News and Notes from the World of Wine

BordeauX 2001 A Return to Reality

Bordeaux came back down to earth in 2001. After the euphoria of 2000, with its winning combination of great wines and that magic millennial number, 2001 represents a return to reality. Only with the white wines, especially the sweet whites of Sauternes and Barsac, has Bordeaux achieved a memorable vintage.

The word the Bordelais themselves have used is classic. The vintage, said Paul Pontallier of Château Margaux, "brings us back to purity, to classicism, a certain hint of great Bordeaux which I like a lot. The 2001 is everything I like in a great Bordeaux. The wines are restrained, rigorous and elegant." At the level of Margaux, this is true. At a lower level, there are many wines that are only just ripe, that have green tannins and show that 2001 was a cool year.

Charles Chevalier of Château Lafite Rothschild could have been listening to Pontallier when he said: "This is a very classic year. It doesn't have the opulence of 2000, but it has rigor, rectitude and purity. It is a return to classicism." Or, as Pierre Lurton of Château Cheval Blanc put it, "This is a classic. I love vintages like this. It is good to have an exuberant vintage like 2000, but the classics are for me."

Jean-Philippe Delmas of Château Haut-Brion described the year this way: "There was not the fruit or the ripeness that we had in 2000. But...once we had blended the wine, it seemed fruity, with good tannins and a certain potential for aging. It is like a very ripe 1998."

In general, the 2001 red wines are dominated by accessible fruit. The Merlot-based wines from Saint-Emilion are probably the most successful of the vintage. Neighboring Pomerol, also Merlot-based, has had more mixed results. In the Médoc, the northern appellations of Pauillac and Saint-Julien are more homogenous than Margaux. The red Graves have had a much less successful year.

Two main climatic elements affected the quality of 2001. The winter of 2000-2001 was unusually wet. That left the ground sodden right through the summer, and resulted in big, water-filled berries at harvest. The second element was a sudden cool period in early September. While this did not affect the Merlot or the white wines, it meant that the later-ripening Cabernets took forever to even approach maturity. At the end, many properties, panicked into harvest in early to mid-October, picked Cabernets that were barely ripe.

The biggest success story of 2001 was in Sauternes. After the cool early September, the skies stayed pretty blue. Combined with early morning mist, the conditions for superb botrytized grapes were there. "For the Sauternes this has been a fantastic year. It is a mythic vintage," said Xavier Planty of Château Guiraud. Alexandre de Lur Saluces of Château d'Yquem waxed even more enthusiastic: "2001 is the most important vintage for Yquem for a century."

Dry white wines, too, have achieved huge success in 2001. Whites from 2000 were too alcoholic, lacking acidity. With 2001, the richness is still there, along with delicious, refreshing acidity—a winning combination. The wines from top Graves estates such as Domaine de Chevalier, Château Haut-Brion, Château Pape-Clément and Château Smith Haut-Lafitte, will be wonderful, as well as great bargains.

Bargains are rare in Bordeaux at the level of the top growths. Many buyers, in Bordeaux for the en primeur week, were concerned about the price of the 2001s. The British wine trade wrote an open letter to the Bordeaux château owners, pleading for a price reduction in 2001.

American buyers, fewer in number than last year, spoke more privately, but with equal force. "I expect to see the price come down," said Richard Rich of Goody Goody in Dallas, Texas. "The wines can't command the same price as last year, but then the Bordelais are commercial—they didn't get their big chateaus by being dumb."

Bordeaux négociants were caught in the middle with the 1997 debacle (when prices were raised way above the quality of the vintage) and still have stocks of those wines. They are desperate to avoid a repetition with the 2001. "Bordeaux has a good opportunity with 2001," said Jean-François Mau of négociant Yvon Mau. "I think there is a risk that a lot of proprietors won't want to change price from 2000. That would be a mistake. They should at least go back to 1999."

This is when Bordeaux chateau owners play a game in which they tease both the negociants and the world's wine trade. They suggest realism, and then end up by outbidding each other in pushing prices up. John Kolassa, of Château Canon in Saint-Emilion and Château Rauzan-Ségla in Margaux, hopes this year will be different: "We don't want another 1997. We have to come back, and coming back means dropping the price. Everybody in Bordeaux has to take responsibility for that. After all, Bordeaux sells vintages, not grape varieties."

One thing is for sure. Vintage 2001 is not an investment vintage. That means that price will be even more important. It is a year when buyers should be more selective. They do not need to buy the most expensive, fashionable wines, which are the normal investment vehicles. They should buy the wines just down the slot, which are likely to be well priced and just as enjoyable to drink. 2001 is not a great vintage, but it is a good one.

