Tag Archives: Bordeaux wine region

Bordeaux wines galore – and at RPM wine dinner

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Last week was a great time for Bordeaux in Chicago. Dozens of winemakers and representatives from dozens of appellations in the Bordeaux, France wine region converged in one of the ballrooms at the elegant historic Drake Hotel to introduce their mainly 2014 vintages to press, trade and the public. Visitors walked around tasting while, behind the tables, reps from members of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux gave out pour after pour of mostly red blends, plus a few whites and Sauternes for good measure. As you read my recommendations, keep in mind I’m partial to big, dry, complex reds.

A few of my favorites came from a region I hadn’t previously been very familiar with, Saint-Estephe, and included all four of the wineries present from there (check links for wine notes and prices): Château Ormes de Pez 2014, Château Cos Labory 2014, Château Phelan Segur 2014, and especially Château Lafon-Rochet 2014.

Others that I gave highest marks to were from among the Grand Crus de St. Emilion and included Château Beau-Séjour Bécot 2014, Château Canon-La-Gaffelière 2014, Château Grand Mayne 2014, and Château Villemaurine 2014. Really beautiful wines.

I was also impressed with some from the Pomerol appellation of Bordeaux. Check out Château Beauregard 2014, Château Clinet 2014 and Château La Cabanne 2014. Two notables from the Pessac-Leognan appellation were Chateau Olivier and Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, each of which presented both a white and a red.

And later that evening, a fine wine dinner at RPM Steak House featured 5 lovely wines from the Pouillac appellation in Bordeaux – food and drink to set the imagination afire. Amuse bouches were tiny and flavorful, including oysters with mignonette. The appetizer course was a generous-sized disk of Hamachi, studded with caviar and surrounded by a warm, slightly sweet yuzu emulsion. First course was an outstanding Pepper-Crusted Tuna Belly – one piece of which was prepared confit (NUM!) and the other ahi-style, both served with a spoonful of sturdy mushroom Bearnaise. Utterly succulent and delicious and perfect with a Bordeaux blend, Les Tourelle de Longueville, Pauillac 2011.

Next came Prime Dry Aged Beef – two small pieces of beef aged 90 days and two aged for 9 days. Both were spectacular and were served with two vintages of Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron Pauillac, one from 1990 and one from 2009. Lovely, rich reds.

Then came, not one but two desserts, both outstanding. One, poached apricots served in a warm almond custard that was to die for (I am wild about anything custard), and then a Sticky Toffee Pudding with rum raisin ice cream, both served with Chateau de Suduiraut Sauternes, one from 2004 and the other from 1975. Beautiful, beautiful. Thank you, RPM and thank you, makers of Bordeaux wines par excellence. (And thanks to Elizabeth for some nice shots!)
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Big business sullying the game of fine wines

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Scandal in the fine wine business
Scandal in the fine wine business

Saint-Emilion, located in Bordeaux, a crucible of fine French wines, is also the hotbed of a scandal detailed in a new book called Vino Business: The Cloudy World of French Wine by Isabelle Saporta, acclaimed French investigative journalist. In this book she’s dug up scandal and controversy in the vineyards of Bordeaux and beyond. The gold standard industry magazine Wine Spectator says that in discovering “gossip as poisonous as pesticides, anonymous informants, rampant greed…Vino Business…has caused a firestorm for its criticism of the French wine trade.”

The scandal is not about the many dedicated and passionate winemakers who are still, as always, committing their lives and their money to making fine, natural, unadulterated wines. It’s about the greed-driven controversies over wine additives, pesticides—France’s vineyards occupy 3% of farmable land and use 20% of the country’s voracious appetite for pesticides—and, in particular, the outrage that arose over the 2012 classification of the wines of Saint-Emilion, the most prestigious appellation of Bordeaux’s right bank.

St Emilion Grand Cru Classe from the French wi...
St Emilion Grand Cru Classe from the French wine region of Bordeaux (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saint-Emilion is an area increasingly dominated by big international investors, especially from China, who are keen to speculate on the area’s wines and land, some of which has increased in value tenfold in the last decade alone. In the 2012 classification, as Saporta shows, certain chateaux were promoted to a more prestigious class because of insider deals that altered the scoring system for the classification of wines into premier crus and grand crus. In a recent tasting in Chicago, most of the 2012 vintages of these “grand crus” came off an incredibly poor second to those from 2010. After reading this book, one must wonder if it was more than the growing season that caused the discrepancy.

The wine scoring system in France now takes into account the facilities of each chateau’s tasting room, the capacity of its warehouse, and even the size of its parking lot. With these new suspicious categories, the quality of the wine counts for a mere 30 percent of the total score for the wines of the top ranking: premier grand cru, classe A.

As for the insecticide-pesticide fiasco, the author says there’s a whole bureau set up specifically to devise ways to disguise the residues of such chemicals in some fine wines. One method they invented couldn’t be used because, when it removed the signs of the residues, it also removed the color of the wine.

Plus, the book says that some vineyards practice environmentally sound growing only on the vines in areas immediately surrounding the estate/villa where visitors can see, yet freely use chemicals and other unsafe practices on the rest of their properties.

Perhaps less surprising is that some well-known wine journalists (for example, from prestigious wine publications) are paid to give good reports and/or are presented with wines specially made for them that are not representative of the whole of a vintage. With huge profits at stake, this sort of thing happens in many industries. Still, wine lovers dearly want to believe in the sacredness of the winemakers’ process, labeling and products.

For Vino Business, Saporta conducted two years of research and reporting to reveal the secrets of the money-driven side of Bordeaux. But she gives full credit to the many winemakers, large and small, prestigious and unknown, who are focusing on taste to make beautiful wines while respecting the environment. Her book offers a unique portrait of the good and bad in French viticulture that’s sure to fascinate eonophiles and appeal to anyone who likes a good scandal.

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