Time, Patience, And 2011 Chateau de Fonbel

Monday, March 20, 2017 12:14 PM

Time is flying. In a recent email back-and-forth with one of our suppliers in Bordeaux, she exclaimed, “It seems like we’re still dealing with the 2015 campaign; and now, it’s time for the 2016’s! Crazy!” That’s just how it is. Time flies. And because time is fleeting, some things must be done sooner than later, as there are finite windows of time. Wait too long and opportunities may pass. Alas, contrary to that, there are also closed windows which will open sometime in the future. That’s where patience is required. It’s funny, patience and Bordeaux just go together. One of the secrets of patient people is that we are very much aware how time flies, so every day of waiting brings us closer to whatever it is we are waiting for. Like a wine.

Five years ago, I tasted a barrel sample from the 2011 vintage. I liked it a lot. While not from a famous, high-pedigree chateau, the winemaking team is high-pedigree. I liked that too. We bought it. After it arrived, we tried it. While it continued to display the structure and balance which first attracted me, it had shut down and was not expressive. This is not uncommon with red Bordeaux wines. Patience would be required. That was over three years ago. We waited. Patiently. The window is now open on the 2011 Château de Fonbel.

I still remember it well, though visiting Château Ausone is always memorable. Yes, Château Ausone. The Vauthier family who own and make the wine for Ausone also own and make the wine from de Fonbel. The property was acquired by Alain Vauthier in the early 1970’s and it sits just down the hill from Ausone. Alain’s daughter, Pauline manages the property these days. So yes, it was the first appointment after lunch on the Wednesday of En Primeurs, and after tasting the de Fonbel, I was particularly impressed by its herbal/forest floor aromas, not to mention its bright red fruit meets cassis notes, leading me to jot down a particular nod to Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes up 20% of the blend. The palate was quite lively with bright acidity balanced by the red fruit, cassis, and sturdy tannins. Balance and expression are two important things to recognize when tasting barrel samples, and this wine displayed both in fine fashion. When the wine arrived, I was excited to taste it because I remembered that barrel sample well. Let’s just say that I was mildly disappointed that it had shut down. I knew all we needed to do was to wait a while and this wine would someday spring to life.

For anyone who purchased the 2011 de Fonbel, from that day forward I strongly recommended that if they were to be opening the wine shortly thereafter, to allow for a couple of hours of decanting. This obviously helped, but the wine still needed time. We opened a bottle just before our Anniversary Sale last fall, and immediately after I opened it, I poured out a glass. Still closed? It seemed so, but I revisited it just 15 minutes later and happily proclaimed it was beginning to fulfill its potential. I opened another bottle last night, and that is why I am writing today. A little air will still enhance the tasting experience, but straight after opening, the 2011 Château de Fonbel is open for business! The nose is complex with bright red cherry fruit with hints of cassis, blackberries and thicket; forest floor and fallen apple tree leaves, and there’s a tar-like note in there too along with the slightest note of cedar. The palate entry is soft and medium bodied, the acid kicking in mid-palate to project the various fruity, herbal, and earthy complexity on to the blank screen of the palate. The finish is carried by the fruit/acid interplay with fine, delicate tannins. It has blossomed into a classic, honest claret which can be drunk now or cellared for at least another decade. In fact, I would love to taste this wine in 2027!

It’s that time of year again. The annual En Primeur tastings will take place in Bordeaux from April 3rd through April 6, and I am proud to represent TWH to taste the 2016 wines from barrel. My schedule is shaping up with appointments and tastings for the majority of my 10 day visit, as I always choose to visit suppliers and taste back vintages in search of values for both our Cru Classé and our petits chateaux sections. I also usually allow room for the serendipitous, and I’ve managed to continue this practice. All in all, I’m excited to taste the new vintage, meet old friends, make new friends, find new back vintage wines, and take part in the city of Bordeaux’s recent renaissance. Who knows which windows will open for me this year? – Peter Zavialoff

To say that the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux was a successful one would be a big understatement. We don’t have the statistics handy, but I’m pretty sure that we sent more emails out about 2009 Bordeaux than any other vintage. Such was the quality of the vintage; from the First Growths down to the Bordeaux Supérieurs, the weather benefitted everyone. I will always remember my first appointment in March 2010, when I asked a negociant how the barrel samples were showing and he replied, “You will find them hard to spit!” Charmingas infants, charming after bottling, and now that they’re putting on weight at the young age of 5 years old, charming still. We bought a whole lot of wine from the 2009 vintage; in some instances, the same wine several times.Hey, if it’s that good, and that popular, why not reload? Our recent container brought forth one of those wines, the 2009 La Croix Calendreau, Saint Émilion.
The first drop of La Croix Calendreau landed here at TWH in June of 2013. It was gone by August. Funny thing was, we didn’t list it in our newsletter, nor did we mention it in an email. It sold out because we were all taken by it, and chances are, if you came in during that time and were looking for a medium/full bodied red wine with charm, structure, and balance, you walked out with a bottle or two. Many of you came back and bought more, then boom! It sold out. Round two was no different. This time, at least we had a chance to get in front of it and send out an email announcing its re-arrival. This, of course, didn’t help in keeping it in-stock, and it was gone in less than 3 months.
We love new containers! Who knows how long it will last this time around, but the 2009 La Croix Calendreau, Saint Émilion is back in the house! It sold out at $25 per bottle. Due to a favorable currency situation, we can offer this final batch at $22.98 per bottle.

