2017 Burgundy: A First Look at the Vintage

This post is still very preliminary, as the wines are still in barrel and I haven’t even tasted barrel samples. Still, there is plenty we already do know, and plenty of well-respected commentators have already given useful guidance on the characteristics of the vintage. After I’ve tasted — I will taste plenty on February 6 — this post will link to a new post with my own impressions from tasting. So, stay tuned for updates and, until then, below is a summary of everything we already know. 


What’s the big picture on the 2017 vintage? What’s the one thing I need to know?

At this point, most commentators are saying that they like the vintage very much. We’ll break that down for you in further detail below. It’s also a very abundant vintage. After nearly a decade of below-average yielding vintages, the Burgundians will actually have some wine to sell — the most since 2009.

What was the weather like in 2017?

It was a warm year. I was in Europe for much of that summer, and I can recall some extremely hot days! But Burgundy itself was a little more moderate than elsewhere. There was enough cool weather early in the growing season that at one point in May they were about three weeks behind where they usually would be in terms of bud maturity. Between May and August there were plenty of hot days, but also quite a few moderate days and just enough rainfall to avoid drying out the vines. If there is a “good” kind of global warming, this was it!

It was certainly warm enough that harvest was on the early side. People started bringing in their whites at the end of August and their reds the first week of September. Conditions during the harvest were mostly dry.

Basically, the weather didn’t provide any of the challenges that we’ve seen in recent year, with frosts, hail, excessive mildew, and whatnot. That’s why quantities ended up so high. There was a scary moment of frost in April, but it didn’t end up doing any serious damage.

What kind of wines were made in 2017?

The French call this a “solar” vintage, a vintage of the sun. By all accounts, the wines are definitely ripe, but not to the same extent as vintages like 2009 and 2015.  Commentators also note quite a bit of “freshness”, and a little less concentration than those vintages. As a result, people are calling the vintage “classical”, and many are observing that it is very transparent: each site produced wines that really taste of the site. Reading around, I get the sense that it is a lot like 2014, but better, thanks to a little more density and slightly riper fruit.

Is 2017 a better vintage for red wines or white wines?

Unusually, 2017 appears to be a very high quality vintage for both red and white wine. Since it is a relatively warm vintage, I was expecting it to be better for red, but the commentators I follow consistently note how amazing the whites have turned out — better than the 2014s in many cases, they say. We’ll have to see how the wines turn out when they are finished, but it seems likely that whites will have a slight edge over the reds.

Don’t the large yields in 2017 mean that the quality must be low?

No. Lesser producers may have produced more dilute wines, but the producers that we work with — those that are the focus of America’s more respected importers and commentators — do what they need to do to optimize yields and ensure good concentration in the berries. Many performed green harvests, for example. I have not seen any reports of any decent producer making dilute wines in 2017.

Did the 2017 vintage turn out differently in Burgundy’s different regions or villages?

No doubt, as this is always the case! I will need to taste around before getting a full picture, because the commentators haven’t offered much yet in this regard, and some of what they say is a little inconsistent. I read somewhere that the Chablis did not have enough acidity, but somewhere else it was described as “classic”. One person said that Nuits-St.-Georges was his favorite village of the vintage; another said that it was a weak spot. We shall see.

What exactly do the commentators say about the 2017 vintage?

Here are some key quotes from some of the most followed commentators:

  • Burghound (on red wines): “The better 2017s are also well-balanced wines built for medium to occasionally extended aging yet they should also be approachable young if youthful fruit is your preference. Before I offer more detail, the short answer is yes on both accounts that the 2017s deserve a place in your cellars and there is no reason not to buy what you can afford as the wines should be generally available given the more generous quantities.

  • Neal Martin (Vinous): “there are some quite brilliant whites that, many growers are beginning to opine, equal or even surpass the haloed 2014s. The 2017 reds are very good, often excellent, and from time to time, bloody awesome.”

  • Julia Harding MW (Jancis Robinson): “A lovely vintage north to south: wines singing their heart out.”

  • William Kelley (robertparker.com): On whites: “For white wines, 2017 should be taken more seriously: classically balanced and beautifully defined by site, these white Burgundies are less tangy and tensile than the 2014s, but they approach and sometimes surpass that vintage in quality.” On red: “The reds are supple, charming and expressive, characterized by melting tannins and comparatively low acidities. Reminiscent of a richer, more sun-kissed version of 2007, or a cleaner, more concentrated 2000, the 2017 red Burgundies will offer more immediate pleasure than the more serious, structured 2016 and 2015 vintages, though they are unlikely ever to rival those years for depth, longevity and complexity.”

  • Steve Tanzer (Vinous; on white wines): “The largest white Burgundy crop since 2009 has yielded pliant, elegant, pure wines with considerable aromatic appeal and early accessibility, along with the balance and stuffing for at least mid-term aging.”

  • Tim Akin MW (Decanter):  On Chablis: “If you like classic Chablis for medium-term drinking, the answer is yes. Prices will increase on 2016 in many cases, but these wines remain comparative Burgundian bargains.” On reds: “Supple tannins and lots of sweet fruit on the reds.” On whites: “Focus, freshness and minerality on the early-picked whites.”

So, what is the bottom line on this vintage?  Should I buy them?

It sure looks that way. This is a vintage of good to excellent wines with abundant quantities, both red and white. Meanwhile, 2018 is looking like a vintage that will be too ripe for many Burgundy lovers. Probably, with global warming, we’ll have many more vintages like 2018 in the future. So the question becomes, how many more “classic” vintages like 2017 will there be in the next few years? And when they come along, what will the prices be like? If you’re the sort of loyal Burgundy consumer that buys in just about every vintage, this is clearly not one to skip. And even if you dabble in only the good vintages, 2017 seems like a solid candidate for your attention.

