Tempranillo Time

It was my turn to host our wine group in January, and since my wife and I had been enjoying some inexpensive Spanish tempranillo recently (see the post on it here), we decided to make the wine theme Tempranillo.  By making the theme just Tempranillo and not Spanish Tempranillo, I knew we would get some domestic wines as well as the Spanish variety.  I have really enjoyed some of the domestic producers of Tempranillo and I wanted to see how they would compare to the Spanish.

To go with the wines, my wife concocted a Spanish chicken and chorizo dish – the chorizo gave the chicken a little kick, but not too much.  We wanted the additional flavors to pair with the wines, but didn’t want it to be too hot and spicy and ruin the mouth-feel of the wines and our taste buds.  It ended up being a great match.

It was kind of hilarious to watch the reactions of the group as they tasted through the wines in two flights.  The first flight was the older, more traditional Spanish Tempranillo, and you could get the age and burnished notes from it, which many in the group liked, though they also seemed to struggle with truly enjoying this varietal.  So when we moved to the younger, bolder, more new world versions, they were not shy in judging them more skeptically.  My wife and I have actually had some of these “newer” Tempranillos before, and we both agree that they are great wines – but primarily with food, due to their often high acidity.  By the time we were on our second flight, we had not only tasted the older wines first, but we had also finished dinner – I’m not sure the second flight of wines got a fair rap that night.

It certainly was an eye-opening tasting experiment, however.  I don’t think any of us would have guessed just how different the Tempranillo grape could taste across the board.

Here are the wines we had, starting with a great white:

2005 Domaine Ramonet – Chassagne Montrachet – Vergers –  Ripe yellow orchard fruit and what I call flinty mint on the nose.  Flinty mint is a smell that I associate with Ramonet’s wines and it really comes out with about an hour of air time.  In the mouth, ripe peach and melon, limestone minerality and a fresh minty lift on the long sweet fruit finish.  The 2005 is drinking really well today.  I have been drinking the 2005’s before the 2004’s, as the 04’s are still a little tight, but I don’t see any reason to wait any further on the 05’s.  (94 pts.)

Flight 1

1981 Lopez de Heredia – Bosconia Cosecha – Brick in color, beautiful nose of sweet & spicy fruit, baking spices and burnished wood.  In the mouth very smooth, lots of baking spices mingle with ripe red fruits, good acidity still keeping everything lively.  Nice long smooth spiced fruit finish.  This is a beautiful wine that is drinking very well, holding up and still has time.  Fully mature, but in no rush.  (94 pts.)

1996 Faustino – Tinto Grand Reserva, Spain – Darker fruit nose with spices and a little Band-Aid.  Nice dark fruit and baking spices combine with very good acidity, to give a lively and constantly changing flavor profile.  Nice long dark spicy fruit finish, with some tannins kicking in on the finish.  This is a big deep wine that still has some tannins but also a great sense of balance.  Still young, this wine should be really good after another 5 years in the cellar.  (95 pts.)

1996 Hacienda Monasterio, Spain – Dark earthy fruit nose.  In the mouth, smooth dark black/red currant fruit and some spice.  It is earthy and rustic in character, with tannins kicking in on the medium long fruit finish.  (92 pts.)

2001 Marques de Riscal Grand Reserva, Spain – Very nice black fruit and spices on the nose.  In the mouth, the black fruit combined with some baking spices has some lively acidity that makes this wine very savory.  Nice long, dark fruit and spicy finish, with the tannins kicking at the end.  This is a very nice wine that is still very young, but will be beautiful when it reaches maturity.  It can be enjoyed now with a lot of air time, but try after 2020.  (93 pts.)

Flight 2

2008 Gramercy Cellars – Inigo Montoya Tempranillo, Walla Walla Washington – Dark black/red fruit and spice on the nose.  In the mouth, black and red fruit flavors mingle with baking spices and a little earth.  Very good acidity makes this a very lively wine in the mouth and gives it a savory aspect to the fruit.  This wine has a beautifully long, dark, spicy-fruit finish.  There are tannins present, but they are subtle because of the wealth of spicy fruit.  I personally think that Gramercy’s 2008 Tempranillo is one of the best Tempranillo made in the US.  I have loved this wine since release and I so look forward to seeing what it has to offer after 2020.  Greg and Pam Harrington have made some really incredible wines at Gramercy Cellars.  This is a wine to search for.  (95+ pts.)

2003 Altocedro – Desnudos, Argentina – Sweeter dark fruit on the nose.  Very sweet dark red/black fruit in the mouth with very high acidity.  Noticeable high-octane fruit and alcohol, 15.9% compared to 13.9% for the Gramercy.  This wine seems like a just a combination of smooth sugar and acidic pin pricks in the mouth.  Lots of dark fruit, sugar and alcohol on the medium-long finish, with some tannin kicking in on the end.  (89 pts.)