Ready, set, go! – Peter Zavialoff

A Pre-Arrival Bordeaux Deal: 2012 Beau-Sejour Becot

Friday, April 10, 2015 10:07 PM


Bonsoir! I hope all is well back in the states. I’ve been in Bordeaux since Wednesday afternoon, and after getting over the time difference, I can say with conviction that I’m ready for the crazy time known around here as En Primeurs week. I visited two suppliers on Thursday and tasted through 29 samples of various Bordeaux wines from vintages ranging from 1999-2012. We have more prospects. Tomorrow, it will get intense. There will literally behundreds of 2014 barrel samples available for tasting at the respective warehouses of two different suppliers. I need a good night’s sleep. So I will be brief. If you love Bordeaux like I do, or even a little bit less, a wine you should have in your cellar is the 2012 Chateau Beau-Séjour Bécot.


We’re still selling it on pre-arrival, but when it arrives, we don’t anticipate it staying around for very long, as it haspedigree, sense of place, restraint, and for the price, big-time value! It is scheduled to begin arriving in mid 2015, and the last of it should arrive no later than the end of the year. Back in 2013, I remember tasting it out of barrel.“How was the Beau-Séjour Bécot?” David asked. “Spectacular!” I said.



The Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker, prior to his retiring from his 30+ year job of traveling to Bordeaux for primeurs, had this to say about the 2012 Beau-Séjour Bécot out of barrel,



“A spectacular wine from this nearly 50-acre vineyard situated atop St.-Emilion’s famed limestone plateau, the final blend for the 2012 Beau-Sejour Becot was 70% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. It achieved 14% natural alcohol and yields were 31 hectoliters per hectare. One of the stars of the vintage, it is elegant yet powerful, rich and authoritative with abundant black raspberry, blueberry, graphite and toasty vanillin notes. Full-bodied and super rich for a 2012, it is packed with potential. The tannins are ripe as well as abundant suggesting several years of bottle age will be required. It should turn out to be a 20 year proposition. (92-95) points”
Wines like the 2012 Beau-Séjour Bécot serve as a constant reminder as to how much we trust Bordeaux. The respective chateaux owners might be mired in ye olde “let’s outdo the neighbors” mentality, but we feel fortunate that the Bécot family have their senses about them and offered their wine for a very fair price. Perhaps “too” fair? – Peter Zavialoff



PS: Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about 2014 futures, 2012 Beau-Séjour Bécot, or English football. – Peter Zavialoff


In the wine importation game, it sometimes seems nothing happens as quickly as we would like. There are things we can control, and there are things we can’t. I’ve been happily trading emails with Bordeaux negociants this week informing me that some of our wines have been picked up and will begin making their way here via refrigerated container soon. That’s great news as I am especially looking forward to a handful of fairly inexpensive Bordeaux wines I tasted this past spring during En Primeurs. Alas, those wines are several weeks away, sorry to say, so we must wait a little longer. On the other hand, what we don’t have to wait for are the six petits chateaux wines that arrived a month ago. We’ve introduced you to four of them already, and now, the other two, the 2010 Château Beauregard Ducasse, Graves and the 2010 Château La Fleur de Jaugue, St. Emilion Grand Cru.

Keep in mind the exercise here, out of 24 sample bottlesprovided by one of our suppliers in Bordeaux, we found six to our liking and sent the other 18 packing. Not that they were all bad, mind you. In fact, many of the wines we didn’t buy were also to our liking, but we just felt the six we chose represented the best values for the respective price points. Let’s start off with the 2010 Beauregard Ducasse. I don’t know about you all, but I’ve had a love affair with wines that say “Graves” on their label for many years. Named for the preponderance of gravelly soils throughout the region, it’s an easy appellation to grasp conceptually. If you’ve been lucky enough to taste an Haut Brion from 1985 or earlier, you would have seen “Graves” written on the label. But we’re not talking about Haut Brion here; this is a completely different animal. In 1987, several prestigious chateaux near the villages of Pessac and Léognan (and in between) broke off from the Graves AOC and formed the fancier Pessac-Léognan AOC, with Graves still representing the nebulous region further south all the way past Langon. And that’s where Château Beauregard Ducasse is, in the village of Mazères, about 25km due south of Langon in Bordeaux’s southern frontier.



