Otherworldly From Lebanon - A Merlot/Cab Blend

Sunday, February 17, 2019 4:52 PM

Otherworldly From Lebanon - A Merlot/Cab Blend

So glad I said "yes"...

I am an open-minded taster. My motto is to try all types of wine. However, I am also mindful of wasting time, mine and other people's, so if I get a request for an appointment to taste wine that I know won't fit in at The Wine House, I'll decline the offer. A vendor who I like to do business with because he is a one-man operation who has the same enthusiasm for wine as I do, sent me an appointment request for a winery from Lebanon. I was intrigued, but it was a busy time, and for what ever reason, I forgot to respond. This vendor did not take "no", or more like a non-response, as an answer and called me on the phone to persuade me to taste the wine. I said "yes" as I had time in the day to do so. 

That is how I met Naji Boutros of Chateau Belle-Vue and was introduced to his wines. The tasting portion of our meeting was short, as he only had two wines to present, but the conversation quickly went from wine to deeper, more philosophical musings. I was impressed by the wines at first taste. I have had wine from Lebanon before, I even had the privilege of tasting through several flights of wine from Chateau Musar with the legendary Serge Hochar. The wines of Chateau Belle-Vue are very different from Musar, as they should be, for the varietals they use are different as is the terroir. Chateau Belle-Vue is located less than 20 miles east of Beirut on Mount Lebanon at elevations ranging from 3,000 to nearly 4,000 feet. 

Naji Boutros left his ancestral home of Bhamdoun as a young man during the onset of the Lebanese Civil War. His town was destroyed. Naji studied and lived abroad, first in California and then moved to London where he worked in finance. In my conversation with Naji, it was clear he was financially successful, so I asked why return home? His demeanor changed from someone promoting his wine to someone who had a life-changing story to tell. He told me of an epiphany he had at a church in Italy while vacationing. It moved me. This was deeply personal. He explained that it became clear to him that he needed to return home to Bhamdoun and start a winery. The village once had thriving, terraced vineyards and his maternal grandparents ran a palatial hotel called Belle-Vue that was build in 1860 by his great-grandfather, hence the name. We laughed when I said, couldn't the hotel have been named anything but Belle-Vue? The point of my question being that in France there are multiple wineries with names containing Belle-Vue. This could obviously cause some confusion. He understood the gist of my question. Naji, with his wife and young children in tow, moved to Lebanon and planted his first vines in 2000 in the very spot that the hotel once stood.

The 2010 La Renaissance is a blend of 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon. Naji explained the process of choosing the right places to plant. He shared a story about how one of the local farmers that he consulted told Naji and the French wine consultant that he hired, that they shouldn't plant in a particular spot. This was a perplexing comment to Naji and the French consultant as what they saw with their eyes did not support his position. They planted in this spot anyway. I followed up with a "what happened?". Naji said the grapes never really took in that spot. It reminded me of a conversation I had with Bob Varner who explained to me that over time the site takes over. 
The 2010 La Renaissance is big, bold and sultry. The mountainous, dry-farmed, organic vineyards produce small, thick-skinned berries that make concentrated wine. Lots of dark cherry fruit with undertones of warm spice and cedar. Enthusiasts of Bordeaux and Napa Valley reds will find much to enjoy and appreciate. With time in the bottle, the 2010 La Renaissance has settled into a smooth-edged, robust, approachable red.

As you can see from our selfie, after a short, first time meeting, there was clearly simpatico going on. We made a quick connection and I hope to visit the winery some day.  In the meantime, I am honored to present to our valued customers a wonderful, new tasting experience from a part of the world where it takes great effort to produce a single bottle of wine.

- Anya Balistreri
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Chateau Coutet Grand Cru Classe 1855

In The World Of Sauternes,

The common perception is that Château d'Yquem stands alone at the top of the pyramid when it comes to quality. While this may be true in general, there is a wine, only made in the best vintages, which challenges that perception:  Château Coutet's Cuvée Madame.

As the story goes, the cuvée was named after Madame Rolland-Guy, who owned the estate until 1977. The vineyard workers would dedicate a day's work to her, without pay, while picking the most concentrated Sémillon grapes from the two oldest parcels of the Premier Cru vineyard. (More information can be found on the château's website by 
clicking here.) Production for the Cuvée Madame has typically been around 1200 bottles. It is not made in every vintage. In fact the 2009 Cuvée Madame represents only the 15th vintage of this wine first made in 1943. The wine is bottled and aged at the chateau for around a decade and then released. The next installment of Cuvée Madame will be the 2014 vintage, slated to be released in 2026!