2007 Cayuse – Impulsivo, Walla Walla Washington – Very dark fruit with some spice on the nose.  In the mouth, rich lush very dark red and black fruit, some baking spices and good acidity, smooth in the mouth.  Rich decadent dark fruit and spice on the long finish, with a little tannin at the end.  A very nice wine, that is drinking well, but also very modern in style. (93 pts.)

We finished it all off with a nice dessert wine:

2005 Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume, Loire France – Beautiful floral white peach, pear and spice on the nose.  In the mouth, ripe white peaches, pear, some melon and baking spices, but with a stony aspect to the fruit.  This wine has excellent acidity and a very long stony white peach/pear and spiced fruit finish.  This is really an excellent wine that is drinking great and is a little bit more open than the 2004 version.  (95 pts.)

It was a wonderful evening, with some very interesting wines and lively conversations.  It’s a great group of guys who are always willing to pull something unusual out from the dark recesses of the cellar.

Italy Bound! (And a Great Italian Barolo)

We’ve been in the mode of Bordeaux for a long while, but all of that is about to change!   This summer, we are taking the family to spend a month in Italy (with a few days in Paris).  This trip was on Christina’s “bucket list,” as she wanted to immerse the kids in the laid-back culinary culture of Italy at an impressionable age.  They love food and adventure, and they’ll be nearly 10 when we go, so not only will they be able to enjoy cooking classes with us, they’ll also be well-behaved as we visit a winery or two…!

To get in the spirit of things, I pulled out an Italian Barolo to drink on Valentine’s Day.  I know this is not from the region of Tuscany where we will be traveling, but it was calling to me.  I hadn’t had this wine in quite a while, and I was pleased to see how well it was drinking:

Great Italian Barolo.
Great Italian Barolo.

2000 Domenico Clerico – Ciabot Mentin Ginestra – Deep dark brooding red/black fruit nose with a little bit of rose and cinnamon adding character.  In the mouth, the deep dark red fruit flavors and spices, combine with a little tar and balsamic on the long, tannic, dark-fruit finish.  This is a very nice Barolo, that is still young and in need of another 3-5 years in the cellar, but it can be enjoyed now with some air time.  I feel that this wine has a lot more to show, if it is only given the time to bloom.  I am very happy to have more of this in the cellar.  (93 pts.)

As for the trip, we’d love your food and wine recommendations.  We don’t leave for a couple more months, so we have just enough time time to make some reservations.  We’ll be asking for your opinions – starting with wineries in Tuscany.  We’ll be in Sovicille (near Sienna) and Cortona (near Montepulciano) for about two weeks.  We have a short list going, and we only have a few days we can actually devote to it with the kids, but we want to hear any favorites you have.  What are the top places you’d go?  We want to know!

Ciao for now!

Double-Blind Tasting – Bordeaux from 1990 and Prior

Just when you thought we were done posting about Bordeaux for a while, I thought I’d throw in a review from a couple months back when my wine group did a double-blind tasting of Bordeaux wines from 1990 and prior.  My wine group of eight guys has been meeting monthly for about nine years now.  The host picks the wine theme and most of our tastings are double-blind.  This time, our wonderful host, Bill Schallert, invited the wives to join the group, so my wife, Christina, was happy to come and taste some swill.  Since we had just returned a month prior from our two week trip to Bordeaux, we absolutely loved the idea of being able to taste some more mature Bordeaux wines, as most of the wines you get to taste at the Chateaux are on the younger side.

I have always really liked tasting blind, or better yet, double-blind.  For those that don’t know the difference between blind and double-blind:  a blind tasting is when you know the wines that are being served, but you do not know the order.  A double-blind tasting is when you don’t know what wines are being served, but they may meet a category (Bordeaux 1990 and prior), and you also don’t know the order.  I like blind tastings because I consider myself a perpetual student of wine, and I don’t want my opinion to be potentially swayed by any labels.

See? You can tell we tasted them blind by the brown wrapping still hanging on to the bottle of Palmer.
See? You can tell we tasted them blind by the brown wrapping still hanging on to the bottle of Palmer.    A good night!

Here are the wines and the order that we tasted them in:

Pre-Flight

2003 Chateau Raveneau – Monts Mains, Chablis – Nice melon fruit a little sea breeze and oyster shell minerality on the nose.  In the mouth, ripe melon, white peach and a little spice, with  limestone and oyster shells.  Good acidity for a 2003 Chablis, that keeps everything lively on the medium-long spicy white fruit and ocean air finish.  Raveneau makes some absolutely wonderful Chablis, even in a hot year like 2003.  This was a great way to start. (93 pts.)

This is always an excellent white producer.
This is such an excellent producer of Chablis.

Flight #1

1989 Chateau Pichon Lalande, St. Julien – Classic stinky feet Bordeaux nose with a little bit of Band-Aid jumps from the glass, sweet dark berry fruit, dry leaves, forest floor and baking spices.  Medium-full bodied, with good acidity, resolved tannins and a nice long dark fruit finish.  This is a classic mature Bordeaux, that is drinking very well right now.  The ’89 Pichon Lalande is on a faster track and drinking more mature than most of the other 89’s that I have had.  I would venture to say that it will not last nearly as long either.  While a lot of the 89’s will continue to improve through 2020, I will probably finish off my ’89 Pichon Lalande before 2020.  I don’t see it getting any better than where it is at present. (94 pts.)

