003
, Cotes de Blaye Rouge, Bordeaux. 99
Chateau Le Cone 2003 Cru Bourgeois, Cotes de Blaye Rouge, Bordeaux. 91

Espiritu de Chile Gran Reserve Merlot 2005, Maule Valley, Chile. 98
Yellow Biplano Merlot 2005
, Valle Central. 93
Casa Silva Angostura Gran Reserva Merlot 2005,
Colchagua Valley, Chile. 92
Botalcura El Delirio Reserva Carmenere-Merlot 2005
, Valle Central, Chile. 88
Sol de Chile Merlot Reserva 2005
, Maule Valley, Chile. 91
Ventisquero Queulat Merlot Gran Reserva 2004
, Maipo Valley, Chile. 89

PHOTO: Elie Maamari of Lebanon was president of Jury 13, my panel at the Concours Mondial.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 7:55 AM