Bordeaux 2004: Full of pleasures, and surprises
Vintage 2004 was a great Bordeaux year. The wines have all the qualities that make Bordeaux delicious and special: fruit, freshness, good tannins, balance and elegance.
But collectors can turn away now. This will not be a vintage for speculating, or selling later at a profit. This is a vintage to drink, at prices that will be at the same level, or even lower than, those of 2002. Only the top few, in short supply, need be considered for futures buying.
That is the verdict from the barrel tastings that took place in Bordeaux in early April. Producers and buyers alike agreed that 2004 was much better than could have been expected, considering the average summer weather. In fact, the year turned out to be typical Bordeaux. A cool early spring was followed by a warm flowering and warm early summer. August brought typical tropical conditions, hot and humid, with the ever-present threat of rot in the vineyards.
As so often in Bordeaux, the vintage was saved by a September of hot, dry days and cool nights. The result was one of the latest harvests ever, starting almost one month after 2003, as producers allowed the grapes to hang. "This is a great vintage, more classic than 2003," said Paul Pontallier of Château Margaux. "It resembles 1996 with impeccable purity and breed. It has concentration, but the purity of the fruit is wonderful."
All producers commented on the freshness, the fruitiness and the acidity. They also commented on its homogeneity. "There are some great wines this year," said Patrick Maroteaux of Château Branaire-Ducru in Saint-Julien. "There is less of a difference between Left and Right Bank. And the wines will have the ability to age."
2004 is a year for Cabernet Franc and Merlot from the Right Bank, for perfumed elegance from Margaux, for the balance of Saint-Julien. It is also a great year for dry whites, but a less great year for the sweet whites. "In 2004, the range is more mixed in Sauternes, said Xavier Planty of Château Guiraud, but it is more elegant [than 2003]. We made 30 percent less because of rain." Though producers and buyers are impressed with the quality of the wines, they are concerned with the futures sales themselves. "It is not a futures year, except for the chateaus in the golden circle of the top 50 properties," said Hamilton Narby of négociants Vinta Bordeaux. Under the Bordeaux system, the chateaus sell to Bordeaux merchants, the négociants, who then sell to importers.
"The weather in 2003 was exceptional," said Narby. "Exceptional in 2003 meant unusual. Last year, Bordeaux succeeded in persuading the world that exceptional meant great. They can't do that again this year." "As far as the market is concerned, it is after deals," Alain Sichel of négociant Maison Sichel said. "There won't be much speculation, people will only buy if the price is right. Buyers will need to choose the right wine and the right price. Buyers don't actually need any wine, but may buy with good offerings."
The right price for buyers is on the same level as 2002, or even below. Already, Château Valandraud's Jean-Luc Thunevin, the grandfather of garage wines in Saint-Emilion, has cut his price by half from 2003's lofty levels. But in the final analysis, Bordeaux has sighed with collective relief that 2004 is so good. "We can take comfort from the fact that 30 years ago, this vintage would have been a disaster," said Christian Moueix, whose family owns Château Pétrus in Pomerol. "We had neither the techniques nor the money then."
The association of Sicilian vintners has awarded Wine Enthusiast's contributing editor Monica Larner one of two "best foreign coverage of Sicilian wine" journalism awards.
· Italy's Bartolo Mascarello, the sturdiest pillar of Barolo tradition, died at his home in Piedmont on March 12 at the age of 78. His daughter, Maria-Teresa, continues to carry forth his winemaking philosophy of long macerations and strict use of oak casks over imported barrique. Mascarello always spoke his mind and claimed to have filled every inch of his cellar "so that when I die there will be no room for barrique."
· French environment minister Serge Lepeltier stated that the drought in France is probably the worst in 50 years.
· Marchese Piero Antinori and his brother, Lodovico, announced in March that they would once again make wine together at Tenuta Campo di Sasso in Tuscany's Bibbona. The wine will be available beginning in 2008. Located just north of Bolgheri, the 75-hectare estate will house a luxury hotel and restaurant. The brothers will also produce Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand under Campo di Sasso Limited, Marlbourgh.