1990 Chateau Prieure Lichine, Margaux – Darker berry nose with a little Band-Aid again.  In the mouth, darker small berry fruit, black currants, slight bit of spice, decent acidity and surprisingly assertive tannins.  Medium-full bodied and a long dark tannic fruit finish, that doesn’t have the sweetness of fruit the first wine had.  This is a big and dark wine, but it doesn’t give you the pleasure in the finish. (89 pts.)

1981 Chateau Gruaud Larose, St. Julien – Dark earthy red/black berry fruit nose, with just a hint of green bell pepper, but not in a bad way.  In the mouth, deep dark red bing cherry and earthy blackberry fruit, baking spices, slight bit of forest floor and still fairly tannic.  Full bodied and a long sweet dark tannic fruit finish.  This is a big wine that is surprisingly youthful and still drinking young.  I could not believe that it was from the ’81 vintage when it was revealed, it tasted more like a ’96.  (93 pts.)

Flight #2

1982 Chateau Palmer, Margaux -Very nice spicy dark fruit and dark chocolate nose.  Very smooth in the mouth, small ripe dark bing cherries and blackberries, lots of baking spices, slight bit of forest floor and resolved sweet tannins.  Full bodied, sweet/spicy dark red/black fruit just singing on the very long fruit filled finish.  This wine is drinking very well today and even beat the ’83 Palmer that I had about a year ago.  I don’t see this wine getting any better than it is today, so no reason to wait, but no hurry either if well stored.  (96 pts.)

1989 Chateau Angelus, St. Emilion – Very dark cherry fruit and chocolate nose.  In the mouth, ripe black bing cherries and very dark bittersweet chocolate, good acidity and with just the slightest hint of baking spices.  Full bodied and a nice long very dark chocolate fruit filled very tannic finish.  This wine was very tannic and seemed a little closed in on its self, it just was not singing.  You could see the huge potential, but it was begging for another decade in the cellar to really show its stuff.  I know the person who brought the wine bought it on release and it has been well-stored since, so maybe it just needed a lot more air and/or more years in the cellar.  (95 pts.) now with upside.

After tasting the 1989 Angelus, I mentioned to my wife “This wine tastes like a wine we just had in Bordeaux,” it just seemed so distinct.  The others at the table heard me mention this to Christina, so they asked me what I thought the wine was.  I said I didn’t know the vintage, but the characteristics of the wine reminded me of the ’05 and ’06 Chateau Angelus we had a month ago.  I was shocked to see it was an ’89 Angelus, but glad to see that my flavor memory recall was working.  I guess I learned something on that trip (and practice makes perfect, right??).  The ’05 and ’06 Angelus wines were some of the highlights of our wonderful trip.

1989 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac – Dark cherry and bitter chocolate nose.  Smooth in the mouth, with dark black cherries, bitter sweet chocolate and some spice.  Good acidity and still very tannic on the long dark fruit finish.  This wine must have been resting in a very cold, dark cellar and is in need of another 5+ years to show what it has to offer.  A very nice wine, but will not give up what it has right now.  (93 pts.) with upside.

1983 Chateau Magdelaine, St. Emilion – Dark cherry fruit and spice with some dark chocolate on the nose.  Very smooth in the mouth, beautiful ripe dark bing cherries, lots of baking spices and a little forest floor adds to the wonderful complexity.  Fully resolved tannins, medium-full bodied and an absolutely beautiful long sweet dark spicy fruit finish.  This is my first time having wine from this producer and they knocked it out of the park with the ’83.  This is a gorgeous wine today, so if you own it, open a bottle.  You won’t be disappointed.  (96 pts.)

2005 Chateau Rieussec, Sauternes – Sweet pineapple, some melon and honey on the nose.  Very sweet pineapple in the mouth, with some spiced honey and decent acidity.  The very sweet finish is long but the honey aspect is just a little too cloyingly sweet for my taste.  It is a nice, well-made wine, but I would prefer a little more acidity to counter the sweetness.  (92 pts.)

All in all, it was a very nice evening with a great group of guys (and girls).  Wouldn’t mind repeating it again soon…!

Day Eleven Dinner, The Last Supper: Restaurant Hostellerie de Plaisance

After our hours-long cooking class, we were wishing we could’ve stayed in St. Emilion for the night, but it would’ve put us even farther from the airport bright and early the next morning.  So instead, we spent the rest of the afternoon shopping in town until a driving rain forced us into the hotel lounge two hours before dinner, where we happily played backgammon, drank cocktails and soaked up the beautiful atmosphere of the hotel (we have a running score tally on backgammon that goes back years!).

