Although it has seen a lot of success in the past four decades, in its two-thousand-year history, Bordeaux has had alternating periods of influential prosperity and recessional decline. No matter what, however, wine has been a dominant factor in the region for millennia—or at least since the arrival of the Romans, who take credited for first planted vines. Viticulture was kept alive during the Middle Ages thanks to religious orders and the abbeys that were scattered around the countryside, but in a tongue-in-cheek way 1152 began the modern era for Bordeaux wines. Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine married the future king of England Henry the Plantagenet, thus beginning first great expansion of the Bordeaux vineyards during a three-century period.
As great as the viticulture expansion was, even more so was economic and commercial development. The City of Bordeaux became the busiest port in the world, and Bordeaux wines became the international wine of choice throughout Europe. After the Battle of Castillon in 1453 the English lost their rule of Bordeaux, Aquitaine and Western France. In moved the Dutch and Germans, who set up new businesses along the waterfront in the city. Bordeaux wines witnessed the growth of a new clientele base in Northern Europe. During the next several centuries the quality and price of Bordeaux wines skyrocketed. Many members of the Bordeaux Parliament purchased some of the finest vineyards and undeveloped land in the fine viticulture zones. This never-ending attention to quality eventually led to the birth of the Grand Crus, culminating 1855 with classification of the wines of the Médoc, Sauternes and Barsac.
Located near the Atlantic Ocean, Bordeaux’s closest vineyards sit just ten miles from the sea. Resting on the 45th parallel, the region’s climate is decidedly temperate with strong maritime influences—for example, the Gulf Stream runs parallel along the coastline, warming and regulating temperatures. The winters are generally not too cold, springs are wet, summers generally warm, and autumns are sunny, which are the ideal conditions for the last phase of the ripening of the vines, though weather can be fickle and rainy in the fall. Bordeaux fittingly has all the right ingredients: topography (relatively flat with undulating hills), great drainage, perfect soils suited for the approved grape varieties, and centuries of winemaking experience to produce fine wines
At 272,00 acres, Bordeaux is the largest A.O.C. (Appellation d’Origine Controlée) vineyard in France—it’s nearly five times the size of Burgundy. Red wine dominates with 89% of the production. Bordeaux, whether red or white, is almost always a blend of two or more grape varieties. Merlot accounts for 63% of the production for the reds, with the Cabernet Sauvignon 25%, Cabernet Franc 11% and the rest Malbec, Petit Verdot, and other lesser varieties. At 54% Sémillon is the most widely planted white grape, Sauvignon Blanc 38%, Muscadelle 6%, and tiny plantings of Ugni Blanc (the grape most responsible for the production of Cognac), Merlot Blanc, Folle Blanche and other minor varieties.
Bordeaux is particularly fortunate to produce an incredible array of wines. Its size, microclimates, and diversity of the grape varieties work in concert with the region’s soils. Perhaps most important is the skill of the winemakers as master blenders, who match the different grape varieties to maximize the final outcome for elegance, equilibrium, quality, and distinction (or better known as ‘Le Goût de Bordeaux’). Bordeaux makes some of the world’s most expensive wines, some of the world’s most long-lived, collectable wines and some of the world’s most friendly, affordable, approachable and tasty wines.
To learn more about this fascinating region and to experience its wines, join the author of this post as he and winemaker Mattieu Bordes lead a special Bordeaux wine tasting this Saturday, November 1.
The more 1996 Piemonte wine I drink, the more I am starting to realize just how historic this vintage is. At release, the Barolos and Barbarescos were largely impenetrable due to the fierce wall of tannins and piercing acidities, so they were initially shunned by critics and the wine community. Now 18 years old, these wines have finally reached adulthood and they are really starting to strut their stuff.
This is basically as good as Barolo is going to get. Once mature, Giacosa’s Barolos display mesmerizing complexity and aromatic pleasure. This is one of those wines that you will remember for the rest of your life. These are wines I can simply smell all day and never have to taste to truly enjoy. For a perfect Barolo experience, look no further.
Gaja Barbaresco 1996 $275
Silky, luxurious, concentrated and gripping are the words that describe this incredible drinking experience. Gaja is simply a master and you really get to see how good he is in top vintages like this. I personally think this is an absolute steal for $275 (new releases sell for ($199) and I am surprised that these bottles do not have home a yet.
So you’ve finished carving out your Halloween pumpkins, and if you like to cook or bake, you’re likely going to make some delicious pumpkin-based foods. Of course the next thought that comes to mind after you’ve made your signature pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, or whatever your signature pumpkin dish may be is this: “What wine can I pair with this?”
