Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Allan Shoup’s and Gilles Nicault’s Long Shadows Wines from Washington State, USA

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Gilles Nicault in Washington State, USA, Armin and Caroline Diel at Schlossgut Diel in Germany and Giovanni Folonari in Washington DC, USA

Long Shadows in Walla Walla has become, in a short time, one of the premier wineries in Washington State. It is an unusual set up: Former Simson-Lane CEO Allen Shoup works with renowned winemakers from around the world for this venture; each winemaker produces a single wine using Washington State fruit and resident winemaker Gilles Nicault assists them to shepherd all of the wines along at Long Shadows in Walla Walla.

I visited Long Shadows Vintners in June 2011 and focused with Gilles Nicault on Armin Diel’s Poet’s Leap Riesling. This posting provides an overview of the Long Shadows Vintners Portfolio

Allan Shoup and Long Shadows Vintners in Walla Walla

When Allen Shoup retired to create Long Shadows in Walla Walla after twenty years at the helm of the Stimson-Lane wine group (which owns Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest and other wineries), his goal was to bring the expertise of renowned winemakers from around the world to Washington State to create wines that would stand shoulder to shoulder with the World’s best. His vision is now unfolding. Long Shadows winemaker-partners are designing world-class wines comparable in stature to those they crafted in their native wine regions.

Pictures: Gilles Nicault

Allan Shoup earned his undergraduate degree in business administration from the University of Michigan in 1965. While pursuing a graduate degree in psychology from Eastern Michigan University, he was drafted into the Army and sent to work at the Pentagon as a psychologist. He eventually crossed paths with Ernest Gallo, who gave him his first job in the wine industry. In 1979, he went to work for Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington, eventually becoming CEO of the parent Stimson Lane Wine Group. It was here that he developed the professional and personal connections that led to the formation of Long Shadows.

Gilles Nicault

Resident winemaker Gilles Nicault is the daily overseer of Long Shadows. After learning his craft in the Rhône Valley, Provence, and Champagne, he came to Washington State in 1994. He worked at Staton Hills Winery, Hogue Winery, and Woodward Canyon, where he was head of enology and production from 1999 to 2003, before being hired by Alan Shoup at Long Shadows.

Long Shadows Wines and Vintners

Poet’s Leap and Armin Diel of Schlossgut Diel, Germany

Armin Diel joined the Long Shadows project in 2003 with his Poet’s Leap Riesling. Poet's Leap is fermented off-dry, offering flavors of freshly peeled grapefruit, appealing minerality and hints of ripe pears. Bright acidity gives the wine its vibrance, and a clean underlying touch of sweetness contributes to its engaging finish.

Pictures: Caroline Diel and Poet's Leap

Armin Diel selects his grapes from a dramatic block of German clones in The Benches. Armin also works with a 1972 planting of Dionysus and fruit from the Yakima valley.

To maximize the grapes’ freshness and lively acidity, Armin asks the vineyard team to maintain an extensive canopy during the growing season. The fruit is hand-picked and whole-cluster-pressed. It is then fermented at cool temperatures in stainless steel tanks to capture the grapes' bright fruit character before selecting the best lots for the final blend.

Poet’s Leap Riesling 2009, $20, 3,200 cases made.

See more:

Visiting Long Shadows Vintners in Walla Walla, Washington State - Where Armin Diel’s Poet’s Leap Riesling is Made, USA

President Obama Serves a “German” Riesling at State Dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao

Visiting Armin and Caroline Diel and their Schlossgut Diel in Burg Layen in Germany

Feather and Randy Dunn, California

Randy Dunn is one of the world’s most celebrated makers of extraordinary Cabernet Sauvignons. He established his reputation at Caymus Winery from 1975 to 1985, where his Cabernet Sauvignons became the benchmark for the industry. In addition, his artistry shaped other premium wineries that now enjoy an acclaimed place in the sun (Pahlmeyer, Livingston, La Jota and others). Since 1979, Randy Dunn has produced roughly 5,000 cases a year of his Dunn Vineyards Cabernets.

Randy Dunn has produced his Feather Cabernet Sauvignon since the 2003 vintage. During the peak of fermentation, he uses vigorous pumpovers to achieve maximum extraction. Once in barrel, Feather is aged in 95%-new French oak.

Sequel and John Duval, Australia

Few winemakers are as synonymous with the iconic wines of a country as John Duval, best known for his work with Penfolds’ Grange, the gold standard for Australian Shiraz.  John joined Penfolds winery in 1974 after completing his studies in agriculture and winemaking. He was appointed Penfolds’ chief winemaker in 1986. During his 16-year tenure, John helped establish Penfolds as one of the world’s most celebrated wineries.

After 28 years, John stepped down from the company in 2002 to establish John Duval Wines. In addition to making his own wine, John traveled to the Columbia Valley in 2003 at the invitation of Allen Shoup to make his first U.S. wine, Sequel, a name chosen in recognition of his life’s work with Syrah.
Sequel Syrah 2007, $55, 1,950 cases made.

Saggi and Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari, Chianti Classico

The Folonaris are among Italy’s oldest and most prestigious Tuscan wine families with a winemaking history dating back to the late 1700s. Today, Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute, conceived by this father-son team as a collection of small, beautifully located vineyards producing primarily Tuscan “grand crus,” is recognized for its distinctive, small-production wines from the family’s numerous estates. Both Ambrogio and Giovanni, a University of California at Davis enology graduate, are directly involved in winemaking. Prior to launching A. e G. Folonari Tenute, Ambrogio was the president of Ruffino, originally purchased in 1912 by Ambrogio’s grandfather.

Pictures: Long Shadows Winery

The Folonaris’ Saggi (Italian for “wisdom”) was launched in 2004. Most of the Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah for this super- Tuscan-style blend come from Horse Heaven Hills. Once in barrel, Saggi ages in 55%-new French oak.

Saggi 2007, $45 43% Sangiovese, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Syrah, 2,145 cases.

I met Giovanni Folonari at the Kobrand Tour d"Italia 2011 in Washington DC.  See more: Kobrand’s Impressive Tour d'Italia 2011 in Washington DC, USA

Piroutee and Agustin Huneeus Sr and Philippe Melka, California

Augustin Huneeus teamed up with Philippe Melka, his Quintessa winemaker, to produce the Bordeaux-style Pirouette beginning with the 2003 edition. Fermentation takes place in 400-liter, mechanically rotated oak barrels, using only native yeasts. The wine is aged in 75%-new French oak.

After two earlier appearances in Napa Valley, the Frenchman Philippe Melka returned in 1994.  Philippe Melka graduated from the University of Bordeaux, France, where he received a degree in geology in 1989.

