Today, we are happy to highlight the recent arrival of the 2016s from Dominique Lafon's trailblazing Mâconnais project, Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon. As our regular newsletter readers know, Dominique, widely considered one of the finest winemakers in France, founded this domaine back in 1999 with an eye on making world class Chardonnay in a region known more for its industrially farmed, high volume wines. The goal: produce some of the most complex, vibrant and impressive wines to express the unrealized potential of the Mâconnais. Since 2006, the day-to-day winemaking responsibilities have been in the hands of long-time apprentice, Caroline Gon. Over the years, we have had the pleasure of following the domaine's growth and evolution under Caroline's leadership. What she has been able to accomplish during this time, has been extraordinary and one of the principal reasons why the gospel of the Mâconnais enjoys the authority and range we observe today. Brava! The 2016 vintage in Burgundy was excruciating for growers. The Mâconnais was spared the painful frosts that devastated famous address throughout the Cote d'Or but though the region was spared this extreme weather it received a relentless series of hailstorms that ravaged the region from mid-April through the end of July. With yields dramatically down and disease pressure in the vineyards spiking, it was a vintage characterized by bad news arriving almost daily and one that many yearned to forget. When the wines finally began making their way out into the world, the reception was mixed and even the most experienced taster found it difficult to give the wines their support. Re-tasting these 2016s now has reconfirmed one of our most fundamental convictions: simply that 'off' vintages are special opportunities to buy and enjoy the world's most distinctive, terroir driven wines that we so often miss out on in top vintages. With decent stock across the range, we thought it'd be fun to present our loyal readers with an unique opportunity to begin a focused exploration of the distinctive terroirs of the Mâconnais through the lens of a master and from the hands of a world class talent. So, here's the deal: get 10% off when you buy a 6-pk, 15% off when you go deep and buy a case online. Feel free to mix-and-match. No further discounts. Offer expires on Sunday January 28th or while supplies last. All wines are being stored and will ship from our store in Downtown San Francisco. Shop All 2016 Heritiers du Comte Lafon Heritieres du Comte Lafon, Mâcon Milly-Lamartine, 2016 - $28.99 It was the high altitude, cooler terroir of the commune of Milly-Lamartine that attracted Dominique to the possibility of realizing his vision of producing world-class Chardonnay in the Maconnais. Beautiful white flowers and citrus zest with nice focus and grip. There are small limestone rocks that sit atop hard bedrock strewn across this steep, East facing slope. A great introduction. Heritieres du Comte Lafon, Mâcon Milly-Lamartine Clos du Four, 2016 - $39.99 Sourced from a single vineyard, Clos du Four is unique due to the high proportion of clay in its soils relative to other parcels in the commune. Consistently the lowest yielding vineyard, this also tends to produce the most full-bodied wine from the line-up. Heritieres du Comte Lafon, Mâcon-Prissé, 2016 - $28.99 One of the newest additions to lineup. Prisse is sourced exclusively from the lieu-dit La Verchère, on a gentle, east-facing slope, 200m altitude, well-structured clay soils on hard limestone bedrock. It is a site closer in proximity to St-Veran. Baked apple, hazelnut and flint smoke. Bright, open-knit and easy-going though not lacking for substance. This is a wine to watch. Heritieres du Comte Lafon, Mâcon-Bussières Le Monsard, 2016 - $33.99 Early-ripening terroir from the lieu-dit En Monsard. Juicy apple, pear, candied citrus and almond cream. Great mineral drive, clean and precise. Heritieres du Comte Lafon, Mâcon-Uchizy Les Maranches, 2016 - $33.99 Blend of two parcels within the lieu-dit Les Maranches. Sunny and warm sites that produce a wine full of exotic fruit and heady floral aromas. There is a disarming opulence to this wine that finds its balance in finish that is precise and saline. Classic Lafon. Heritieres du Comte Lafon, Mâcon-Chardonnay Clos de la Crochette, 2016 - $33.99 From a single-walled vineyard (clos) in the commune of Chardonnay. Nicely structured with a generous mid-palate weight. White fruits, lemon zest and fresh. The rest of the new arrivals from 2016 Heretieres du Comte Lafon: Heritiers du Comte Lafon, Viré-Clessé, 2016 - $41.99 Heritiers du Comte Lafon, Saint-Véran, 2016 - $41.99 What pairs perfectly with your fancy seafood courses? World class Chardonnay. Dungeness Crab, creamy lobster pasta or raw bar options will all benefit from the balance of richness, texture and bright acidity that Heritieres offers every vintage. With gratitude, Andrew
Milon’s Cuvée Caprice The “great” viticultural regions are most famous for their grandest wines; they usually take decades to mature and also cost a fortune. But these same venerated regions also produce fresh and delicious wines that can be drunk young- the kind locals choose for everyday expression of their local terroirs and traditions. Such pleasures are key to the enjoyment and understanding of wine itself. We drink Piedmontese Dolcetto, and Burgundy’s Bourgogne Rouge and Passetoutgrain. Yet for some reason, when it comes to Bordeaux we focus almost exclusively on the grand vins of the most famous châteaux; these giants need decades of cellar time before they are ready to drink. 2018 is the year to look beyond those big names. Bordeaux’s latest vintage, 2016, makes it so easy. It was a great year. Naturally, the grand châteaux made extraordinary wines. But so did the smaller domaines, many of which producing wine in a wonderfully pretty and immediate style – perfect for straight-up drinking! Château Milon’s St.-Émilion, “Cuvée Caprice,” is one such wine. Milon isn’t what we think of when we imagine a St.-Émilion château. It’s a Burgundy-sized estate that farms ecologically, ferments in traditional cement vats, and ages with very little new oak. Their wines are honest and pure, bursting with dark, linear Merlot that clearly articulates St.-Émilion’s varied terroirs. See my tasting notes below: Château Milon, St.-Émilion “Cuvée Caprice”, 2016 – $19.99 Rich, firm-yet-energetic dark fruit with a vein of chalky minerality running throughout. The structure is perfect harmony with the mid-palate, and the wine is immediately delicious. Classical, terroir-driven Bordeaux with uncommon elegance for this price point. Pair with hanger steak.
