[caption id="attachment_11482" align="aligncenter" width="400"] Man and Horse Making Great Wine[/caption] Olivier Merlin is one of the great winemakers of Burgundy. His family vineyards aren't centered on any of the illustrious appellations of the Cote d'Or, but on the Maconais. He's one of the hard-working talents showing just how great the wines from this undervalued region can be: complex, mineral, ageworthy... delicious! His whites are some of the best value white wines in the whole world. We're thrilled to have him in the shop today to share his wines and talk about what it takes to make top flight wines, vintage in and vintage out. Wines will be available at a discount for all newsletter subscribers. Hope to see you there! (No RSVP required) And please stick around because right after we'll have more delicious wines for you (sans winemakers): Bernhard Ott, Grüner Veltliner "Am Berg", 2015 $18.99 $16.14 Wind Gap, North Coast “Soif,” 2015 $24.99 $21.24 Sandhi, Chardonnay "Santa Barbara County", 2014 $26.99 $22.94 Rene Geoffroy, Champagne Brut "Empreinte", 2009 $62.99 $53.54
Chateauneuf's famous Galets Roulés, between the vinesVieux Télégraphe is one of the best wines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, from one of its supreme sites and made by some of its greatest talents. So we are super-thrilled to be able to invite you to an intimate dinner with proprietor and head winemaker Daniel Brunier. Email me here to grab your seats! Daniel is a gentleman and scholar who has been working the high, wind-swept vineyards of his family's domaine since the early '80s. It sounds cliché, but Daniel has such charm and elegance that the term "gentleman" is most appropriate. And his deep knowledge of the geology and history of both his own domaine and the entire region is truly scholarly. This will be a rare opportunity to taste back-vintage Châteauneuf with a winemaking legend. The wines will be served with a perfectly-paired four-course meal, next Tuesday, October 24th, at Blue Ribbon Federal Grille, the newest outpost of one of New York’s classic restaurants. The event will start at 8pm. If you're reading this blog, you almost certainly know how honest and straight-up delicious Blue Ribbon's food is. But, if you're anything like me, seeing the special menu they've planned for this event will remind you of why their restaurants have been NYC favorites for over two decades. Tickets are $190, all in. This is an outstanding value. The library wines are direct from Blue Ribbon's Cellar. They are sure to be in top condition. Seating is limited and we expect the event to sell out quickly, so please don't hesitate to email me to grab your seats. To reserve your seats email me here! Hope to see you there, Val Vieux Télégraphe Dinner Blue RIbbon Federal Grille, 84 William Street, Tuesday, October 24, 8pm Apéritif Peekytoe Crab Egg Shooter w/Tarragon Aioli Domaine des Pallières, "Au Petit Bonheur," Rosé de Gigondas 1st Course Turkey Neck Rillette - served family-style Baby Kale Caesar Salad Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, 2014 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, 2015 2nd Course Slow-Roasted Prime Rib w/ Potato Purée, Giblet Gravy, & Roasted Garlic Roasted Mixed Mushrooms & Spicy Kale Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape "La Crau", 2013 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape "La Crau", 2014 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape "La Crau", 2015 Cheese Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape "La Crau", 2011 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape "La Crau", 2004
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. 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.
Pétrus is at the absolute apogee of the wine world. And it isn't just a trophy wine for people with far too much money, although it is that, in part. Just like some other untouchables (DRC comes to mind) the château actually makes utterly sublime wines that show the utmost respect for local tradition and terroir. That the wine is so honest and true to itself is in no small part thanks to Jean-Claude Berrouet, who oversaw 40 vintages there, including many of the great wines that put Pétrus into the wine world's pole position. But Berrouet wasn't satisfied playing only at those rarefied heights: he also craved that quintessentially French experience of working on more modest, humbler wines—country wines. So, like DRC's Aubert de Villaine (who founded his incredible Côte Chalonnaise Domaine de Villaine for similar reasons) he had side projects where he (and now his son, who also succeeded him as Pétrus' winemaker) could connect his hands with soil in terroirs that he knew were both truly great and wildly undervalued, and make wine ordinary people can actually afford to drink. One of the side projects, Herri Mina, which we talked about in this space a while back, is out in France's Basque country—Berrouet's land of origin. You see, feeling homesick, Berrouet moved back to work the local terroir, growing Cabernet Franc (Pétrus' other grape) and Irouléguy's excellent native white varieties. Now, these wines are not like Pétrus... and that's OK! Pétrus just isn't the bottle to open for steak off the backyard grill on a hot summer night. But these wines are perfect! The Herri Mina's pretty fruit and subtle tobacco and earth notes put it somewhere between Bordeaux and Saumur-Champigny stylistically—but with its own special character. 2014 is a very good vintage in Irouléguy (not as hot as '15) and the wine has perfect balance. And don't forget the white! It is dense, complex, full of fruit and mineral. If Txakoli is an expression of the Basque seaside, think of this Irouléguy Blanc as an expression of its mountains. Both are serious wines, despite the great price, and would benefit from a little cellaring or decanting. Herri Mina, Irouléguy Blanc, 2013 - $28.99 Herri Mina, Irouléguy Rouge, 2014 - $29.99