Vol.4 No.1 are premium wines worth the premium?

Happy New Year to all! Have been thinking about this piece since the beginning of the year. I have found, personally, the sweet spot in wines is about $25-30…if I win the lottery tomorrow night that will likely change, but if I do, would I be buying $100-150 wines?

First, I find the best value in the $25-30 range…not that there aren’t a lot in the class below of a slightly expanded $18-20 range,  and of course some sleepers in the $12-15 range. Below that are some well made wines but not to my liking…or I haven’t found them yet. The $15-20 range for the third straight year is the fast growing sector, and represents a step up from the under $10 range that held for so long. As an aside, Rosé’s continue to increase in popularity but remain less than 5% of the market which begs the question: who is making money with what seems like hundreds of them out there and growing continually? Most are in the $12-15 range.

About those high priced wines. I have mentioned Wine Till Sold Out (www.wtso.com) previously and have had excellent experiences with them. To recap: they post wines perhaps one or two an hour or until they are ‘sold out’. Here is an example of what I am talking about:

Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2014 La Croix Saint Christophe
91 rating and 71% off!

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Comparable Price*: $70.00
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wine bottle Description
Appellation Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
Unit Size 750 ml
Varietal/Grapes Red Blend
Vintage 2014
Country France
Region Bordeaux
Alcohol Content 14.00
Peter Kwok has been breathing life into aging Saint-Emilion chateaux for a couple of decades, giving us new, delightful opportunities to enjoy the wines of this classic region in Bordeaux. Sourced from vineyards nestled among Cru Classe estates, this Merlot-driven bottling effuses a fruity and smoky intensity that speaks to its premier situation among the Right Bank hills. Try this wonderful Saint-Emilion with kebabs and shawarma!
91 Points – International Wine Report!
“The 2014 La Croix Saint Christophe Saint-Émilion Grand Cru delivers lovely aromas of ripe cherries, blackberries followed by violets, tobacco, wet stones and a touch spice. This medium-bodied red is wrapped in fine silky tannins, showing great structure and balance all the way through the long finish, which is laced with even more dark fruits and tobacco flavors.”
Pretty complete, no? So here are the salient points:
1. Good description and note that you can get free shipping (the number of bottles required varies inversely with the price but four is standard).
2. Note that they ship quickly from their N.J. warehouse so if you aren’t going to be home for a few days, want to avoid it being shipped in extreme weather etc.,you just let them know with your  order, which, once set up is just a click.
My experience is limited as I have only had a need for a specific wine twice but it was consistent. Also, if you have a problem they are prompt in getting back to you to fix it.
First time, I bought was Meyer Family Vineyards, 2011 Syrah. This is the late Justin Meyer’s winery after he sold out of Silver Oak.  I bought six bottles for, if I recall, $15 each – on a $35 wine. It was summer and the day it arrived it was over 100 degrees! I cringed when I thought of drinking it as my laser thermometer showed a bottle temperature of 90 degrees! That night I tried the first one and it was ‘raisainy’, not undrinkable mind you but not what I had bargained for. I notified them of the problem and they told me I should have told them to hold the delivery and then let them know when to deliver. Surprisingly, they offered to send me six more bottles and hold them until the weather cooled down. I did and when I received them they were in excellent condition…and I did, by the way finish the others. Not bad, eh?
But I was curious, what would the winery say about this? So, I called and spoke to Justin’s son, Matt (Justin’s wife Bonnie, for whom a Silver Oak vineyard was named, is still alive and active in the winery). He said that the 2011 vintage received poor reviews, but that they had harvested and bottled late and it was very good. The problem was stores had too much of the vintage so there was no market for it. That is when they went to WTSO. Matt sold two pallets, roughly 98 cases per pallet, to clear their inventory.
So what did Matt accomplish? He sold wine that he couldn’t do anything with at a price that was acceptable to him (don’t know what that was), the wine wasn’t sitting on shelves at a deep discount price (think Trader Joe’s or any large retailer). Instead it was up for perhaps 20 minutes and then disappeared. Remember they still had wine left which they would bring up at another time. That is why you will get lots of emails in a day, and it forces you, if interested, to act quickly. Gradually, they will sell all the wine in the lot. A win win for all concerned.
Contrast this to the other wine sites that show the price for long periods of time and it can be compared to other lots they are selling. The other alternative is selling to someone like Total Wine at an even steeper discount which they will advertise as “Winery Direct”, with a large markup. The cheerful staff will direct you to these sometimes in response to a ‘do you carry’ question, saying if you like that you can save a lot by buying this instead. Nothing wrong with that but is it really the same quality?
So there you have it and if we didn’t have the post-Prohibition, three-tiered market all would be better off. Most distributors are reputable, but some including the biggest ones don’t do a good job of marketing ALL the wines, especially from smaller wineries which is unfair because storage costs can quickly eat up profits or worse, turning them into losses.
As with all internet sellers WTSO is having a big impact on wine strategy for buyers. It becomes increasingly difficult to shell out $100 and then find it on line for significantly less. If you can find a good wine specialty shop, support their effort, not some liquor store with lighting that is hard on wine, improper storage, and a lack of knowledgeable help. Since moving to the Twin Cities seven years ago I have been pleased to find FIVE, and all but one with in five miles of my home (that is even more than when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is worth the search!
I will close with this quote from the great Andre Tschelistcheff, who knew of what he spoke: “We spend far too much time tasting wine and not enough time drinking it.”
TB’s kind of guy!
NEXT: Should you join a wine club?
(c) Traderbillonwine.com 2018