Agustin Huneeus, Sr. embarked upon his legendary career in the wine industry over four decades ago.  He founded premier wineries both in California and Chile, and guided others to worldwide acclaim. Wines and wineries achieving prominence under Agustin Huneeus’s hand include Veramonte (Primus) and Concha y Toro of Chile, and Franciscan Oakville Estate, Mount Veeder, Estancia and Quintessa of California. Along with his winery at Long Shadows Vintners, Agustin Huneeus retains ownership in Veramonte and Quintessa.

Pedestral and Globetrotting Super-Consultant Michel Rolland, France

Pictures: Long Shadows Winery

Michel Rolland is considered to be one of the most influential winemakers in the world.  A graduate of the Bordeaux Faculty of Oenology, he continues to build upon this practical source of knowledge through observations in his own laboratory in Pomerol, France.  He consults for over 100 vintners and vineyards on every continent, producing wines with an alluring style recognized as the “Rolland Method”.

Michel Rolland also maintains partnership interests in far-flung regions of the globe, including his involvement with Long Shadows.  His home, however, is in Pomerol, where he owns and manages a number of holdings and fine wine estates: Chateau Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol, Chateau Bertineau Saint-Vincent in Lalande-de-Pomerol, Chateau Rolland-Maillet in Saint-Emilion, and Chateau Fontenil in Fronsac. In addition, Michel Rolland manages the Chateau La Grande Clotee in Lussac-Saint-Emilion under a vineyard lease system.

Gilles Nicault began making the Pedestal Merlot, alongside Michel Rolland, with the 2003 release. They obtain the Merlot and small percentages of other Bordeaux varieties from vineyards around the Columbia Valley, focusing on Red Mountain and the Wahluke Slope. Pedestal is fermented in 5,500-liter wood tanks made in France exclusively for Michel Rolland. The wine is then aged in 85%-new French oak.

Pedestal 2007, $55, 75% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 2,005 cases made.

Chester-Kidder and Gilles Nicault/Alan Shoup

Chester-Kidder is a Bordeaux-style blend named after Alan Shoup’s grandmother and grandfather. Most of the Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from warm vineyard sites on Red Mountain and Candy Mountain. Gilles Nicault keeps the juice in contact with the skins for as long as 40 days during fermentation, then ages the wine for 30 months in 90%-new French oak.

Chester-Kidder 2006, $50, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Syrah, 10% Petit Verdot, 9% Cabernet Franc, 1,689 cases.

Schiller Wine - Related Postings

German Spaetlese Wines Can Come in Different Versions. I Have Counted Five.

Visiting Long Shadows Vintners in Walla Walla, Washington State - Where Armin Diel’s Poet’s Leap Riesling is Made, USA

President Obama Serves a “German” Riesling at State Dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao

Kobrand’s Impressive Tour d'Italia 2011 in Washington DC, USA

The Wines of Hightower Cellars in Washington State, US

The Wines of Abeja, Washington State

The Excellent Wines of Ken Wright Cellars, Oregon

Meeting Joel Waite, Winemaker and Owner of CAVU Cellars in Walla Walla, Washington State

Visiting Winemaker Steven Sealock at Pacific Rim Winemakers in Washington State, USA

Monday, May 28, 2012

Château Brane-Cantenac, Deuxieme Grand Cru Classe en 1855, Margaux – A Profile, France

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller at Château Brane-Cantenac in Margaux and with Henri Lurton in Washington DC.

Château Brane-Cantenac is a Deuxieme Grand Cru Classe en 1855 in Margaux. In 1922, it was acquired by the Lurton family. In 1992, control passed to the current owner Henri Lurton, who I recently met in Washington DC.

Henri Lurton and the Lurton Family

The Lurtons are one of Bordeaux's great wine dynasties. With more than 1,000 hectares in the region, they are collectively Bordeaux's largest holder of wine-producing land. The family members own more than 20 Châteaux and manage several well known properties. They are also active in the New World and the South of France.

The Lurton family is not some centuries-old French aristocratic dynasty. They are new-comers. It all began in the 1920s with Léonce Récapet, who was a prosperous distiller and vineyard owner in the Entre Deux Mers region. His daughter married François Lurton. Their 4 children Andre, Dominique, Lucien and Simone took wine making seriously and between them began to build an empire. Lucien and André, in particular, acquired châteaux that were in a bad shape and brought them back on track.

I used to buy the Chateau Bonnet of André Lurton, when I was a student in Mainz, Germany; it is a good quality AOC Bordeaux at a very reasonable price. André is still running his business, while Lucien has handed over the 11 estates that he had gradually acquired to his 10 children.

There are also other family members are flying winemakers and manage wineries. Pierre Lurton, the son of Dominique Lurton is chief executive at Cheval Blanc and Château d'Yquem.

Here is an interesting chart about the holdings of the Lurton family, although a bit out-dated.

History of Chateau Brane Cantenac

Originally known as Chateau Gorce, Brane Cantenac was one of most venerated Left Bank estates in the 1700s and 1800s. During the Gorce family’s 100-year tenure, the wines fetched prices similar to those for Chateau Brane Mouton – the precursor to Mouton Rothschild.

Chateau Brane Mouton owner Baron Hector de Brane sold Brane Mouton in 1833 to purchase Chateau Gorce and renamed it Chateau Brane Cantenac. In 1920, the Société des Grands Crus de France purchased Brane Cantenac and 5 years later, M. Récapet and his son-in-law François Lurton, took over Château Margaux along with Château Brane Cantenac.  Lucien Lurton inherited Chateau Brane-Cantenac in 1956. He passed it on to Henri Lurton in 1992.

Chateau Brane-Cantenac

Brane-Cantenac’s vineyard totals 94 hectares. The grape varieties are 62.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 0.5 Carmenère.

Picture: Baron de Brane and the Grand Vin

Producing annually a total of 30,000 cases, Chateau Brane-Cantenac makes 4 wines: The Grand Vin, the second wine Baron de Brane, an additional label named Château Notton using grapes from the Notton vineyard, a plot acquired from Château d'Angludet, and a generic Margaux wine.

The 2010 vintage of the Grand Vin currently sells (en primeur) for about Euro 75 per bottle, including VAT. The Baron de Brane sells at Euro 15 to 25 for various vintages. I have seen Château Notton for around Euro 20 for different vintages. I believe I saw the generic Margaux recently for perhaps Euro 15.

I had the pleasure to meet Henri Lurton at MacArthur’s Wine and Beverages in Washington DC in April 2010. See: "Henri Lurton and his Chateau Brane Cantenac Wines" Before Henri Lurton took over, Brane Cantenac was perceived as an underperforming property. This has changed with Henri taking over the reign, due to extensive investment in the cuverie and chai, as well as vastly improved vineyard management techniques.