· Former Pixar EVP and CFO Ann Mather joins the board of directors of Wine Network Inc, the world's first and only television channel dedicated to wine.
· NYC has melded food, fashion and design; newly opened Fashion/Plate NYC is a bar and boutique by day, and a restaurant, titled Plate NYC, by night. www.fashionplatenyc. com · After eight years with COPIA, The American center for wine, food and the arts, president and founding director Peggy Loar has stepped down to pursue other opportunities. Arthur Jacobus will take Loar's position.
· Think you're a true Bordeaux fanatic? The new edition of the must-have Bordeaux bible, Bordeaux and its Wines, by Charles Cocks is now available. (Wiley, $200) · Guy Noel Stout, Society of Wine Educators director, has earned his Master Sommelier certification.
· Tennis and wine were the perfect love match when The USTA Tennis & Education Foundation hosted a wine tasting and auction at Sotheby's in Manhattan. Attendees included International Tennis Hall of Famers Pam Shriver and Jim Courier; the 106th Mayor of the City of New York and USTA Board Member David N. Dinkins; and USTA Board Member and former WTA Tour player Katrina Adams (see photo).
· Wilson Daniels Ltd has appointed Andrew R. Fromm president and chief operating officer.
· What's in an acronym? Small plates, apparently. Following the example set by ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers), is TAPAS, the Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society. www.tapasociety.org
· Have you checked out Grape Radio? The show is podcasted over the Internet at www.graperadio.com.
— Samara D. Genee with additional reporting by Monica Larner
Wine Enthusiast Magazine recently donated $26,000 to The Culinary Institute of America, to benefit the professional wine studies program at its new Rudd Center on the Napa Valley campus. Shown here, Adam Strum, publisher and editor of Wine Enthusiast Magazine, presents the check to Karen MacNeil, chairman of the professional wine studies curriculum, at a ceremony held at the Rudd Center in March. Wine Enthusiast has donated $111,000 to the Rudd Center in the last year.
with Sideways wine consultant Brad Iwanaga
Sideways, the wine-country buddy movie and winner of Golden Globes and an Oscar, was a hit in movie theaters and is now doing well in its DVD release. It is also notable for the accuracy of its wine references and arcana. Brad Iwanaga is the owner of the Bradford Wine Group, an independent wine distributor based in Santa Barbara with over 20 years of experience in the wine industry.
Wine Enthusiast: How did you get involved with the film?
Brad Iwanaga: One of the unit production managers, whom I know through mutual friends, called me up and introduced me to Michael London, the producer. They were very mindful that there are many more consumers now who are wine-savvy, so they wanted to be very accurate.
WE: What is your favorite scene in the movie?
BI: I just love that seen where Maya describes why she loves Pinot Noir. It shows such a visceral attachment to wine, going back to the weather at harvest; it's very compelling. And it's a great portrayal of a real wine lover, someone who is not just about what they know.
WE: You distribute about a quarter of the wines represented in the movie. How have sales been for those wines?
BI: Off the scale, particularly for Hitching Post [the winery that runs the restaurant where many of the film's pivotal scenes take place.] We have been sold out of their Pinot Noir for several weeks.
WE: Did you point out the conflict between the main character disparaging Cabernet Franc and Merlot and his worship of Cheval Blanc, which is made from those very grapes?
BI: Yes, Payne thought about it and decided it was perfect. The scene where he drinks the Cheval Blanc is all about irony. Miles, after reevaluating his friendship with Jack and reassessing his life in general, decides to mark his new beginning with a wine not made from his beloved Pinot Noir, but from grapes he had never really appreciated. The audience is led to believe that Miles is interested in reinventing himself and realizing a measure of redemption.
WE: Word has it that sales of Pinot Noir are up while Merlot is dropping. Any guilt?