The growing season of 2009 was marked by warm and dry conditions, this extended through an Indian summer allowing the fruit to reach an exceptional maturation level. The rains came on 18 September which kickstarted the botrytis which spread over the very ripe berries. It took just 6 passes to complete the harvest, with 70% of the fruit picked on the third pass. Production was slightly more than usual with 1900 bottles produced, 1600 of which are planned for release . All in all, 2009 was a monumental vintage for Coutet, Barsac, and for the entirety of Sauternes!

From The Wine Advocate: "The 2009 Cuvee Madame, composed of 100% Sémillon, is pale lemon-gold in color with a beguiling fragrance of peach blossoms, mandarin peel, jasmine and allspice with core of pineapple, lemon pie, peach preserves and ginger plus a waft of musk perfume. Very big, powerful and seductive with decadent richness and loads of spice and floral layers accenting the ripe stone fruit flavors, it finishes with epic persistence. 100 points"  

Though already 10 years old, we recommend aging it another 10-15 years (if that's possible!) for optimal enjoyment.

***Note - This wine is available on a pre-arrival basis. It is expected to arrive by fall 2019. 
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A Stunner Of A White Bordeaux Deal - 2016 Tour Leognan Blanc
2016 Chateau Tour Léognan Blanc Bottle, Glass, Corkscrew

Dry White Bordeaux

runs the gamut of vinous price points. Starting at around $10-$15, you can find white Bordeaux from the outskirts of the appellation, or from places like Entre Deux Mers or GravesAccessing the more prestigious dry whites from Pessac-Léognan starts at around $35 and quickly escalates to the $100 per bottle level for the likes of Domaine de Chevalier, Smith Haut Lafitte, and Pape Clément. The super-elite siblings of Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion can fetch upwards of $700, if you can find them. That's a lot of money, but legend has it that tasting one of those with 20+ years on it can be a life changing experience. That's all fine and dandy, but what about those of us who just love the Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon blends from Bordeaux, who don't want to wait 10-15 years to drink them, and who don't want to spend more than $25? Well, it just so happens that our last container brought forth something for us: the 2016 Château Tour Léognan from Pessac-Leognan. It's $22.98 per bottle.

Wait a second, I just wrote that white Pessac-Léognans start at around $35, what gives? Château Tour Léognan is the second wine of Château Carbonnieux, which usually sells for around $35 and seems to always produce wine that outperforms its price! I am a huge fan of Carbonnieux, especially of their blanc. When I tasted Tour Léognan for the first time several years ago, I did not know that it was Carbonnieux's second wine. I liked the sample a lot, and was going to buy the wine anyway, but when the négociant told me what it was, I shrugged and mumbled, "no wonder I like this so much," and the wine sold in a couple of months' time. It's not the kind of white Bordeaux that you age for a lengthy period of time, but its aromas, palate, and finish remind me of wine fancier than its modest $23 price tag.

The blend for the 2016 Tour Léognan Blanc is approximately 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Sémillon. The fruit comes from the property's younger vines, which are around 10 years old. The aromas are bright and expansive with citrus fruit, white flowers, gooseberry and a hint of passion fruit. The palate entry is crisp and vibrant showing yellow fruit and citrus, with a soft, medium bodied texture that leads to a finish that's well balanced and complex. It's a great little white Bordeaux, ready to be enjoyed now, though you could cellar it short term. I wouldn't risk it past 3-5 years, or as the chateau's website recommends, "Best enjoyed around 3 years old."  That would be now.

I can't believe it's February already ... and that it's a quarter of the way over already! With so many personal holidays and friends' birthdays, January is always a blur for me, but somehow during the blur, I was able to book my flights and made a few arrangements for this year's trip to Bordeaux for the En Primeur tastings. You'll never believe this, but all reports from the Bordelais are telling us that 2018 was a great vintage! Imagine that!!?? Either way, it will be interesting to taste the new vintage from barrel, as well as visiting suppliers with already bottled wines available for purchase. That's how we found the 2016 Château Tour Léognan, so I would say it's a worthwhile endeavor. Only time will tell what is waiting to be discovered this year. - Peter Zavialoff

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All Critics Have Spoken - 2016 Bordeaux Is Worth Stocking Up On

2016 Bordeaux

The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux recently passed through the US on their annual whirlwind tour, coinciding with the release of the ratings from all major players in the Bordeaux world. It's as close to unanimous as these things get: this is a vintage for the ages. You get the picture. If you haven't bought into it, now would be a pretty good time. Since all of the updated ratings have been released, we've seen an increase in demand, and have sold out of a few of the wines. We tried to reload on some of these wines, and guess what? The prices are higher. Currently, our 2016 Bordeaux pricing reflects our having purchased the wines upon release, and with their impending arrival throughout 2019, these prices will be the lowest that we can offer. If you want in, we would advise pulling the trigger sooner than later.