Henri Lurton: “Like in the rest of Medoc, we rely on Cabernet Sauvignon. We are aiming at increasing the share of Cabernet Sauvignon to 70%. We are experimenting with Carmenére in a half hectare of plot, so we use about 0.5% in the blend.”

Pictures: Chateau Brane-Cantenac

“For full ripening, it is essential to do the phenolic and other tests before harvest but it is also important to actually taste the grapes to decide if they are fully ripe. My father taught me this process years ago before many people in Bordeaux made this a routine. Now, I can pretty much taste grapes from different parts of the vineyard and tell if it is fully ripe.”

Henri Lurton on Robert Parker: “Robert Parker prefers powerful wines rather than the more elegant wines we make. So, we have not been able to command the prices they deserve in my view. But I must emphasize that overall Robert Parker has done a lot for Bordeaux.”

schiller-wine: Related Postings

Château Figeac, Saint-Émilion - A Profile, France

A Glass of Bordeaux – What Else? – With Wine Journalist Panos Kakaviatos

The Wines from Entre Deux Mers Winemaker Joel Duffau

Emerging Wine Country: China's Wine Boom Since 2000

Bordeaux Wines and their Classifications: The Basics

In the Wine Capital of the World: the City of Bordeaux, France

Vin Bio de Bordeaux - At Château Beauséjour in AOC Puisseguin-St.Emilion, France

Malbec World Day 2012 - Malbec in Bordeaux, France

Henri Lurton and his Chateau Brane Cantenac Wines

The Emerging Wine Giant China - Mouton Cadet Bar Opening

The Label of 2007 Chateau Mouton Rothschild designed by Bernar Venet

(German) Winemakers in the World: The German Roots of Baron Philippe de Rothschild

Tour de France de Vin: 6 Days, 7 Regions, 3500 km - In 6 Days through 7 Wine Regions of France

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Foie Gras and Lazan’i Betsileo at Restaurant Villa Vanille in Antananarivo, Madagascar

Pictures: There is always Malagasy Music at Villa Vanille

Foie gras - French for fat liver - is a popular delicacy in French cuisine, made of the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened. French law states that "foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France."

Foie gras is not cheap and people – including myself - tend to eat foie gras only for special occasions. This is different, however, when I am in Madagascar. There, food is in general cheap by international standards and there is plenty of excellent foie gras made in Madagascar. Many restaurants in Antananarivo have on a regular basis different kinds of foie gras dishes on their menu.

Pictures: Impressions from Madagascar

I recently spent about 2 months in Madagascar, mostly in the capital Antananarivo. The food we had over these 2 months was mostly French food and I ate a lot of foie gras. This posting focuses on an evening at the restaurant Villa Vanille, where my wife Annette and I both had one course – direct – and this was a foie gras course.

Wining and Dining in Antananarivo

I have compiled a comprehensive list of the restaurants in Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar and have issued my work in three postings:

Schiller’s 12 Favorite Restaurants of Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar

A Comprehensive Guide - in Alphabetical Order - to the Restaurants of Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar

A Comprehensive Guide – Ordered by the Number of Stars - to the Restaurants of Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar

See also:

The Wines of Madagascar

Foie Gras at Villa Vanille

Villa Vanille has several terrines de foie gras and foie gras poele on its menu.

My wife Annette had: La Terrine de Fois Gras a la Vanille (with sweet-sour chutney onions, raisons, sirope de grenadine and with gelee de vins doux).

Picture: La Terrine de Fois Gras a la Vanille

I had: Foie Gras Poele (with Mango and Mango Sauce).

Picture: Foie Gras Poele

Annette’s foie gras was cold, mine was hot.

Foie Gras: Cold and Hot 

Typically, foie gras is eaten at room temperature, or slightly below, as my wife did. Her foie gras had been prepared into a terrine some time ago and the terrine had been kept cold. My wife was served a couple of slices of the Terrine de Foie Gras a la Vanille.

Less common is to eat the foie gras hot, as I did. My foie gras had been kept raw in the fridge and pan-seared for a couple of minutes before being served with warm mangoes and a mango sauce.

Cold Foie Gras: Parfaits, Pate, Terrine, Mousses

Generally, terrines de foie gras as well as parfaits, pâtés, foams and mousses of foie gras are all slow-cooked forms of foie gras, at low heat, typically flavored with truffle, mushrooms or brandy such as Cognac or Armagnac. The foie gras of my wife was “a la Vanille” and had been prepared with Malagasy vanilla. These slow-cooked forms of foie gras are served at or below room temperature.

Pictures: Villa Vanille

In French cuisine, pâté may be baked in a crust as pie or loaf, in which case it is called pâté en croûte or baked in a terrine (or other mold), in which case it is known as pâté en terrine. Additionally, a forcemeat mixture cooked and served in a terrine is also called a terrine.

Legally (in France), parfait de foie must have at least 75% content of foie gras and pâte de foie gras, purée de foie gras, mousse de foie gras and galantine de foie gras at least 50%.

Hot Fois Gras

Hot foie gras can be served roasted, sauteed, pan-seared (as was mine) or grilled. As foie gras has high fat content, contact with heat needs to be brief and at high temperature. Hot foie gras typically comes with a sauce.

100% Content: Foie Gras Entier, Foie Gras and Bloc de Foir Gras

According to French law, three forms of foir gras with a 100% foie gras content are distinguished: foie gras entier, foie gras and bloc de foir gras.

Foie gras entier is made of the liver of one animal, either one or two whole liver lobes.

Foie gras can come from different animals, but the foie gras content has to be 100%.

Bloc de foie gras is a fully cooked, molded block composed of (98% to) 100% foie gras. To prepare a block de foie gras, the liver is finely chopped and emulsified. If termed avec morceaux ("with pieces"), you can see the pieces of foie gras when you cut the bloc de foie gras in tranches.

The Wine: Lazan’I Betsilio Gris

We had a bottle of Lazan’I Betsilio Gris with the foie gras dishes at Villa Vanille.

