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Tasting with Loire Valley Superstar Bertrand Sourdais of Domaine de Pallus By Arnie Millan

I had the good fortune last week to be invited to lunch with Bertrand Sourdais, the dynamic 5th generation winemaker and owner of Domaine de Pallus in Chinon, smack dab in the middle of the Loire Valley. He pulls double duty as a partner and winemaker of two wineries in Spain’s Ribero del Duero region.

Bertrand Sourdais

“Thrilling, brilliant” are adjectives that have applied to the wines crafted by Bertrand Sourdais. Although his family estate is in Chinon in the Loire Valley, he made his international reputation with a Spanish wine, the 2002 Dominio de Atauta “Llanos del Almendro,” from Spain’s Ribera del Duero. In a celebrated blind tasting organized by two Europe’s most respected wine critics, Bertrand’s 2002 Atauta tied with the 1994 Vega Sicilia’s Unico, beating out the 2000 Château Latour; this was a shocking result as it was Bertrand’s first commercial vintage as winemaker.

Check out this Video of the vineyards!

Just after graduating from Enology school in Bordeaux, Bertrand apprenticed at Mouton-Rothschild, Santa Rita in Chile and Alvaro Palacios in Priorat. Bertrand took his first post as winemaker at Atauta in Ribero del Duero. After he left Atauta, Bertrand started Bodegas Antidoto and Dominio de ES, both in Ribera del Duero.

At lunch, Bertrand revealed that he was fired by the new owners of Atauta back in 2008. Even though he did not elaborate, the firing must have been a dramatic turning point in his life and, thirteen years on, you can still see it in his eyes. It still hurts. Yet I believe that the firing ignited a passionate determination to work only for himself with a fierce drive to succeed.

ANTIDOTO RIBERA DEL DUERO 2014 92 WA

So he founded a new winery, with partner David Hernando, an agronomist, called Antidoto. Antidoto means antidote and it was just the perfect cure for Bertrand’s Atauta blues. It was no coincidence that they located Antidoto in the Soto de San Esteban zone in the Soria province, just a stone’s throw from Atauta!

Duero Vines

At the same time, Bertrand’s father wanted to retire and to turn the estate in Chinon over to Bertrand. Bertrand was eager to take the reins of his family estate in addition to his commitment in Ribera del Duero. Bertrand told me he drives 8 hours each way from Pallus to Antidoto and back. That determined dedication is impressive and I think it is fueled by his traumatic firing from Atauta nearly ten years ago. Those wounds are still raw to this day.

Chinon is a prestigious appellation, mostly for Cabernet Franc, located in the center of the Loire Valley. It produces some of France’s meatiest Cabernet Francs which are sometimes compared to Bordeaux. As this is Bertrand’s home, his family estate, Domaine de Pallus, takes pride of place over his Spanish estates.

 

Bertrand farms his vineyards organically, using biodynamic treatments. Yields are kept low, sometimes too low (under 1 ton/acre!).

Below are the wines we tasted with Bertrand.

Pallus 2014 Les Pensées de Pallus: Les Pensées boasts a dark ruby color with aromas of dried herbs, anise and rosemary. On the palate, there is medium-to-full bodied fruit of tart black plum, black currant, black tea and bright acidity leading to a vibrant mineral finish. In stock at Esquin.

We also tasted, for the first time:

Pallus 2016 Les Messanges: Bertrand’s entry level Chinon, the. This is delightful fruity wine of elegance and balance. Available soon.

Antidoto 2015 Ribera del Duero: this is 100% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) produced from grapes from the Soto de San Esteban zone in the Soria province, the cooler part of Ribera del Duero. Just released, this is a serious wine that can age. Available soon.

Pallus 2017 Messanges Chinon Rosé: A dry, crisp Cabernet Franc rosé perfect for Spring and Summer drinking. Fire up the outdoor grill! Available soon.

Antidoto 2017 Roselito Ribera del Duero: This complex Rosé is produced from 80% Tinto Fino and 20% Albillo Mayor, a little known local white grape indigenous to Ribera del Duero. Available soon.

Click for a Fact Sheet with more information on Bertrand Sourdais

arnie@esquin.com

Arnie Millan is Esquin’s European Buyer. In July, 2014, Arnie was featured in the Seattle Times as “The Finest Wine Mind in Seattle.”