 

Vol 3 No 17 Ring in the New Year with Red!

Okay, so it should be champagne but at the prices for the good bubbly TB will pass. IF he was to buy one it would be Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé , but at $100 plus I’ll wait to be a guest at someone with taste and money’s home. I first had the B-S when Kermit Lynch brought it to California if not the U.S. It is a stunning wine but not at a bargain price anymore.

So, what will TB be drinking New Year’s Eve whilst watching that big ball descend on Times Square? Could be a Cava, yep same methode traditionelle that the Spaniards from Penedes learned and brought back from Champagne when they realized their wine was no good. Note also they brought back the equipment so it is closer than one thinks. It was founded in 1541 My personal favorite is Codorniu, especially the Anna (named after the last living descendant) in opaque bottles, either the Brut or Rosé, and for around $15 – a steal. Last night, after posting this, I tried of all things a Prosecco Spumante Rosé  from Veneto (not Asti!) by Desiderio JEIO, that was an incredible bargain at $15 and in a beautiful bottle as well. The winery, which I had never heard of goes back to 1542 so it is one of the originals. A best buy!

My fav house in Champagne is Roederer, producer of Cristal, which while very good, isn’t worth the hefty price tag to me, but that is personal. I can say this because I had a friend who would only drink Cristal. One night he called and asked us over because he felt like drinking some bubbly. I agreed on one condition: I bring a bottle and we do a blind tasting. Reluctantly he agreed. When we finished tasting the two bottles and removed the bags, he was dumbfounded: he had picked mine…also a Roederer BUT it was Roederer Estate from – sacre bleu! – Anderson Valley, California. I finally consoled him saying he could now buy a dozen or more bottles for the price of one. Not much as far as he was concerned. What is remarkable about Roederer is there is a flintiness that is unmistakable, similar to Chablis. How they did that in their California ‘sparkler’ is beyond TB’s comprehension.

Decades ago my wife and I had been over at Mendocino and driving back stopped at Korbel, which is pretty good for the price but instead of the bottles being hand-turned as in Champagne, they devised a system of huge racks which ‘flip’ from one side to the other trying to reproduce the effect of the riddling method of Champagne, sort of. Korbel fell by the wayside however when the big champagne houses Mumm, Chandon, and a couple more, such as Deutz, with Burgundian winemaker Christian Roguenant who was brought over as winemaker for Maison Deutz (later sold and became Laetitia), and now is winemaker at Baillyana, both of which are in Edna Valley, just east of San Luis Obispo. Through a friend I got to know Christian who is not only a great winemaker but a chef.

After leaving Korbel we went to Napa Valley and visited Schramsberg, made famous by Nixon who served it at a state dinner (and decreed that all wine served at the White House be from California). Nixon being Nixon however, he kept a bottle of Chateau Margaux by his seat at the table and that is what he drank when wine served was red!