A little research reveals the property has been in the Jeanduduran family since 1850, with current administrator/grower Jacques Perromat taking over in 1981, after marrying into the family. The 32 hectare vineyard consists of clay and gravel upon limestone subsoil, and is planted to Merlot (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (45%), and Cabernet Franc (5%). The wine is all tank-fermented, and 80% is aged in tank, with the other 20% aged in barrel. This is just another example of the success of the 2010 vintage. From a price to quality standpoint, this is a Grand Slam of a deal!!! AND …. it’s also available in half bottles!

2010 Château La Fleur de Jaugue,

St. Emilion Grand Cru
First things first. The words “Grand Cru” mean different things in different French regions. It can be a bit confusing. The folks at Berry Bros. in London have the St. Emilion classification explained very well here. As they state, the consumer would be better served if these wines were labeled “St. Emilion Supérieur.” Well, Château La Fleur de Jaugue is no run-of-the-mill St. Emilion Grand Cru!!! Looking back over several vintages of Robert Parker’s tasting notes, he regularly refers to Fleur de Jaugue as “a sleeper of the vintage, a reliable and impeccably run estate,” and “a shrewd insider’s wine.” Consistent high praise for a château that many of us are not very familiar with.


Their 2010 is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc from 50 year old vines. They employ techniques one normally sees at more upscale chateaux such as de-stemming and green harvesting. Fermented seperately in concrete vats, the wine is then blended and aged for 18 months in new and 1 year old barrel. The result is astonishing. It has great weight and balance, and again, for the price, is an absolute no-brainer.
Oh yeah, then there’s this. A good friend of mine, with whom I’ve tasted a lot of Bordeaux wines over many yearscame in when these wines first arrived. I gave him a brief rundown on them, and he decided to try one bottle of each of them. I caught up with him a couple weeks later. The wine he couldn’t stop raving about? The 2010 Château La Fleur de Jaugue.


Another customer came in just yesterday, our write-ups printed out and in hand, he mixed up a case of these wines for himself. He pointed out how well the petits chateaux wines from 2009 and 2010 were showing, and acknowledged our efforts in weeding out the lesser performing wines and stocking great deals like these. He thanked us for “making this so easy” for him. It’s always good to hear, but that’s what we do here at TWH.

Peter Zavialoff
We are often asked, “How do you decide which wines to import?”  While there are many ways to answer this question, one thing we DO NOT do is accept sub-par wines in exchange for allocations of hard-to-get wines.  We won’t and don’t play that game.  Being an importer and distributor gives the retail arm of TWH the leverage to say “no” when we don’t feel a wine is up to our standards.  There is one factor that rings consistently with every method we undertake in making our selections:  taste.  So simple, so true.  Taste.  As in one (or more) of us actually sticking our noses in a glass, sipping, and spitting (most of the time).  Last summer saw the arrival of 5 little-known red Bordeaux wines to our new Petits Chateaux section.  To say that they were well received by our staff and customers would be a massive understatement.  They sold out quicker than you could blink; it seems great value Bordeaux struck a major chord among our customer base.  In fact, one of the wines sold out before we could even promote it!
photoWhat do 2012 Château Armurey Bordeaux Clairet2009 Château Beauguérit2009 Château La Fleur Grands Landes2009 La Fleur Boireau, and the 2009 Château La Croix Calendreau, St. Emilion Grand Cru have in common? They were the 5 wines we collectively selected from 24 bottles of samples provided by one of our suppliers in Bordeaux last year. The Croix Calendreau was all gone before we could even write about it like we did for the others! Why? This kind of St. Emilion Grand Cru quality for less than $25 is why!!! First of all, it’s from the amazing 2009 vintage. Vintages with optimal weather offer great opportunities to discover smaller producers, and in 2009 (and 2010), we tasted a whole lot of samples, finding many lesser known chateaux with outstanding wines. Our favorite part of the whole exercise though, is when the wines we selected finally arrive here after their long journey from Bordeaux.



A container just arrived bursting with goodies from all over France, among them are a handful of new petits chateaux wines and one re-order, the 2009 Château La Croix Calendreau, St. Emilion Grand Cru. We were pleasantly surprised when we saw the wine become available again (perhaps someone cancelled their order?), and acted swiftly to reserve some. We added to our order by again choosing 5 wines among the last 24 sample bottles supplied. We’ll be telling you about the others very soon, but in case it becomes the first to sell out again, we thought this time we’d lead off with the 2009 La Croix Calendreau.