2008 Bordeaux: We Do The Hard Work

bordeaux wine 2008Not to be outdone by my tasting in an ornate hotel ballroom, our Arnie Millan recently attended a whirlwind tasting of the 2008 Bordeaux vintage. Here is his report:

I flew into San Francisco last for an intensive tasting of top Bordeaux from the 2008 vintage. The Union of Grand Cru de Bordeaux put on this tasting of 100 top estates. It’s almost easier to list who wasn’t there: all the five First Growths (Mouton, Lafite, Latour, Margaux and Haut Brion), Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Petrus and other high priced exotica of that ilk.

Alas, we were to taste only the other remaining top classified, or otherwise renowned, estates and have the rare opportunity to meet the Chateaux’s owners; people whom we only heretofore knew by name, mentioned in print in somewhat hushed tones. How cool is that? And they were all pleasant and unpretentious.

Overall, this is an excellent vintage which favored the Right Bank (Pomerol, then Saint-Emilion) and the estates of the Médoc, particularly Pauillac, Saint-Julien and Margaux. These wines are drinking well now and I think they’ll show even better with age.

The biggest disappointment was the wines of Graves and Pessac-Léognan. They did not show well at this tasting. I hope age will be kind to them. This was the only region from which we tasted dry whites. The superior white was from Château Pape-Clément followed by Domaine Chevalier. One of my favorite estates there is Smith Haut Lafitte but the wines were disappointing, especially after tasting Pape-Clément immediately beforehand. On the plus side, I was able to meet and chat with the charming proprietress Florence Cathiard and her husband.

My list of the top wines of the tasting must start with Pomerol’s Château La Conseillante and Pauillac’s 2nd Growth Pichon Baron (de Longueville). They were extraordinary and smoked the rest of the pack. They were both distinguished by a vibrancy, a depth and complexity of flavor which was transparent and fresh. Amazing.

Other top wines were Les Ormes de Pez, a Saint-Estephe I tasted with Sylvie Cazes whose family owns this estate along with Lynch-Bages (tasted but not as good) and whose brother is the famed Jean-Michel Cazes. What a lovely, unassuming person!

bordeaux wine 2008Also, I enjoyed Saint-Émilion’s Pavie Maquin with owner Nicolas Thienpont (right), whose family also owns Pomerol’s elite Le Pin. Canon La Gaffelière was delicious, represented by the irrepressible and perpetually grinning Count Stephan von Niepperg (see below, dressed in amazing style).

bordeaux wine 2008A surprise was the Médoc’s Chateau La Tour de By. This is an obscure small estate whose inexpensive wine was first-rate. Here are the others I enjoyed, not already mentioned:

Saint-Julien

Léoville-Poyferré, Léoville-Barton, Talbot, Branaire-Ducru, Lagrange, Beychevelle, Gruaud-Larose and Saint-Pierre

Pauillac

D’Armailhac, Clerc-Milon, Grand Puy-Ducasse, Haut-Bages Libéral, Pichon-Lalande

Margaux
Rauzan-Segla, Brane-Catenac, Giscours, Kirwan, Lascombes

Pomerol

Clinet, Gazin

Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
Angelus, Canon, Clos Fourtet, Figeac, Larcis Ducasse, Troplong Mondot

So those are Arnie’s thoughts on the 08 vintage. Do you have any questions for Arnie about Bordeaux?

Côtes du Rhône Goes With Everything

A Tasty Trio
I was at a spectacular family-style meal that started with a welcoming glass of white and a duo of wood-fired pizzas. As we sat down to our multi-course feast, I figured we would have a different wine with each dish. With the breadth of food coming, one wine could not possibly cover all the bases and be that versatile. Could it?!? Panic mode started to settle in. Egads, I only spy one red wine!

I quickly calmed down and realized I wasn’t there for some kind of dinner that required an army of appropriate glassware and a dizzying array of wines. It was an informal gathering (that became quite boisterous) in a quiet, out-of-the way location where we had glass after glass of an easy-drinking Côtes du Rhône: the 2008 Delas Saint-Esprit. What surprised me was how well it went with everything, from a squash soup to a frittata with sorrel to a bean gratin with bacon. I concluded it must be because this is a Grenache-intense blend with maybe a small dollop of Syrah.