BI: I have some friends who make Cabernet Franc and Merlot who are giving me a hard time. I think the increase in sales of Pinot Noir is attributable to people trying it for the first time. All the people I know who love wine ultimately get to the point where Pinot Noir is their favorite grape—it's the mystery, the elusiveness.
WE: Have you ever drunk out of the dump bucket?
BI: I have joked about that, you know, tasting that fine rosé blend at the end of the bar, but I've never done it.
WE: How about your own spit cup?
BI: Yeah, well, that's kind of inevitable.
— Jean Reilly
Family Values Come to New Zealand
Twelve New Zealand wineries have formed a new group aimed at promoting their largely family-owned wineries. The Twelve's president, Richard Riddiford, said that the group will work "to persuade the general public, not just wine enthusiasts, to celebrate diversity and authenticity rather than a slick brand."
The organization plans events in New York and San Francisco during the coming year. Devotees can check the group's web site at www.familyoftwelve.co.nz for more details.
For more Enth Degree, check out this month's issue of Wine Enthusiast Magazine
Frescobaldi buys Luce, Ornellaia
The effect of the collapse of the Robert Mondavi Corporation and its purchase by Constellation Brands last year continues to be felt in Tuscany. In a swift move, Marchesi Frescobaldi, producer of Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, announced last March that it was taking over the 50 percent of its shareholding in the Mondavi/Frescobaldi joint venture Luce della Vite.
And in April, Frescobaldi followed up by acquiring the Mondavi half of the star Bolgheri estate, Tenuta dell'Ornellaia. A figure in excess of $50 million has been quoted, but neither Frescobaldi nor Constellation would confirm this.
The Luce purchase was an easy move to make, according to Frescobaldi president, Vittorio Frescobaldi. Luce della Vite was a joint venture with Mondavi, set up to produce wines like Luce, Lucente and Danzante. Like all the other joint ventures Mondavi had created around the world, the agreement with Frescobaldi gave them the right to purchase the Mondavi stake. More complicated, and slower to move to a resolution, the purchase of Ornellaia lands a real Tuscan jewel in the lap of the Frescobaldis. This Bolgheri estate, originally created by Lodovico Antinori, was bought jointly by Mondavi and Frescobaldi in 2002. Its reputation makes it one of the most prized properties in Italy.
In a brief announcement on April 1, Vittorio Frescobaldi said: "We are extremely pleased to announce today the full acquisition of Ornellaia. Ornellaia's mission is to produce unique wines which reflect the extraordinary terroir of Bolgheri. With the success of the operation, we will be able to guarantee the continuity of this mission, reinforcing Ornellaia's position as a producer of internationally acclaimed wines." The existing management team is being retained.
Although Constellation has bowed out of Ornellaia and Luce della Vite, it has already signaled an interest in acquisitions in Tuscany with the purchase of a minority stakeholding in Ruffino, producers of the well-known Riserva Ducale brand.
Meanwhile, Frescobaldi has not severed its links with the Mondavi family. As soon as the ink was dry on the purchase of Luce, Frescobaldi announced it would give distribution of both Luce and Frescobaldi brands to the new Folio Wine Company created by Michael Mondavi and other Mondavi family members.
— Roger Voss
A New Star In The Super Chilean Galaxy
Some stars continue to shine brightly while others have been supernovas, appearing for a brief period of time before fading away. Such is the track record of the dozen or so super Chilean wines launched over the past decade, either by Chilean wineries or as part of high-profile joint ventures. And now comes another contender with designs on being the next Chilean grand cru.
From Viña San Pedro, one of Chile's oldest and largest producers, and Château Dassault in Bordeaux, Altair is a winery with grand visions. Named after the main star in the Eagle Constellation, Altair, based in the Cachapoal subsection of the Rapel Valley, is the brainchild of Laurent Dassault, executive manager of his family's Saint-Emilion estate, and Guillermo Luksic, chairman of the holding company that owns San Pedro.