Very near to Schramsberg, we stumbled on Hans Kornell, and despite being nobody’s, gave us a personal tour…there was nothing pretentious about Hans. We loved his champagne…oops, can’t call it that today, can we? Especially his Sehr Trocken, or driest of the dry and I still have a bottle of it, long past time to drink but a remembrance of a very nice man. Poor Hans though, he had had to replace his vines to disease and built up a lot of debt doing so, then the economy took a downturn and the bank foreclosed, and he lost everything. There is one bright spot here though: Robert Mondavi. Beloved by some, despised by some, but he died an amazing thing: at auction he bought Hans’ home, and allowed Hans and his family to live in it rent free until he died!

Hans Kornell makes a great segue into TB’s book project. If you haven’t heard it’s a book on wine that isn’t about wine but rather the people who make it. It is their passion that drives them and whether their wine costs $25 or $100 or more they all exhibit the same passion for what they are doing. I had to scale it back from all the countries I have visited and all the people I have met to just the U.S. and Canada. If it is well received, a second book for the rest of the planet will be published. Hopefully the first one will be out by Spring 2018 and the second by yearend.

The book is dedicated to Andre Tschelistcheff and Dr. Konstantin Frank, who made incredible contributions to making California…and New York wines great. These two Russians had incredible passion and influenced so many great winemakers.

Andre had the easier job as vitis vinifera was the vine of choice in California. Dr. Frank had too issues to deal with. First, the cold weather in the Finger Lakes region which the ‘experts’ said was too cold for vinifera vines…he knew they were wrong, having come from a cold climate. Secondly, he had to fight those who relied on the French-American hybrids and if you ever tasted early New York wines you will know why. The key adjective was ‘foxy’ and not in a nice way. Even today, more land is planted to Concord grapes than the rest combined. Hint: Welch’s is located there!

Andre was responsible for training Joseph Heitz, Mike Grgich, and mentored Richard Peterson who was introduced to him by his son, Dimitri, when both worked at Gallo. He also advised Warren Winiarski on when to pick the grapes for the Stags Leap Cabernet that was used in the Judgment of Paris. Note also that Grgich was the winemaker for Chateau Montelena at the time which won the chardonnay class.

It is important to note that the purpose of the Judgment was not to prove American wines better than French but to show they could compete with top French labels. However most of the wines bested the French and in subsequent tastings that gap grew wider.

Others in the book include: Randall Grahm, Jim Clendenon, Bob Lindquist, George Hendry, Dave Rafanelli, the Unti family, Justin Meyer, Vince and Lise Ciolino of Montemaggiore, Bob and Mike Lamborn who had great influence on me and opened so many doors to me.  Lane Tanner, who was discovered and mentored by Andre is a great story in herself.

Anyway, hope you find the book of interest and I will keep you posted on release.

Best Wishes for the New Year a votre sante

TB

(c) Traderbillonwine 2017

 

 

Vol 3 No 16 The Judgment of Paris Tasting Revisited: and what it means for ratings

Steven Spurrier, a British graduate of the London School of Economics moved to Paris in 1964 with 14 years of experience at Christopher and purchased a wine shop of the Rue Royale from an elderly woman. The shop, Les Caves de la Madeleine, became widely respected and he pioneered allowing clients to taste before buying. In 1973, he founded L’Academie  du Vin, the first wine school in France. As California wines were becoming talked about and quality was improving he decided to hold a tasting comparing both French and American Cabernets and Chardonnays to see if the American wines could hold up to the French Bordeaux’s and Burgundies.

The competition was held on May 24, 1976 and were it not for a slow news days might have gone unnoticed had it not been for George M. Tabor it might have gone unnoticed for a long time, which the French would have likely preferred. Tabor heard of the tasting comparing wines of the two countries at the Intercontinental Hotel and as it turned out was the only reporter to cover it.

While the story is a remarkable one, the movie, Bottle Shock had nothing to do with the tasting and everything to do with Hollywood’s perception of it. Tabor had even threatened to sue and probably should have as its inconsistencies, as with the later film Sideways, made both irrelevant, although the former increased demand both at home and abroad for California wines, and the latter, uplifted Pinot Noir (driving prices to the moon, Alice, the moon!), and decimating demand for Merlot (this despite the fact that there were some excellent Merlot’s but much of it was plonk). Suddenly Pinot was at eye level and Merlot relegated to the bottom shelf.