Picture: NV Lazan’i Betsili, Gris, Haute Matsiatra, Du raisin au vin par l’amour des paysans du Betsileo, eleve et mis en boutaille par Lazan’i Betsileo S.A., Fianarantsoa Madagascar

Turning to the wine, Madagascar produces wine. The vineyards are in the Betsileo area in the highlands and total about 800 hectares. This compares with 100.000 hectares in Germany or South Africa. Traditional Malagasy wines – the vast majority - are made with so called French American hybrid grapes that are more fungus resistant than the vitis vinfera (European) grapes that dominate the world wine market. While traditional Malagasy wines tend to be of reasonable quality, they do not reach a quality level that would allow to marketed traditional Malagasy wines internationally. In particular, French American hybrid grapes tend to have a “foxy” taste that lets many wine drinkers stay away from these wines. See: The Wines of Madagascar - Good and Interesting Table Wines

But – and this is a brand new development - a new winery – Clos Nomena – has just started to produce Malagasy wine exclusively made with European grapes that tastes very much like the wines we are used to: Clos Nomena: Taking the Wine of Madagascar to New Heights

Lazan’i Betsilio S.A., Fianarantsoa

This is a large wine co-operative, created in 1971, which, with the support of Swiss development aide, used to make the best wine of the country. But, since the termination of the Swiss project, the quality has suffered, the co-operative has encountered financial problems (and had to suspend its activities from 2000 to 2006) and is now trying hard and successfully to get back on track. The wine co-operative Lazan’i Betsileo currently has 625 members. Their vineyard area accounts for about 40% of Madagascar’s total. They produce about 500.000 liters of wine annually. Lazan means pride in Malagasy.

Lazan’i Bestsilio offers one line of products: NV Lazan’i Betsili, Haute Matsiatra, Du raisin au vin par l’amour des paysans du Betsileo, eleve et mis en boutaille par Lazan’i Betsileo S.A., Fianarantsoa Madagascar. It comes as Rouge for Ariary 6300, Rouge Primeur for Ariary 7400, Gris for 6300, Blanc for Ariary 6300 and Blanc Moelleux for Ariary 8600, retail. We had the Gris.

Schiller Wine - Related Postings

Schiller’s 12 Favorite Restaurants of Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar

A Comprehensive Guide - in Alphabetical Order - to the Restaurants of Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar

A Comprehensive Guide – Ordered by the Number of Stars - to the Restaurants of Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar

The Wines of Madagascar

Wining and Dining in Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar – Christian G.E. Schiller’s Private List of Restaurants in Antananarivo

The Wines of Madagascar - Good and Interesting Table Wines

Christian G.E.Schiller’s Private List of Restaurants in Antananarivo That Serve Malagasy Wine

Clos Nomena: Taking the Wine of Madagascar to New Heights

Fine Wine and Fine Oysters in Madagascar: Oysters from Fort Dauphin and Wine from Clos Nomena

Restaurant and Hotel AKOA – An Oasis of Tranquility in the Buzzing Third World City Antananarivo in Madagascar

Tsiky – Charming Restaurant in Antananarivo, Madagascar, Serving Good Food and Malagasy Wines

Sea, Sand, Soul and Sakafo, and Whales and Wine – At Princesse Bora Lodge on Ile Sainte Marie in the Indian Ocean

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Third Annual Chardonnay Day – Chardonnays Around the World, Snooth’s Top Picks and Hamilton Russell Vineyards in South Africa

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Anthony Hamilton Russell and Gregory Dal Piaz, the Editor in Chief of Snooth.

Today is the third annual #Chardonnay day. This is a global event set to run 24 hours in order to give everyone time to have a glass of Chardonnay when it makes sense in their time zone. All you have to do is share on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare or any other social site using the #Chardonnay hash tag all day May 26th. You'll be able to search what other wine lovers are sharing by searching posts using the #Chardonnay hash tag.

For the second annual Chardonnay Day see:  A Global Event: Second Annual Chardonnay Day (@Chardonnay) #Chardonnay

Chardonnays Around the World

Chardonnay is grown wherever wine is made, from England to New Zealand, although the best Chardonnay comes from the Bourgogne. It is one of the most widely-planted grape varieties in the world, with over 175.000 hectares.

Chardonnay first rose to prominence in the Chablis, Bourgogne and Champagne regions. The Bourgogne Chardonnays were long considered the benchmark standard of expressing terroir through Chardonnay. In Chablis, Chardonnay is the only permitted AOC grape variety. The wines rarely go through malolactic fermentation or are exposed to oak. The biting, green apple-like acidity is a trademark of Chablis. In the Champagne, it is most often blended with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Champagne, Chablis and Burgundy account for more than 3/5 of all Chardonnay plantings in France.

In the US, Chardonnay found another region where it could thrive in California. The early trend to imitate the Bourgogne wines soon gave way to more buttery and oaky styles. New oak barrels coupled with malolactic fermentation were used to produce wines that were big in body and mouthfeel, and high in alcohol. In recent years, Californian winemakers have been trying to go back to more Old Word Chardonnay, leaner, using less oak and lower alcohol levels.

In Australia, the export driven wine industry was well situated for the Chardonnay boom of the 1980s and 1990s. Now being more famous for its Sauvignon Blanc production, Chardonnay was New Zealand's most widely planted grape variety until only a few years ago.

In conclusion, the area planted with Chardonnay throughout the world is estimates at over 175.000 hectares, with the US and France accounting for about half of it, and Australia, Italy and Modavia for another quarter.

1. U.S.A. : California : 44 509 ha ; Oregon and Washington : 3 203 ha
2. France : 35 252 ha (Bourgogne, Jura, Champagne, Loire Valley, Midi, Charentes).
3. Australia : 22 528 ha
4. Italy : 11 800 ha
5. Moldavia : 8 000 ha
6. South Africa : 7 927 ha
7. Chile : 7 561 ha
8. Slovenia : 3 565 ha
9. Argentina : 5 155 ha
10. New Zealand : 2 449 ha
11. Spain : 2 200 ha
12. Bulgaria : 2 000 ha
13. Romania : 650 ha
14. Israel : 600 ha
15. Portugal : 500 ha
16. Hungary : 500 ha
17. Greece : 500 ha
18. China : 500 ha
19. Other: Uruguay, Brazil, Canada, Austria, Morocco, Germany, Switzerland.

Snooth - Top 10 Chardonnay Producers

Gregory Dal Piaz, the Editor in Chief of Snooth, issued recently a list of his top 10 Chardonnay producers in the world, which I found very interesting. Snooth is a social networking website based in New York City, USA that has very successfully built an online community for wine drinkers over the past 6 years. I met Gregory last year at the EWBC 2011 in Brescia:"Blogging, Wining and Dining at the European Wine Bloggers Conference (#EWBC) October 2011 in Brescia, Italy – A Tour D’ Horizont"

Pictures: I shared the table with Gregory at the final dinner of the EWBC 2011.

Gregory: “I have put together my top 10 list of Chardonnay producers around the world. While this is a pretty comprehensive list, I do want to remind you that my top 10 lists always take pricing into account. I limit my purchases of wine to a rather extravagant $100 bottle, so don’t be surprised to not see the greatest white Burgundies here.

