Tasting Report: Bordeaux and Sauternes, 2014 Vintage

2014 Bordeaux is arriving now, and as is customary, winemakers from all of Bordeaux’s many sub-regions brought their new releases to the U.S. for press and trade to taste and consider.

All told, 2014 is shaping up as a relatively fresher, more fruit-forward year, though naturally some bombed-out, tannic exceptions exist. If any single region is shining with this vintage, it’s the small left-bank region of Saint-Julien, which had three of my top picks, from Château Beychevelle, Château Léoville Poyferré, and Château Gruaud Larose, all balanced, fruit-filled, and ready for intense exploration. Château Chasse-Spleen in Moulis-en-Médoc and Château Lynch-Bages in Pauillac are also outstanding selections for this vintage.

Complete (yet brief) notes on all wines tasted follow, including some lackluster white Bordeaux and a selection of engaging, sweet Sauternes, follow.

2014 Bordeaux Tasting Report

White Wines

2014 Château de Chantegrive Graves Blanc / B+ / melon notes, some honey, grassy and quite pleasing
2014 Château Bouscaut Pessac-léognan Blanc / B- / mushroom notes, some barnyard; a bit pungent
2014 Château Carbonnieux Pessac-léognan Blanc / B+ / fresh, bold body, with grassy and lemon notes
2014 Domaine de Chevalier Pessac-léognan Blanc / B / slightly buttery, fresh melon and grapefruit notes
2014 Château Larrivet-Haut-Brion Pessac-léognan Blanc / A- / a touch sweet, with honeyed peaches, tropical notes, and some maple
2014 Château Latour-Martillac Pessac-léognan Blanc / B+ / lemony, grassy, and floral notes, with a finish of honey and spices
2014 Château Pape Clément Pessac-léognan Blanc / B / rustic, heavy honey notes, lemon preserves
2014 Château Smith Haut-Lafitte Pessac-léognan Blanc / B / big New World character, buttery, vanilla-scented

Red Wines

2014 Château Smith Haut-Lafitte Pessac-léognan Rouge / A- / light body, notes of vanilla and cinnamon, gingerbread
2014 Château Canon Saint-Emilion Grand Cru / B / a bit thin, cocoa powder notes, some mint
2014 Château Canon-La-Gaffelière Saint-Emilion Grand Cru / B+ / bold currant notes, some licorice, pencil lead; tarry finish
2014 Clos Fourtet Saint-Émilion Grand Cru / C+ / thin and flabby
2014 Château La Gaffelière Saint-Émilion Grand Cru / B- / fruit is dull, dialed down
2014 Château Grand Mayne Saint-Émilion Grand Cru / B+ / tight, but fruit lies beneath; try again in 3-5 years
2014 Château Beauregard Pomerol / A- / expressive, lots of brambly blackberry, some licorice kick
2014 Château Le Bon Pasteur Pomerol / B- / smoky bacon and sausages; some barnyard
2014 Château La Cabanne Pomerol / B+ / quite fruit forward, lush but youthful
2014 Château Gazin Pomerol / B- / bizarrely structured, kicks off with fruit then showcases leather and cloves
2014 Château La Pointe Pomerol / B+ / more acidity here; some florals; interesting but quiet
2014 Château Fourcas Hosten Listrac-Médoc / B+ / fresh and lively, a bit thin though
2014 Château Chasse-Spleen Moulis-en-Médoc / A / a top selection; beautiful violets, chewy but balanced, tannin and spices integrate well with dried fruit notes
2014 Château Maucaillou Moulis-en-Médoc / A- / silky, layers of earth complement spicy blackberry notes
2014 Château Poujeaux Moulis-en-Médoc / B+ / very lively, fruity but lighter in style
2014 Château Cantemerle Haut-Médoc / A- / fruit forward on the nose, with earth on the palate; a touch of astringency on the back end
2014 Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Médoc / B- / undistinguished aside from some light tobacco notes
2014 Château Angludet Margaux / B- / lots of mushroomy terroir, dried plums
2014 Château Brane-Cantenac Margaux / B- / underdeveloped and highly acidic, almost green
2014 Château Cantenac Brown Margaux / B- / light and acidic, some vegetal/tobacco notes
2014 Château Dauzac Margaux / B / ample earth, with tons of tannic licorice notes
2014 Château Giscours Margaux / A- / showing some cinnamon notes; youthful but refined
2014 Château Kirwan Margaux / A- / mint and cloves; an explosion of spices
2014 Château Lascombes Margaux / A- / plums at the fore; a little chocolate and some brown sugar character
2014 Château Marquis de Terme Margaux / B / slightly thin, dull around the edges
2014 Château Siran Margaux / B+ / simple, but heavy on fruit
2014 Château Beychevelle Saint-Julien / A / a top selection; violets and glorious fruit notes; well balanced
2014 Château Branaire-Ducru Saint-Julien / B+ / heavy, with earthy elements and some acidity on the back end
2014 Château Gruaud Larose Saint-Julien / A / another great pick; dense and powerful, with a blackberry core and some leathery notes; very long finish – one to age
2014 Château Lagrange Saint-Julien / A- / bold and heavy fruit, both fresh and dried; slightly leathery
2014 Château Langoa Barton Saint-Julien / B+ / mint and some floral notes; fresh fruit notes give it balance
2014 Château Léoville Barton Saint-Julien / B+ / big leather, some tobacco; dried fruit on the finish
2014 Château Léoville Poyferré Saint-Julien / A / yet another solid St.-Julien; evergreen character mixes with bold red berries; beautifully rounded
2014 Château Talbot Saint-Julien / A- / big blackberry and dried fig notes; huge body
2014 Château d’Armailhac Pauillac / B+ / fruit heavy on the nose; terroir heavy on the finish
2014 Château Clerc Milon Pauillac / B / youthful, with ample fruit, but flabby at times
2014 Château Grand-Puy-Ducasse Pauillac / B+ / lush, with fruit and florals, some spice, a bit dull on the finish
2014 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste Pauillac / B- / bound up and not showing any fruit at all… or much of anything else today
2014 Château Haut-Bages Libéral Pauillac / B / restrained, with tobacco and dried fruit notes
2014 Château Lynch-Bages Pauillac / A / blackberry and brambles, cloves, drinking beautifully today
2014 Château Pichon-Longueville Pauillac / A- / intensely spice with licorice and herbs, baking spice, gingerbnread, and a touch of vanilla on the finish
2014 Château Laphon-Rochet Saint-Estèphe / B / intensely tannic, licorice and spice, tar and leather
2014 Château Phélan Ségur Saint-Estèphe / B / needs time; ample dried fruit on the finish though