Bob making a serious move.
Making a serious move.
Christina in the beautiful lounge.
Christina in the beautiful lounge.
I took several pictures of this room...
I took several pictures of this room…Christina said her designer friends would appreciate it.
View looking back towards the bar.
View looking back towards the bar.
The view looking out onto the terrace.
The view looking out onto the terrace.

At one point, we thought we might have dinner on the spectacular terrace of the hotel in the evening, but the on-again, off-again rain that day pretty much nixed that option.  The main dining room of the hotel was quite a sumptuous and posh affair.  From our vantage point, we admit, we also had a great people-watching view.

We booked the reservation thinking we'd be eating out here on the terrace.
We booked the reservation thinking we’d be eating out here on the terrace.
It would've been great to look out over this view.
It would’ve been great to look out over this view.

But the best views were probably of the waitstaff.  Clearly, this establishment takes its service seriously – you could tell by the level of attentiveness and attention to detail.  We went easy on the wine that night – all the activities of the day and the long drive back to our hotel made that an easy decision, though somewhat bittersweet, as it was our last night of the trip.

The formal dining room.
The formal dining room.

The food was meticulously prepared and delicious, though we do have to say, it was as expected, but nothing we had that evening seemed to elevate our dining experience in any transcendent way. Bordeaux 2013 3577 Bordeaux 2013 3579 Bordeaux 2013 3582 Bordeaux 2013 3583 We had three different wines from their pairing menu with dinner:

2012 Chateau Turcaud Bordeaux Blanc – Very bright lemony white fruit that is very clean and fresh.  This is a nice dry wine with a long stony white fruit finish and brisk acidity keeping everything lively in the mouth.

2007 Chateau Milens, St. Emilion – Dark blackberries, dark chocolate and subtle minerality.  Good acidity but slightly drying tannins in the mouth.  Medium bodied and a medium length black fruit finish.  This is a good inexpensive red Bordeaux wine with a lively finish, but it just lacks the polish of the better classified Chateaux.

2009 Chateau Lyonnat, St. Emilion – Black in color with a red rim.  Deep rich dark blackberries and black currants, with a little minerality coming through.  Medium bodied and good acidity, with noticeable but very fine tannins.  Silky smooth in the mouth, with a medium-long black fruit finish and a snap of acid and tannins at the end.  This is a very nice wine that is lively in the mouth and still just a baby.  I would imagine that you could find it for a bargain of a price, especially compared to the other 2009 classified Bordeaux wines.

Turns out there were two table-side experiences offered here in a way we hadn’t seen presented before.  In addition to the ubiquitous cheese trolley, this restaurant also had the most fanciful dessert trolley with enormous lollipops and glass cylinders full of candies in every color of the rainbow – our kids would have swooned over it.  My wife wound up falling in  love with the tea trolley, however.  I can honestly say that I have never seen a tea trolley to this extent before – you could have used the trolley as a duck blind.  They offered a variety of fresh herbs, which they picked from pots on the trolley and brewed at the table.  Her lemongrass tea was pretty fantastic, I admit.

The kids would've loved this candy cart.
The kids would’ve loved this candy cart.
Christina loved this tea trolley.
Christina loved this tea trolley.

All good things must come to an end, I suppose.  So, for now, this is the end of our Bordeaux travel tales.  But of course, we have another adventure close at hand – we look forward to telling you more about it very soon!  In the meantime, there’s plenty of wine to drink and fun experiences to share here at home…

A beautiful place to spend our last evening in Bordeaux.
A beautiful place to spend our last evening in Bordeaux.

Day Eleven: Cooking Class at Chateau Soutard

Authored by Christina

We admit, when we pulled up to Chateau Soutard, we were pretty impressed with the size of the Chateau.  A cooking class here?  Sign us up!  Alas, due to the renovations, we found ourselves in the car on a winding road following a member of the staff to another smaller chateau owned by the estate where we would be cooking that day.  Truly, it was a charming place, and we warmed up to it, and Chef Phillipe, right away.  It didn’t hurt that the sun had suddenly come out, and the whole kitchen was bathed in a golden yellow glow.

A smaller home on the estate, where we did our cooking class.
A smaller home on the estate, where we did our cooking class.
Pretty grounds.
Pretty grounds.
The sunlight streaming into the kitchen.
The sunlight streaming into the kitchen.

Chef Phillipe was a former restauranteur in Paris at some very notable places, and most recently has begun training other chefs and restauranteurs in how to run a successful food service business.  He also teaches some cooking classes on the side to fortunate folks like us.

Bob Watt and Chef Phillipe Scandrol.
Bob Watt and Chef Phillipe Scandrol.

A good-natured and efficient man, Chef Phillipe made us feel at home in the kitchen right away.  Almost too much so in the beginning though.  After pouring us a glass of wine, he pulled out a device that he said he found on a trip to the States.  He saw it on a TV infomercial for $19.99, and found it to bring home to France.  Sometimes known as a “slap chop,” he started by demonstrating that we could cut vegetables using this device with different blades to ensure uniform sizing and quick dicing.  I have to say, he would make a wonderful spokesperson for the tool.  While we were a little taken aback at first (“What is this? I thought we were here to learn to cook?!”), it didn’t take long before we saw the genius of the device.  I admit, we did buy one back at home, and, well, I used it last night!

