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Category Archives: Bordeaux

Club W: Part III

club-w-logo-black

At long last, I bring you my third and final installment of my Club W series. Between summer travel and other matters, it’s been awhile since I checked in on this online wine distributor. If you missed the first two posts, you can read them here, and here. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

A few things have changed since my last Club W post.

  • First, a company name change and rebranding. Club W is a part of Winc (Wine, Inc.), and the decision was made to drop the Club W name, and identify solely as Winc. This transition is still in process, and the clubw.com website is still fully functional.

winc-logo

  • Secondly, the minimum purchase requirement has increased from three bottles to four. To qualify for free shipping, you always had to order four bottles, so now all orders are shipped for free. On the bright side, if you enjoy reds and whites equally, this allows you to select two reds and two whites as your default setting. (You can also select any combination of four – all reds, all whites, or three of one and one of the other.) Nevertheless, this also means that instead of $39 per month, plus $6 shipping for a total of $45, the cost for continuing, regular membership is $52 per month.
  • Third, the company has implemented an incentive to encourage customers to rate their wines. When you rate 10 wines, you get a $10 credit. Unfortunately, this is not retroactive, so the seven bottles I’ve already rated don’t qualify. In addition, as I’ve mentioned before, the rating system at Club W/Winc is simply a 1-5 star system; there is no option to enter tasting notes or other feedback.

If you’ve read my first two posts, you know that with both of my first two orders, I ran into some hiccups. (If you haven’t read them, why not? The links are right up there in the first paragraph!) You also know that customer service quickly and efficiently resolved the problems; said solutions including credits and free wine. Always a good thing! For my third order, I decided to let the Club W/Winc algorithm do its thing and select the wine for me, based on the preferences I entered when signing up, and enhanced by my previous orders and ratings. This time, my order was processed and delivered without a hitch! Third time’s a charm, right?

I received my order confirmation e-mail, and within a couple of days, the box of delicious goodness arrived at my office. The box included exactly the four bottles identified in my confirmation notice; two reds and two whites. Also included, as always, were glossy pages with information about the wines, tasting notes, and suggesting recipes for pairing.

Below are my reviews of the four wines from my third Club W order. All wines are $13.00:

Wondeful Wine Co. San Luis Obispo County White Blend 2014

wonderful-wine-co-white-blend

Enjoyable white blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Viognior, and Muscat. Straw color with aromas of elderflower and pineapple. On the palate, flavors of white peach, with elderflower, pineapple, and apricot. Pleasantly dry with light acidity and fruit-forward profile, giving it a sweet sensation. Nice on its own, but also pairs well with foods, like baked chicken.

3.5 out of 5 stars (85 – 87 points)

Chommie Pinotage 2015

chommie-pinotage

My first Pinotage. Purple color with a ruby rim. Aromas of raspberry and earthy musk. On the palate, bright red cherries and fresh raspberries excite the tongue with fresh acidity. The wine is medium bodied, with dry tannins and a medium finish. The finish is sour cherry and spice, and a return of the earthy/musky notes. It paired nicely with smothered beef & lamb patties.

3.0 out of 5 stars (82 – 84 points)

Più Gioia Pinot Grigio 2015

piu-gioia-pg

Straw color. Aromas and flavors of white peach and golden delicious apple. Light to medium body with a supple mouthfeel and balanced acidity. The finish is floral, white peach, and a bit of mineral. A nice Italian PG, better than the 2014 vintage (reviewed in Club W – Part II). Served well chilled.

4.0 out of 5 stars (88 – 91 points)

Nouvelle Ère Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux 2014

nouvelle-ere-bordeaux

Ruby color in the glass. Aromas of blackberry bramble, black cherry, and cedar. On the palate, there are flavors of blackberry, raspberry, cherry, and spice. There is also a mineral/earth terroir note common in Right Bank Bordeaux. Medium body with bright acidity. Tannins show late, and are firm and tight, but soften with air. The finish lingers with dark berry, cedar, and spice. As with most Old World wines, it’s good on its own but is best with food – in this case a seared sirloin.

