April 29, 2010
As the calendar heads towards the season of weddings and graduations, it’s time to start thinking about buying bubbles for the celebration. Champagne, of course, is the traditional beverage for marking life-altering occasions, but when the celebrants are numerous, and when cost is an object, there are many, many other corks waiting to be popped. Since the world is awash in good fizz these days, it’s only a matter of zeroing in on a style, a price point, and a region to select the right wine for the festivity. One terrific sparkling wine region to consider is Limoux, a comparatively cool section situated in the warm Languedoc area of southern France (Limoux lies just south of the medieval fortified city of Carcassonne). Limoux’s vineyards cluster around 41 different villages whose clay and limestone based soils are generally light and stony. In Limoux, the cool influence of the Atlantic Ocean meets the warm air that blows in from the Mediterranean, a confluence of climates that results in well balanced grapes characterized both by good, crisp acidity, and mellow fruity ripeness.
Limoux is generally considered to be the birthplace of French sparkling wine, beginning in 1531 when local vintners discovered that wines which underwent a second fermentation in their bottles emerged full of bubbles. That breakthrough may have been completely accidental, but Limoux has been fine-tuning the art of effervescence ever since. The last time I was in the region, about six years ago, I tasted a few wines that were quite good, but in truth most of them seemed pretty pedestrian. On a visit earlier this year, however, I was pleasantly surprised by the widespread level of excellence in the sparkling wines I sampled. Good viticultural practices, improved winemaking techniques, and perhaps even climate change have all had a (mostly) positive impact in Limoux.
AOC designations for the sparkling wines of Limoux include Blanquette and Crémant (there are also red and white still Limoux wines, but that’s another story). Ninety percent of the grapes for Blanquette are required to be Mauzac, an ancient grape with the distinctive fresh aromas and flavors of green apples and fresh grass. Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc are Blanquette’s other grapes. Crémant, a newer and more internationally styled AOC sparkler, is made from a minimum of 40% Chardonnay, plus Chenin Blanc, and sometimes Mauzac, and/or Pinot Noir. For somewhat funkier, personality-infused fizz look for Blanquette Méthode Ancestral, a traditional, slightly sweet, often cloudy, low alcohol bubbly that sometimes tastes vaguely like cider. Overall, the sparkling wines of Limoux tend to be light and charming, with the best of them showing real complexity and substance. I even found a few Limoux wines in the style I’m especially partial to: full-bodied, flowery fizz with mouth-filling, palate-pleasing yeasty components.
One of the reasons to start paying more attention to sparklers from Limoux is their wallet-friendly prices. As a general guideline, Limoux’s effervescent wines retail for around $10 to $15 a bottle. Among the labels you might find at local retailers are Sieur d’Arques, Antech, Toques & Clochers, Saint Hilaire, and Domaine J. Laurens. Limoux importers include Exclusive Imports, Baron François, Jack Poust, and Vignerons Imports. There’s much to love about Limoux, so when you’re making those wedding plans, remember that Limoux is just the thing for drinking a toast to love.
April 13, 2010
While tasting at the recent Bordeaux 2009 Primeurs, I was intrigued by the parade of Chinese buyers at virtually every chateau I visited.
There were two things at play, as I soon became aware. First, the Bordelais recognize the potential size of the China wine market. Only the Brits had more representation from the wine trade at Primeurs, and the chateau owners were aggressively working the Chinese, who've never before embraced the concept of buying en primeurs. Second, the Bordelais are very nervous about the U.S. market.
Whether or not the Americans would buy the '09 Primeurs was very much on everyone's mind, coupled with the wish/hope/prayer that the Chinese might take up the slack.
The conventional wisdom on the weakness of Bordeaux in the U.S. market is focused, understandably, on the economy. But I see it differently. From my Creators Syndicate column this week, headlined The Gathering Storm Over Bordeaux in America:
The euphoria I understood. It was the last week of March and the first week of April, and the world's most famous wine region, Bordeaux, was overflowing with enthusiastic professional wine merchants from around the globe.
More than 6,000 trade and press — record numbers for each — showed up on cue to taste and evaluate the highly acclaimed 2009 vintage. Bordeaux, despite stagnant inventories from the less attractive 2007 and 2008 vintages, was suddenly the darling of the wine world again.
Life is good in Bordeaux, one would assume. And one would be wrong.
Read the whole thing.
April 5, 2010
In my Creators Syndicate column this week (available Wednesday) I take a look at some of the value collectibles from the superb 2009 vintage in Bordeaux.
