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Purveyor of uncommon wine, spirits & beer.

Filtering by Tag: Bordeaux

Ch. le Puy

scott

A lot gets made of the contemporary reform of grape farming, the move away from so-called conventional viticulture and toward organics and biodynamics. Of course, before the onslaught of chemo-industrial management technologies, folks just had to listen to the wisdom of their ancestors and give it their best. So what does it mean for a farm to have been biodynamic for more than 400 years? (The term biodynamic comes from the 1920s, inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner, who championed a scientific approach to the investigation of the spiritual). For an answer, I turn to the claimants, Chateau le Puy. It's "a modern way of saying of saying we tend our vines the same way our grandfathers did: no chemical fertilizers, no herbicides and no artificial insecticides." Pretty much what I thought. The lunar cycle plays heavily into the timing of their decisions, for instance, when they bottle their wines, which are not filtered. And while the idea of them having been "biodynamic" for 400 years leads us into problems with the space-time continuum, no need to go there. Point taken.

The farm has been in the family since 1610, and because of the foresight of the estate, they never went for the leveling practices of the 20th Century that have since proven to be harmful, to the wine and the world. It's a great story, one of small-scale resistance, but also fortitude. I can't imagine what it must have been like in Bordeaux in 1960, saying, Nah, I'm not gonna spray that shit on my vines. You go ahead, make your millions, to me that seems dumb. Or something like that. I don't really know how it went down, but I'm sure glad to learn that it did.

What's the wine like? Classic. Structured. Expressive. Youthful. With no added sulphites in vinification, a painstaking by-hand de-stemming process, utter care in transportation of the grapes and moon-regulated stirring of the barrels, these wines give, and give, and give.

It's a great time of year to be exploring Bordeaux, even if that might seem passé. Because these days we're gaining access to a glut of wines from that region that have never before graced American soils. Nothing says cool like something old made new. And nothing says Cheer-up! on a gray February day like a bottle of sumptuous Right Bank claret.

Chateau Le Puy "Emilien" (red) — $45

85% merlot, 14% cabernet sauvignon, 1% carménère leads with currants, follows with forest floor earthiness, finishes long and leggy

Chateu Le Puy "Marie-Cécile" (white) — $45

100% semillon leads with supple orchard fruit, fills the palate with handles and curves, finishes with a kiss of minerality

Biodynamic Bordeaux

scott

As transparency becomes more important to a wider audience of wine drinkers, a growing number of small producers are turning to more principled methodologies. Conventions of the last half of the Twentieth Century were too often geared toward a higher vine yield, a more consistent finished product and a greater stability for worldwide shipping. That means artificial chemical fertilizers, mechanized plowing and harvesting, heavy manipulations in the cellar (adding sugar, acid, industrial yeast, tannin extract, etc.) and an increased use of sulfites. The effect isn't just unromantic, it's also commodified the experience of wine and severed the link between land and table. Sound familiar? After all, wine is a food stuff, an agricultural product, and has been through many of the same cycles as our produce over the last 75 years.

The last decade, however, has seen the rise of authentically natural farming and production methods. In some ways it's a return to the old, in other ways it's a radical approach that challenges authority in places where convention reigns supreme.

Biodynamics might be the most extreme category of conscientious viticulture, but it also seems to be the most sharply rising in popularity. Nowhere as much as France. Well, France excluding Bordeaux, that is.

With a reputation as the wine world's sweater-clad grandpa, the one you have to yell at for him to hear you from two feet away, who occasionally still mutters something so wise and brilliant you promise yourself to stop being such an idiot and call the old fart more often, Bordeaux has been a little slower than its neighbors in embracing the trend. That doesn't mean it won't, and it doesn't mean Bordeaux at its finest is anything less than transcendent, it just means in a land managed by traditionalists and financed by multinational corporations, fundamental changes in method will not come quickly.

Enter a few headstrong youngsters in the under-rated interior of the Right Bank.

Chateau Peybonhomme Les Tours "Crus Bourgeois" - Cotes de Blaye ($16) Things changed for Jean-Luc and Catherine Hubert one night in December 1999, when lightning struck (literally) and a strong wind blew down several of the sickly trees surrounding their vineyards. They decided then and there, at the sight of the devastation, to convert to a farming practice that encourages biodiversity and strength. Today it's one of the most important properties in the Cotes de Blaye. The chalky subsoils lend the wine a texture of fine-grained tannins, and despite being dominated by merlot, the cabernet franc asserts itself fully. A truly expressive wine with a tender, savory appeal.

