Vol 3 No 10 Chateau Belle-Vue revisited

I originally wrote about this wonderful Lebanese winery that is doing everything right, a year ago. You might want to look to Vol. 2 No 7 because it is worth the effort. To recap this is a small production winery located in the mountains east of Beirut, in a small town Naji Boutros grew up in. After coming to the U.S. to attend Notre Dame (see the post for the details), he met his wife Jill there. After a successful career as an investment banker in London, he returned home to try to improve life for the people of his small town and make great wines. Unlike many newly-wealthy people now ‘investing’ in wineries, theirs is not to make a profit but to promote their wines and they have succeeded in causing more than a dozen new wineries to open. The original Lebanese wineries were in the Bekaa Valley such as Chateu Mazur, which has been there much longer.

The beautiful thing about Belle-Vue’s location (again see the post for the details of the name, etc.), is it is near Beirut, has a wonderful lodge and restaurant and has an ideal setting and soils to produce award-winning wines. Their three main grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and an incredible Syrah! They produce a small amount of other wines but those are served in the restaurant and not exported.

Here are the two available in the U.S:

Chateau Belle-Vue La Renaissance. Note that the current release is their 2009, a Left-Bank blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It has medium tannins and will be long-lived. I previously had the 2007 and it is nowhere near its peak.

For the first time Le Chateau has been offered in the U.S. This 2009 is much more forward and filled with lush fruit. Bordeaux? Rhone? No, a Rhodeaux! Okay, TB coined the name because it is an unusual blend of Cabernet Franc, SYRAH, and Merlot. Huh? How did they come up with this? Barrel sampling and everytime these three grapes blended the best so they decide to be somewhat ‘Rhone Ranger’s of Lebanon’, and the result is stunning. I love this wine and the price of around $59 may sound high but consider their production is very limited…how limited? It is measured in thousands of bottles…bottles not cases!

I bought it at the Wine Republic in Excelsior, MN, but it is available in other states too. As the saying goes…try it, you’ll like it! I did!

Au revoir for now…

TB ©copyright 2017 traderbillonwine.com

 

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Vol. 1. No. 13 …a rosé by any other name…

Just got back from an incredible trip. Flew to Florida where we rented a car in Tampa and drove up and along the panhandle, crossed Alabama, and through Mississippi to New Orleans, then up the Mississippi to Minnesota. Fantastic trip (with the added benefit of a great deal on car rentals: from Mid-April to Mid-May you can rent any car from any of the majors for about $10 a day, drive it anywhere so long as it is north – they need to get these cars out of Florida now that the snowbirds have returned home – and drop off at any airport with no additional fee. The taxes are about as much as the car rental. See you can get good info at TB on wine!).

But I digress…I was going to write this post on the wines and wineries we visited along the way, but some friends who own a very nice innovative wine shop (Wine Republic) in nearby Excelsior (on Lake Minnetonka), that features only organic, biodynamic, or sustainable wines, held a tasting of rosés at their shop on Saturday afternoon. I wrote that I wouldn’t be getting home in time to be there and they graciously let me sample some of the TWENTY-FIVE wines from the U.S., Europe and Argentina. “Ugh, rosés you say.” Curb your tongue, knave! These are not the wines that most Americans think of as rosé. A little history:

The biggest California and American winery back in the 1960’s was Paul Masson (remember Orson Welles, “we will sell no wine before its time” – ah, if only that had been true), and most of the wines were cheap, under $2. Good wines sold for less than $5 as late as the early 1970’s! TB can’t remember all the names but there was Chablis (no wonder the French hate us and forced us to stop using names like that and Champagne on …er…crap!), Riesling, Pinot Noir (the lesser quality ones simply said Burgundy), Cabernet Sauvignon – note that only in the mid to late 1960’s did the best producers (Louis Martini, Charles Krug, Robert Mondavi, Beaulieu, and a few others) bother to put the vintage on the label. Rosés were usually of the Crackling Rosé variety – you do know that that is what Neil Diamond was singing about don’t you? Listen to the lyrics and you will understand.

Next came the ‘pop’ wines, made popular mainly by Gallo (who now also produces a premier label), such as Boone’s Farm, Thunderbird, Madría Madría Sangría (created during the grape picker strike and used a Latina saying “my ‘hosband and his oncle’ make this wine” – perhaps the lowest thing the Gallo’s ever did.

From there, we grew up: sweet was ‘out’, subtle wines were ‘in’.  No self-respecting person would drink the pop wines any longer. No siree. But here is the rub: despite great reviews by Robert Parker and other established wine writers, sweet wines were all lumped together. Those included German and Alsatian Rieslings and heaven-forbid Sauternes (due to confusion with California Sauterne – a totally different animal).

But also in the early 1970’s a few guys experimented with one of TB’s favorite wines: Zinfandel, and lo and behold White Zinfandel came into existence (it actually had a slight pink tinge to it since Zin is a red grape with red juice). Robert Lawrence Balzer, the first of the early wine critics, praised this as “being on to something”, which was true because they sold millions of bottles of the stuff. At least it was better than the rest of the lot…actually the only California rosé TB could stomach was a pretty good, inexpensive, Zinfandel Rosé produced by Pedroncelli.

So here we are in the twenty-first century and following the lead of the well-known Tavel Rosé from France, there are a plethora of wonderful rosés as witnessed by having a tasting of 25 of them – five each from five distributors (a representative of each was at the tasting). Now look at this. The price range: $10.99 for a Le Rosé des Acanthes (which TB liked) to $24.99 for an incredible Commanderie de Peyrassol Rosé. The average price was $17.64, but note that thirteen were priced under $16, and three under $13!

Summer is fast approaching. Don’t let preconceived notions stop you from having something refreshing to cool you while you relax on your patio on those hot days. Trust TB, you won’t be disappointed – not one bit because all of these wines which have varying degrees of sweetness (more like tart), finish with something that hits the back of your tongue and throat the way tannin does thus preventing a lingering sweetness in your mouth which might otherwise be cloying. You will probably find this more suitable than the Sauvignon Blanc you might have served. Don’t take TB’s word for it: try some and compare…then you decide!

Once again, good wine is forcing out bad, all over the world and we, the wine lovers are the beneficiaries. Life is too short to drink bad wine.

One last note on this: a few weeks ago there was an article in a column on a wine from Portugal, a red called Portada, a deep red wine exploding with berry flavors (you decide which). No this is not one of the California ‘fruit bombs’ that are 15% or more alcohol. This one weighs in at 12.5% and is thus a very enjoyable wine for even those who are not wine fans. The price? $10-12. The author said if it was from California it would be at least a $30 wine – TB concurs! Having been to Portugal twice and going again in October, trust him, it is not just about Port! Vinho Verde, which used to be poorly made is now on a par with Spanish Albarino’s, and at half to two-thirds the cost.

Start looking at wines from other places around the world recalling that the best ones will be in the range of 30°to 45° latitude – north or south. That is the only area where vitis vinifera, the wine grape thrives.  

The world of wine is getting bigger…and better.

TB

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