—Roger Voss

For Roger Voss's notes on Bordeaux 2001, click on 02/bordeauxenprimeur.cfm


VinItaly Draws Record Crowds
Many Wonder if the World's Largest Wine Fair Has Become Too Big

It was The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. No, not the Clint Eastwood movie. It was VinItaly 2002, the 36th annual installment of the world's largest wine show.

When over the course of five days in April more than 160,000 people descend on a humble, historic town like Verona, Italy (population 260,000 on its best day), it's both good and bad. On the positive side of the turnstiles leading into the concrete jungle also known as the Veronafiere grounds, any show—trade, public or both—that draws 164,000 attendees, 4,000 exhibitors from 26 countries and more than 2,000 accredited journalists from around the world is doing something right. And VinItaly, with more than 60,000 square meters of exhibit space and more
wines in one place than most people can imagine, does a lot right.

Nowhere in the world of wine do more people come together each year to taste wine, conduct business and attend educational seminars than at VinItaly. It is the cream of wine shows, bar none, and if you ever wanted to show up in one spot to sample Livio Marega's superb wines from Collio in northeast Italy, Masi Agricola's inaugural wines from Argentina, thousands of other new wines and new vintages from throughout Italy and beyond, and then wash it all down with some delicious Hungarian Tokay made by Disznókó, then VinItaly is the place to be.

But with the good, comes the bad and the ugly. VinItaly is no exception to the rule. Hardly a walk in the park, attending VinItaly is more like playing a game of bumper cars in hot, smoky, overcrowded aircraft hangars, especially on days three, four and five, when the public is let in. More than being able to speak fluent Italian, what you really need to survive and thrive at VinItaly is a pair of very sharp elbows—that and a lot of patience. In a word, VinItaly has become a madhouse, a massive free-for-all devoid of adequate food services, clean bathrooms, ample transportation, nearby lodging and parking facilities. Clearly, one doesn't come to VinItaly for the ambience of Pavilion 16 or the gourmet cuisine being served up at the three-deep Palazzo Panini take-away counter. What you come for is the wine, plain and simple.

I was there for the wine, and also to lead Wine Enthusiast Magazine's annual educational seminar. The topic—dry red Zinfandel—was intended to be as American as apple pie. In the audience were people from the Netherlands, India, Pakistan, Germany and many from Italy, all eager to taste nine of America's best Zinfandels. By all accounts it was a successful session, but maybe best of all, it offered two hours during which everyone had a place to sit. No crowds, no pushing, no one smoking behind you as you try to taste your half-ounce of Sassicaia. When VinItaly is good, it is very good indeed.

—Michael Schachner

BATF Approves Four New Grape Varieties

The U.S.'s grape varietal bestiary grew by another four names on May 17, as Albarino, Alvarinho, Black Corinth and Fiano were approved for label use by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF).

That brings the total of grape names and synonyms permitted in this country to 264.

Jim Crandall, a spokesman for the BATF, explains how the federal agency, which is part of the Treasury Department, got involved in approving grape names in the first place.

"Twenty years ago, we were asked by the wine industry to come up with something to avoid confusion. There were a lot of grape names bandied about, like Grey Riesling and Gamay Beaujolais, and so we put together a committee and worked through them."

Crandall said it was "unusual" for BATF to approve four new names all at once, but added that the race to develop new varieties picking up steam. "There's a search now for [new] wine varieties. People are trying a lot of exotic European grapes, trying to find the right grape for their particular soil and weather conditions."

It's not hard to get approval for a new grape, although it does take time. According to Crandall, "Basically, all the petitioner has to do is make a solid case and present evidence that this [grape] is grown in the U.S. and will be used in winemaking."

The four new names were adopted as a result of petitions by Havens Wine Cellars, of Napa (Albarino and Alvarinho), Hallcrest Vineyards, of Felton, Santa Cruz County (Black Corinth), and United Distillers and Vintners North America, or UDV (Fiano).

Albarino is a dry white vinifera grape, similar to Sauvignon Blanc in flavor, which is widely planted in Spain; in Portugal it is called Alvarinho. Havens has 2 1/2 acres in production.

Black Corinth is widely planted in California's Central Valley, where it is made into raisins. Hallcrest plans to make a fruity, blush dessert wine from it.
Fiano is an ancient white variety from the Campania region of Italy, where it makes a DOC wine, Fiano di Avellino. In its petition, UDV stated that Beaulieu, which it owns, already has produced two vintages of the varietal from Napa Valley vineyards.

For a complete list of all approved varieties in the U.S. check out, and scroll down to section 4.91.

—Steve Heimoff

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