The château sits among just over 2 hectares of vines in Saint Christophe des Bardes, just east of the medieval village of St. Emilion. The blend for the 2009 is 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Malbec. It’s vinified in cement vats and aged 50/50 in vats and oak barrels, of which 25% are new. This is a St. Emilion Grand Cru worthy of its appellation status. The aromas are bursting with complexity: dark fruit, earthy mineral, a hint of spice and licorice. The palate is fresh and balanced, tannins integrated, the fresh fruit buoyed by the lively acidity leading to a long, complex finish. If you think about what it is and where it’s from, factoring in the price, it is a screaming bargain! That would explain its disappearance last summer – those of you lucky enough to know how good this wine is need no explanation. For those of you who haven’t yet tasted the 2009 La Croix Calendreau, we recommend you act quickly.  Seriously, 2009 St. Emilion Grand Cru for $25. And THAT is one of the best things about direct-importation.

So here we go! You’ll be hearing all about the other wines that just landed very soon, including the other petits chateaux Bordeaux wines. If you have any questions, or want to know more about our new arrivals, please contact us or come visit us in Dogpatch -we’ll be happy to tell you all about them! We thought we bought plenty of this wine last year, and were surprised as to how quickly it sold out. Taking that into consideration, we bought a little more this time, so hopefully more of our customers will get to try it. Predicting the future is a difficult exercise, but saying that the 2009 La Croix Calendreau is going to sell out again isn’t exactly predicting, now is it? – Peter Zavialoff

TWH SF’s New Showroom

19 April, 2014. 829 26th St. Corner of 3rd Street.  Looking around here, things are beginning to take shape. Pallets are being broken down, and more and more wine is hitting our sales floor. All of us are so excited about our new showroom/headquarters that we eagerly anticipate welcoming you all here (when you can visit, of course) to show it off!!!

Gone are the dusty winds of Carolina St. Gone are the fading banners hanging from the ceiling. Gone are the quagmire of wires and cables swirling and intertwining our workstations and staff. What’s here, you ask? Same friendly, fun-loving, knowledgable staff. Same direct-import prices.  Same small production, artisinal wines from places like Croatia, Hungary, Morocco, Italy, Slovenia, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, Argentina, France, and of course, the US!

But moving into new digs is never easy, and I got a late start on the process to boot. 11 days late, that is. Why? Well, on our final day of moving, I caught a flight to France, and was in Bordeaux by the following afternoon. What was going on in Bordeaux? It was that time of year again for the 2013 En Primeur tastings, and I had 10 days worth of meetings and tastings in my immediate future. 


For Primeurs, several negociants open their warehouses for trade tastings.

The primary reason for this annual trek to Bordeaux each spring is to taste the brand new vintage as it is revealed to the international wine trade. It was unanimous. Whether it was a vigneron, chateaux owner/director, negociant, or PR person, they all said, “2013 was a very difficult vintage.” What does that mean? Without getting into it at any great length, difficult vintages present a multitude of challenges for all involved; yet there were still several high-quality 2013 samples tasted.They weren’t plentiful, but there were several. All in all, 2013 was a vintage of inconsistency all over Bordeaux. Yet it is exactly vintages like this where the experiences and observations of the wine professionals who participated in these tastings carry the most weight. Keep your eyes out for our thoughts on the 2013 vintage and our corresponding offers on the wines we deem worthy of placement in your respective cellars, coming to your inboxes very soon!


Another reason for the trip (which was VERY IMPORTANT this particular year), was to taste back vintages of wines on the marketplace and to find the best values to purchase and import in order to bolster our Bordeaux section. It was for this reason that my itinerary was a little fuller than normal. I scheduled meetings with negociants: morning, lunch, and afternoon, each day, leading up to the frenetic En Primeur week. This here picture was taken in the warehouse of one of those negociants, the back vintage selections lining the counter between the visible white wines (no, the double magnum of 2010 Haut Brion was not available for tasting). The good news: I found a bunch!!! Better news: We bought a bunch!!! Just a little patience, they will be arriving in our warehouse in the next few months. We’ll let you know when they get here.


2011 Chateau Fleur Cardinale

Back at the end of January, I attended the annual California appearance of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, this time with the newly bottled 2011 wines. The dry whites and Sauternes/Barsac wines stole the show, as their respective barrel samples had indicated 21 months prior to this tasting. What surprised me (and not only me) were the quality of the red wines. Sure, we all know that 2011 followed the massively successful 2009 & 2010 vintages for Boredaux’s red wines. Not given its fair share, the vintage was ignored in many circles. I have to say, after tasting a fair share of them out of bottle, there were several high-quality red wines produced in 2011. Again, like 2013, 2011 was not a consistent vintage, so keeping an ear tuned to your taster of choice is important. Though not in the UGC, I was able to taste the 2011 version of one of my favorite Right-Bank chateaux while in Bordeaux. The verdict: Château Fleur Cardinale has done it again!