Some misconceptions about the tasting: first, Spurrier, a lover of French wines, never intended it to be a competition but merely to see if California wines were similar in quality to the French. In order to lessen the competition over which was better, no official rating scale was used, merely 20 points per wine to awarded as the tasters chose. All the tasters came with strong credentials and were French, except for Spurrier, and an American, Patirica Gallagher, who was with Spurrier’s l’Acadamie du Vin. Neither of their scores were counted but that is a moot point because as a rule they were never the best or the worst scores but at least impartiality was achieved.

One French judge, Odette Kahn, editor of La Revue of France was so embarrassed by how she ranked two of the California Cabs above three top Bordeaux that she demanded her scores be removed and called the tasting a charade… nevertheless her scores were published and computed in the results.

Here are the combined results of the wines highlighting best and worst of each country (Individual ratings for white wines were not provided in the book or in the article:

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars ’73 Cab 1 16.5//10 16.5//10
Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello ’71 Cab 5 17//7 17//7
Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cab ’70 7 17//2 15//7
Clos Du Val Winery ’72 Cab 8 14//2 14//2
Mayacamas ’71 Cab 9 14//3 14//3
Freemark Abbey ’69 Cab 10 15×2//5 15//5
Ch. Mouton-Rothschild ’70 2nd Gr Pauillac* 2 16×2//11 16//11
Ch. Montrose ’70 2nd growth St. Estèphe 3 17//11×2 17//11×2
Ch. Haut-Brion ’70 1st Gr Pessac-Graves 4 17×2//8 17×2//14
Ch. Leoville-Las Cases ’71 1er Growth St. Julien 6 14//8 12×4//8

 

Ch. Montelena -’73 Chard (Grgich) Napa 1
Chalone ’74 Chard Pinnicales 3
Spring Mtn ’73 Chard Napa 4
Freemark Abbey ’72 Chard Napa 6
Veedercrest ’72 Chard Napa 9
David Bruce ’73 Chard Santa Cruz 10
Meursault Charmes Roulot ’73 2
Beaune Clos de Mouches J. Drouhin ’73 5
Batard-Montrachet Ramonet-Prudhon 7
Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles Dom Leflaive ’72 8
 

Individual ratings for white wines were not provided  in the book or in the article

 

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Spurrier_(wine_merchant)

(Spurrier made every effort to keep the tasting unbiased by excusing himself and his employee Patricia Gallagher from the ranking but they would not have influenced the results as only  with one wine did they outscore the French and by only one position (1 vs 2), and in no case did they post the lowest.)

The French had complained that Bordeaux wines take longer to age than California and that is why the red wines from California are 1970 and the French, 1970, and excellent year and only one 1970 while the California wines were all 1970, also an excellent year. Oddly, subsequent tastings using the 20-point UC Davis scoring system, including the 30th Anniversary tasting in 2006, showed the California wines all improving in quality while the French either held but most deteriorated.

TB’s take: This is just one more example of why YOU, dear reader, are your own best wine taster. Imagine for a moment having one of those judges for dinner and trying to impress them with a wine that Parker or some other bloke gave a 90, and they didn’t like it! You just blew a lot of money and got embarrassed to boot. Why not serve a wine that YOU like and simply say “this is one of my favorite wines, I hope you enjoy it.” Hey, if they don’t like it they aren’t out any money…nor are you!

I will close with this:
“People spend too much time tasting wine; not enough time drinking it.” Andre Tschelistheff

Copyright© 2017 traderbillonwine.com

Vol 3 No 12…there is no global warming, got it? …and no climate change…sheesh!

Pardon, TB’s tongue-in-cheek slug for this blog, but he has had it with the naysayers. This was prompted by Hurricane Harvey but it goes deeper than that…much deeper.

First, the scientists who noted the rapid rise (not to the naked eye) in global temperatures, saw a problem: never in recorded history had the temperatures risen that rapidly and 2016 was the hottest year ever – globally! Then came the naysayers…mainly pseudo-scientists and as my good friend who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the prestigious National Academy of Engineering.