3.5 out of 5 stars (85 – 87 points)

So while the overall experience has improved, and was seamless with my third order, my opinion of the wines is pretty much the same. Good but not exceptional. There are a few gems worth repeating, but overall, there are comparable wines available for less money at retail wine shops. Let’s review the pros and cons, as I see them:

Pros:

  • Supporting the little guy
  • Info cards with recipes
  • Exploring unusual varietals
  • Availability of International wines
  • Personalized, hand-written thank you note!
  • They have some unique features that other online retailers and clubs do not. For example, it appears that once you’ve placed a bottle in your basket, it’s yours – even if you don’t complete and ship the order for a couple of months, and it otherwise sells out in the meantime.
  • Their customer service team is prompt, courteous, and efficient.
  • You can easily skip a month, or several, without cost or penalty.
  • Their packaging is exceptional.

Cons:

  • Inability to review wines; only assign them a 1-5 scale rating. It has been my experience that, for me, writing a review and describing the flavors and elements in the wine enhances my enjoyment of the wine. Rather than simply knocking back a glass, I become more attentive and contemplative, and enjoy the wine more.
  • I’d also like the ability to communicate with the independent winemakers. Placing a face, personality, and story with the name on the bottle makes enjoying wine a much more personal experience.
  • While their customer service team is very good, the fact that I had contact with, or from, their customer service team three times in my first two orders is telling. Hopefully it’s just growing pains and they’ll get the kinks worked out.

In conclusion, I do think Club W/Winc is a good place to experiment for those just getting into wine. Based on their marketing materials, their target audience is clearly Millennials who fit that category. They allow you to receive different wines from around the world (depending on individual state shipping restrictions) on a regular basis without having to put any thought into buying decisions. Nevertheless, those who have a broader, deeper level of wine experience may find these wines wanting for complexity and depth. If you’re new to wine, and like the simplicity and ease of this business model, I heartily recommend Club W/Winc!

Have you purchased wine from Club W/Winc? Let me know about your experience in the comments.

Cheers!

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Old World v. New World Cabernet: A Total Wine & More Event

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Total Wine & More bills itself as “America’s Wine Superstore.” I would have to agree. The first two times I walked into a Total Wine store, I walked out empty handed. It was simply overwhelming. Those of you fortunate enough to live near one of their 135 stores in 18 states know what I mean. They stock more wine, beer, and spirits on their shelves than anywhere else I’ve ever seen. Simply walking through the store can be disorienting to the uninitiated. I recommend hiring a guide. If you’re ever in the Sacramento area, drop me a line and for a small fee (a bottle of sumpin’ sumpin’) I will gladly help you navigate the labyrinth.

Like so many retailers these days, Total Wine has a loyalty rewards program; they call the Total Discovery Program. Basically, you earn points for each dollar spent in the store. You start at the “Select” level, which basically gets you coupons. Rack up enough points and you level up to the “Reserve”, then “Grand Reserve” levels. At these levels, you receive discounts on products and classes, and invitations to complimentary Members-Only events.

But this post is not intended to be free advertising for this magical place. Rather, it is about an event I attended there yesterday evening. reserveApparently, even though most of my wine comes to me via online retailers, I buy enough product from Total Wine to have recently achieved “Reserve” level status. Thus, I received an invitation to their Sip & Mingle event, The Great Cab Debate: Old World vs. New World Cabernet Sauvignon. Not one to turn down an opportunity to taste world-class wine for free, I naturally submitted my RSVP accepting the invitation.