Australian wine is often viewed in a negative light in the United States, largely because of the big box exporters that flooded the market with less than spectacular critter wines in the late 90s and early 2000s. I was lucky enough to spend several weeks down under recently and am happy to report that there is some truly amazing wine coming out of the driest continent. Australia is a large country, split into 6 states and 2 territories. There is a lot of great wine coming from many regions, but the states producing the most wine are Victoria and South Australia. Other regions of note producing great wine are Tasmania, Margaret River in Western Australia, and the Hunter Valley and Canberra in New South Wales. New South Wales, on the southeast coast of the country, is home to several wine regions, including Hunter Valley, Orange, Mudgee, and Canberra. The Hunter Valley is located between 120 and 310 kilometers north of Sydney, and slightly inland from the coast. The first vines were planted in about 1829, and have remained phylloxera-free to this day. They typically produce wines that are low in sugar and alcohol. Often they’re aged exclusively in stainless steel, and rarely is any oak used. Many of the vineyards are planted in old creek beds, the sandy soil of which is perfect for the grape they’re best known for, Semillon. Clay soils are typical for red wine grapes, which engender low nutrient, low vigor, and low yield harvests. Another exciting region is the Canberra District, which encompasses vineyards in New South Wales as well as the Australian Capital Territory. However, due to land ownership laws in the ACT, very few winemakers are willing to sign on for a 99 year lease, and prefer to own vineyards in NSW outright. Because of the cool climate, the most successful grapes being grown in the Canberra district are Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling. Often times Shiraz is blended with a small amount of Viognier, which results in an incredibly elegant and well-balanced wine. Not a lot of wines are exported from Canberra, so grab some when you see it! Silkman, Hunter Valley Semillon, 2015 $22.99 Stay tuned for more posts about other winemaking regions of Australia.
Why to drink Bordeaux Cru Bourgeois In my first post on Bordeaux Cru Bourgeois I explained: what they are: great Chateaux that didn't sell for enough to be classified as Bordeaux Cru Classé in 1855 how they came to exist: a bunch of the best non-Classé Chateaux banded together for marketing purposes, and why it all stopped working: it was too complicated and bureaucratic! In this, my second post on Bordeaux' Cru Bourgeois, I want to give you five reasons to look beyond Bordeaux' Grand Cru Classé–more specifically, five reasons to look at the Cru Bourgeois wines for delicious values that do everything we want our wines to do. 1. The Virtual Circle of Good Money Making Great Wines Applies to the Cru Bourgeois too For years, the Grand Cru Classé system worked like a beautiful virtuous circle. Because they were Grand Cru Classé, people bought their wines. Because people bought their wines, the Chateaux made more money. Because they had more money, those Chateaux could invest in better farming, better facilities, better talent. And even better land: when you're ready to expand your holdings, you'll need money to buy the best terroirs. With money you can afford to lower yields and grow less, but more concentrated fruit. You can sort more aggressively and just throw away fruit you don't like. You can declassify young vines or different terroirs and make a Second Wine. You can afford to do whatever it takes to make better wine. For years, only the Grand Cru Classés had that kind of money. So only the Classified Growths made ever better and better wine. But since around the 2000 vintage that has changed. The Grand Cru Classés became too successful. They charged higher and higher prices and lost of customers were priced out. Many of those priced-out customers discovered to charms of Bordeaux Cru Bourgeois. Especially customers in China, where Cru Bourgeois is widely recognized as denoting high quality and consumers often look for Cru Bourgeois when they want affordable, high quality Bordeaux. As a result, Cru Bourgeois has had a really good 15 years or so. Their recent successes were obvious when we toured the Chateaux. It was obvious across the board, from upgraded winemaking facilities and higher density farming, to the emergence of Second Wines and even the display of a few very expensive-seeming art collections. Definitely very Bourgeois! The bottom line is that the virtuous circle is no longer exclusive to the Grand Cru Classés. This was evident when I visited Chateau Charmail, an excellent Cru Bourgeois located up by Sociando Mallet. Purchased in 2008, the new owners are clearly investing heavily in improving the wine. Vine density has increased. Merlot plantings are being replaced with Cabernet (and Petit Verdot!). They've stopped using chemicals in their farming and have planted hedges to provide a more natural ecosystem. Our vertical tasting was instructive. The wines have always been good, but something clearly happened recently: the latest vintages are off-the-charts-good for the pricing. Easily as good as a Grand Cru Classé, and yet we are able to sell the 2010 Charmail for under $35! 