Years ago I asked him about climate change and he said that the only scientists that didn’t believe it was occurring were shills for the energy industry…the same ones who said smoking wasn’t bad for your health. I believe we wouldn’t have so many who disagree if it hadn’t been Al Gore who created the documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

So TB is always asking winemakers if it is occurring and not one…zero, zip, zilch…has refuted it. Now remember, these guys, like all farmers, keep records of daily temperatures, highs, lows, frosts, freezes, heat waves, rain…you name it…so when they say it is happening…trust me, it’s happening!

Now let’s go back to Katrina: made landfall August 29th, 2005 in New Orleans…almost exactly twelve years ago. Scientists noting the ice melting at the poles (note the recent break-off in Antarctica that is bigger than Manhattan!), predicted that rising sea temperatures…remember we began losing the ozone layer decades ago and that protected the earth from high temperatures…that rising water temp in the Caribbean would create more intense hurricanes…of course they were scoffed at by people like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump and joined by the conservatives of today who make the Reagan Republicans look like liberals. (Interesting that after Katrina the evangelicals were saying it was because God had brought this on them due to their morals…have you heard a single comment like this about Harvey? Perhaps God’s aim was a wee bit off…or was he punishing the big oil companies headquartered in Houston?…just askin’…)

In 2016, we were on a trip to Spain and Portugal followed by a wine cruise of southern and eastern Spain. I wanted to go to Madeira (which I highly recommend…an incredibly beautiful island), so while we were in Lisbon we took a day trip there. On the plane, out of boredom I was thumbing my way through EasyJet’s Traveller, inflight magazine (April 2016) and ran across this article: Can Bordeaux Survive the 21st Century? Obviously it caught my eye: “Last summer (2015) ,was the second hottest on record in France. If temperatures continue to rise, the nation’s most famous wine-producing region could be in serious trouble.” Aha, you say…Al Gore again…’fraid not, skeptics. The story was an interview with Arnaud Lasisz, assistant winemaker at Château Pape Clement, which dates back to 1252 and is a grands cru Bordeaux. The blend there is 55% Merlot and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon. 60% of the left bank vines – all of the original 1855 classification chateaus are located here – are Merlot…a grape that cannot tolerate intense heat.

“Within 20 or 30 years, Merlot will ripen in August (as opposed to late September or early October,” according to Dr. Kees van Leeuvwen, of the National School for Agricultural Sciences in Utrecht, “that will clearly compromise the quality of the wines, because they will lack freshness and have too much alcohol.”

So…what to do? In the nearby Médoc, they have planted 52 alternative varieties of vines to see how they cope with the higher temperatures. They are also abandoning tractors and replacing them with Breton plough horses at some of the chateaux in order to reduce the carbon footprint and within ten years will be biodynamic. Believe it or not, a three-quarter ton plough horse leaves less of a footprint than a tractor.

Now that TB has established the reason global warming is in this blog, let’s look at some of the effects and some of the bad players. First, Harvey occurred at a time where the sea temperature was six degrees above average – SIX! This is what scientists warned about and it is coming to pass. Some will argue that the 900 year drought in California followed by massive rains this year was just a fluke…or the increase in intensity and number of tornadoes…or the increases in flooding in low lying areas of the southeastern states. Let them…they are simply wrong. As stated earlier it is not in the interests of the petroleum companies to admit to global warming. Just this week a report was written that Exxon Mobil (you do recall the Exxon Valdez, right?), had been privately funding research while publicly denying climate change. Why? Because the cause of it is the rapid increase in man made carbon emissions from ….fossil fuels! In an act of Chutzpah, they took their denials to a new level: they challenged researchers to look at all their internal memorandums and the studies and see for themselves…bad move, because they were taken up on it and oh-oh…they lied…through their teeth for years. In May, the company agreed to activists to reconsider the effects of climate change on their assets…and a class-action lawsuit has been filed charging them with overvaluing their reserves in light of the problem. TB wonders if anyone told Rex Tillerson about this??? Naw…he knew nothing.