Great! When can I get started?

Note that a few Chablis, Macons and region-level wines are already available. Village-level and up wines from the Cote d’Or will start to arrive this summer, in 2019. A full tsunami of 2017s will hit in the Fall of 2019, though we will continue to see late releases throughout 2020.

But you can get started buying the wines before their arrival thanks to our pre-sale program that we’re launching this year, in combination with a number of pre-sale tasting events, many of which are free or nearly free, in both our New York and San Francisco shops. To make sure you’re hearing about the details for these events, sign up for our newsletter (when given the chance, be sure to indicate your interest in Burgundy.)

Where to Search for your Reasonable Cellar in 2019

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In his January 7, 2019 blog post, Jeff reviewed the concept of the Reasonable Cellar and his approach to buying and cellaring wine. Today he offers some more specific suggestions as to how to apply this strategy.

While shopping for your Reasonable Cellar does not involve the painful process of chasing scarce allocations, it does allow for the fun of figuring out what exactly makes good, cellar-worthy values. It’s something that changes all the time, as vintages come and go, new producers emerge on the scene, and old producers retire, lose their holdings, change their style, or whatever. Here are a few ideas for 2019.


 

Loire

If I had to pick one single place on Earth to source wines for the Reasonable Cellar in 2019, it would be the Loire. This, of course, has not been a secret for long, as for many years people have been touting the exceptional values — both red and white — offered here from Muscadet all the way to Sancerre. But two things are a little different in 2019. Just a few years ago, the wines in the marketplace came from 2011, 2012 and 2013, all weak vintages. Now, virtually everything available comes from 2014, 2015, 2016 or 2017 — a string of four very strong vintages! You almost can’t go wrong, as long as you stick to artisanal producers and stay away from the industrial brands.

The other important thing to realize in 2019 is that the secret is finally starting to get out. We have now seen two Loire producers reach off-the-charts cult-popularity: Clos Rougeard and Vatan. Additionally, we have seen a small handful of Chenin Blanc producers earning unicorn-like reverence. It is inevitable that other producers will soon follow. It’s impossible to predict which — we recommend just buying wines and producers you like for as long as you can afford them. And watch this space for a thorough guide to Loire Valley wines later this year.

Beaujolais

Beaujolais is another region that seems to perennially provide value. Yes, the region now has superstars, and wines that are allocated far too strictly — Metras and Foillard, for example — but even those wines are rarely above $50 and we were able to offer both wines in our newsletter in 2018 (we’ll see how much we can land in 2019!). Definitely keep buying your favorites, as the prices have barely budged over the years — producers like Clos de Roilette, Dutraive and Bouland. But, be careful not to miss out on new producers, as this is neighborhood where vineyard land remains affordable enough that talented and ambitious young folk can actually get their hands on excellent terroirs. Sunier and Mee Godard both come to mind.

Beaujolais is great in the Reasonable Cellar not just because it is inexpensive but also because it ages quickly — most hit their peak at age five or so — and offers a really interesting range of terroirs, all with their own nuances, and all very visible because the wines are all produced with the same grape. Check out our guide to the Crus of Beaujolais here — hopefully we’ll get to updating that this year.

Piedmont

This is a tough one, because Piedmont seems to be affected more by global warming than most of our other favorite regions, and yet, well, it really is one of our favorite regions and we can’t leave it off a list like this! 2015, 2017 and 2018 were probably all too warm to produce much in the way of classical Nebbiolo, sadly, although of course there will still be plenty of tasty wine. 2014 was also a poor vintage in Barolo because of rain.

So what to do? Two things. One is obvious: focus on the two monumentally great vintages that are on the market, 2013 and 2016. Most 2013s have come and gone, and unfortunately most of what’s left is outside of the Reasonable Cellar budget. But keep your eyes peeled, because we are going to do our best to uncover a few opportunities in the next few months. As for 2016, the trick is to look at non-Barolos. Barbera, Freisa, and Nebbiolo d’Alba from many great producers are all coming online now. We will start to see Barbarescos this year. Do not miss them!

The other opportunity is in the “off” vintage of 2014. People don’t realize yet that, despite the problems in Barolo,  it is in fact pretty awesome in Barbaresco. We have at least two 2014 Barbaresco opportunities in stock now at Reasonable Cellar pricing and we hope to uncover more this year.

Bordeaux

In Bordeaux, you finally have two great vintages after years of problems: 2015 and 2016. Find wines from small artisanal producers that don’t really change their prices from vintage to vintage like is true for the big guys that deal with negociants. If you want to stick to Grand Cru Classees, then sorry, those vintages are going to be very expensive. But vintages like 2014 and 2011 offer good value, and we continue to find opportunities in back vintages like 2008, 2006 and 2004. Meanwhile, there is a whole world of value from not-so-famous Right Bank terroirs like Fronsac and the Castillon. Do not make the mistake of lumping all of Bordeaux all in the “lux” category and missing out on the amazing values from those regions!

California

Despite global warming and terrible forest fires, California has pulled off a series of truly fantastic vintages. At the same time, the wines that are emblematic of “New California” have become so mainstream that I am probably considered silly by many observers just for using the term. Taken together, we are truly in a new Golden Era for California, not seen since the 1970s. The problem is prices, of course, but even here we are seeing break-throughs, as it is increasingly being recognized that artisans need to produce the lighter, drinkable wines that are so easy to find in Europe at the $20 price point.

But this is still a challenging area for folks who want to keep a Reasonable Cellar. Look for opportunities in less heralded grapes like Zinfandel or Valdiguié. Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Syrah are sadly really tough, though here and there we’re able to find something. Our big advice for 2019? Go for Chardonnay. Californians are increasingly producing this grape in a more restrained, reductive–even Chabli-like–style that holds well in a cellar, and the pricing is for the most part still reasonable. And I have still never come across a pre-moxed Californian Chardonnay!