Chateau La Grolet - Cotes de Bourg ($16) The second property from the Hubert family, who has lately become a bellwether in the Right Bank. The Grolet is predominated by merlot, and in this expression is youthful, powerful and more ripe than the Peybonhomme. Dark fruits fill the glass, a ruby red color shimmers all the way to the rim, and the spicy richness of the wine begs for hardy red meats.

Chateau Le Puys "Duc des Nauves" ($18) This property sits on the same rock structure as its very important neighbors, Pomerol and St. Emilion. And with 500 years of continuous farming by the Amoreau family, you'd think they'd feel the limitations of tradition. Instead, the current generation of Amoreau vignerons has, like the Huberts, become Demeter certified and is reaching new heights as a result. This wine, also predominated by merlot, is a youthful powerhouse. Richly layered red fruits dominate the nose, but the unfined unfiltered fullness of the wine is only apparent with the intensity of the midpalate. Demeter certified (like the Hubert properties) and righteously self-assured in its Right Bank provenance.

Taste for yourself this Saturday, January 11, 3-5pm.

A little light on Bordeaux

scott

Back in February, Times wine writer Eric Asimov published an article about the slow turning of perceptions w.r.t. Bordeaux. In a sense, he writes, Bordeaux has become a sort of underdog in the world of hip sommeliers and young wine drinkers. It's an odd way to position wines whose exemplars currently fetch upwards of $1500 per bottle, but I sort of know what he means.

When I first starting drinking wine, Bordeaux seemed stuffy and out of reach. The cheap bottles seemed boring, while the expensive bottles were reserved for serious collectors only. And studying the region's tertiary and quinary appellations in search of purity seemed like, I don't know, a waste of time? At least I felt like my time was better spent elsewhere.  I had a lot to learn! When done right, basic Bordeaux transcends its name and delivers a truly peculiar greatness. Power and finesse combined with an everyday drinkability. What holds it back, for the average consumer, is really a combination of economics (at the high end) and lack of effort on the part of buyers (on the low end). Here's what Asimov had to say:

Bordeaux at least seems to have transcended its period of disregard. Sommeliers and many younger wine drinkers now acknowledge the region’s history and importance, while expressing appreciation of the wines. What had been a sort of faddish dismissal of Bordeaux has evolved into at least grudging affection and a useful discussion of the region’s problems.

Part of that "grudging affection" comes from a shift in focus, if not away from the big players, at least a little more inclusion of the small farmers of the region. One of the things I've come to learn in the years since that first snub is that it comes down to who's in charge. There's a lot variation these days in methods, from the farming to the cellar to the bottling and marketing. It's worth the extra work to find the smaller producers doing things with a special care for the land and the culture that make their wines what they are.

In this spirit, we've decided to show off a few top notch (but affordably priced!) entry-level Bordeaux. They're all hand-harvested, minimally treated and greatly expressive. After all, with a little research and a lot of tasting, there is plenty out there to love. It's just a matter of finding it.

Free Tasting Saturday, April 20 | 3-5pm

Chateau Tire Pé Bordeaux 2009 — $16

From importer Jenny & Francois: David and Hélène Barrault took over this small vineyard in ’97. Blessed with rich clay and limestone soils this vineyard possesses fantastic southern exposures and overlooks the Gironde River. The chateau takes its name from a colorful local tale about what small animals “leave behind” before climbing the Tire Pé hill. The Barrault’s farm there ten to fifteen year-old vines organically and great care is taken to gently extract the supple fruit and terroir, that Bordeaux is so well known for, into each cuvee they produce.

Chateau Belregard Figeac Tellus Vinea Bordeaux 2009 — $18

From importer Neil Rosenthal: The Pueyo Family has owned Belregard Figeac since 1853. The estate has remained in the family and this continuous ownership is accompanied by the priceless and intimate knowledge of the best parcels of each vineyard gained through seasons of observation. This is the kind of understanding that no amount of time at university can replace. It shows through in the wine, a true example of the character of their particular corner of Saint Emilion.

Chateau la Peyre Haut-Medoc 2010 — $26

From importer Neil Rosenthal: The Rabiller family has a long tradition of growing grapes in Saint Estephe. However, in the past, the entire harvest was sold to the local cooperative. Dany and René Rabiller, the current proprietors, recognized the potential of their vineyards. They decided to build their own winery on the family estate and, since 1994, they have vinified and bottled their own wine. The careful attention given to the vineyards follows through to the winemaking process. Grapes are only harvested by hand. Before going into the fermentation tanks, the bunches are carefully sorted by hand to remove any underripe or damaged grapes. The Rabillers follow traditional winemaking techniques, preferring a long "cuvaison" or maceration period in the fermentation tank. This allows gentle extraction of color, tannins and flavor components and results in a naturally concentrated and well-balanced wine.