Sweet Wines

2014 Château Coutet Sauternes-Barsac / B+ / very rich honey notes, almost nutty; finish a bit tart
2014 Château Doisy Daëne Barsac / A- / an undercurrent of earthiness and flowers; lively honey notes
2014 Château Doisy-Vedrines Sauternes / B+ / light earth leads to less overbearing sweetness; finish is just so-so
2014 Château de Fargues Sauternes / B+ / heavy savory herbal character here, atop golden syrup
2014 Château Guiraud Sauternes / A- / intense florals and herbs give this an expresion of candied flowers
2014 Château Haut-Peyraguey Sauternes / A- / nuttier, with citrus notes dusting the honey-heavy core
2014 Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey Sauternes / B+ / a bit overblown on sweetness, light lemon notes
2014 Château Suduiraut Sauternes / B+ / some mushroom , lemon peel; big, candied walnut notes on the finish
2014 Château La Tour Blanche Sauternes / B+ / heavier lemon peel notes; finish is somewhat herbal

Review: Louis Jadot 2015 Chablis and 2014 Pinot Noir Bourgogne

And now: Two budget bottlings from Burgundy giant Maison Louis Jadot.

2015 Louis Jadot Chablis – This is an incredibly fresh Chablis, brisk with green apples and pears, with just a hint of brown butter and a slight touch of toasty oak. Bright acidity gives the wine legs, though some meaty sausage notes on the back end are a distraction. B+ / $20

2014 Louis Jadot Pinot Noir Bourgogne – Jadot breaks from tradition and puts the varietal front and center on this budget Burgundy, which offers quite tart notes of Bing cherries and some rhubarb. The finish is on the sweeter side — strawberry, mainly — with touches of cherry Kool-Aid. C+ / $18


What’s the Difference Between Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Shiraz?

So you’re browsing the wine aisle at your favorite store, you have a pretty good handle on what a Cabernet Sauvignon is, and what a Pinot Noir is, but there’s always a group of red wines you’ve never quite gotten a handle on: Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Shiraz. What do these wines taste like, what are the differences between the three, are they named after a grape, like Cabernet, or are they a blend, like Meritage?