Tuscany

Like Beaujolais, Tuscany — and for now I am focusing mostly on Chianti — is a region that seems to perennially earn a spot on this list. No matter how good the wines they produce,, no matter how great the vintages, the price of Chianti does not seem to increase that much. My absolute favorite purchase in 2018 was the regular Classico from Castell’in Villa. Under $30, and I am very confident that it will give me enormous pleasure over the next 15 years. I cellared a full case; I wish I had cellared two or even three. That’s gone now, but folks are releasing Chiantis from 2015 and 2016 right now, and they are also great vintages.

The wines may not quite have the easy drinkability of Beaujolais, but on average they hold better in the cellar. And they are just so…satisfying! Stock up while this opportunity lasts, though honestly the price has stayed so stable for so long that it’s hard to imagine the opportunity expiring any time soon.

Campania

It’s no fun just having all the usual obvious regions on this list every time I put it out, so every time I make sure to add something new. I can’t believe I haven’t talked more about Campania in the past. I drink it at home all the time. I have cases and cases of Aglianico in my Reasonable Cellar, plus a bit of Fiano. The signature wine of the region — Mastroberardino’s Taurasi — is still only about $50 on release, and there are plenty of equally great wines from lesser DOC’s that cost less. This is an area — like Saumur in the Loire or Sicily’s Mount Etna — where I sense something really special is happening and it frankly reminds me of where the Northern Rhone was five or ten years ago. Pay attention!

Northwest Spain

Galicia, like a few other regions on this list — the Loire mostly, but also California and Campania — succeeds at providing obvious candidates for the Reasonable Cellar that are both red and white. They are blessed with wonderful grape varieties like Mencia, Albarino, Treixadura and Godello. They have some pretty crazy terroir, with awfully steep vineyards, and a wide variety of minerals in the soils underneath. They have vines going back 60-70 years and even further. They have, like Saumur, a lot of newish producers who understand the specialness of all these assets, and are trying to show them off to the world with traditional, non-manipulative methods. Like Campania, I think this is a region that is sneaking up on us and could really break out in the next year or two.

Rieslings

The best Rieslings from Germany, Austria and Alsace are already beyond the Reasonable Cellar budget. But it is still shocking how much great Riesling is produced in these regions that costs less than $40, or even less than $25. We sold Kabinetts from J. J. Prum for less than $40 in 2018, and these were so obviously great wines that will improve for five years or more in the cellar. There are so many other producers out there like that. Maybe the GGs from Donnhoff are now a little out of reach, but he has a wide range of incredibly delicious wines that are easily obtainable for under $35. This is very different from the situation in, say, Burgundy, where a Donnhoff analogy — Mugnier? — has become totally impossible for regular wine buyers.

Germany, in particular, has had a very good string of vintages. You can’t go wrong with 2015s, 2016s or 2017s. I haven’t tasted yet, but I understand the 2018s are also likely to be very good. Prices are going up, and this does not seem to be a situation like Chianti where you can always count on the prices staying moderate. A lot of good wines have already gone north of $50 and we think this trend will continue, partly because the Germans themselves recognize how special their wines are and they buy most of then locally. Until they do, you should keep stocking up.

Edges of Burgundy

Burgundy epitomizes all that is good and all that is bad in the wine world. The bad? You can’t find or afford wines from the most famous producers. Sorry, that game ended over ten years ago when the 2005s were released. Top Burgundy officially became unReasonable.

So why is Burgundy on this list? Because of the good. Because of the Edges. The Edges of Burgundy are all the villages of Burgundy that produce Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that would be considered world-class were they in any part of the world other than Burgundy, but that happen to be in Burgundy and therefore are completely over-shadowed by villages like Vosne Romanee and Puligny Montrachet. I’m talking about places like St. Aubin, Fixin and Mercurey. There are plenty more — I wrote a whole series of blog posts about them!

But I bring this up now because finally Burgundy has a string of really good vintages including one — 2017 — that actually produced a good quantity of high quality wine in both red and white. Buy plenty of Chablis, Rully, and Auxey Duresses in 2019, and you won’t regret it.


 

We will kick off your Reasonable Cellar buying tomorrow with a special offering of 30+ wines that all make great candidates. Make sure you are signed up to our newsletter.

 

The Return of the Reasonable Cellar

 

IMG_1088The Return of the Reasonable Cellar

Around the beginning of each year, we love to remind our customers and readers that maintaining a wine cellar doesn’t have to be an extravagance.

  • You don’t have to spend tons of money.
  • You don’t have to chase a small number of highly allocated trophies that are being sought by more and more millionaires and billionaires across the globe every year.
  • You don’t have to keep a cellar filled with wines that you never drink, because they aren’t quite ready yet or because you’re thinking about how much you could sell them for.

Instead, you can maintain what we’ve been calling for years the Reasonable Cellar.

What is a Reasonable Cellar?

We define it as a cellar filled with wines that cost less than $50 per bottle and that are likely to improve within just a few years of cellaring. They should be wines that can buy without having to fuss over tight allocations. The $50 cut-off is loose: we go a little bit above that for Champagne, and in fact most Reasonable Cellar wines are under $30!

The theory behind the Reasonable Cellar is simple: there are a lot of great, cellar-worthy wines out there that haven’t been hyped up to the point that they have become unReasonable. Take Clos Rougeard for example. It is a great wine, but so hyped up that it has become very expensive and very difficult to find. Meanwhile, there are half a dozen producers in Saumur — Rougeard’s home village — that produce wines that give you 95% of the pleasure that you’ll get from Clos Rougeard.