It should have come as no shock that I was wowed by the 2011 Château Fleur Cardinale, St. Emilion. I loved it out of barrel, noting its “power, intensity, and structure” yet also noting its balance and specifically mentioning that it was “not overbearing.” Fast forward to tasting it from bottle 2 weeks ago, I found it has big, complex aromas of dark fruit, spice, and mineral. Many 2011’s had charming aromas, but many lacked expression on the palate. That is not the case with the 2011 Château Fleur Cardinale! The palate was richly structured with definitive layers of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon fruit to compliment the spicy nuances, all resolving harmoniously. So yes, we bought a bunch of 2011 Fleur Cardinale too, and it will be here soon!!!


Come to think of it, it was while tasting the 2011 Fleur Cardinale out of barrel that I first met Florence, and later Dominique Decoster 2 years ago! We shared a lovely lunch, made plans for a future visit to their chateau (that I made good on last year), and then stepped outside and snapped this photo. They’re a fantastic couple with a fantastic wine which consistently delivers for a very fair price. TWH customers need little introduction to the wines from Château Fleur Cardinale, we’ve been consistently stocking their wines for over a decade now, and the bottles disappear from our sales floor at a rapid pace each vintage!


I had a technological breakdown a fortnight ago while in Bordeaux causing me to miss sending my “Saturday night email.” Sorry about that. I hope the length of this one doesn’t cause any anguish. 2013 Bordeaux futures pricing has begun to be released and we will be active once again in the campaign. Please do not hesitate to contact me/us should you have any questions or specific requests for us to buy particular 2013 Bordeaux futures. And keep an eye out for our upcoming 2013 Bordeaux futures offers. –Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments on 2013 Bordeaux futures, Bordeaux in general, our new location, or why my favorite football club cannot win unless I am watching the match: peter.winehouse@sbcglobal.net

2011 Chateau Fleur Cardinale Saint-Emilion (Pre-Arrival)

Red Wine; Merlot; Bordeaux;

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A reminder of Robert Parker’s review of the 2011 Fleur Cardinale after tasting from barrel. Please note: Mr. Parker’s rating from bottle is due to be released on 1 May, 2014. If he revises this score any higher, it may be very difficult for us to get our hands on any more wine at current prices!


“Another top-notch success, the 2011 (70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) hit 15% natural alcohol. Yields were a low 30 hectoliters per hectare, and the harvest occurred quite late. The result is a dense purple-colored wine with a stunning bouquet of blackberry jam, graphite, charcoal and blueberries. With superb density and purity as well as a multidimensional mouthfeel, this intense St.-Emilion is a sleeper of the vintage, although consumers are catching on to the exquisite quality emerging from La Fleur Cardinale. The 2011 should drink well for 15+ years. (92-94 points)”

The Wine House SF: Our Top Ten Wines Of 2013

Thursday, January 30, 2014 7:24 PM


Where does the time go? It doesn’t seem like it’s been 4 years since we listed our first Top Ten Wines of the Year in January 2010, but it has! 2014 promises to be a great year of discovery, as we have plans to receive more wine from producers new to us. Let us not forget our stalwarts, we’ll have plenty from them as well. We’re expecting visits from some of our friends overseas, keep on the look-out for information about winemaker dinners and events coming soon. All in all, 2014 is shaping up to look like a very exciting year!Before we blaze further into the new year, let’s relive our Top Ten Wines of 2013.


 Again, we taste a lot of wine here at TWH throughout the year, and we enjoy the exercise of reminiscing our tasting experiences. Our first Top Ten listing was for the year 2009. We have continued the tradition, and you can view our Top Ten lists from 2010, 2011, or 2012 by clicking on each year. It’s not an easy exercise, as we taste so much throughout the year, and it’s hard to narrow it down to just ten. But somehow we manage. Here at TWH, for our Top Ten Wines of the year, it’s not about highest scoring, most well-known, big names, nor big prices. It’s about quality, it’s about diversity, it’s about value, it’s about wines that we all love! Some of the wines are sold out, but have earned a place on our list due to their merits. Here it is folks, TWH SF’s Top Ten Wines of 2013:

2012 Chateau Armurey Bordeaux Clairet

This one was two years in the making! Back in 2011, our former teammate Emily asked if I had ever tasted Bordeaux Clairet. Not only hadn’t I tasted it, I had no idea it existed! A little research revealed that Bordeaux Clairet is a light red wine, almost like a heavy Rosé that is rarely seen outside Bordeaux. The wine is made in the style of the Bordeaux wines shipped to England during the middle ages. Rumor has it that it was Bordeaux Clairet that inspired the contemporary English term, Claret. Having been on our radar since 2011, we were excited to see it listed on a negoce’s price list in December 2012. We had a sample shipped. We tasted it. We loved it. Now the tricky part; how much should we order? Well, we slightly missed the mark on that one. It sold out way too fast! Not only was it a huge hit for our customers, members of our staff snapped it up a case at a time. What’s not to like? 12.5% alcohol, fresh, crisp, refreshing light red wine (served chilled) for less than $10? I’m responsible for the depletion of over 2 cases. We’ll be tasting the 2013 soon. If it’s anything like the 2012, we can all look forward to cooling our palates this summer with more Château Armurey Bordeaux Clairet!