Looking around, sparkling wine grapes were harvested in early August in California, earliest on record, Burgundy had horrible hailstorms and weather, Italy has its worst drought on record and the smallest harvest in decades, Oregon and Washington are suffering from record high temperatures with effect on grapes uncertain.

Honk if you believe there is climate change, global warming, whatever you want to call it, and if you don’t, ask yourself this: what are you going to tell your grandchildren, when they ask why everything is dying?

It’s a great life if you don’t weaken…

TB

©2017, traderbillonwine.com

 

Vol. 3 No. 9…Parlez Vous vin?

Since moving to Minnesota seven years ago, I have looked for local wineries to support. Through a friend I found Schram which I wrote about in Vol. 1 No. 4, and I am still very fond of. I visited one other winery in the vicinity that is really just an event venue with mediocre wines which shall remain nameless. However, the other winery that every time I tried to visit was Parley Lake Winery, finally I was able to visit it on Saturday.

First impressions are important but can cloud your perception. Thus when I tried to visit it before I notice an old barn with some old barrels on a rack outside and so I didn’t feel I had missed much…that is until I started talking to people in wine shops and a writer in the Minnesota Star-Tribune, Bill Ward. When I arrived there were quite a few cars in the lot and when I reached the winery I heard music coming from a pergola down the hill in the vineyard, and when I entered the winery I saw that it was not a run-down barn but a nice tasting room maintaining the barn interior but very nice.

There was a long tasting bar and it seemed pretty crowded but when I looked around I saw a small bar with just three people there. I walked up just as they were leaving and handed the man my card. Immediately he said you need to talk to one of the owners and pointed to the next room. A woman was seated drawing portraits and it turned out she is a sculptor and the wife of the winemaker and partner, Steve Zeller. She is very accomplished and has several bronzes in the area, some of which are rotated to other wineries and locales.

I introduced myself to Steve and he gave me a tour along with barrel tastings. They have quite a string of medals locally and from nearby states, as weel as the New York/Finger Lakes International Wine Competition and the Indiana – INDY competition, but this year Steve decided to submit several to the annual San Francisco Chronicle Wine Tasting, and Steve was pleased to receive two golds, a silver and a bronze. There are 60 judges and dozens of classes. Steve’s won the following:
Artist Series #14: GOLD for Merlot dominant wines… the other gold was to Markham. Steve used Napa Valley Merlot in the blend!
Frontenac Gris: GOLD for hybrid white wines. This wine was developed at the UMinn and is one of five since they just released a new one: Itaska. They have been cloned as vitis vinifera hybrids.
Marquette 2012 Ltd Edition SILVER in Native American hybrid red wines. This is a wonderful grape now evidenced by the fact some California growers are planting it.
Barn Quilt Red received a SILVER in Native American hybrid red wines.

Pretty impressive given that the wines were dominated by California, Oregon, Washington, and dozens of other states. Congrats to them on the effort!

They also make some fun wines so as not to take themselves too seriously that are very enjoyable such as Parley Vu Rosé, class that it becoming more appreciated and has been the fastest growing segment of wine sales (still only about 1% of total), for two years. This is very reminiscent of a Rhone style Rosé. Their limited edition wines also include a Frontenac red, Frontenac Blanc and La Crescent. A very nice palette of wines.  You can get a wine flight and glass of your favorite for $10 or a single glass for $6. Sounds fair to TB~

©2017 Traderbillonwine.com

 

 

Vol 3 No 10…don’t cry for me Argentina…

I had an unexpectedly nice surprise in many ways at a wine tasting of Domaine Bousquet wines from Argentina hosted by the Wine Republic in Excelsior, MN. Guiding us through the tasting were the owners, Labid Al Ameri and his wife Ann Bousquet, a charming couple who like Naji and Jill Boutros of Chateau Belle-Vue in Lebanon, are making a difference (see vol. 2, no 7), both had a Cinderella story, and both are doing good things for the people of their respective countries and making really good wines at the same time.