But is the price of those other producers 95% of what you’d pay for Rougeard? Of course not. It’s sometimes as little as 10%. Even the top producer in Saumur whose name isn’t Clos Rougeard — that would be Thierry Germain — makes a wine entirely from Les Poyeux that costs roughly 25% of Clos Rougeard’s. And you can buy the wine! As of this writing, there are 12 bottles sitting there in our stock for anyone to grab!

The objection I hear most often is that people want the best. I know the feeling, and when I have the opportunity to taste the best, I do take it. So often, the “best” is disappointing. At dinner the other night we opened a bottle of 1998 Les Cailles from Robert Chevillon. That’s a very sought-after cru from Nuits-St.-George’s “best” producer. Current releases cost around $130, and in top vintages you have to get in line for an allocation. The 1998 was good but not great. Frankly, everyone at the table had far more pleasure from a wine from our Reasonable Cellar that we also opened: a Brovia Barolo 2008 — just the normale, not one of the crus. That’s a wine we offered to our customers for $39.99 in an email offer just a few years ago. Hopefully, you bought a few bottles, because now they are just starting to open up beautifully!

Anyway, as we did at the beginning of last year, this week we’re going to help you start — or perhaps expand — your Reasonable Cellar. On Thursday, January 10 we will publish a blog post that will identify the best current opportunities for a Reasonable Cellar (good recent vintages in good regions where values abound). On Friday, January 11 we will send out an email putting 30-40 excellent candidates for the Reasonable Cellar on sale — Cru Beaujolais, non-classified Bordeaux, Saumur, Italian and Californian opportunities, Rieslings, and more. Discounts are pretty deep and last year this sale was extremely popular. Make sure that you are signed up for our newsletter (CLICK to subscribe!) and look for the email around lunch time in New York. The sale will go through the weekend until the end of day Sunday.

 

2013 Brovia Barolo: The best straight Barolo you are likely to come across

Our Reasonable Cellar posts are so often about things that are slightly off. An off region. An off grape. An off vintage. But today nothing is off at all.

The inspiration was Brovia Barolo 2008. In one of my better moves, I tucked a way an entire case of the wine when we got it maybe five or six years ago.

About a couple of years ago I cracked my first bottle. Now I love mature Barolo most of all, but I’m pretty OK with young Barolo too. I’m pretty happy with fresh, tannic reds, especially with grilled beef. But not when they’re shut down!

2008 Brovia Barolo: A ‘decent’ vintage now at ten years is singing

That first bottle of 2008 that I opened, maybe 18 months ago, was totally shut down. We opened it and it didn’t taste of much at all. We decanted it and then it just tasted of tannins. We decanted it some more and still more tannins. It hung out in my fridge for a day or two and then just tasted…unfresh. That’s what wine is like when it’s shut down.

But around six months ago it was not shut down. It wasn’t quite firing on all cylinders, but it was a very enjoyable bottle of Barolo. So a month ago I opened up another bottle. Yum! And another bottle last week. Victory! That was a singing bottle of Barolo, with just the right combo of fresh cherry Nebbiolo fruit and that tar-rose-porcini heaven that you want from mature Barolo. It turns out that the “normale” Barolo from Brovia — in a decent but not epic vintage — is ready to drink at around age 10.

Now, I write all this not to brag about a smart move I made five years ago, but to help us all plan for the future. It so happens that a very awesome vintage of Brovia’s “normale” is on the market today. Surprisingly, it hasn’t moved from the Reasonable Cellar budget range that it occupied back when the 2008 was released.

2013 Brovia Barolo: One of the best straight Barolos you’ll come across

It’s Barolo, not an “off” region at all. It’s 2013, not an off vintage at all, but one of the best two or three so far this century. It’s certainly not an obscure producer. It’s not even a wine that’s escaped the attention fo the press. Antonio Galloni give it a monster score and said “This one of the best straight Barolos readers will come across.” Not bad!

The wine is certainly shut down today, as a recent drinking confirmed. No matter how much air I gave it the wine just didn’t give back. But that’s OK. Experience has shown me that it will come around in a few years. I’ve put an entire case aside. While I wait, I can enjoy those 2008s!

We have plenty of Brovia 2013 in stock in both NY and SF.  It’s normally $48.99/bottle in NY and $51.99 in SF but the wine will discount to $42.99 when using the coupon codes, below.

Buy Brovia, Barolo, 2013 in New York City.
(Use coupon code “BROVIA2013NYC”)

Buy Brovia, Barolo, 2013 in San Franciso.
(Use coupon code “BROVIA2013SF”)

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Top Ten Wines to Drink this Spring – New York

It’s not quite spring-like outside here in New York, but warmer weather and asparagus is surely just around the corner — and of course our colleagues and customers in San Francisco are already well into their beautiful spring (SF will get its own version of this blog post shortly; in the mean time, you’ll see that some of the wines noted below are available in both shops).

So what does all this mean for wine? Basically three things. It’s the beginning of Rosé season and everyone is eager to change up their wine game with something pink. Fortunately, some of our favorites have just arrived and make their way on to the list below.

It’s also time to think about spring vegetables and to address the age old question: what exactly goes with asparagus? There are a couple of answers below.

Finally, this is the time of year when I crave freshness above all else. I stop hitting the big old wines in the cellar and start bringing home the youngsters. I give Barolo a break and turn to Dolcetto. Don’t worry big wines, grilling season is just a few weeks away!