2011 Claudie Jobard Rully ‘Montagne La Folie’ 

White Burgundy. Sounds magical, doesn’t it? We love white Burgundy, and when we find one of high quality in the sub $30 range, we get very excited. We welcomed Claudie Jobard to TWH family in 2013 via two bottlings of Pommard that she makes for her aunt and her mother at Domaine Gabriel Billard. Her mother being Laurence Jobard, head oenologist at Domaine Drouhin for over 30 years. Taking a step back, Laurence has tasked her daughter to make the wine for the domaine. If Claudie is good enough to make wine for her celebrated mother, she’s certainly good enough for us!  Claudie also bottles red and white Burgundy from vineyards she’s been handed down from her father’s side of the family in Rully. As far as price to quality goes, the wines are in the sweet spot. When Anya wrote the wine up last May, she observed that Claudie’s 2011 Rully Montagne La Folie was what many California Chardonnay producers are shooting for, but “miss the mark.” With the case price, it’s actually less than $25 per bottle! However you see it, it’s terrific white Burgundy, deserving its spot in our Top Ten. Welcome to TWH family, Claudie!
2011 Claudie Jobard Rully Montagne La Folie

White Wine; Chardonnay; Burgundy;
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2009 Grange des Rouquette Syrah ‘Agrippa’ 

Now for one from a couple of our longtime friends, Thierry and Véronique Boudinaud. We’ve been representing Thierry and Véronique for many years, first as their California distributor, and now as their importer. They make a range of wines, but they’re mainly good quality, inexpensive country French wines. Wines that you would expect to be poured at any of the bistros, cafés, and brasseries that dot the southern French landscape. A year ago, on a visit to their property, David was poured a barrel sample of something Thierry called Agrippa. The wine is, in essence, a reserve wine. Thierry doesn’t make it every year, and when he does, he only makes 10-15 barrels. Well, David was impressed! If you love northern Rhône Syrah, you owe it to yourself to give the Agrippa a try. This 100% Syrah comes from a 3 hectare parcel of 20+ year old vines planted in sandy loess soils, similar to those in the north.


I had a surprise, aha moment with this wine one night. As the day grew to a close, I grabbed a couple of random bottles and put them in my wine bag. Once in the wine bag, you can’t see their labels, but I had thought that the bottle of red wine that I grabbed was a 2010 Boudinaud Syrah/Grenache. I put my groceries away, and grabbed a couple of pots, ready to get dinner started. With my concentration entirely on what I was preparing, I grabbed my corkscrew and opened the bottle of red. I poured a glass, went back to the stove to stir some onions and garlic, and then I took a sip. Whoa! That’s not inexpensive French country wine, that was something entirely different. A closer look at the bottle revealed that it was indeed the Agrippa, and my love affair with this wine began. But ask any of us, the 2009 Boudinaud Agrippa Syrah is a special wine. If you factor in the $16.14 case price, it is pretty much unbeatable.

2009 Vignobles Boudinaud Syrah Agrippa Vin du Pays d’Oc

Red Wine; Syrah/Shiraz; Languedoc-Roussillon;
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2011 Palmina Dolcetto

There has been such a buzz lately amongst wine industry people in regard to winemaker Steve Clifton and the wines from Palmina! A recent trip to SF restauranteur Bruce Hill’s revamped Fog City revealed that Palmina is well represented on Gregory Altzman’s list; both by the glass and by the bottle. Well, Anya was on to the concept quite a while ago, as the wines are indeed made for those interested in Italian varietals from California rather than the “Cal-Ital” crowd. The 2011 Dolcetto is sublime, it has Old World character, with just enough fruit to balance out its rich complexity. Medium in body, it’s the kind of wine that pairs well with all of the dishes you would imagine. From a simple Pizza Margherita to a more serious Osso Buco. We’re so pleased with the full line of wines that we received this year from Palmina, but the Dolcetto, that’s something very special indeed!


Warning: Less than a case of the 2011 is left. We will soon be moving on to the 2012. Stay tuned for that.