2016 is the first great homogenous vintage of the post-Robert Parker era. There are great wines at every price point - the First Growths are unbelievable, the Super Seconds are extraordinary, and even the petits chateaux made some outstanding wines. We have a few 2016 petit chateau wines in stock now, though I will focus on finding more when I'm in Bordeaux this coming March/April.

We could go on and on, and quote every taster who has had the opportunity to comment, but Neal Martin hits the nail smack on the head when he says, "Let’s cut to the chase: 2016 is a fantastic, sublime and at times entrancing vintage. For once, the frothing hype that presaged en primeur was justified. The 2016 vintage already feels haloed. The promise that was so palpable in barrel remains, and many of these wines are destined to give immense pleasure, not only at the top of the hierarchy but on the lower rungs too – always the litmus test of a truly great growing season."

I couldn't agree more, after all, I've tasted the wines too ;) - Peter Zavialoff

Should you have any questions about or need further information about any 2016 Bordeaux, please feel free to contact me and I will do my best to assist you. 1.415.355.9463 or peter@winesf.com

***PLEASE NOTE: Prices may change without notice. Prices can be confirmed either by placing an order online or by a member of our staff only.  All wines expected to arrive by late fall 2019.

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Introducing Villamagna, considered to be the finest terroir of d'Abruzzo

The Torre Zambra winery

was established in 1961, and continues to be a family run estate with its third generation at the helm. We took the leap last year to begin importing their wines after an introduction by Tiziana Settimo of Barolo's Aurelio Settimo, whose wines we also import. People often ask how we source our wines from abroad, and in this instance, it was a respected winemaker (Tiziana) that connected us to Torre Zambra. Our relationships with the producers we import are vital to the strength of our business. We are in this together. So when someone like Tiziana suggests checking out another winery, we listen. 

So many of you have delighted in Torre Zambra's vibrant rosato, Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo, their classic, zippy Pecorino and their many styles of Montepulciano. Well, we have one more wine from Torre Zambra that arrived last month during the frenzy of the holiday rush, the 2015 Villamagna DOC. A recent DOC, created in 2011, Villamagna is considered the finest terroir of the Abruzzo, limited to a total of 85 hectares among three municipal districts, Vacri, Bucchianico, and Villamagna. Torre Zambra's hillside estate vines are grown at 500-1000 feet in elevation with an ideal south-east facing aspect within the village of Villamagna. 

The 2015 Villamagna is lush and supple. It highlights the best of the Montepulciano grape, showcasing plenty of fruit, a dark robe and gentle tannins. Too often when making their "best" wines, producers in Abruzzo throw too much oak on Montepulciano, masking its inherent approachability. TZ's Villamagna is fermented in stainless steel tank, aged in large cement vats for a year and then rests in bottle for another 6 months. The resulting wine is pure, unadulterated fruit. There are flavors of red cherry and plum, notes of cocoa powder and an underpinning of leather. Its gorgeous, plush mouthfeel reminds me of some Châteauneuf-du-Pâpes. The 2015 Villamagna is constructed for maximum tasting pleasure. 
I drank the 2015 Villamagna on two occasions; once on Christmas day with ricotta-stuffed, baked shell pasta and on New Year's Eve with grilled steaks. In both instances the wine delivered on my expectations for a generous, high-impact fruit wine without any pretensions. Sometimes the mood strikes for more yummy, and less contemplative. 

The last couple weeks held many life lessons for me on facing down doing what is right even if it is hard or uncomfortable. These moments don't always present themselves in a way you can reflect on after the fact. But this time they did and left me feeling better than I felt before dealing with them. It's nice to be able to pat yourself on the back sometimes. And in this spirit, I think I'll buy another bottle of 2015 Villamagna to enjoy with dinner as another winter's storm passes overhead. 

- Anya Balistreri

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