1. Domaine Leflaive is one of the big Burgundian négociants.

2. David Ramey has been a top California winemaker for decades.

3. Neudorf - Along with Kumeu River, Neudorf has emerged as one of the finest producers of Chardonnay in New Zealand.

4. Domaine Louis Carillon - A real benchmark for me.

5. Kumeu River  - A Chardonnay specialist. It’s not often that you see that, but New Zealand’s Kumeu River really does specialize in Chardonnay, putting out several bottlings.

6. Christian Moreau - While I don’t drink a ton Chardonnay, I drink more than my share of Moreau Chablis.

7. Hamilton Russell - A South African Chardonnay is one of my favorites? You bet.

8. Dutton Goldfield - If you’re looking for terroir and elegance in California Chardonnay, you really have to do some searching. Or you could just pick up a bottle of Dutton-Goldfield.

9. La Chablisienne - I might get grief for this selection, but La Chablisienne is a huge co-op producing tons of wine and rarely gets mentioned when talk turns to either great co-ops or Chablis.

10. Joseph Drouhin/Domaine Drouhin - I’m cheating a bit and combining two properties, but Drouhin does a simply amazing job with both Chardonnay.”

Burgundy Wines in South Africa: Hamilton Russell Vineyards

Indeed, a very interesting list. I was happy to see Hamilton Russell Vineyards on the list. The stop at Hamilton Russell Vineyards, the producer of outstanding Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines in the Hemel en Aarde (Heaven and Earth) valley, just behind the seaside resort of Hermanus in Walker Bay, was our last stop on a recent South Africa wine trip, but it was one of our best stops.

The Hamilton Russel Vineyards has become a hallmark of fine South African Pinot Noir and Chardonnay over the last few decades. “We want to produce wines as Burgundian as possible here in South Africa – Wines from South African soil with a Burgundian soul” says Anthony Hamilton Russell, the owner of the estate “notwithstanding the rather warm climate in South Africa. But the climate is rather cool here in the Hemel en Arde valley. And we have the right soil for the Pinot Noir and the Chardonnay”.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards produces 20.000 cases of Chardonnay every year. Low yields is one of the guiding principles at Hamilton Russell Vineyards along with organic farming. In 2008, for example, the yields amounted to 35 hectoliters per hectar for the Chardonnay.

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller and Anthony Hamilton Russell of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, Producer of Outstanding Chardonnay in the Hemel en Aarde (Heaven and Earth) Valley in South Africa.

Anthony took us through a tasting of 4 Pinot Noirs and 3 Chardonnays, from the vintages 2006 to 2010. Overall, the Chardonnays were tight, mineral wines with length and complexity. They were elegant, yet textured and intense wines with a strong personality of place.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Approaches to Classifying German Wine: The Standard Approach (the Law of 1971), the VDP Approach and the Zero Classification Approach

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Kai Buhrfeindt, Grand Cru Weinrestaurant, with Wilhelm Weil, Weingut Robert Weil, who is one of the dominant forces in the wine classification developed by the VDP and Markus Schneider, Weingut Markus Schneider, who has achieved cult status in Germany and who does not classify his wines. At a Grand Cru Winemaker Dinner: German Riesling and International Grape Varieties – Top Wine Makers Wilhelm Weil and Markus Schneider at Kai Buhrfeindt’s Grand Cru in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Although many people think that there is only one wine classification system in Germany – the classification system of the Law of 1971 – this is not correct. True, the classification system of the Law of 1971 is the standard classification system in Germany and the vast majority of winemakers in Germany use this approach.  A large number of winemakers, however, have moved away from the standard, in particular the producers of premium and ultra-premium wines. Importantly, the powerful group of German elite winemakers – the VDP – has conceived its own classification system and is developing it further currently. Other winemakers moved to a zero classification system – no classification, an approach very familiar in the New World.

This of course does not make it easier for wine consumers to read and understand German wine labels. The QbA – Qualitaetswein besonderer Anbaugebiete – denomination, for example, has completely different meanings in the standard classification system and in classification system used by the VDP. As for the former, it indicates that this wine is an entry-level wine of basic quality. For the latter, QbA does not mean anything, as in the VDP system even ultra-premium dry wines are labeled as a QbA.

This posting attempts to provide an overview of what is out there in the German wine market.

A. The Standard Classification System: The Law of 1971 – A Pyramid of Ripeness at the Center

The Ripeness at Harvest

The basic wine classification system in Germany is the classification system of the wine law of 1971. At the center of it is the sugar content of the fruit at the point of harvest. The higher the sugar content in the grapes at the point of harvest, the higher the classification of the wine.

The Germans use the Oechsle scale to measure the sugar in the grapes. Based on the Oechsle scale, German wine is classified into nine quality groups, ranging from Tafelwein with the minimum Oechsle degree of 44 to Trockenebeerenauslese with a minimum Oechsle degree of 150. The minimum Oechsle degrees differ somewhat between Germany’s wine regions and between red and white wine. The numbers indicated below are those for the white wines from the Mosel valley. See: German Wine Basics: Sugar in the Grape - Alcohol and Sweetness in the Wine

Tafelwein (Table wine) - the lowest German quality class; has to have at least 44 degrees of Oechsle in the vineyard.

Landwein (Country wine) - 47 degrees of Oechsle at the minimum.

Less than 5% of wine produced in Germany is classified as Tafelwein and Landwein

Qualitaetswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA wine) means a quality wine from one of the thirteen specified German wine regions; close to 50% of German wine is QbA wine - 50 degrees Ochsle.

Importantly, these 3 groups of wines can be chaptalized (Chaptalization: sugar is added to the juice before fermentation to increase the alcohol level after fermentation, commonly used in all wine producing regions of the world). The chaptalization adds body to these otherwise lighter wines and makes them great simple food wines. The EU wine law limits the amount of additional alcohol that can be achieved through this cellar technique to between 3.5% by volume (28 grams of alcohol per liter) and 2.5% by volume (20 grams of alcohol per liter), depending on the region.

Kabinett - 67 degrees Oechsle.

Spaetlese means late harvest but this are simply wines made from grapes with a higher level of Oechsle - 76 degrees - and not necessarily wine made with grapes harvested late in the season.

Auslese - 83 degrees of Oechsle.

Beerenauslese - 110 degrees of Oechsle.

Eiswein - icewine, the same minimum level of 110 degrees of Oechsle.

Trockenbeerenauslese - 150 degrees of Oechsle.

Sugar in the Grape and Sweetness of the Finished Wine

In contrast to a widespread believe, these 9 quality categories do not reflect the sweetness in the finished wines. Except for the noble-sweet wines, German wine, ranging from Tafelwein to Auslese, can be either sweet or dry. Why is that so? See: German Wine Basics: Sugar in the Grape - Alcohol and Sweetness in the Wine

A bit of background: The fermentation of grape must is a process in which sugars, naturally present in grape juice, are transformed into alcohol and carbon dioxide by the action of yeasts. During fermentation, the sugar content of the must declines, while the alcohol content increases and the CO2 disappears. This process stops automatically when the alcohol level in the wine has reached around 13 to 15 percent of the volume.