The famous "slap chop" device.
The chop wizard.
Beautiful fresh produce - perfect for perfecting our "slap chop" skills!
Beautiful fresh produce – perfect for perfecting our “slap chop” skills!
Delicious farm-fresh goat cheese.
Delicious farm-fresh goat cheese for the tartare.

All of that said, it was a funny ice-breaker, and we did go on to use our knives plenty.  As a starter we made a fresh fish tartare, which he filleted with skill. We used a variety of ingredients to mix our own sauces, and wound up in a taste test to see whose concoction was best.  (We’ll call it a tie.)  We formed the tartare into molds and put the finishing touches on a simple salad to accompany the tartare.

Glad this wasn't my job!
Glad this wasn’t my job!
Whose tartare recipe wins?
Whose tartare recipe wins?  There WERE subtle differences.
The finished product in molds, ready to be put in the refrigerator to set up.
The finished tartare in molds, ready to be put in the refrigerator to set up.

For the main course, we cut chicken breasts in half, coated them with this delicious spice rub, Epices Poulet Roti  and stuffed the breasts with walnuts.  (French friends, if you get me more of this spice rub, I would be so grateful!  Friends in the States, if you know where I can find it here, let me know – I’m almost out of what we brought back!)  We then wrapped the chicken breasts in sheep’s stomach to hold them together for cooking.  That was a first for us…!

Sheep's stomach to be used as the binding for the chicken.
Sheep’s stomach to be used as the binding for the chicken.  Not as bad as it sounds…
Epices Poulet Roti - I need more!
Epices Poulet Roti – I need more!

Chef Phillipe had pre-made a divine red wine reduction sauce to go over the chicken, and we stuffed mushrooms with tomatoes and sauteed baby carrots to accompany the chicken.

Work in progress.
Work in progress.

While we waited for the chicken to cook, we retired to the salon and enoyed a snack that Chef Phillipe had prepared.  The chorizo on toasts was just perfect.  The drizzle had just the right touch of spice – we were both eyeballing the last one and each other – we split it.

I'll fight you for the last one.  Toasts with chorizo and goat cheese.
More please. Toasts with chorizo and goat cheese.

Pretty soon, we sat down to lunch.  Despite our begging and insistence, Chef Phillipe would not join us at the table, so we enjoyed his creations and his company while he and his assistant kept busy prepping more food. The tartare was super-fresh and light and flavorful, and the salad was a perfect side.  We also had two different vintages of Chateau Soutard with the meal.

2003 Chateau Soutard – Sweet dark red/black fruit, medium bodied and smooth in the mouth.  Ripe blackberries with a lot of secondary flavors coming through, like spices and earthy forest floor.  This wine has a medium-long fruit finish and seems to be fast evolving.  I would drink this wine in the near term.

2005 Chateau Soutard – Nice perfume of flowers and dark red fruit.  Tastes like a warm dark blackberry and black currant fruit pie.  Slightly rustic flavors of dry leaves coming through in the mouth.  Smooth and medium bodied and slight tannins present on the medium-long dark fruit finish.  While enjoyable and good food wines, in general, the wines of Chateau Soutard don’t seem to have the elegance and polish that a lot of the other classified growth Bordeaux have.  But now that Michel Rolland is on the scene, we’ll be interested to see how these wines evolve in the future.

Fresh fish tartare with a simple side salad.
Fresh fish tartare with a simple side salad.

The chicken, though simple, was superb – I have actually made it several times at home now.  The wine that accompanied the chicken dish in particular was a great match – they had clearly thought through this pairing well.

The chicken was deceptively simple and delicious.
The chicken was deceptively simple and delicious.

As if this wasn’t enough food, Chef Phillipe had prepared not one but FIVE desserts for us to sample.  NOW we know what they were working on while we were eating away.  Ooh la la, but they were good.

You have got to be kidding me!  So good!
You have got to be kidding me! So good!

At this point, it was nearly 3:00 pm, it was very humid, and we were basking (and baking!) in the sun from the open window in the kitchen.  Admittedly, we were wondering if we could wander upstairs to one of the bedrooms for a nap!  Instead we said our merry goodbyes and headed back into town, where we whiled away the afternoon doing one of our favorite things…

Day Eleven: Tasting at Chateau Soutard

It was a bittersweet end to our tour – when we woke up on our last day, it was rainy and gray, after a most glorious week of sun and unseasonable heat.  The drizzle of rain was very reminiscent of home in Seattle, and we admit, we weren’t too excited to head back to that weather!  But today we had something fun to look forward to – a tasting at the beautiful Chateau Soutard in St. Emilion, with a cooking class to follow which was booked at the recommendation of our tour operator.

Chateau Soutard.
Chateau Soutard. The hipsamatic photo app does a good job of disguising the rainy, gray beginning of the day.