To start with, Syrah and Shiraz are exactly the same, just different names for the same grape. It’s called Shiraz in Australia, and Syrah in most other parts of the world, though a few California wineries like Coppola buck this trend and call their bottlings Shiraz. Shiraz is also the name of an ancient city in Iran where some of the oldest wine ever discovered was found, and it’s thought that the grape may have originated in this region. Legend has it that the grape was brought to the Rhône valley in France by the ancient Greek Phocaeans, or perhaps by French crusaders, though of course we have no way of knowing for certain, and it could just be a natural French grape with a lot of mystery around its origin.

In France, Syrah is usually blended with grapes like Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault to make wines we call Rhône blends, like Côtes-du-Rhône or Châteauneuf-du-Pape, whereas in other countries like the United States, Australia, or Spain, Syrah is just as often blended with a variety of other grapes or simply bottled on its own. Syrah wines are typically lighter than a bold Cabernet, but heavier than a Pinot, with a more extracted fruitiness that can be similar to Zinfandel. Depending on the climate and the bottling, Syrah can be a fruit bomb, all blackberry and raspberry, or it can be a peppery, spicy, tannic, and often smoky powerhouse, designed to be cellared for years. Try Syrah as an alternative to either Cabernet or Zinfandel, with rich foods like barbecue that won’t be outdone by the wine’s body.

So what is Petite Sirah, then? It’s not yet another name for Syrah/Shiraz, but is in fact a totally different grape. While Syrah’s origins are shrouded in ancient mystery, we know exactly who is responsible for Petite Sirah, and when; the grape was bred by a Frenchman named Durif in the mid-1800s and was mostly planted in the United States, where it was incorrectly labelled as Syrah for decades. Despite its minuscule-sounding name, Petite Sirah is one of the biggest, boldest grapes available, with massive tannins protecting gobs of blackberry, chocolate, plums, and pepper. Drinkers used to the biggest, boldest California Cabernets will love Petite Sirah, though unlike Cabernet and Syrah, Petite Sirah doesn’t age exceptionally well and should be consumed within a couple years of its vintage. For a food pairing, you’ll want a meal as big and bold as the wine; barbecue beef and pork is still a good choice, and stuffed peppers or heavy cheeses make good pairings with Petite Sirah, as well. One of the major uses of Petite Sirah is as a blending grape, particularly with Zinfandel; a huge number of California Zinfandels contain up to 10 percent Petite Sirah in them.

While Syrah and Shiraz are identical outside of the vineyard where the grape was grown, Syrah and Petite Sirah are quite different, despite both being generally bold, fruit-forward wines. Syrah is very versatile and can be used to make outstanding blends, whereas Petite Sirah is a good choice for a bold Cab lover looking for something new.

Review: Wines of Australia’s MWC, 2017 Releases

MWC is a budget label from Aussie winemakers McPherson Wines, with four expressions being produced. Don’t be alarmed: All the bottles used are Burgundy-style bottles, regardless of what goes in them.

Let’s take a look at 2017’s releases, all now in the market.

2015 MWC Pinot Gris Victoria – A lovely pink hue kicks off this fruit-filled wine, which offers notes of pineapple and mango and a touch of coconut, all layered over a lemony backbone, with light grapefruit notes. Incredibly fresh and eminently drinkable, it’s a lovely wine as an aperitif that also pairs well with seafood. A- / $15

2014 MWC Shiraz Mourvedre Victoria – 95% shiraz, 5% mourvedre. Blunt and unremarkable, this lightly pruny wine offers loads of blackberry jam and some tea leaf, with a fair amount of syrupy milk chocolate notes. Nuanced it’s not, using ample sweetness to mask a thin body and a short finish. C / $15

2015 MWC Pinot Noir Victoria – More enticing, with a solid acidity level that works well with notes of cherry and blueberry that dominate the palate. The finish treads into some odd areas of baking spice and more of that milk chocolate, but otherwise the experience is robust enough to carry its own. B / $16

2015 MWC Cabernet Sauvignon Victoria – An entry-level cabernet, approachable but not the most nuanced wine in this lineup. Notes of raspberry and currant are on target, but secondary character behind them is fairly lacking. The finish is more acidic than expected, with only modest tannin structure, and with a straightforward, tart but fruit-heavy conclusion. B / $16


Tasting the Wines of Crocker & Starr, 2017 Releases

Crocker & Starr is a small outfit in St. Helena, owned by Charlie Crocker (who handles the grapes) and Pam Starr (the winemaker). Together they work the organic vineyard to pull together the best of both the Old World and New World with a goal of showcasing a bit of Napa’s unique terroir.