There is a straightforward link between the sugar content in the fruit and the resulting alcohol level in the wine.

40 Oechsle ==> 5.3% Alcohol
44 Oechsle = Minimum Tafelwein
47 Oechsle = Minimum Landwein
50 Oechsle = Minimum QbA ==> 6.9% Alcohol
67 Oechsle = Minimum Kabinett
76 Oechsle = Minimum Spaetlese
83 Oechsle = Minimum Auslese
90 Oechsle ==> 13.0% Alcohol
100 Oechsle ==> 14.5% Alcohol
110 Oechsle = Minimum Beerenauslese
110 Oechsle = Minimum Eiswein l
150 Oechsle = Minimum Trockenbeerenauslese

For a wine with 13.0 percent alcohol, for example, one needs grapes at the 90 degrees Oechsle level. This would be a dry wine, without any remaining sweetness. 90 degrees Oechsle is well beyond the Spaetlese category and high up in the Auslese category. Thus, all of Germany’s Spaetlese wines and most Auslese wines, if left to mother nature only, should be dry. You have to go beyond that - say 110 degrees Oechsle - for the fermentation to stop naturally and sugar to remain in the wine. This is the case with the group of noble-sweet wines (Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, Eiswein). All German wines up to the Auslese category are potentially bone-dry.
Fruity-Sweet Kabinett, Spaetlese and Auslese Wines - How?

In reality there is plenty of sweet-style German wine at the Kabinett, Spaetlese and Auslese levels, and very popular in particular in Germany’s export markets. How do winemakers achieve this? There are two methods used by German winemakers to generate residual sugar in such wine:

First, stopping the fermentation; this is typically done through a skillful manipulation of the fermentation process with sulfur and temperature control. The winemaker needs to follow closely the fermentation process and must make sure that it comes to a stop at the desired level of sweetness.

Second, the other technique is to let the wine first fully ferment and then add to the dry and fully fermented wine sterilized grape juice (called in German "Suessreserve"). Here the winemakers lets the wine fully ferment to produce a dry wine and then experiments with different amounts of Suessreserve to achieve the desired level of sweetness in the final product. Ideally, the Suessreserve comes from the same wine. It needs to be sterilized so it does not begin to ferment after it is added to the wine.

The Noble Sweet Wines

Noble sweet wines, however, is a different story. The fruit has such a high sugar level at harvest that there is nothing you can do preventing the wine to remain sweet. These noble-sweet wines are produced either from botrytised grapes or grapes that were harvested during frost, more specifically,

First, the fog in the autumn mornings at German river banks produces a fungal infection, botrytis cineria (noble rot), which removes the water in the grapes and adds a unique flavor to the grape; and

Second, the frost late in the year, which also removes the water in the grapes when the temperatures fall (but does not produce the botrytis taste).

In both cases, the sugar content of the grape is exceptionally high at the time of the harvest and mother nature is unable to ferment all the sugar. These are the famous sweet dessert wines in Germany: Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, Eiswein.

Vineyard: Einzellage and Grosslage

The 1971 wine law also has elements of a terroir concept, but this is on the backburner. There are Grosslagen (collective vineyards) and Einzellagen (single vineyards). For the average consumer, Grosslage sites became virtually indistinguishable from Einzellage sites. Only few experts would know, for example, that Hochheimer Daubhaus is a Grosslage and Hochheimer Hoelle a Einzellage. Would you?

B. No Classification – The Example of Cult Winemaker Markus Schneider

Markus Schneider, the dynamic owner of and winemaker at Weingut Markus Schneider, has taken the very radical approach of completely abandoning the standard classification system and has moved to a zero classification system. Many of his colleagues have done the same thing.

Markus Schneider markets all his wines as QbA, without any reference to the predicate level and (in most cases) without any reference to the vineyard(s) were the grapes come from. Here are some of Markus Schneider’s wines: Blackprint, Rotwein Alte Reben, M Spaetburgunder, Tohuwabohu, Kaitui and Ursprung Cabernet Sauvignon.

Allthough the Markus Schneider wine labels look very radical by German standards, from a New World perspective, they look pretty familiar.

Markus Schneider is not anybody in Germany. He is a shooting star. In 2003, Markus Schneider was voted Newcomer of the Year by the Feinschmecker and in 2006, Discovery of the Year. Within only a few years, Markus Schneider had shot to the top echelons of the German wine industry and established a solid position. Since 2007, Weingut Markus Schneider is in the 3 (out of 5) grapes category of Gault Millau.

For more on Weingut Markus Schneider see:  German Riesling and International Grape Varieties – Top Wine Makers Wilhelm Weil and Markus Schneider at Kai Buhrfeindt’s Grand Cru in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

C. The VDP Classification – The German Elite Winemakers: The Burgundian Approach with the Terroir Concept at the Center

For the VDP see: New Wine Book: VDP Member Directory - The Association of German Elite Winemakers

The VDP classification shifts away from the ripeness of the grapes at harvest as the determining factor to the terroir principle, following the Bourgougne.

The VDP classification was started to be developed and implemented in the early 2000s. The VDP just agreed on a series of modifications, which will be dealt with in a separate posting.

3 Quality Levels in the VDP Classification

The classification of the VDP puts the terroir principle at the center of its classification approach.  The pyramid of ripeness has been moved to the backburner and indeed for dry wines completely removed.

Erste Lage – Ortswein - Gutswein

The VDP currently distinguishes 3 quality levels, following the terroir principle:

The top level: ERSTE LAGE (Grand Cru Wine) - Wines from the best single vineyards of Germany. Conditions: A site’s absolutely finest, narrowly demarcated parcels with discernible terroir qualities. Designated grape varieties and taste profiles. Maximum yield of 50hl/ha. Selective harvesting by hand. Minimum must weight equivalent to Spätlese.

The second level:  ORTSWEIN (Village Wine) - An Ortswein originates from a village's best vineyards that are planted with grape varieties typical of their region, equivalent to a village wine in the Bourgogne. Maximum yield is at 75hl/ha. A dry Ortswein is labeled Qualitätswein Trocken. A Ortswein with residual sweetness is labeled with one of the traditional Prädikats.

The lowest level: GUTSWEIN (Estate Wine) - High-quality wines that reflect regional character. Maximum yield 75hl/ha. Minimum must weight (higher than prescribed by law) is determined by the regional associations.