Chateau Soutard is an impressive estate, quite large and imposing.  It was one of the places that they said there were talks underway about opening the Chateau up as a hotel in the future, which seems it could be a good way to accommodate more tourism in these areas, while also better utilizing the estate properties that must be so expensive to keep up.  Ch. Soutard was undergoing many renovations on the main estate while we were there, so we were not able to go inside the Chateau itself, which was a bit of a surprise and had us wondering – where exactly were we going to be cooking that day?

The gift shop.
The gift shop and tasting room area.  We were wishing it was a nice day so we could be outside to enjoy the grounds for a while.
Enjoying coffee.
Bob enjoying his coffee.

Bordeaux 2013 492Bordeaux 2013 493Bordeaux 2013 494Our guide, Daniel, was very charming and enthusiastic, very much a student of wine making himself.  Chateau Soutard began getting recognition for its St. Emilion wines in the middle of the 18th century.  It was owned by the de Bogeron family from 1890 until 2006, which it was purchased by La Mondiale, the French insurance company, who also already owned Chateau Larmande and Chateau Grand Faurie.   The new owners began renovations immediately to modernize the wine making facilities, constructing new gravity fed tanks and new cellers.  Like many in the area, Chateau Soutard also employs Michel Rolland as a consulting winemaker.

The new state-of-the-art vat room.
The new state-of-the-art vat room.

Chateau Soutard’s vineyards are planted on limestone, clay and sand. Much of the limestone for building the estate was also taken from the surrounding areas.  The vineyard has a typical blend for St. Emilion of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc.

The very elegant tasting salon.
The elegant tasting salon.
Another view - with the peacock.
Another view – with the peacock.

Here’s what we tasted:

2000 Laremande – Beautiful floral red fruit nose.  Red fruit in the mouth, with some acidity and slightly dry tannins on a shorter finish.  This wine was a little simple.

2010 Chateau Soutard – Darker, sweeter black fruit, good acidity and some fine tannins.  Medium-full bodied, but with a surprisingly light fruity finish of medium length.

2006 La Grand Faurie La Rose – Dark, earthy, red-black fruit, rustic character, medium-bodied and medium length.

Following our tasting, we were ready to begin our cooking class at Chateau Soutard, which seemed a fitting way to wrap up our tour, since we started with a cooking class on our first day at Chateau Phelan Segur.   Next up, Chef Philippe and his unconventional cooking methods…!

Fete du Bordeaux 2014 – Year Six

Authored by Christina

As previously noted, this was the first year I attended the annual Bordeaux dinner in Seattle alone, as my husband had to be out of town. Alas, I wasn’t entirely left to fend for myself, as good friend Bill Schallert from Young’s Market Company made a great stand-in date (thanks Bill!).

Bill Schallert from Young's Market Co., Nancy Rugus, representing Chateau Suidaraut, Jean-Charles Cazes from Chateau Lynch Bages, Christina Watt, and Damien Barton Sartorius with Chateau Leoville Barton.
Bill Schallert from Young’s Market Co., Nancy Rugus, representing Chateau Suduiraut, Jean-Charles Cazes from Chateau Lynch-Bages, Christina Watt, and Damien Barton Sartorius with Chateau Leoville-Barton.

One of the highlights of the evening is always hearing from the representatives from the various estates whose wines we’re tasting – we appreciate their efforts to be here. We were pleased to welcome Jean-Charles Cazes again from Chateau Lynch-Bages and Chateau Ormes de Pez, as well as Damien Barton Satorius, from Chateau Leoville-Baron and Chateau Langoa-Barton. The dinner was held on the day of the Seahawks Victory Parade that brought out over 700,000 fans into the streets of Seattle. Ever mischievous, Jean-Charles had a little fun with the theme, bringing Seahawks “Lynch: Beast Mode” jerseys to describe the Lynch-Bages wines.

Damien is the grandson of Anthony Barton, who has visited for dinners in the past. Damien’s mother Lillian has also joined us on a few occasions. Damien is currently finishing up his Masters Degree in International Business, and this was his first trip to the United States and second wine dinner in which he was asked to provide remarks on behalf of the estate, which he did very well. You can certainly see the resemblance to his very gracious grandfather, and we look forward to hearing more from Damien in the future.

Chateau Montrose was notably absent in representation again this year, citing ongoing construction work that kept them from attending. Here’s hoping they get that construction done soon – it’s always nice to hear from the Chateaux themselves at these events. Nancy Rugus did a nice job explaining their wines, however, and also those of the venerable Chateau Suduiraut, whom she represents and who makes exceptional Sauternes.

Just a few things to taste through...
Just a few glasses to taste through…

This was the year we tasted the 2011’s, coming off of the major hype of the ’09’s and 10’s, and even the very good year of the ’08’s.