With a gentle, hands-off winemaking approach, Starr walked a few wine writers through an online tasting of the winery’s current releases. Thoughts on four exceptional wines follow.

2015 Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc – Quite brisk and acidic, but balanced with big peach, pineapple and some vanilla notes, the lattermost of which linger on the finish. Citrus peel notes add nuance. Fun stuff, easy to love. A- / $34

2014 Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc – Quite a dense wine and a bit of a bruiser; give this one time to open up to showcase its charms, which include coffee and licorice notes atop dusty blackberry bramble, chocolate syrup, and a hint of roasted meats. Incredible depth and length. One to savor as part of a lengthy, lingering meal. A- / $80

2014 Crocker & Starr Stone Place Cabernet Sauvignon – The winery’s centerpiece, this is an old vine cab with notes of blueberry and currants, with ample oak up front but layers of lush, fresh fruit lingering on the back end. While still youthful, this is approachable now and highly worthwhile. A / $120

2014 Crocker & Starr “Casali 6” – 92% malbec, 4% cabernet sauvignon, 4% petit verdot. Casali is Italian for “farmhouse.” This is a lush and nicely balanced wine, one which rides the line between sweet and savory with aplomb. The nose is densely spicy, with cloves and some more savory notes, but on the palate it’s blueberry, some cherry, and a bit of strawberry that sets the agenda. The slightly sweet back end is an intriguing counterpart to what’s come before. A- / $80


A Duet of Spanish Wines Reviewed: 2015 Beronia Rueda and 2013 Torres Celeste Ribera del Duero

No particular theme here, just two wines from along the route of Spain’s Duero River, including a white from Rueda and a red from Ribera del Duero. Thoughts follow.

2015 Beronia Rueda Verdejo – This verdejo is grassy and acidic, drinking a lot like a western sauvignon blanc, with crisp lemon notes up front, followed by honeysuckle and some spice to give it a little spin to one side. A versatile wine, it has a slightly bigger body that hints at marshmallow syrup, but only as an afterthought. B+ / $15

2013 Torres Celeste Ribera del Duero Crianza – Not my favorite wine. A very young nose offers notes of overripe fruit and blunt milk chocolate, while the palate is blown out with bitter herbs, orange peel, and a muddy, almost dirty, finish. Skip. D+ / $14

Review: 4 Tuscan Wines from Tenuta di Arceno

An Italian outpost of Jackson Family Wines, Tenuta di Arceno is an Italian winery we’ve covered from time to time, with generally stellar results. Today we check out a quartet of new releases, including two of Arceno’s most prized bottlings.

2013 Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG – A fresh, lively, cherry-heavy wine, it drinks like melted Sucrets (in the best possible way) blended up with savory garden herbs, some licorice, and a dusting of baking spice on the back end. Quite drinkable on its own, and it pairs well with all manner of foods. A- / $25

2010 Tenuta di Arceno Strada al Sasso Chianti Classico Reserva DOCG – Indeed, a classic Classico, with clear tannins up front and notes of wet earth, tobacco, and old wood, atop a cherry-centric core. Brambly and rustic, with some barnyard overtones, the wine is starting to show some age, with touches of balsamic on the finish. Drink now. A- / $35

2011 Tenuta di Arceno Valadorna Toscana IGT – A super-Tuscan of 60% merlot, 25% cabernet sauvignon, and 15% cabernet franc. Very silky and quite floral, the merlot here is front and center, gushing with notes of candied violets, with a back end that offers milk chocolate, licorice candy, and blueberry notes. Though heavy on the fruit, it finds balance in the form of its lacy body and light notes of florals and herbs that weave in and out of the experience. A / $80

2011 Tenuta di Arceno Arcanum Toscana IGT – The top of Arceno’s line — Arcanum is a mix of 60% cabernet franc, 25% merlot, and 15% cabernet sauvignon. Lush and fruity, with chocolate-covered blackberry notes front and center, the wine is studded with notes of cloves, vanilla, and raspberry. Silky and on point, it’s a slightly bolder but more straightforward counterpoint to Valadorna’s more floral expression. A / $100