Here’s my list (in no particular order, and definitely skewed towards my usual hunting grounds like Piedmont, Loire etc.):

  1. Arnot-Roberts Rose 2017 ($27.99).  This is an easy one to start with! It’s usually the first Rosé from the most recent harvest that we carry, and it’s always here in time for spring. It’s not the sort of super-light Rosé that you’ll crave when the weather turns really hot but perfect on a cool spring day. Of all things, this is made from Port variety Touriga Nacional grown at 1400 feet above Clear Lake!  (available in SF and NYC)
  2. Poderi Colla Nebbiolo 2015 ($29.99).  Ok, I may give Barolo a break for a few weeks in the spring, but does that mean I have to give up Nebbiolo? Hell no. And this one is so tasty. This is single vineyard Nebbiolo with some pretty old vines, aged in large barrels for a year and then again for a year in bottle. From an estate that is fast becoming a big deal in Piedmont. (available in NYC only)
  3. Selbach-Oster, Riesling Feinherb, 2016 ($17.99). You knew I had to include a Riesling because, well, Riesling is an important part of my diet four seasons out of four. In spring, maybe I back away from the sweeter wines, but something fresh, light and with a dash of sweetness like this Feinherb will do perfectly. Spring vegetable friendly. (available in NYC and SF)
  4. Knoll, Gelber Muskateller Loibner Federspiel, 2016 ($31.99). Here in New York we’re still actually waiting for the asparagus to arrive. In the mean time, you can do what they do in Central Europe and enjoy jarred white asparagus. Just cut some up and include it in a salad with a light vinaigrette for a delightful early spring dinner (yeah, go ahead and throw a little bacon in there too..). In Austria they would probably drink a Muskateller with a dish like that, and we’ll do that too, because it totally works. We have one from Wachau master Knoll. (sorry, available in NYC only but you’ve already got fresh asparagus in SF!)
  5. Domaine Bruyere (Reynaud), Croze Hermitage “Cuvee Georges Reynaud”, 2015 ($26.99).  Syrah is a bit like Nebbiolo. I need a short break from Cornas and Hermitage, but I don’t want to give up the grape! Fortunately, Reynaud makes lovely Croze that is beautifully juicy and fresh for drinking young in springtime weather. All biodynamic. (available in NYC only)
  6. Gerard Boulay, Sancerre Rose, 2016 ($27.99).  We’re still waiting for most of the vintage 2017 Rosés to show up, but a nice thing about this time of year is that some of the Rosés from the vintage before actually start to show better at this point. Especially the good ones! Boulay’s Sancerre Rosé was delicious in its first year, but is now really coming into its own. (available in NYC only)
  7. Deschamps, Pouilly-sur-Loire “Les Loges”, 2016 ($16.99).  Here’s another wine that I love so much that I’m happy to drink all year long. But it’s such a great spring-vegetable wine that this is a particularly great time to break out a bottle. This is an oddity: 100% Chasselas, from Pouilly Fumé! It’s got that Loire Valley minerality that delivers the freshness I want, and the Chasselas gives a glorious floral touch that demands…asparagus? (available in NYC only)
  8. Hager, Pinot Noir, 2014 1L ($17.99).  Obviously any top 10 list I produce is going to have some Pinot Noir on it. What surprises me here is that the Pinot Noir is from Germany! I can’t explain it. There’s nothing more spring-like about Germany than Burgundy or Oregon. I just happen to really enjoy drinking this Pinot right now. Pinot Noir has a reputation for being pricey, but this really delivers the grape’s sophistication for a great price, especially when you do the math on this being a 1L bottle. Delicious. (available in NYC only)
  9. Gianni Brunelli, Rosso di Montalcino, 2016 ($30.99). Here we have the young and fresh version of Brunello di Montalcino. Probably I shouldn’t have it on this list because we don’t have much and certainly can’t get more. But Jesus it is a really good wine. 2016 is such a great vintage pretty much everywhere in Italy and maybe everywhere in Europe, and we are just starting to get to enjoy its fresh red wines.  (available in NYC only)
  10. Domaine de la Taille aux Loups (Jacky Blot), Montlouis sur Loire “Remus”, 2016 ($29.99). This wine has everything going for it. It’s so fresh and yummy. It’s happy hanging out with spring vegetables, but is so versatile I would drink this with just about anything. And it’s Chenin Blanc…a four season grape that all of us seem to want more and more of. But in spring, I don’t want anything too sweet, and don’t need anything too old. This is what I want. (available in NYC only)

Top 5 Reasons to drink Cru Bourgeois

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!

Charmail 2010
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.

Cru Bourgeois Part 1

I’ve been drinking a lot of Bordeaux lately. Mostly, this is because I was in Bordeaux. But not for a fancy trip; I didn’t visit a single Grand Cru Chateau. I was there to explore and drink Cru Bourgeois.

If you love wine, especially Bordeaux, you need to pay special attention to this category. It provides some of the very best values in the world for red wines in the $20 – $50 range. And I’m going to explain why in a short series of posts.

This first post is for a little background.

 What is Cru Bourgeois?

To be a Cru Bourgeois a chateau must come from one of the Medoc’s eight AOC’s: Medoc, Haut-Medoc, Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac, St. Estephe, Moulis, and Listrac-Medoc. The Cru Bourgeois classification was created to denote high quality (a Cru Bourgeois is not just any old Chateau!), though not Bordeaux’s highest.

As you probably know, the greatest Medoc Bordeaux are considered to be the Grand Cru Classés, which are themselves divided into 5 growths. For example, the most famous Medocs (Latour, Lafite, Mouton Rothschild, and Margaux) are all “First Growths.” Chateau Palmer, stellar and expensive but not generally considered on their level, is a “Second Growth.”

There are hundreds and hundreds of Chateaux in Bordeaux and only 61 Grand Cru Classés. The “Cru Bourgeois” are the best producers that are not Grand Crus Classés.

Cru Bourgeois Label

The traditional Cru Bourgeois label denoting high quality.

If these producers are so good, why aren’t they considered Grand Cru Classes?

The Grand Cru Classés were defined in 1855. They made a list of the most expensive Bordeaux for some World Fair, and that list somehow became gospel. Nobody took into account how the wines tasted. There were no 100 point scores, no somm pics on instagram. It was just market price. It was Idiosyncratic in a way that now seems rather un-French.