Here was the line-up:

  • 2012 Blanc de Lynch Bages
  • 2011 Chateau Tronquoy Lalande
  • 2011 Chateau Ormes de Pez
  • 2011 Chateau Langoa-Barton
  • 2011 Chateau Lynch-Bages
  • 2011 Chateau Leoville-Barton
  • 2011 Chateau Montrose
  • 2000 Chateau Langoa-Barton
  • 2005 Chateau Lynch-Bages
  • 2005 Chateau Montrose
  • 1990 Chateau Lynch-Bages
  • 1990 Chateau Leoville-Barton
  • 1998 Chateau Montrose
  • 2003 Chateau Suduiraut

Now let me preface my remarks by saying that in general, my wine of the night has typically always been one of the older vintages, which makes perfect sense, right? Well, in 2010, I actually prefered the 2010 Chateau Montrose as my wine of the night – there was so much potential there, but you could still get an immediate sense of the power and complexity. (I tend to prefer the 10’s to the ’09’s, though I wouldn’t turn any of them down!)

Which is my long-winded way of saying that while the 2011’s are admittedly young, honestly, I struggled to differentiate between them in any meaningful way, and to my taste, they seem to be wines to drink sooner, rather than aging for later. This was the general opinion of my tablemates as well, though we all admitted to not having a crystal ball! At the end of the day, we decided it’s not a bad idea to have a few bottles of good Bordeaux to drink now rather than later anyway. I will say that the 2011 Chateau Lynch Bages had a nice earthy nose and seemed to have some good potential, and the 2011 Chateau Montrose, though very tight, had some of the characteristic earthiness and complexity I’ve come to associate with these wines – it would be interesting to come back and taste this wine again once it gets a little age on it, as it appears to have some good structure behind it.

Chateau Leoville Barton.
1990 Chateau Leoville Barton. Was a crowd favorite.

To that end, I struggled a little with the older wines to pick a definitive wine of the night – there were some nice wines there. The 2000 Langoa-Barton particularly stood out, but perhaps especially because of the shift to a significantly older wine after the 11’s! It was a good, round, earthy wine with a great nose, and a nice pairing for the roasted loin of Ostrich we had for that course.

Chateau Lynch-Bages.
Chateau Lynch-Bages.

The final three wines of the night, the 1998 Montrose, 1990 Chateau Leoville-Barton and 1990 Chateau Lynch-Bages were all drinking well. The 1990 Lynch-Bages was probably my favorite of the evening – it was still a little tight, but the nose was dreamy – green bell pepper and barnyard – one of those that I could just sit and smell and not even drink and be happy! The 1990 Ch. Leoville-Barton was also very good – I heard several of my tablemates claim it as their favorite. Really, I wouldn’t turn any of those wines away.

The chef also did a masterful job of pairing the 2012 Blanc de Lynch Bages with a seared sea scallop dish – the wine and the briny flavors of the scallops worked really well together. Of course, I’m a huge fan of this white, and I know from this summer that it also pairs well with charcuterie and just about anything else you can think to nibble on. They’ve done a nice job with the consistency of the profile year over year, peachy, earthy, grassy – just green enough, but still a round, full wine with a crisp finish and good minerality – it’s one of my favorite whites these days. (That’s typically code for, okay, honey, you can buy more if you can find it!)

Which, at the end of the day, is always the fun of these dinners – tasting things you may have in your cellar to see how they are drinking now, and deciding what to add and age for later. Me? I’m happy that I usually have help making these decisions, but no matter, the discussion and company is always fun while you’re forming an opinion!

Looking forward to next year…

Moment of Truth – Bordeaux Dinner

Authored by Christina

Tonight is the annual Fete du Bordeaux dinner and tasting in Seattle.  This is the sixth time we’ve attended the dinner – but the first time I’ve had to go alone!  I remember the first one we went to, actually, Bob had to talk me into going for some reason…but never again.  It’s a great dinner and a great opportunity to try some very nice wines.

Alas, they moved the standing date this year, and Bob is out of town in Tucson for his annual gem show which is a bummer for both of us (diamonds or wine, diamonds or wine – such a dilemma!). I suspect he’d rather be at the dinner though.  Frankly, I’d rather have him here!

While I certainly have my opinions about what wine I like, the reason we can write up such detailed reviews on this blog is all Bob – the most you’ll likely get from me is a vote about my wine of the night (and perhaps an amusing story or two).  I guess we’ll see!

The amount of glassware is crazy - see?  It's not just me - how do I socialize ANDtake notes on all of this!
The amount of glassware is crazy – see? It’s not just me – how do I take notes on all of this?

In the meantime – here are links to the line-ups from years past:

Fete du Bordeaux 2009

Fete du Bordeaux 2010

Fete du Bordeaux 2011

Fete du Bordeaux 2012

Fete du Bordeaux 2013

Tonight we’ll taste the 2011’s.  It’ll be interesting to see how they compare to the 09 and 10’s that have gotten so much acclaim.  Must’ve been a hard act to follow for the winemakers – though my guess is, the wine will be more than just fine.

jan 2012 001
Blast from the past: Christina Watt and Nicolas Glumineau at the dinner in 2012. Nicolas was the former technical director of Chateau Montrose, and is now the head of Roederer’s Bordeaux properties, including Chateau Pichon Lalande. I believe that tonight we’ll taste the 2011’s made from just before he left.