2. Global warming and the Medoc No surprise: the Grand Cru Classés are all in the Medoc's sweetest spots, mostly in that row of famous villages that starts with Margaux and goes up to St. Estephe. A lot of this “sweetness” has to do with temperature. Historically speaking, those villages are exactly where you need to be to ripen Cabernet grapes–though only just. (Merlot ripens earlier so it’s a bit easier.) Any warmer, and the grape will ripen too easily, producing higher alcohol and very fruit forward Cabernets that miss out on most of Bordeaux’s charm. But any cooler, and the wines ripen in very few vintages. Most years you get weaker wines with flavors that are too green, even weedy. So the Medoc's top villages where all in that Goldilocks zone. Now, to understand where I’m going here, you need to appreciate the range of temperatures we’re talking about. Get out of the train station in the city of Bordeaux and you might be enjoying a warm sunny day of 75 degrees. T-shirt weather. But drive north to Seurin-de-Cadourne, the first village past St. Estephe, and you better grab your hoody when you hop out of the car because it's gonna be 64 degrees. Those few miles make a difference. It ain't 1950, and the sites that had ideal temperatures back then are a lot warmer today. The places that were too cool back then are the new Goldilocks. One of those places is Tour Castillon. A general rule of thumb is that the best Bordeaux is produced closest to the Gironde, the great river that flows due north from Bordeaux. There's an an old saying that the best Chateaux can see the river (if only from the turrets). Chateaux like Lafite Rothschild and Montrose. But go north from Montrose walking along the Gironde and the last Chateau you'll come across is Tour-Castillon–not a Grand Cru Classe but a Cru Bourgeois. The real estate is so much cheaper than further south that when I asked why a large lawn by the river wasn't suitable for vines, the owner explained that actually “it would be good for vines, but they would interrupt my view of the river.” I suspect in 10 years that lawn will be planted. The wines are excellent, for now (at least) wildly under-valued, and available (as of the time of writing) at our San Francisco store. 3. Small-scale, Artisanal Production in Bordeaux! Let’s face it, with a few exceptions, the Grand Cru Classés are big businesses. They're typically owned by insurance companies, Chinese conglomerates, or French billionaires who collect them like trophies. And they make tons of wine that's marketed like the high end luxury good it is. That’s also true of some of the Bordeaux Cru Bourgeois–but not most of them. Most of the are owned by actual families. There are brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, who care very much about what happens in the vineyards and in the winery. The typical Grand Cru Classe has more than 100 hectares under the vine. Many people say that truly artisanal wine production is impossible north of 50 hectares, and some put the number far lower, like around 20 hectares. There are a lot of Bordeaux Cru Bourgeois producing at this scale, and it shows in the quality of their wines. One very quick example: Saransot-Dupré. With only 15 hectares in Listrac-Medoc, all owned by the same family since the 1800s, this is a tiny and working in a traditional style that has all but disappeared among the Grand Cru Classes. The wines are amazing and I’m still working on getting a nice parcel to offer in our newsletter. (Be sure to sign up at the bottom of this page if you haven't already.) 4. Terroir diversity As much as we love the Grand Cru Classes, you have to admit that they suffer from a kind of…sameness. The reasons are probably historical. Markets, fashions and trends are fickle. They move back and forth. But the Grand Cru Classés are based almost entirely on what people wanted back in 1855. Back then, what people wanted was (mostly) Cabernet planted in the gravelly soils along the Gironde. For sure, that kind of wine is great. Maybe the greatest. But if you love diversity in wine, as we do, you also want to drink other stuff. That’s true even if you’re one of the lucky few who can afford to drink nothing but the Grand Cru Classés! Here’s what the Cru Bourgeois offers: limestone. The soils along the Gironde, where the GCCs are located, are pretty much uniformly gravel-based, with varying proportions of clay. But go north from there, into the Haut Medoc and Medoc, and you will find an extensive patch of limestone-based soils. Or go to the west, into villages like Listrac, and you find the same thing. Merlot and Cabernet Franc really love limestone (that’s why they dominate the Right Bank), and you find a higher proportion of those grapes in wines from those terroirs. The Saransot-Dupré wine mentioned above is a great example of this, as Listrac has limestone-intense soils that bring to the wine an elegance and floral quality that strikes quite a different tone from the famous wines you get just to the east. 5. The (160 year old) Grand Cru Classé system is out-dated This is really the crux of the matter: The GCC system was designed in 1855 to reflect the market of1855. The classifications have hardly budged since then. Nevertheless, it continues to drive pricing. This distorts the market. And wherever there is distortion, there are bargains. Happy hunting! And be sure to sign up for our newsletter because we’re going to find some of the best Cru Bourgeois values out there and offer them with amazing discounts that will only be available to subscribers.