As one might imagine, this event pitted four Left Bank (Cabernet based) Bordeaux against four California Cabernet wines, in the spirit of this year’s 40th anniversary of the famous Judgment of Paris tasting. This was not a blind tasting, and as the name of the event, Sip & Mingle, implies, it was as much a social evening as a wine tasting. At these events, participants are encouraged to chat, socialize, and nibble on the snack foods provided. Sure, there were a couple of serious wine tasters present, who stood quietly in a corner sipping, spitting, and jotting notes without interacting much. But for the most part, the 20 or so people there relaxed at the tables and enjoyed the wine and conversation. It was certainly a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours on a Friday evening.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “What about the wine?” Ah, yes, the wine. Most of my Bordeaux experience has been Right Bank, Merlot based, so I was anxious to try some of the prestigious Left Bank Chateau creations. These hailed from the Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Pessac-Léognan, and Pauillac appellations. The California wines included one from Paso Robles, and three from the general Napa Valley AVA. In order of recommended tasting, here’s what I thought of them:

Sextant Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2014

01-sextant-paso-robles-2014Brick red, ruby rim. Nose of blackberry and red currant. Flavors of blackberry, red currant, black pepper and spice. A little hot but smooth tannins. Long, spicy finish.

Retail $19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)

Château Pierre de Montignac Médoc Cru Bourgeois 2011

02-chateau-pierre-de-montignac-medoc-2011Brick red, ruby rim. Plum and earth on the nose. Flavors of raspberry, sour cherry, soft oak, and spice. Bone dry with firm tannins and a medium finish.

Retail $19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)

Courtney Benham Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2011

03-courtney-benham-napa-2011Purple color with brick rim. On the nose, green bell pepper, light blackberry, and dusty earth. Blackberry, black plum flavors with soft, smooth tannins and light acidity. Medium finish with berry and white pepper.

Retail $24.99

3.5 out of 5 stars (85-87 points)

Château Landat Vieilles Vignes Haut-Médoc 2012

04-chateau-landat-vieille-vignes-haut-medoc-2012Ruby color. Nose of raspberry and blackberry. Flavors of ripe raspberry, plum, red currant, earth, and spice. Supple tannins, medium acidity, and a medium, spicy finish.

Retail $29.99

4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)

Christophe Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012

05-christophe-limited-edition-napa-valley-2012Purple color with ruby rim. Aromas of ripe blackberry and soft oak. On the palate juicy blackberry, cassis, and white pepper. Super soft tannins and light acidity. Medium finish of dark berry.

Retail $35.99

4.5 out of 5 stars (91-94 points)

Château Larrivet Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan 2009

06-chateau-larrivet-haut-brion-pessac-leognan-2009Deep purple color with ruby rim. Nose is fig, mushroom, and cedar. Flavors of ripe blackberry, cassis, black pepper, and black plum. Soft, velvety tannins and balanced acidity with a long, fruity, spicy finish.

Retail $39.99

4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)

Baldacci IV Four Sons Fraternity Napa Valley Red 2012

07-baldacci-four-sons-fraternity-napa-valley-2012Deep, inky purple color. Aromas of blackberry, bramble, cassis, and a hint of licorice. On the palate, blackberry, cassis, black pepper, and spice. Rich and fruity, with soft tannins and balanced acidity. Long finish with berry, cocoa, and spice. My favorite of the evening.

Retail $46.99

4.5 out of 5 stars (91-94 points)

Château d’Armailhac Grand Cru Classé Pauillac 2012

08-chateau-darmailhac-pauillac-2012Ruby color with brick rim. On the nose, herbal notes with green bell pepper and blackberry. Flavors of blackberry, bell pepper, earth, spice, and cedar. Still young, the tannins are edgy and its a little acidic. This one needs a few more years in the cellar.

Retail $44.99

3.5 out of 5 stars (85-57 points)

This was a fun evening. Although not a blind tasting, it was interesting to compare Old World v. New World Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. Overall, as in ’76, Napa won the evening. At least for me! I look forward to my next invitation to a Total Wine & More Sip & Mingle event!