2011 Palmina Dolcetto Santa Barbara County

Red Wine; Dolcetto; Central Coast;
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2010 Domaine Pernot-Belicard Meursault 

Another of David’s solid recent discoveries was not entirely a “new” discovery. How do you classify that exactly? He’s (fairly) new to us, but he’s the grandson of one of our stalwarts. We’re talking about Philippe Pernot, who in addition to helping his grandfather (and father) at Domaine Paul Pernot et ses fils, makes his own wine sourced from vineyards acquired from his wife’s family. The young Pernot has 5 hectares of vines in 9 different climats, but get this, his Meursault comes from a single parcel and the vines are 65-70 years old! Talk about layered and complex! We were all wowed by this wine when it first arrived, and continue to be. If you love Meursault, and who doesn’t, we recommend you taste the 2010 Pernot-Belicard Meursault.
2010 Domaine Pernot Belicard Meursault

White Wine; Chardonnay; Burgundy;
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2011 Domaine Pernot Belicard Meursault

White Wine; Chardonnay; Burgundy;
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Just in!!! Philippe’s 2011! Build a vertical.



2011 Domaine Pichat Cote Rotie ‘Loss’

During a recent conversation with another importer, we came to the conclusion that discovering new producers who make high-quality, value wine was nearly impossible. Especially when it comes to famous wine regions whose production is severely limited. It’s a theory, yes, with a boatload of truth and logic to back it up. David has been working diligently with his friends and various agents looking specifically for a “new” Côte Rôtie producer for several years now. That means he’s tried a bunch of them over the years, but in each case, graciously said no. Well, that has changed now. He’s liked what he’s tasted from Domaine Pichat for several vintages, and that’s what it takes for him to graciously say yes! When the Pichat wines landed we all got to taste them, and they are indeed special wines with that signature smoky, meaty goodness that Syrah exhibits when originating from the steep terraces of Côte Rôtie. It was unanimous amongst us, the fancier cuvées were great, and will be spectacular wines someday, showing immense concentration, texture and structure. When we tasted the Löss, we were blown away by its balance and drinkability. The complexity was dazzling, and we could swear that Stéphane used some new barrel on it as well, but were assured no, only neutral barrel is used for this wine. Proving again that Syrah is “a ballerina who can kick-box”, Pichat’s 2011 Löss delivers plush, dark plum and red berry flavors framed in a classic smoky, meaty structure. Another great discovery; this time from an almost impossible source!
2011 Domaine Pichat Cote-Rotie Loss

Red Wine; Rhone Blend; Rhone;
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2011 Domaine Sebastien Dampt Chablis 1er Cru ‘Cote de Lechet’

It was during that same conversation with the other importer where a modicum of possibility did emerge: find someone new or someone young. Sure, that doesn’t guarantee quality, but if you’re going to find the diamond in the rough of unclaimed producers, that’s the place to look. Chablis is much bigger than Côte Rôtie, yes, but finding the new producer wasn’t easy.  Patience is a virtue, because after graciously saying no several times, David found us a bona fide all star, Sébastien Dampt! My, my, what a fine line of wines. The youngster’s family has been making wine for over 150 years! Sébastien had been working with his brother, Vincent, together with their father at his eponymous Domaine Daniel Dampt before setting off on his own in 2007. What this young winemaker can do with Chardonnay is astounding! His 2011 Chablis Premier Cru Côte de Léchet wowed us at first whiff! Its fresh, focused white fruit, floral, and mineral aromas were captivating; the palate was as bright and nervy as expected; the finish long and harmonious. The very fair price, a result of patience and direct importation. Bravo!


The 2011 Côte de Léchet has sold out, but its stablemate, the Premier Cru Les Vaillons is another outstanding example of what this young winemaker does with Premier Cru fruit!

2011 Sebastien Dampt Chablis Premier Cru Les Vaillons

White Wine; Chardonnay; Burgundy;
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2009 Chateau d’Or et de Gueules ‘La Bolida’

Making her second appearance in a TWH SF Top Ten is our pal in Costières de Nîmes, Diane Puymorin with her 100% old vine Mourvèdre La Bolida. Old vine? Yes, these twisted, weathered vines are between 80 and 100 years old!  Crazy, right? This has always been a prized bottling for our staff as many of us squirrel away a few each year, as they deliver much joy after only a short time in the cellar. Her 2009 La Bolida is all that and more! Mourvèdre has the reputation for yielding big, powerful wines that, in many cases, need cellar time. This is true with many of the wines coming from Bandol. It is a very late ripening grape and only flourishes in a handful of locales around the world. One place it flourishes is in Diane’s vineyard! When discussing La Bolida, she often points to the juxtaposition between the wine’s power and its roundness. It definitely has the stuffing to go the long haul, but is short of any hard edges that may interfere with its charm. The southern Rhône has had a string of successful vintages, and 2009 was one of the best. 
2009 Chateau d’Or et de Gueules Costieres de Nimes Bolida Rouge

Red Wine; Rhone Blend; Other France;
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2009 Chateau d’Or et de Gueules Costieres de Nimes Bolida Rouge (in magnum)

Red Wine; Rhone Blend; Languedoc-Roussillon;
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2010 Opalie de Chateau Coutet