Randomly, they only listed 60 producers. Cantemerle, number 61 at the time, talked its way onto the list a few months later. Academics say that some more expensive Chateaux just didn’t bother to submit their data and so were excluded. It seemed like useless paperwork back then, no doubt!

But since then, no matter how good your wine is, there has been no way to get on this list. Even if you have terroir right next door to the First Growths (as some Cru Bourgeois have) or if Robert Parker scores your wine higher than, say, Lynch Bages (happens to Cru Bourgeois all the time) you’re not a Grand Cru Classé. Sorry.

So how did Cru Bourgeois get started?

You can imagine how frustrating it was for all those producers in the Medoc, with great terroir and delicious wines but no shot at big-time recognition. Everyone was focused on the Growths.

So in 1934 the forces that be (a local Chamber of Commerce—now things are getting French) came up with a list of particularly good Bordeaux that weren’t Grand Cru Classes, and called them Cru Bourgeois. Like the Grand Cru Classes designation, the Cru Bourgeois designation became enshrined in law, and soon it appeared on wine labels.

The name seems a bit unfortunate to modern Americans (and the French too), especially those of you who are familiar with works like David Brooks’ “Bobos in Paradise” or Marx’s “Das Kapital.”  But put yourself in the head of a 1930s Frenchman (I’m assuming here that the women can’t be blamed for this decision), and you can kind of see what he’s thinking: we may not be the aristocrats — that’s the Classified Growths — but we live in castles too (they actually do) so we’re the Bourgeoisie! Or something like that.

Did this classification work?

For many years, it did. When I first “studied” Bordaeux, back in the 1990s, it was common wisdom that Cru Bourgeois was where the value was. Interest in the Cru Bourgeois grew, especially after the 2000 vintage, which was the first time that many drinkers discovered that they had become priced out of the Classified Growths. So in my early years in the wine business, customers would walk in the shop and ask for Cru Bourgeois.

But things went awry. Some producers Cru Bourgeois felt that they produced better wine than others, and wanted to charge more. But with the same legal designation — shared by too many producers at over 400! – there was a lot of market resistance to higher prices. So they tried to shake things up and started classifying the Cru Bourgeois. From 2003 to 2007, you had three kinds of Cru Bourgeois: the basic Cru Bourgeois; better wines were Cru Bourgeois Superieur; and the best wines were Cru Bourgeois Exceptionel.

You can imagine the politics behind sorting out who is what level. Nobody could agree, there were lawsuits, and in 2007 a court outlawed the system. A few years later, the Cru Bourgeois was revived, but with just one classification.

But there was a new twist: to get the CB designation, you had to win a tasting contest! A complicated set of tasting panels had to decide your wine tasted as good as a “standard” bottle of wine. And what does a “standard” bottle taste like? Well, that was also determined by its own complicated jury selection process (yes, now we have a fully French system). This process repeated itself every year­—so you could be CB one year and not the next. Meaning, unlike with the Cru Classé: it was no longer producers that were designated Cru Bourgeois, but particular wines from particular vintages.

So Cru Bourgeois meant three different things within the span of one decade. Consumers couldn’t keep up, and they stopped paying attention. It was much easier to understand the value proposition of a “Second Wine” (a wine made by a Classified Growth producer but not the “Grand Vin,” such as Le Petit Mouton, Mouton Rothschild’s second wine). Even overlooked appellations like Fronsac started to get more traction. A lot of consumers started heading in that direction. It didn’t help that many of the best producers (including most of the Cru Exceptionel) didn’t even bother submitting their wines to these jury panels, instead deciding to rely on their own well-known brands for marketing — Chateau Poujeaux is a top example.

So why are we talking about Cru Bourgeois?

Well, for one thing, the Cru Bourgeois are making a determined effort to sort things out once and for all. The solution they have come up with is similar to St. Emilion’s. Starting in 2020, the producers will once again be classified. Probably there will be two classifications initially, and then at some point three. They’re still working out the details. But here’s why it will be a much better system than the last two attempts: designations will be based on a tasting of five vintages from each estate, and will be awarded to producers — not individual wines — for five year periods. If the system works as expected, there will be a fairly stable categorization of the producers, with perhaps a handful of promotions and demotions every five years, just like in St. Emilion.

All this is very interesting, but here’s the most important reason to pay attention to Cru Bourgeois: Many of these Chateaux are producing not just the best value red wines in Bordeaux but in all the world. Last week in Bordeaux I drank so many great red wines — some young, some 20 years or older — and was astonished to learn that very few of them sold for more than $30 in the United States. This is an excellent hunting ground for value.

In the next three blog posts or so I will try to explain why it is that these wines represent such good value and give you some tips on incorporating Cru Bourgeois into your wine drinking — and cellaring.

What about that cheap wine in Europe?

In New York we have a lot of European visitors. Some of them complain about our prices. Not: “Oh, I can get this same wine back home for 30% less,” which would sometimes be true (though often not). Rather, it’s more of a blanket statement like: “At home wines cost just 5 or 6 euros.”

I happen to be in Europe for a few weeks so I decided to investigate. You may remember Turin, a very sophisticated city in Northern Italy, from the Winter Olympics a few years back. But it’s more important to us a center for the wine trade just a few miles from the Langhe, one of the world’s greatest wine regions and home, not only of (expensive, age-worthy) Barolo and Barbaresco, but also of more humble wines like Barbera, Dolcetto, Freisa, Grignolino, etc.

If Europeans really have access to superior 5 or 6 euro wines, surely I’ll find them here.