Judgment of Paris: 40 Years Later

Dateline: Paris (May 24, 1976)

It was 40 years ago this week that Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant living in Paris, held a wine tasting event, the results of which shocked the wine world. Spurrier gathered nine expert judges, all of them French, for a head-to-head blind tasting of the best of Bordeaux and Burgundy against relatively unknown wines from California. Spurrier and an associate, American Patricia Gallagher also participated in tasting and judging the wines. At the time, the commonly held belief was that French wines were the standard of quality, and anything else was inferior. The tasting was originally intended to simply generate publicity for Spurrier’s wine shop and school. Therefore, there was not a lot of outside interest in it, and only one journalist attended the event; George M. Taber, from Time Magazine (Taber, 2005).

Producers_from_Judgement_of_Paris_wine_tasting

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

There were two separate competitions: White Burgundy vs. California Chardonnay, and Red Bordeaux vs. California Cabernet Sauvignon. In each category, there were four French wines, and six from California. The outcome is now well known – a California wine won top honors in both categories. The event changed the landscape of the Napa Valley, figuratively and literally. Taber later compiled the experience in his book: Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Tasting that Revolutionized Wine (Taber, 2005). It is a fascinating and educational account, not only of the tasting event, but also of the history of wine in France and the Napa region. The tasting was also dramatized in the movie Bottle Shock in 2008. It’s worth seeing if you haven’t, but keep in mind this is a motion picture dramatization, complete with editorial and creative license. If you want to really explore and learn about the history, I recommend reading the book!

Judgment of Paris Taber

Photo Credit: Amazon.com

Below are the results of the famous 1976 tastings, in order of their ranking:

White

  1. Chateau Montelena, 1973, Napa
  2. Meursault Charmes Roulot, 1973, Burgundy
  3. Chalone Vineyard, 1974, Monterey County
  4. Spring Mountain, 1973, Napa
  5. Beaune Clos des Mouches Joseph Drophin, 1973, Burgundy
  6. Freemark Abbey Winery, 1972, Napa
  7. Bâtard-Montrachet Ramonet-Prudhon, 1973, Burgundy
  8. Domaine LeFlaive, 1972, Burgundy
  9. Veedercrest Vineyards, 1972, Napa
  10. David Bruce Winery, 1973, Santa Cruz Mountains

Red

  1. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, 1973, Napa
  2. Château Mouton Rothschild, 1970, Bordeaux
  3. Château Haut-Brion, 1970, Bordeaux
  4. Château Montrose, 1970, Bordeaux
  5. Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello, 1971, Santa Cruz Mountains
  6. Château Léoville-Las-Cases, 1971, Bordeaux
  7. Mayacamas Vineyards, 1971, Napa
  8. Clos Du Val Winery, 1972, Napa
  9. Heitz Cellars Martha’s Vineyard, 1970, Napa
  10. Freemark Abbey Winery, 1969, Napa

Among my more cockamamie ideas, it occurred to me that it might be fun to taste each of the wines featured in the Judgment of Paris. Of course, I’ll have to purchase current vintages, but so be it. Many of the châteaux and wineries represented in the competition continue to produce stellar wines, and their prices and scarcity reflect the prestige. Others have remained more affordable and are readily available. In 2004, Chalone Vineyards was purchased by global conglomerate Diageo, which took the brand in the direction of mass-produced table wine; neglecting its historic importance. Fortunately, earlier this year the winery was purchased from Diageo by Foley Family Wines. Spokesman Bill Foley says that Foley Family Wines will work to restore the estate’s reputation and highlight its place in history (Worobiec, 2016).

As much as I’d like to, I won’t be able to recreate the blind tasting, but instead will have to purchase and sample the wines individually over several months. This may prove to be an insurmountable challenge, simply due to the availability (or lack thereof) and cost of some of the famous French wines. Nevertheless, other than those that are clearly out of my range (Château Moutin-Rothschild, for as much as $1,100 for recent vintages, comes to mind) I am determined to seek out and taste them all! Watch for reviews coming soon!

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Works Cited

Taber, G. M. (2005). Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine. New York: Scribner.