And then I found out I was wrong. The Saint-Esprit is mostly Syrah with a little Grenache. The exact opposite of my well-reasoned, educated, professional conclusion based on years of experience. D’oh! Only 30% of the wine goes into barrels and the rest is left in tank so it retains a lot of freshness, has very low tannins, and isn’t heavy or sweet. And certainly being in a convivial setting, surrounded by delicious food and the laughter of friends both old and new, makes good wine taste great.

So if you had to choose one red to go with a multi-course meal, what would you pick?

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2009 Delas Côtes du Rhône “Saint Esprit” $12

Champagne: V is for Vilmart

Vilmart Champagne
I can admit to being a bit finicky and quite opinionated about Champagne. My strident feelings bubbled (hee hee) over at the uncritical stance many of my colleagues have towards Grower Champagne. (As opposed to negociants who often purchase grapes or juice to blend into their Champagne, growers own the land, harvest the grapes, and make the wine. You can tell a Grower Champagne from a negociant by looking for the tiny “RM” at the bottom of the label versus “NM”, respectively.) While most of my favorites are from growers, I felt that the discussion surrounding these Champagnes, sometimes affectionately referred to as (seriously) “Farmer Fizz”, and the larger houses seemed to cleave in an all-too tidy “us versus them” dichotomy. Just because a Champagne house is big (or owned by a large company) doesn’t mean it’s bad or that Grower Champagne is good solely based on heartstring-tugging sentimentality. Part of my stance on this issue I will admit comes from my penchant to be a contrarian, but I like to judge and recommend Champagne based on the most important criteria: taste.

But lest you think I sit around all day guzzling Fortune 500 Champagne, I must tell you about my new favorite producer. And it happens to be a grower. (“You liberal hippie!”) Tasting the Champagnes of Vilmart was a game-changer for me; they are simply the finest producer of the loveliest sparkling wines.

I’ll address the rosé first, the Cuvée Rubis. Wowzers! It’s as beautiful to look at as it is to drink. Sometimes there is a bit of hesitancy on the part of people to try rosé Champagne; but for bubbles fanatics like myself, they are often the most memorable and pleasurable. The Rubis teases out flavors of every red berry fruit you can imagine, from the sweet to the tart, with a rich finish that’s like a dollop of some yet-to-be-discovered, otherworldly creamy goodness.

The 2004 Grand Cellier d’Or is a stunner. Like Krug (which is in my mind the gold standard of Champagne; the 1996 may be the best wine period I’ve ever had), Vilmart ferments and ages the still wine in barrels before transforming it into Champagne. This process gives the wines a richness and complexity that does a gorgeous dance with Champagne’s natural acidity and liveliness. Somehow the Grand Cellier is both substantial and ethereal at the same time.

So what Champagnes are you looking forward to enjoying this holiday season?

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Muscadet Built for the Cellar

Pepiere Muscadet Clos des BriordsAs a lover of the bracing whites of France’s Loire Valley, my introduction to Muscadet (made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape) was a welcome delight. And if you love oysters and (like me) have a budget far from unlimited, Muscadet is the ultimate bivalve wine. It’s the kind of wine you want to drink ultra-fresh and well-chilled. At least that’s what I thought until I was introduced to the Pepiere Muscadet Clos des Briords.*

Produced from vines planted in 1930, the Clos des Briords defies the typical profile of your everyday light and crisp Muscadet. It has remarkable depth and length and is certainly well-suited for the cellar. Last night I enjoyed a magnum (with friends; not by myself) of the 2005 and it was lovely. I feel slightly guilty for opening it up so soon, but the pleasure of enjoying it with friends washed away any misgivings.

If you are starting to cellar wine, or already do so, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better value in a wine you can easily lay down for a decade. And nothing is more fun than pulling a big bottle out of the cellar; magnums rule!

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*I must give praise and a lifetime of thanks to my former Triage sales rep, Tom, for introducing me to this wine and the fact that I could get it in magnums! Go have a pizza at his place in Seattle.