I’m in a super-trendy neighborhood called San Salvario, with incredible restaurants and a great bar scene, an amazing outdoor market that opens daily, and gorgeous old cafés that serve some of the best espresso I’ve ever found. Admittedly, there are also drug dealers on the corner by my apartment—there may be better parts of town—but San Salvario is pretty good and it’s where I am, so it will have to do for this investigation.

So I set out to do some wine shopping. Naturally, I started by looking for wine stores. I checked on google and walked just about every block of the neighborhood. I quickly established that there are no wine stores in San Salvario. There are a few great butchers (a veal specialist, a pork specialist, a generalist), a fish store proudly displaying its “Slow Food” credentials, outrageously fine bakeries­—really, it’s a pretty great neighborhood—but not a single wine store.

The locals buy all their wine in grocery stores. So I went to the neighborhood grocery stores and looked for the best selection. It turns out the best selection is in a French store called Carrefour, which you’ve probably heard of, as it’s the second largest non-American retailer in the world (and bigger than Amazon!). The Carrefours I’ve been to have been suburban “hypermarkets” – massive grocery stores with endless aisles – but San Salvario’s is a Carrefour “Express,” a highly edited version.

Here are photos of the wine selections:

carrefourboxwinecarrefourbottles

Look at these photos and you can make your own observations. Here are mine.

First of all, there is some very cheap wine here. Like just a couple Euros cheap. These really cheap wines come in boxes and have legal designations like “Vino Bianco di Italia” or just “Vino Italiano”; they can come from (a factory) anywhere in Italy. I didn’t taste any—sorry, life is too short, even for the sake of science.

Second, as you know, the most famous wine of the Langhe is Barolo. Yet here we are, in a fine neighborhood just a 45 minute drive from the Langhe, and the neighborhood’s best wine selection includes only one Barolo! At under 20 euros, it’s a good price. Unfortunately, the producer is Fontanafredda, which despite a glorious past is basically an industrial concern these days. Very few of our Barolo customers would find this wine satisfactory. If you want Barolo made by artisans, you cannot buy it here. And by the way, if you want Barbaresco at all, you’re out of luck.

Third, there are indeed many wines in the 5 to 8 euro range. I’m guessing the Europeans who explain that this is how wine should be priced are thinking of wines like these. And you can kind of see where they’re coming from, to a point: there are some Dolcettos and Barberas, and perhaps a Freisa or a Grignolino, that will work in a pinch. But the best of them are, again, from Fontanafredda, and everything else is frankly schlocky. Artisanal local wine, this is not!

Now, I understand you don’t need to drink fine, artisanal wine every night. But there’s a stunning disconnect between the excellent bread, coffee and produce that you easily find in the neighborhood, and these wines.

Fourth, there is the obvious problem of range. There isn’t much selection at from anything beyond Piedmont at all. Part of Europe’s charm – and especially Italy’s charm — is its intense locality, and I would never fault a local shop for offering only local wines. But the tradeoff is you don’t get to explore the rest of the world’s great and varied wine regions.

Fifth, things are particularly brutal here if you want white wine. Piedmont actually has some pretty good white stuff, Roero Arneis for example. But none of it is at this shop. Ok, maybe that Cortese in the top right corner is passable, but I didn’t take a chance on it. In any case, my landlord gifted me a bottle of Cortese, and I drank it in the 85 degree heat. It had been yeasted (or otherwise manipulated) to taste something like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but I guess it did the job. Who needs more than that?

And that, of course, is the big question: Who needs more than that? None of us really needs to drink artisanal wine. If we lived in a universe consisting only of this Carrefour’s wine selection, how many of us would complain? Indeed, many of those European customers mentioned above probably do live in such a universe. Should they care?

I’m guilty of not caring in similar circumstances. In Brooklyn I live around the corner from a shop that pulls fresh mozzarella five times a day. It’s still warm when I eat it at home, melting over my height-of-season tomatoes from the Green Market. Surely this is as good as it gets.

It turns out no, not even close. At that open air market in San Salverio there’s a vendor with cheeses direct from Campania. I purchased a ball of Buffala from Salerno. Back at my apartment I sliced into it, expecting it to require a little seasoning and maybe a splash of olive oil. But no, all it needed was to be eaten. Another slice and then another. (Then my wife complaining that I forgot to leave some for her green bean recipe.)

All my life I had been satisfied with my Brooklyn mozzarella, only to discover in Turin that it was a pale imitation of the real thing. How many of these 5-6 euro Europeans are actually living in the Matrix, fooling themselves into contentedness, as I did for so many years with my Brooklyn Mozz?

We believe that in America you can drink delicious, real wines without spending a fortune. In New York and San Francisco we are big advocates of inexpensive European table wines and carry a wide range. They cost a little more than Carrefour’s 5-8 euros—more like 10-15 (dollars). But unlike those Carrefour wines, these are true artisanal expressions of their origin. They are like that ball of Buffala from Salerno.

Here are some examples:

Isle Saint-Pierre, Bouches-du-Rhone Rose, 2016
De Forville, Dolcetto d’Alba, 2015
Pollerhof, Gruner Veltliner, 2016 
Grand Bateau, Bordeaux, 2015
Domaine Labbe, Abymes Savoie, 2016

The Crazy Market in Bordeaux and How to Take Advantage

As we’ve explained before in our newsletter, the market in Bordeaux is upside down. New releases are expensive and often over-priced. But mature bottles — bottles that are actually ready to drink — represent some of the best values in the world of wine today. I’m not talking about First Growths, Cheval Blanc and the like. Those wines have powerful brands and you will always have to pay for that. However, look beyond the famous names and you find plenty of great Bordeaux that are just, well, great. And many of them are superbly priced.