The excellent 2009 vintage will most likely be priced at 2005 levels (a great vintage of comparabe quality) when futures prices begin to leak out this week and next. The Bordeaux trade expects the Chinese to take a strong position in the '09 Primeurs market, thus cushioning any sting that might come from American buyers reluctant to risk precious capital in a down economy that is proving resistant to luxury wines.
My definition of affordable is $50 or less. I am basing my projected prices here on what I can find on the internet about the 2005 vintage, or the most recent vintage available in the U.S.
Money being no object, I still wouldn't buy the First Growths. They are far and away too expensive for my financial sensibilities. But I'd be hunkering down on the likes of Chateau Palmer, Pichon Lalande and Troplong Mondot.
As the week progresses I will post tasting notes and ratings from my week at Bordeaux Primeurs 2009. The following, however, are the best value bets as I see it today.
Chateau Lamarque (91-94). Found the 2005 for $33.69 on the internet. Pretty nose, with notes of floral and chocolate. Spicy. Lovely mouthfeel. Ripe fruit. Aromas of cassis and blackberry. Rich through mid-palate. Nice finish.
Chateau Belgrave (91-94). Internet price was $40 for the 2005. Floral, black currant nose. Good palate weight and density. Excellent length. Fine, integrated tannins.
Charteau Latour-Carnet (92-95). Internet price for 2005 $49.99. Nose of violets and black fruits. Spicy. = Sweet fruit aromas. A crowd-pleaser. Good density and weight on the palate. Packed with fruit. Fine, well integrated tannins. Should age superby.
Chateau Camensac (92-95). Internet price for 2007 $23. Could be one of the great value wines of the vintage. Lovely wine. Full and rich on the palate, with ripe black-fruit aromas. Well balanced. Good length. Find tannins. Complete in every way.
Chateau Croizet-Bages (93-96). Internet price for 2005 was $42. Violets on the nose. Intensely floral. Wonderful mouthfeel. Good complexity. Black fruit aromas. Blackberry, cassis. Rich and full-bodied, but elegant, fine tannins. Strikes a beautiful balance between power and elegance.
Chateau Lynch-Moussas (92-95). Internet price was $45 for 2005. Ripe black fruits, sweet fruit core, blackberry and blueberry fruit. fine, elegant tannins. Very classy.
Chateau Clerc-Milon (91-94). Internet price was $41 for 2008. This is the highest rating I have ever given this chateau. Nose of ripe cassis. Fat and juicy. Fine tannins. Huge but in balance. Sweet core, with layers and textures that give it tremendous complexity. Very nice in the bigger, riper style.
Chateau Phelan-Segur (90-93). Internet price was $29 for 2008. Floral and grapey on the nose. Hard tannins, but with plenty of flesh. Fresh tasting. Middle palate is weak, but likely to flesh out with age, and the finish is nice.
Chateau Lafon-Rochet (94-97). Internet price was $45 for 2005. A stunning wine with fine, firm tannins. Dense dark fruited aromas. Layered complexity. Well balanced. A wine that will need time, but very classy and elegant. Very ripe without being jammy. Beautifully done.
Chateau Siran (91-94). Internet price was $35 for 2005. This is a cru Bourgeois (formerly classified Cru Exceptionnel) Margaux that is vastly undervalued. Very pretty fruit, with notes of black plum. Fine, supple tannins, plenty of flesh, but still elegant. Very nice. Good minerality.
Chateau Chantegrive (91-94. Internet price was $20 for 2005. Nose of violets, plums. Good palate weight and density. Wine is packed with fruit. Raspberry, blackberry and currants. Well integrated, fine tannins. Complex and sophisticated, very suave.
Chateau Ferrande (92-95). Internet price was $24 for 2005. Sweet fruit at the core. Spicy and floral, with good density and palate weight. Well integrated tannins. Should cellar very well.
Domaine de Chevalier (95-98). Internet price was $43 for 2008. Fresh fruit nose, slightly spicy and floral. Exceptional mouthfeel, and showing layered complexity. Texture in the mouth is elegant and refined. Good acid/sugar/alcohol balance. Simply outstanding wine. Excellent length.
Chateau de France (91-94). Internet price was $23 for 2005. Rich and ripe on the palate, though not jammy. Layers of red and black fruits. Fine but firm tannins. Outstanding aging potential.
Chateau Haut-Bergey (93-96). Internet price was $40 for 2005. Lovely nose of blueberry and plum, with hints of spice and floral. Good concentration. Bright, focused fruit on the palate, with a dominant blueberry note. Fine, well-integrated tannins. Exceptional potential.
Chateau Olivier (92-95). Internet price was $35 for 2005. Showing bright red and black fruits. Sweet fruit core. Plenty of flesh. Juicy, with firm tannins and good acid. Potential to age is outstanding.