Luckily, we’ve already done all the tasting research and it turns out that a wide variety of delicious dessert wines make the perfect compliment to pumpkin. Pumpkin is inherently sweet and most foods made with pumpkin will have varying degrees of sweetness to them. That’s why dessert wines are the clear choice. You could theoretically do white or red wines as well, but they would not only have to be very fruit driven, but also the flavors would have to mesh well with the flavor of the pumpkin. Not easy. Check out these proven selections:
(Umbria – Sauvignon Blanc, Grechetto, Traminer, Riesling)
This is an Italian interpretation of Sauternes made by the great Antinori estate Castello della Sala, located in Umbria. The estate’s Chardonnay Cervaro della Sala has been received with international praise and so it decided to follow up with an equally impressive dessert wine. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it’s as good as the legendary dessert wines from Sauternes (which are Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc based), but in my opinion, the Antinori family did a pretty good job. “Noble Rot,” a.k.a. Botrytis, forms on the grapes used to make this wine just like Sauternes. On the nose and palate you get lots of tropical, stone, and citrus fruits (i.e. guava, apricots, nectarines), along with floral and honeyed components, and the presence of the ever famous botrytis spice. While a magnum might seem excessive, this is perfect for large get-togethers, and great to have for the upcoming holidays.
The smaller, and thus less expensive, 2008 Muffato bottling will be arriving soon—with plenty of autumn to spare!
(Veneto - Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Croatina, Sangiovese)
If you like to enjoy the finest dessert wines with your pumpkin, look no further. This is the legendary Giuseppe Quintarelli, a.k.a. “Master of the Veneto.” Quintarelli is known for his epic Amarone and his entirely unique Alzero, a wine that is made in the appassimento method but using Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Quintarelli’s wines are completely mesmerizing and entirely compelling; few wines deliver the sheer enjoyment while tasting the way his do. The Maestro himself based away a few years ago, which makes vintages that he was involved in making that much more desirable. Recioto is a dessert wine made with the same grapes used in his Amarone, except fermentation is terminated early leaving behind a degree of residual sugar, which provides the sweetness. Notes of chocolate, mocha, coffee, plums, and a multitude of other flavors constantly evolve in the glass while you sip away. If you are going to enjoy this with pumpkin, make sure it’s something captivating, otherwise this may steal the limelight.
Of course, some people like their pumpkin dishes to be savory, like pumpkin risotto or pumpkin ravioli. If you’re one of these folks, you might like to pair these dishes with one of Josko Gravner’s amber wines, like his Breg Anfora or Riolla Gialla.
Happy Halloween everyone!
Having great wine in the house has grown as important to us as it is to have food in the fridge. Sure, we can do without a good bottle, but our day feels a little incomplete without it. To ensure you have great wine daily, I want to suggest two unique wines that really struck me. The Bolgheri Rosso from Le Macchiole—I could not even believe how good it was—and the Raffaele Palma Montecorvo, which I have been telling everyone about. These are two absolutely stunning bottles from Toscana and Campania that you should not hesitate to pick up at your earliest convenience.
Toscana — Merlot, Cab Sauvignon, Syrah
Cinzia Merlo took over the estate in 2005 and the Bolgheri Rosso is her business card, a bottle that she opens to give someone an idea of what Le Macchiole is all about. Focusing on international varietals, the estate has mastered the art of making incredible Super Tuscans on an everyday and on a collectible level. The Bolgheri Rosso 2011 is rich, full, and powerful yet silky. This wine goes right down, and before you know it, you’ve finished the bottle. One of these best I’ve had recently.
Campania — Aglianico, Piedirosso, Tintore
Just the other day I opened this wine because I wanted to revisit it from the last time I had it at the beginning of August. It keeps getting better and better. As you may know, Raffaele Palma is a recent addition to our portfolio and a wine that Sergio secured for us. All vineyards are organically grown on steep slopes facing the ocean, right on the Amalfi Coast. It doesn’t get better than that! If you’re a fan of wines from Campania, then this is a must-have bottle! Volcanic minerality, leather, a touch of chocolate and mint—what a wine! Have this with some Pappardelle al Ragu di Cinghiale and you’re in heaven.
Last night we got together with some friends for dinner. I wanted to go some place with great food and no corkage fee so I made reservations at La Pizza Fresca on 20th street. It’s close to work, the food is good, and on Mondays there’s no corkage fee, so I knew we would be having great wine. I brought a 1995 Aldo Conterno Barolo and a 1999 Talenti Riserva Brunello. My friend Barry brought a California blend of Cab and Merlot from Candy Mountain Vineyards plus we had a few backups just in case. When I saw the lineup I was glad that I had also brought a bottle of Sartarelli Verdicchio Tralivio 2011 from Le Marche.
It turned out to be a great starter wine and a fantastic way to set the mood and to get the palate ready. Verdicchio is known as one of Italy’s greatest white grapes, and its wine has character, depth and versatility. Dedicated to just this one grape, Satarelli makes a Classico Verdicchio and two Classico Superiore, Tralivio and Balciana, all deriving from high altitude Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC.
Specially selected grapes from the winemaker’s oldest vineyards become a traditionally made wine. The fruit is harvested in small crates, then pressed softly, followed by temperature-controlled fermentation, which results in a wine that is lively, vibrant in color, crisp, and full bodied. Last night proved that this Satarelli is a great wine to start a festive evening of food and drink. With the coming season approaching, I think I found my go-to white wine for the holidays.
Great minerality followed by some citric notes of lemon and orange peel then white flowers and anise—all trailed hint of smokiness from the lees. This wine has a good mouth feel; it’s full and rich with good acidity, yet round and almost creamy. All the notes mesh together for a nice, clean finish.
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