Example: Weingut Robert Weil

Here is an example from recent wine tasting with Wilhelm Weil. Tasting with Wilhelm Weil the 2010 Weingut Weil Wines in Kiedrich, Germany 

Wilhelm poured wines from all three categories - Gutswein, Ortswein, Erste Lage, including:

2010 Weingut Robert Weil Rheingau Riesling Trocken – Gutswein  from Weingut Robert Weil

2010 Kiedricher Riesling, Robert Weil, Trocken – Ortswein from Kiedrich

2010 Kiedrich Graefenberg Riesling Robert Weil Trocken –  Erste Lage- Graefenberg

Use of the Predicates Kabinet, Spaetlese and Auslese only for Fruity-Sweet Wines

As the second major innovation, the VDP members have dropped the traditional predicates for dry wine and have started to market all dry wines as Qualitaetswein – QbA - regardless of the sugar level of the fruit at the point of harvest. Only wines that have a noticeable level of sweetness carry the traditional predicates like Kabinett, Spaetlese or Auslese. Thus, if you see Spaetlese on the label of a VDP member wine, you can be sure that it is a sweet Spaetlese. The label with “Spaetlese trocken” does not exist anymore among the VDP members. If it is a wine at Spaetlese level and fully fermented to complete dryness, it would be marketed as QbA wine. And the level of quality would be indicated by the terroir concept (Gutswein, Ortswein, Erste Lage).

Grosses Gewaechs – Spaetlese and Auslese  

The counterpart of the fruity sweet Spaetlese and Auslese wines of the VDP are the bone dry Grosses Gewaechs wines. These are ‘Grand Cru” wines made from grapes from a 1. Lage vineyard, harvested at Spaetlese or Auslese level in terms of sugar content and fully fermented so that they become bone-dry. The Grosse Gewaechs label is thought to resemble the Grand Cru designation in neighboring France. Here and there, these wines are bone-dry.

1. Lage wines that are sweet carry the traditional Spaetlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein labels.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

North Gate Vineyard in Virginia, USA – A Profile

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Mark Fedor

I had a chance to get to know North Gate Vineyard in Virginia during TasteCamp East 2012. A Saturday night tradition at TasteCamp, the BYO Bottle Dinner took place at North Gate Vineyard. In addition to the excellent wines brought by the TasteCamp 2012 participants, we were also treated to the wines of North Gate Vineyard winemakers/owners Mark and Vicki Fedor.

See: TasteCamp 2012 in Virginia, USA – A Tour d’Horizont

North Gate Vineyard

Vicki Fedor explained: “We started in 1997 by caring for a few neglected grape vines on the North Gate property we had just purchased. That small effort has led us down a path which we are still walking. Along the way we have learned by doing. We've made some mistakes, had some successes, worked hard, and had a lot of fun.” From 2003 through the 2006 vintage, Mark and Vicki were the winemakers for Corcoran Vineyards in Waterford, Virginia.

North Gate Vineyard is situated on 26 acres in the northwest part of Loudoun County, Virginia, nestled against the eastern base of the Short Hill mountains (foothills to the Blue Ridge).

Pictures: North Gate Vineyards

North Gate's Tasting Room was built to LEED Gold specifications and is 100% solar powered. On the roof are 96 solar panels that most of the time produce all the electricity that is needed to run the facility and at some points sends electricity back to the power company.

The building includes many elements from reclaimed wood, local stone and mantle, and tile floors. It features indoor and outdoor fireplaces, a covered patio, and beautiful views of the mountains and the vineyard.

Wine Making Style

Mark Fedor explained during the tasting of the wines: “First, our goal is to make wines that show the character of the varietal that is making up a majority of the wine.  For instance, we do not want to try to make a big Bordeaux red out of a Chambourcin grape. Second, in general, we use less oak in our wines so the fruit characters of the grape show through and are not masked.  The amount of oak we use depends on the variety and style of that specific wine. Third, we like to make white wines as much as we like to make reds. Our whites tend to be crisp, fruit-forward, stainless steel fermented with varying degrees of oak-time, specific to the variety, to soften up and balance against the alcohol and acids. Fourth, we believe that blending allows us to kick our wine up to another level and allows us to achieve our final goals on a wine.  However, we are cognizant of #1 above and are careful not to overblend!"

Pictures: North Gate Vineyard winemakers/owners Mark and Vicki Fedor at North Gate Vineyards

The North Gate Vineyards Portfolio

White Wines

2010 Chardonnay

This lighter, "fruit-forward" Chardonnay was fermented and aged in a combination of older (neutral) and new oak. The barrel aging augments the stone fruit and citrus flavors of the Chardonnay grape with soft tannins and a bit more depth.  With a sophisticated balance of acidity, alcohol, and fruit flavors, this wine provides a unique complexity from the initial taste on the palette through a bright, lemony finish.  Pairs well with many poultry dishes, or try with a salmon burger, hot off the grill.

Retail price: $18
Vineyard: Wild Meadow (Jack and Cindy Lowther)
Case Count: 115

2010 Viognier

This Viognier starts with aromas of sweet jasmine and tropical fruit with a touch of vanilla and butterscotch.  The medium bodied nature of this wine includes a wide mouth feel and soft textures on the palette which can be attributed to 6 months of aging in neutral French oak barrels.  There is a nice balance of acidity and spice throughout, leading to a lingering finish with subtle hints of grapefruit. Classic pairings include crab cakes and any "kicked up" shellfish or poultry dishes with a little spice.

Retail price: $20
Vineyards: North Gate, Weather Lea Farm (Pamela and Malcolm Baldwin)
Case Count: 172

NV Apple

This is a return to our roots – the first wine we ever made.  We think it tastes just like biting into a crisp, sweet, juicy apple!   We used a nice mix of sweet and tart apples, so there’s a good balance of flavors.  Just a touch of sugar remains to make this a pleasant aperitif, table wine, or even dessert wine with a fresh fruit tart or angel food cake. The perfect picnic or patio wine. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this wine are being donated to Blue Ridge Greyhound Adoption.

Retail price: $13
Case Count: 471

Red Wines   

2010 Cabernet Franc

Spice and bright red cherry fruit up front, followed by a smooth black pepper finish that is characteristic of this varietal in Virginia.  Hints of chocolate and coffee complement the oak from American and French barrels.  Look for these flavors to continue to intensify with age.  Enjoy this with a slow simmered beef stew or any tomato-based dishes, such as Italian cuisine. We're also finding it's our default wine to pair with an evening in front of the fireplace.

