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Category Archives: Expensive wine

Expensive wine 76: Chateau Pontet-Canet 2003

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Chateau Pontet-CanetHow silly are Bordeaux wine prices? The Big Guy, who bought the Chateau Pontet-Canet 2003 (13%) almost 10 years ago, should have kept it in case he needed to top up his grandchildren’s college fund. The wine has doubled in value since he paid $60 for it at a Dallas wine shop.

Wine as investment is an alien concept to the Big Guy and I. We buy wine to drink, which is why any review of the Chateau Pontet-Canet has to take into account its ridiculous run-up in price. What’s the point of a $120 wine, even from a producer as reputable as Pontet-Canet — a fifth-growth estate in the 1855 Bordeaux classification that’s often compared to second growths — that doesn’t make you shiver? Because, as well made as it was, and as well as it has aged, and as much as we enjoyed it, it was worth $120 only if the person buying it wanted to flip it like a piece of real estate.

Which you can’t tell from its scores — proving, sadly, that the idea of the Emperor’s New Clothes is never far from wine and that scores can be as corrupt as a Third World dictator. That’s because the only way to keep the market going is to keep throwing lots of points at the wine, which seems to have happened here. I found lots of mid-90s, with nary a discouraging word.

If you get a chance to try it, the Chateau Pontet-Canet has more fruit in the front (blackberry and raspberry) than you’d expect, and which explains Robert Parker’s fondness for it. The tannins were very soft, and the acidity was muted, almost an afterthought. If you sniff really hard, you can smell graphite, which makes the pointmeisters go crazy. The finish is long, but not extraordinarily so, and the impression is of a quality wine that would be a steal at $40 or $50. But memorable, as one reviewer described? Hardly, unless you’re marveling at the demand for a $120 wine that was made 12 years ago.

Again, this is not to criticize its quality, but to note how little the Bordeaux market has to do with reality. You could buy four terrific bottles of Chablis for the same price; three bottles of a Ridge zinfandel, maybe the best value in the U.S.; or two bottles of Pio Cesare Barbaresco, one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.

If and when the French understand this, they’ll understand why 90 percent of the world is priced out of Bordeaux. Until then, I’ll somehow live without it.

Expensive wine 75: John Duval Plexus 2011

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plexus 2011John Duval is a legend in the Australian wine business, someone who made some of the greatest wines in the country’s history when he worked for Penfolds and who has produced consistently outstanding wine on his own since leaving Penfolds in 2003. His wines are an example of the best of Australia, blending terroir, craftsmanship, and that sixth sense that the best winemakers have about what should go where.

The Plexus 2011 ($39, sample, 14%) is a red blend that does all of that, combining shiraz, grenache, and mouvedre to produce a wine that is somehow both powerful and sophisticated, soft and structured, cultured and free-spirited. In this, it does what so much great wine does, marry what seem to be contradictions to produce something greater than the whole.

Look for lots of berry aromas, followed by ripe but not quite jammy blackberry and cherry fruit and some spice and black pepper. That the alcohol is so low for an Australian wine speaks to Duval’s respect for terroir and to work with what the grapes gave in a cool vintage, rather than to force high alcohol to please critics. Not surprisingly, the 2011 Plexus only got 89 points from the Wine Advocate, about what it gives very ordinary $15 California chardonnay.

Highly recommended and a steal at this price, especially given how much junk is for sale that costs more than $40 and gets 94 points. We tasted this in my El Centro class, and the students were flabbergasted that this style of wine could be this delicious and taste so completely different from anything they had tasted before.

This is a Father’s Day gift for anyone who loves red wine and wants to take a step forward in understanding how wine can be different depending on where it’s from. Serve this with any red meat or Father’s Day barbecue.


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Expensive wine 74: Domaine Roger Belland Les Champs-Gain 2005

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Belland Les Champs-GainYou love your Mom, right? You want nothing but the best for her, don’t you? Then the Belland Les Champs-Gain is the wine for her and Mother’s Day.

The Belland Les Champs-Gain ($70, purchased, 13%), a premier cru from the Puligny-Montrachet region in Burgundy, is everything that great wine is supposed to be. It’s the kind of chardonnay that people dream about, and that even those of us who don’t want to pay more than $10 for wine will drink without hesitation — subtle and muted, with layers and layers of flavors and aromas.

Look for white pepper, a brilliant use of oak, and almost ripe apples, three signs of great white Burgundy from Puligny. But there is so much more going on that it’s almost impossible to describe. Besides, just listing a bunch of adjectives won’t come close to doing the wine justice (even though that’s apparently what I’m supposed to do).

Highly recommended, though availability may be limited. In which case, ask your retailer for something similar, and you can’t go wrong. White Burgundy remains one of the few parts of the French wine business that hasn’t shot itself in the foot, head, and behind, for which the Wine Curmudgeon is quite appreciative.

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