The partners have just released their first wines in the United States. Tops is a flagship blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère called Altair ($55). A "second" wine called Sideral, which is also Cabernet-based but has in it Merlot, Carmenère, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, is priced at $25. Both wines are from the 2002 vintage, and are exceedingly fruit-forward, pure reflections of the New World style.
With about 140 acres of vines at her disposal, Ana-Maria Cumsille, who trained in Bordeaux and California before coming back to her native Chile in 2000 to work at Viña Indómita, has a major hand in the winemaking. This being a Franco-Chilean joint venture, however, Cumsille works closely with consulting enologist Pascal Chatonnet, best known outside of Chile for the work he does with Michel Rolland.
In describing Altair, Cumsille says it is "80 percent Chilean and maybe 20 percent French" in style. "We use 100 percent French oak. I learned winemaking in France, and Pascal is very French. But the wines are… Chilean much more than they are French."
— Michael Schachner
This Father's Day, help dad achieve King of the Grill status with Weber's Real Grilling. Jamie Purviance provides the basics on grills and fire before delving into the art of rubs, marinades, and of course, grilling the perfect steak. Purviance covers the gamut of grill cooking: Where else can you find recipes that range not only from meat to seafood, but include desserts as well? Each of the 200 recipes is accompanied by a beautiful color photograph, too. Real Grilling takes its teaching approach one step further by providing a Web accompaniment to the book (www.realgrilling.com), which has extended step-by-step photos and a guiding voiceover from the author. (Weber Grills and Sunset Books, $25)
For the steak lover looking to expand his or her horizons, David Walzog and Andrew Friedman's The New American Steakhouse Cookbook: It's Not Just Meat and Potatoes Anymore has over 125 extraordinary recipes that go above and beyond normal steakhouse fare. This book transforms steakhouse eats by applying to it the contemporary principles of New American cuisine. Along with tantalizing recipes—try the whipped garlic goat cheese and sherried tomatoes on cheese crisps—Walzog also advises readers on how to shop for the best cuts of meat, and how to pair meat with wine and beer. (Doubleday, $30) — S.D.G.
Japanese Dishes for Wine Lovers (Kodansha International, $25) is a beautiful volume that contains elegant, simple dishes, whether or not you know your way around miso, mirin and wasabi. Most of Machiko Chiba's recipes (including Salmon Marinated in Saké, and Wasabi-Flavored Chicken) contain only a handful of ingredients, and can be prepared in under 30 minutes.
What's most remarkable about this book, though, is that it is clearly the product of a top-notch team: Wine consultant J.K. Whelehan deftly offers multiple wine recommendations for each recipe (including both Chardonnay and Tempranillo for a mushroom dish), as well as more general culinary advice (such as pairing wine with wasabi, and a quick tutorial on umami). The book's photographs, courtesy Tae Hamamura, are unadorned and lovely, as is the graphic design. What Chiba says of Japanese cooking is equally true for Japanese Dishes for Wine Lovers: It "lets…each ingredient emerge." — D.T.
A 19th-century thriller
On the surface, Christy Campbell's The Botantist and the Vintner: How Wine Was Saved for the World, doesn't sound like that much fun. The title reminds me of some of the scholarly papers my history professor father presents. (Snore.)
But in fact, Campbell's book offers a refreshingly brisk read of arguably the most important moments in the history of wine, tracing the origins of phylloxera in Europe and the compelling battle waged for decades to defeat it. The chapters are short and can seem disjointed at times, but come together to paint a fascinating portrait of the people involved in the struggle, from wealthy aristocrats who paid any price to try to kill the bugs, to impoverished peasants who had no choice but use their dead vines as firewood. Interwoven throughout are the personalities and politics of the scientists who first debated the cause and then the solutions to the scourge of phylloxera.
Although this is a serious, scholarly study, Campbell's genius is in presenting the material in such a way as to make it appealing to casual wine consumers, not just hardcore wine geeks—making it a solid addition to any enthusiast's bookshelf.