On Bordeaux and winemaking… the never ending discussion

Just had a conversation with Louis Cinelli, wine manager at The Vineyard, a wine shop in northern Virginia. We were talking about various wines and got to Bordeaux. He will be attending a vertical of Domaine de Chevalier I am organizing with MacArthur Beverages at the lovely Black Salt restaurant next month – 29 January – with owner Olivier Bernard. Cinelli is excited about it. But then he made some negative remarks about the higher alcohol levels one sees in Bordeaux today, recalling wines like Margaux and Lafite 1961, which barely reached 12.5, if that. Of course pricing was an issue for him as well. As it has become for most of us non millionaires. Both issues nag at me. First of all, I am turning to some extent to Burgundy for greater freshness and lower alcohol, but just as much flavor, if more subtle and elegant. I still love Bordeaux, and look forward to tasting the 2008s from bottle in New York next month and the 2010 barrel samples in New York this coming Spring. And I told Cinelli that I adored, for example, Leoville Las Cases 2009, even though he was not so sure about where it will go with its high level of alcohol. Will it taste more Napa Valley or Bordeaux, he wondered. I drew the distinction between Cos d’Estournel 2009, which, to me, did seem more “Napa” in the sense that the winemaking was far more apparent than any notion of terroir (and, please, lovers of Napa, do not flame me, because I love a lot of Napa Valley wines, but I use the term Napa in a very general sense)… While the Leoville Las Cases 2009, I could only describe as spherical, complete, and certainly Bordeaux in nature… it counts very easily as one of my top ten favorite wines of the vintage, including the first growths and Petrus on the Right Bank.

This is a conversation that is never ending, but The World of Fine Wine published my portrait on Jacques and Eric Boissenot in its most recent issue, which addresses a return to elegance in Bordeaux. Relatively speaking of course. Modern winemaking has done much good for the region. Many 1970s Bordeaux are not all that good – although some are fabulous (Palmer 1978 or Haut Brion 1975, for example) because pickings were generally too early and yields were generally too high. And some of the more modern gadgets did not exist to minimize poor vintage effects, so that a 1973, for example, could not be really “salvaged”, while a 1993 was, more or less). But if you can get a hold of The World of Fine Wine, you can see that the modernists also went too far in some respects. More on this later… In the meantime, back to holiday matters. Happiness and good health to all!

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