Both of these couples care deeply for the country and the people. They both hire as many local people as possible. In the Boutros’s case it is to keep and have people return to their small town in the hills beside Beirut. They ‘invested’ in peoples land rather than buy it outright and created two internet companies to keep people from leaving. Likewise the Bousquet-Al Ameri’s have hired local people rather than outsiders, such as winemakers, and in addition to being organic are a ‘fair trade’ company which in Argentina means effectively collective bargaining with their employees. There, a pool of funds is created and the employees form a board to determine how it should be allocated, removing that decision from the landowners. Makes sense to TB…if you want to improve the quality of life. Remember both of these families live in small towns and wish to spread the wealth around not have a huge wealth gap with their employees struggling to survive.

The story begins with Ann growing up in the Languedoc in the medieval walled town of Carcassonne. We had visited the Languedoc and Carcassonne in 1997, when the vast majority of the wines were substandard due to Co-ops and pricing the grapes based on weight alone, still, if you can’t change the wine you can change the way the food is prepared to create a pleasant combination (when we travel, wherever we are we drink the local wines and I have made the mistake of buying some and then when I got home they didn’t taste all that good causing me to wonder what I was thinking when I bought them). The Co-op just outside the small town of La Clape (seriously, and it is now a DOCG if you can believe that!), had what looked like a 1930’s gas pump which delivered the wine for one franc a litre! People came in with whatever jugs they had…even saw a Clorox bleach bottle – egad!

Ann came to the U.S. to study at St. Cloud State University and there she met Labid, who was originally from Iraq but grew up in Madrid. Then, in 1990, her father, whose family produced wine in France, went to Argentina with the intention of planting grapes near Mendoza. Just south in the small town of Tupungato he found what he wanted: 110 hectares (about 260 acres) at 4,000 feet elevation with the soils to provide the terroir, he found what he was searching for. There were no other vineyards in the area and everyone thought he was crazy (reminiscent of my friend Carles Pastrana of Clos de l’Obac in Priorat, Spain, also at a high elevation). Despite this he purchased the land in 1997 and planted grapevines in 2002 with the first harvest in 2005. By this time he had recruited Labid and Ann to run the winery…okkaayy…and he focused on the vines. Like the Rhone Rangers of Paso Robles he brought in canes in his suitcases, and planted them. Due to the elevation there was little concern for phylloxera and other pests and they immediately decided to get organic certified, a process that takes three years to insure no chemicals are used and the government checks every year. They also use no sulfites as a preservative which is a common cause of headaches in some people.

The grapes are hand-picked and handled carefully and their ‘big’ wines are stored in 500 litre French Oak foudres in their underground cellar. Their softer wines use a combination of 80% French and 20% American Oak, mostly neutral so as not to impart harsh tannins. Their white wines are fermented in stainless steel and include a chardonnay (which spends three months on lies), white blend, and sauvignon blanc. They also produce two sparkling wines, a lower priced blend of 75% chardonnay and 25% pinot noir using the Charmat process (in vats), and the premier one made in the traditional or methode Champenois manner (in the bottle).

As for still wines they make a 2016 Rosé of Malbec which is delicious and very much like similar Rhone wines. We also had a 2013 Reserve Malbec which was 85% Malbec and 15% cabernet sauvignon, that to me was better than any Malbec I have previously had primarily due to the blending. A 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was elegant with soft tannins and wonderful fruit and spice flavors.

The remaining two wines were 2013 Gaia (not to be confused with the Piemontese wine maker Angelo Gaja whose daughter is now running the business…her name is Gaia, which is the Greek Goddess of Earth…I was pleased to see they weren’t going to have any trademark problems or be accused of trying to confuse buyers. This wine, the only one in a beautiful artist label bottle while the rest are in plain block letters was my favorite, which made Ann very happy as it is her baby.

We finished with a 2012 Ameri which is Labid’s favorite and I found to be incredibly rich for a Malbec blend. Made in French oak it has black pepper and soft tannins yet should serve well until 2022. It was the most expensive of the flight yet still under $35, which I think is a steal. The rest of the wines are in the $10-20 range which makes them great value. I bought the Gaia and the Reserve Cab at about the same price as the Ameri, which to me was the best deal but I would not hesitate to spring for the Ameri which should make Labid happy.

Lastly, although readers know of TB’s dislike for ratings (to put it mildly), you would be hard-pressed to find one of these values with less than a 90 and several in thee 92-95 range. While that means little to me, it says a lot to see that much consistency. As the saying goes…try it, you’ll like it!

Best,

TB

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