Viognier is Voluptuous

Lovely French ViognierIs there a wine that smells better than Viognier? It reaches its aromatic pinnacle in a tiny little sliver of the French wine world, Condrieu. This Northern Rhone appellation produces Viognier with truly ethereal properties: fragrant like blossoming fruit trees, with a textured richness recalling some kind of nectar only accessible to mythological gods or hummingbirds.

Condrieu and other transcendental white wines, unfortunately, come at a steep price. So I was thrilled to reacquaint myself with a lovely French Viognier that hints at Condrieu but at a third of the price. The Domaine Rougié Viognier is just a pretty, pretty wine to drink and requires no accompaniment other than a corkscrew and a glass. OK, maybe some butter-poached lobster and a fennel and apple salad. And a hot date.

This Viognier inspired me to pull my well-worn copy of Jay McInerney’s Bacchus & Me; his musings regarding “The Cult of Condrieu” make everything I’ve just written seem as passionate as a parking ticket. And he has a very logical justification for why you should shell out good money for this most fragrant of white wines: “Perfume is much more expensive, and it’s not potable.”

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(Oh, and the 02-09-2009 on the label is the date the grapes were harvested. Provincial American that I am, I wondered why they would pick grapes in February. Then it dawned on me that I was an idiot.)

(And when I say Viognier is voluptuous I’m thinking Rita Hayworth in Gilda)

The World’s Most Underrated Wines Part I: Loire Cabernet Franc

Breton Cabernet Franc
France’s Loire Vally is home to many of my most-cherished whites, like Sancerre and Vouvray, but lately I’ve been on a kick for the reds, especially Cabernet Franc. Breton is one of my favorite producers and this lineup of 2009s did not disappoint. These are medium-bodied wines with some tannin but have moderate alcohol and oak influence. They may be the ultimate food wines; I could see enjoying Loire Cab Francs with everything from salmon to chicken to pork to beef to…you get the picture. Extremely versatile, they’re the Swiss Army Knife of red wines.

My favorite of the lot, pictured on the left, was La Dilettante. It actually undergoes carbonic maceration, the process which makes Beaujolais so damn gulpable and thirst-quenching. I find myself wishing it was July and I had a slightly chilled glass of this delightful Cab Franc, while sitting under the shade of an umbrella, eating burgers and dogs. (YES!) I can’t think of a wine that’s more fresh or fun than this charmer.

But since summer is long gone and we’re approaching the second half of November, I’d say Loire Cab Franc deserves a place at your Thanksgiving table. I have a few more Turkey Day selections that I’ll detail in an upcoming, ubiquitous post that will be delivered with aplomb, enthusiasm, and vigor!

So what wines do you feel are underrated?

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Tasting Aged White Wines: 1985 Huet

1985 Huet Vouvray Moelleux
I have to be honest and admit I’m not a huge fan of aged white wines. Even with top-flight Burgundy or Chablis, I like to drink them fairly young. Though I do appreciate a few years of bottle-age for the oak and other elements to integrate, I usually prefer the fresh fruit and lively acidity of younger wines, regardless of their price. But when you talk about Huet, from France’s Loire Valley, it’s a whole different story entirely.

The region of Vouvray produces a wide range of wines from the Chenin Blanc grape: sparkling, dry, off-dry, and sweet. I don’t think anyone is going to argue that Huet isn’t the best producer in Vouvray. Huet makes some of the most sublime white wines in the world, period. And they can age better than most reds. The sweetness of the wine and natural acidity are the one-two punch that make Huet’s moelleux wines so ageworthy. They are not quite at dessert-level sweetness but it’s certainly present.

The wines pictured about are from two different vineyards and were remarkably distinct. The Le Mont bottling was very honeyed in color and texture; very unctuous and golden. The Clos du Borg, however, drank like a wine in its relative infancy than one at the quarter-century mark. Very mineral-driven, racy, and lively, with subtle sweetness. If poured blind, I never would have pegged this wine at being more than ten years old.

It was a real thrill to get to taste two 25-year-old wines from a legendary producer. Discovering new things and being constantly surprised is what makes working in the wine business so great. And, uh, getting to try wines like these!

We’re getting tiny amounts of each bottling; let me know if you are interested.

So what is your take on aging white wines?

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