We are finding more and more opportunities working with negociant partners in Bordeaux itself. Because release prices for Bordeaux are so high, it is rare that the Chateaux or negociants sell through all their stock right away, especially in vintages that are not over-hyped. In a wine region where prestige is intimately tied to price, no Chateau wants to underprice a neighbor just to clear stock. Better just to hold it for quiet release at a later date, often at a lower price, or at least at a price that in no way accounts for the additional cost of holding and storing stock for multiple years.

bordeauxboxes

Come to our New York shop now, or browse our Bordeaux selection here, and you’ll find a very strong selection of fairly priced Bordeaux that are full mature and perfect for drinking tonight. Many of these were recently acquired directly from negociants in Bordeaux, who either sourced the wines from the Chateau’s own library of stock, or were keeping it in their own cellars under perfect conditions. These are wines that have aged remarkably well, and always seem to drink better than bottles of the same wine that first came into the U.S. back when they were first released and have since bounced around the country in the secondary market. The simple fact is that nobody knows how to store Bordeaux as well as the Bordelais themselves, and that in any case the less wine moves around the happier it is.

Sometimes you can find cheaper examples of the same wine scattered throughout the country, but in those cases you can never be sure of provenance, and even when the wine has been stored properly by U.S. collectors, it just never seems as young and as fresh as examples direct from Bordeaux. (Partly this may be explained by the fact that many of these wines were first released in an era when they were not reliably shipped to the U.S. in refrigerated containers.)

In any case, pricing for these “direct” Bordeaux can be really good. Let’s take one of my favorite wines, Cantemerle, from the 2000 vintage. Back in 2001, Sherry Lehmann offered that wine as a future for $17/bottle. I remember being sorely tempted. So let’s imagine an alternate universe where I succumbed to that temptation and purchased a bottle for $17 and drank it tonight.

How much did that wine really cost me? Well, to store the wine professionally since 2003, when I would taken possession of the wine, would have cost approximately $45. So we are up to $62. Plus, there is the time value of money.  Instead of spending that $17 I could have purchased a tax free muni bond and earned interest of probably 3% per year. That adds another $10 to the cost of the bottle, and we are up to $72, or maybe $75 once you consider your storage company’s “in and out” fees and so forth.

Well, we were able to recently acquire this exact wine from a negociant who had been storing it under perfect conditions in Bordeaux. Our price for the wine?  $69.99.  With a case discount (that $17 futures price was only available if you purchased a whole case), you’re looking at $63. It’s quite a bargain. And an extremely delicious bottle of wine, by the way.

Here’s a list of other recent “direct” acquisitions (as of July 11):

Château Beauséjour-Becot, Saint-Émilion, 1996   $109.99
Château Phelan-Ségur, Saint-Estèphe, 1996  $74.99
Château Phelan-Ségur, Saint-Estèphe, 1995  $74.99
Château Boyd-Cantenac, Margaux, 1990   $99.99
Château Boyd-Cantenac, Margaux, 2000   $89.99
Château Giscours, Margaux, 1999  $89.99
Château Malescot-St-Exupéry, Margaux, 2001  $77.99
Château Malescot-St-Exupéry, Margaux, 1999  $89.99
Château Cantemerle, Haut-Medoc, 1999  $57.99
Château Cantemerle, Haut-Médoc, 2005   $59.99 
Château La Lagune, Haut-Medoc, 1995  $89.99

This stock is all New York stock, but Californians watch this space, as many of the same wines will soon be arriving in California.

Top Five Steak Wines

Grilling season is now upon us, and a good grilled steak is just about the only excuse you need in warmer weather to open up a big red wine. But some red wines work with steak better than others.  Here is a top 5 list, in no particular order:

steakwines

1.  Brunello di Montalcino.  Anyone who has had Steak Florentine in Tuscany knows that Sangiovese is the perfect partner for steak, and Brunello is the grandest and noblest Sangiovese. Keep it on the young side, to ensure good fruit vigor and lively tannins. Consider giving your steak full Tuscan treatment: cook it rare but with a crusty exterior (which should be coated in salt, pepper and if you like some minced rosemary or sage), and then dress the sliced steak with salt, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

My choice:  Lisini, Brunello di Montalcino, 2012 ($56.99)

2.  Argentinian Malbec. No, our shop is not known for its Malbecs and the category isn’t my favorite in general, as far too many are made in a glossy, international style. But there are some made honestly and traditionally and they are simply perfect for the rich steak culture of Argentina.  The best have voluptuous red fruit, gentle spice and velvety tannins that are harmonious with beef.

My choice:  Carmelo Patti, Malbec, 2013 ($29.99)

3.   Ribera del Duero.  If you’ve read Bill Bufford’s great Heat, you know that the great beef of Tuscany actually comes from Spain. This has been confirmed by my own experience eating a gorgeous steak in Valladolid, the vibrant city that lies just at the western end of Ribera del Duero. The local wine was served, and as much as I associate these wines with lamb, it turns out it’s also a pretty great steak wine.

My choice:  Pesquera, Ribera del Duero Reserva, 2012 ($49.99)

4.  Right Bank Bordeaux.  No, don’t drink “clarets” or old Bordeaux with steak — save those for more subtle meat preparations like braises or roasts.  For your steak, open up some fleshy young Merlot from St. Emilion, Pomerol or, to save a little cash, Fronsac. It’s got those same Malbec-like tannins that are round and velvety, seemingly designed with steak in mind. I would look at vintages like 2004, 2006, 2009, and 2012.

My choice: Chateau Valois, Pomerol, 2012 ($54.99)

5.  California Cabernet.  I’m saving the easy one for last. Go to any American steak house and you’ll see that the wine list is filled with Cali Cabs. It’s a classic. Be careful, as it’s really easy to over-pay for some new-fangled brand just because it got a high score in a glossy magazine. To be safe, stick with classics, like my choice below.

My choice:  Heitz, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 ($57.99)