Worobiec, M. (2016, February 8). Foley Family Wines Buys Chalone Vineyards. Retrieved May 26, 2016, from Wine Spectator: http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/52727

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Pezat Grand Vin de Bordeaux 2011

You may have noticed that I am a member (or Angel, as members are known) of NakedWines.com. As an Angel, I buy and review a lot of NakedWines.com wine. In addition to their NakedWines.com wines, many of the winemakers who produce wine for NakedWines.com also have other projects and private labels. They’re not Naked, but they’re made by NakedWines.com winemakers, so they’re not entirely non-Naked. I like to refer to them as “Wines Scantily Clad.”

I’ve added a “Wines Scantily Clad” category under Reviews in the menu bar. Check back for more reviews as I come across these great wines!

Pezat
From NakedWines.com’s own Jonathan Maltus, I scored his Pezat 2011 Right Bank Bordeaux for just $17. Robert Parker himself was pretty impressed with this wine:

88 pts.– Robert Parker: “From Jonathan Maltus, this is what Bordeaux is doing more and more of. It is wines such as this that will ultimately save the lesser properties from extinction. A blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc from a humble appellation with a great price tag, this inky/purple-colored 2011 reveals copious amounts of black fruits. Straightforward and powerful, this sleeper of the vintage will offer a serious mouthful of wine over the next 3-4 years.”

Here’s my review from Vivino:

Bright, vibrant Right Bank Bordeaux. Ruby color with red brick at the edges. Aromas of raspberry, cranberry, and plum. Flavors of plum, cherry, and smoky spice, with a hint of oak. Tannins are pronounced, with bright acidity. This wine has great aging potential. The finish is spice, leather, and licorice. Like most Old World wines, this is best with food, and paired nicely with my grilled flank steak. At $17, a very nice Bordeaux.

Purchased from Underground Cellar.
Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Thanks to Ryan O’Connell of NakedWines.com for suggesting and encouraging me to add “Wines Scantily Clad” to my blog. Check out Ryan’s blog, The Truth About Wine at https://nakedwinesdotcom.wordpress.com/.

Cheers!

Bordeaux: It’s Not a Grape

bordeauxreflectionsBordeaux. The name evokes images of luxury and glamour, Downton Abbey-esque dinner parties, and the ultimate in fine wine – the standard against which all other wines are measured. This is not undeserved; Bordeaux is very good wine. It is one of the most recognized names in the wine world. As such, it is also misunderstood, and intimidating to many people.

downton-abbey-dinner-tableA while back, I invited some friends over for dinner, and to share a bottle of Bordeaux. This particular bottle, a $60 Saint-Émilion (obviously not a Grand Cru, but a very nice wine), had been sent to me to review, so I wanted to share it with people who would appreciate the quality. These friends are into wine, but drink mostly California wines. I opened and decanted, and when dinner was served, poured the wine. As they tasted, I explained that as a Right Bank Bordeaux, this wine was predominantly Merlot, blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The looks on their faces betrayed their surprise. “Bordeaux isn’t a grape?” one of my friends asked.

Old World wines can create confusion to American wine drinkers. Had I served a Napa Valley Merlot, the label would say “Napa Valley Merlot.” A red blend with less than 75% of one varietal would say “Red Blend” or something similar, and often lists the grapes on the back label. European wines, on the other hand, name the region on the label, but usually not the varietal. There, people just know that Red Burgundy is Pinot Noir, Chianti is Sangiovese, Rioja is Tempranillo, and Bordeaux is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and other grapes.

bordeaux-superieur-1996

Napa Merlot

The Bordeaux region is in southwestern France, along the banks of the Gironde river. The predominant red grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Historically, red wines from producers on the Left Bank of the river are Cabernet-based, while those from the Right Bank are Merlot-based. Other common varietals, used for blending, include Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. As mentioned, Bordeaux wines are renowned for their quality, their aging potential, and their glamour.

CarteUltraSimp2012_UK

While high-end Bordeaux, Grand Crus, can fetch thousand of dollars per bottle, there are plenty of very good Bordeaux wines for less than $20. Check your wine shop or market, and try a bottle! Bordeaux has earned it’s reputation for a good reason. Just don’t look for a Bordeaux grape!