More soon!  Well, some pictures maybe – we’ll see what I can come up with…!

Day Ten, Final Stop: Chateau Figeac

After rushing so much through the day, when we arrived at Chateau Figeac, everything seemed to slow down just perfectly.  Their picking was done for the day, things were very calm and the Chateau was almost glowing in the late afternoon sun.

The enchanting Chateau Figeac.
The enchanting Chateau Figeac.

According to Chateau Figeac history, the estate dates back to the 2nd century AD and the Figeacus family, who gave the estate its name. In the 15th century, Ch. Figeac was one of five noble houses in Saint-Emilion and passed from the Lescours family, who at that time also owned Ausone, into the hands of the Cazes (or Decazes) family, who transmitted it through marriage to the Carles in the 17th century.  There were many improvements made on the property during these owners.

When an economic crisis struck as a result of the Continental Blockade, the Countess de Carles-Trajet sold some of Ch. Figeauc’s land. Parts of this land included Cheval Blanc, which was ceded in 1832. Chateau Figeac and its 130 hectares (321 acres) were then sold in 1838. Ch. Figeac went through a period of 50 years having 7 different owners.

In 1892 that the Manaoncourt family acquired the core of the property, and they have worked hard to shape the unique character of Chateau Figeac ever since.  In 1955, Ch. Figeac became a classified first growth.  Before we officially began our tour one of the members of the Manoncourt family came over to say hello – she was very warm and gracious, and you could tell – very involved.

The driveway at Ch. Figeac.
The driveway at Ch. Figeac.

Gwen, our fun and informative guide, told us about the land and the grapes on the property.  The property of Chateau Figeac sits upon three very large gravel mounds.  The grapes used in the wine blend are 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc and 30% Merlot.  It is this unusual grape blend and the gravel that defines the “Chateau Figeac style.”  Ch. Figeac uses both traditional large wood vats and stainless steel vats.  The wine of Chateau Figeac is aged in 100% new French oak barrels, sourced from 8 different coopers.  In 2012, the Manoncourt family hired Michel Rolland as a consulting oenologist.

The barrel room.
The wooden vats.
The stainless vats.
The stainless vats.
Some wineries keep some of the older, still working technology around - just in case.
An old press. Some wineries keep some of the older, still working technology around – just in case.

The tasting room was warm and rustic – a departure from many of the more formal chateaux we visited.

The Ch. Figeac tasting room.
The Ch. Figeac tasting room.  Love all the wooden beams in the ceiling.
The tapestry in the tasting room.
A closer look at the tapestry in the tasting room.
Great stone fireplace.
Great stone fireplace.

We hadn’t had much wine from Ch. Figeac, so it was fun to try their wines:

2003 La Fleur Pourret – Very nice red and black fruit and a smooth mouth feel, good acidity with ripe tannins and medium bodied.  Nice medium length sweet fruit finish.  This is a little simple, but a nice drinking wine.

2007 Chateau Figeac – Red and black fruit with a hint of green bell pepper and spice in the nose.  In the mouth, spicy red and black fruit with some good acidity, nice smooth mouth feel and medium-full bodied.  Fine tannins on the long spicy fruit filled finish.  This is a noticeable step up from previous wine.  The wine is bigger and more lush than I expected for a 2007 vintage wine.

In hindsight, knowing that the 2007 vintage wasn’t all that wonderful, I have to say, Chateau Figeac did a very nice job with their 2007.  It was definitely a wine that made us pause and reflect on its complexity.  The wines from the 2007 vintage are going to drink sooner than the surrounding vintages.  The 2007 Figeac is drinking really well for being so young, I will definitely have to try some of the other vintages from this Chateau.

We very much enjoyed our visit to this estate – it was great to discover some new wines and meet some wonderful people.

Seattle Seahawks Superbowl Sunday!

Authored by Christina

It’s off-topic for a wine blog, but the Superbowl is very top of mind here in Seattle as the Seahawks prepare to play the big game.

We decided it couldn’t hurt to ask for a little extra help this morning – thanks to Father Glen at St. Joseph’s church for being on our team!

Father Glen Butterworth with Bobby, Christina and Sophia Watt.  Praying for a Hawks win!
Father Glen with Bobby, Christina and Sophia Watt. Praying for a Hawks win!

The city is pumped – there are 12th man signs everywhere, fans are decked out in blue and green and the city is deserted – everyone is hunkering down to watch the game.

Jan. 2014 and Seahawks 025

Jan. 2014 and Seahawks 018

Jan. 2014 and Seahawks 023

Jan. 2014 and Seahawks 020

Unfortunately, Bob is in Tucson for his annual gem show this week, but he’s still sporting his team spirit – and apparently trying to recruit more 12th men…

Bob Watt with Rex Putnam in Arizona.
Bob Watt with Rex Putnam in Arizona.  Recruiting new fans…can’t start too young!

Cheers to a great game!  GO HAWKS!