Retail price: $18
Vineyards: North Gate, Weather Lea Farm (Pamela and Malcolm Baldwin)
Case Count: 305

2009 Merlot

This medium-bodied Bordeaux is showing deep aromas of dark, jammy wild cherries, roasty oak, and a hint of earthiness.  Aging in French oak and a touch of Petit Verdot integrate Old World structure and tannic strength into this soft, supple, easy going red. Try with grilled pork tenderloin with cranberries.

Retail price: $16
Vineyard: Ridgeside Vineyard (Mitch and Betsy Russ)
Case Count: 138

2009 Meritage

Science gives way to art when a winemaker puts together a blend of wines that is greater than the sum of its parts. We evaluate the characteristics of the parts we have to work with and then create a blend that shows the best of our Cabernet Franc, (47%), Cabernet Sauvignon (26%), Petit Verdot (21%), and Merlot (6%). The result is a full-bodied wine, complete and complex from start to finish.

Retail price: $20
Case Count: 351

2009 Petit Verdot

We are proud to offer our first Estate grown wine. 100% of the Petit Verdot comes directly from our own vineyard. This Bordeaux varietal is often used for blending and brings rich tannins and deep color to any wine it is matched with.  We also believe this grape can make a nice varietal wine, showcasing its intensity and complexity to make it the big, bold red in the line-up. Sweet violet aromas, fresh cedar and just the right amount of French oak integrate into a soft start, bold mid-palate, and lingering finish. Pairs well with a classic steak dinner.

Retail price: $24
Vineyard: North Gate Vineyard
Case Count: 100

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Tasting the Wines of Chateau Lafon-Rochet, Saint-Estèphe, 4ème Cru Classé en 1855, with Owner Basile Tesseron at the French Embassy in Washington DC, USA/France

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Basile Tesseron

Guy Tesseron’s grandson Basile Tesseron, who has taken command at Chateau Lafon-Rochet, came to the French Embassy in Washington DC to present 5 different vintages of his Grand Vin spanning from 1975 to 2011 and – and this came as a big surprise - a 2011 Chateau Lafon-Rochet Rose. This evening was part of a series of monthly wine events at the French Embassy in Washington DC, organized by wine journalist Claire Morin-Gibourg, with her husband and wine teacher Vincent Morin.

 Pictures: The Fench Embassy in Washington DC

Château Lafon-Rochet

Château Lafon-Rochet is a Quatrièmes Grands Crus Crus en 1855 in the Saint-Estèphe appellation of the Medoc. It is one of the 5 classified properties in the appellation of Saint Estèphe. Its grounds are separated from those of Château Lafite to the north by the width of the road and from Cos d'Estournel by a dirt path.

Pictures: Bordeaux Wine Region Map

The history of Chateau Lafon-Rochet starts in the 16th century, when a portion known as Rochet because of its rocky terrain eventually passed by marriage to Etienne de Lafon who established Lafon-Rochet. The estate then passed down through the Lafon generations for almost 300 years. 

When Guy Tesseron became the owner in 1959, it needed a serious restoration and Guy Tesseron did restore it to its former glory. Guy Tesseron was from a Chanterais family, specializing in the Cognac production.

Guy first put the vineyards back in order, and then turned his attention to the vinification buildings and the Château itself, which were all in a dilapidated state. He decided to build an entirely new chai, and a new château, in the style of the 18th century. Also, some 25 hectares were added to the vineyard.

In 1975, Guy Tesseron also acquired 5th growth Chateau Pontet-Canet from the Cruse family, following the Bordeaux scandal of the early 1970s. Both châteaux subsequently passed to the next generation with Lafon-Rochet coming to Michel Tesseron. Currently the property is in the good hands of Guy’s grandson, Basile Tesseron.

Lafon-Rochet's vineyards covers 45 hectares and are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon 54%, Merlot Noir 40%, Cabernet Franc 4%, Petit Verdot 2%. Interestingly, prior to the Tesseron purchase, the vineyards planted were substantially less (about 15 hectares) and entirely Merlot.

Pictures: Basile Tesseron

The grand vin is Château Lafon-Rochet, (typically 11000 cases per annum), the second wine, once known as Numéro 2 de Lafon-Rochet now goes under the name of Pélerins de Lafon-Rochet and is produced in similar quantities.

To match the 40 different vineyard parcels, the estate has 40 stainless steel, temperature controlled vats.  Malolactic fermetation takes place in 1/3 new oak barrels. The remainder is done in vat. The wine is kept in 100% new oak barrels for 9 months before it is moved to one year old barrels where it remains for an additional 9 months.  The final blending takes place 3 months before bottling. A fining with egg whites takes place before bottling to clarify the wine.

Today, Basile Tesseron is steering Lafon-Rochet towards biodynamic viticulture, following the example of his uncle at Pontet-Canet. But Lafon-Rochet has not yet been certified. "For us, the vine is king" Basile said.

The Wines we Tasted

Lafon Rochet Rose 2011 (Magnum)

Basile: “This is now our third vintage. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 1.000 cases. “
An unusual wine, a bit orange in the glass, hints of raspberry and strawberry on the nose, good acidity, fresh palate, full mouth feel, finishing with stone flavors.

Lafon Rochet 2011

Deep in color in the glass, notes of coffee, smoke and black cherry on the nose, good structure, ripe tannins, sweet, black cherry notes on the palate, round finish.

Lafon Rochet 2005 (Magnum)

Plum, cherry, black fruits on the nose, very powerful, very tannic, still young.

Basile: “Saint Estephe is always about elegance, but this is a very powerful wine.”

Lafon Rochet 2000

Dark purple in the glass, beginning to show mushroom and cedar notes on the nose, plums and black fruits on the palate, still a bit harsh, drinkable now but not yet at its peak, at least 5 more years to go.

Lafon Rochet 1995

Dark red in the glass, red fruit and floral nose with some leather and scorched earth lead, very nice maturity with still some freshness and fruit, very round, at the peak probably.

Lafon Rochet 1975 (Magnum)

Well past its peak, the wine lost its fruit, kind of fell apart, Basil: “When you drink a wine older than 30 years, you are not tasting the wine, but you are tasting its history, my father used to say”.

Claire Morin-Gibourg

Journalist for 15 years, Claire has worked for some of the most prestigious press outlets specializing in wine: "Le Revue du Vin de France," "Gault and Millau," "Cuisine Gourmande" and other titles focusing on this particular area. Author of the book "Comment bien acheter son vin?" (How to Properly Choose and Buy Your Wine?) with French critics Michel Bettane and Thierry Desseauve. For 5 years, she held the position of director at the tasting school of Grains Nobles in Paris. Established in Washington, DC since 2009, she continues to share her passion for wine.

Picture: Basile Tesseron, Vincent Morin and Claire Morin-Gibourg

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The 5 Premiers Grands Crus Chateaux en 1855 of Bordeaux, France