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Category Archives: French 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.

Wine of the week: Guy Saget La Petite Perriere Sauvignon Blanc 2014

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sagetThe crisis in the French wine business — too much overpriced wine, and too often crappy and overpriced wine — doesn’t apply to everyone in France. A variety of producers, who focus on the wine and not what the marketing department tells them to make, deliver quality and value. Guy Saget, whose family business dates to Napoleon and the French Revolution, is an excellent example.

The winery, like many of the best French producers, combines tradition and post-modern winemaking to make wine that actually tastes like wine and not grape juice with alcohol. The sauvignon blanc ($13, sample, 12.5%) demonstrates how successfully they do this. For one thing, it’s varietally correct — French sauvignon blanc that tastes like it came from France, with just enough citrus to be noticeable, but mostly minerality and a pleasing green quality that the tasting notes call fern.

For another, the grapes come from throughout France and not just the Loire, which lowers the price by about a third without substantially reducing quality. This is an everyday practice in California (see the Joel Gott sauvignon blanc), but isn’t nearly as common in France, where centuries of tradition make it more difficult to do.

Highly recommended, and especially for past vintages, which cost as little as $10. Serve this chilled with almost any summer salad, grilled chicken, or boiled seafood.

Wine of the week: Château Martinon 2011

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Château MartinonDear Bordeaux wine wise guys:

You’ve been moaning and wailing that Americans have abandoned your wines, and you claim to be baffled why. Fortunately, the Wine Curmudgeon is here to explain. Your wines are too often overpriced and of middling quality, and if you want to fix the problem, talk to Chateau Martinon’s Jerome Trolliet. You might learn a thing or two.

That’s because the Chateau Martinon ($11, purchased, 12.5%) is classic white Bordeaux, the kind of wine you made when you were the envy of the wine world, but gave up in favor of chasing trends, raising prices, and courting the Chinese. In this, it tastes like white Bordeaux, and not sauvignon blanc from New Zealand or Chile.

That means more minerality than citrus, but enough lemon-lime citrus to be pleasant, plus a richness many other white Bordeauxs don’t bother with anymore. Credit that to using more semillion than sauvignon blanc in the blend, a not common practice. And that this was a prior vintage just made the Chateau Martinon more interesting. Who knew an $11 wine from the very ordinary Entre-Deux-Mers region would age this well?

Highly recommended, and you should be proud that someone in Bordeaux remembers how to do things the right way.

Your pal,
The Wine Curmudgeon

 

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