Talk about new discoveries … how about a first time EVER wine? The team at Château Coutet had been working on a secret project for a couple of vintages: to make a top-flight dry white Bordeaux. With the assistance of Philippe Dhalluin and his team at Baron Philippe de Rothschild (Mouton), two particular plots of their Barsac/Sauternes First Growth vineyard were chosen as the source for the new wine. As the wine from the 2010 vintage developed, it was determined that the quality was outstanding and it was time to unveil Opalie de Château Coutet to the world! The Wine House San Francisco were the first merchants in the world to offer the wine on a pre-arrival basis in the summer of 2012. As other merchants in the world began to offer the wine for sale, Decanter Magazine listed us as its exclusive US merchant. It was shipped to us in 2013 and was a huge hit with staff and customers alike. It is a wine of pedigree and refinement, brimming with opulence and richness, yet finishing dry and crisp.


The 2010 sold out long ago, however, we are now offering the 2011 Opalie de Coutet, also on pre-arrival. Warning: we have already sold half of our allocation of the 2011. The wine is due to be shipped to us sometime in the spring of 2014.

2011 Chateau Coutet Opalie de Chateau Coutet (Pre-Arrival)

White Wine; other white varietal; Bordeaux;
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Full Case of 12 Bottles 2011 Opalie de Chateau Coutet (Pre-Arrival)

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2010 Chateau Fleur Cardinale

In the red Bordeaux department, 2010 was a stellar vintage. It was a great follow-up to 2009, a spectacular vintage in its own right, but 2010 was spectacular for a different reason. Sadly, this of course, meant higher prices, which turned more and more Americans away from the wines from Bordeaux. Aha, but let’s not let those who now bottle commodities rather than wine spoil the party for us wine drinkers! It has been reported here, once or twice that a chateau in St. Emilion was not only cranking out fantastic wine, vintage after vintage, but they were pricing their wines where they could be enjoyed by people who love Bordeaux. Since taking over the property beginning with the 2001 vintage, Dominique and Florence Decoster have turned this St. Emilion property into a champion in the quality to price department. They have been on a great run of consecutive vintage successes, and then came 2010. Arguably, their finest vintage to date, the 2010 Château Fleur Cardinale is representative of the hard work and investment made by the Decosters and their team. Their motive is simple. Dominique once told me that if you are going to make wine and travel the world pouring it, you’re going to have to drink it a lot. So make something good! Bravo, Dominique and Florence!


Sadly, we sold out of the 2010 weeks ago, but we are selling the 2011 Château Fleur Cardinale on pre-arrival for an unbelievable price. This is quality juice, folks, take it from me.


Or, if you would like Robert Parker’s synopsis, “Another top-notch success, the 2011 (70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) hit 15% natural alcohol. Yields were a low 30 hectoliters per hectare, and the harvest occurred quite late. The result is a dense purple-colored wine with a stunning bouquet of blackberry jam, graphite, charcoal and blueberries. With superb density and purity as well as a multidimensional mouthfeel, this intense St.-Emilion is a sleeper of the vintage, although consumers are catching on to the exquisite quality emerging from La Fleur Cardinale. The 2011 should drink well for 15+ years. (92-94 points)”

2011 Chateau Fleur Cardinale Saint-Emilion (Pre-Arrival)

Red Wine; Merlot; Bordeaux;
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So there you have it. We’re a month into 2014, and we’re already making more vinous discoveries! Many 2011 Bordeaux (now in bottle) were tasted at the UGC tasting in Los Angeles last week. We’ve got winemakers and property owners from wineries in France and Italy lined up to visit us in the first part of this year, and the samples keep coming! We’ll try to stay in front of the onslaught, forever echoing our sentiments here for you all. Or as Anya says, “We taste a lot of bad wine so you don’t have to!” Happy 2014. – Peter Zavialoff

Chateau Moulin de la Grangere

Monday, October 14, 2013 6:27 PM

The 2009 Chateau Moulin de la Grangère has turned me into a young Bordeaux drinker. As a general rule, I don’t drink young Bordeaux. It is probably because I have been spoiled, courtesy of TWH, by well-aged, characterful, seamless Old Bordeaux which were graciously shared at special occasions. I like how Bordeaux tastes when the primary fruit fades to the background and the secondary and tertiary flavors emerge. Who doesn’t?  Sometimes I don’t like young Bordeaux because I find it disjointed and a bit clumsy – not so true with 2009 Bordeaux. It is the exceptionally expressive fruit of this vintage that makes them so delicious to drink right now. ’09s tasted great out of barrel, just after bottling and continue to do so, not unlike the ’82s, or so I’ve been told. It occurred to us here at TWH that in a favorable vintage such as ’09, it would make sense to search beyond the famous chateaux to find wine of quality and affordability. We like to call these wines, petits chateaux. The first half of this year was dedicated to a lot of cork pulling, spitting and following our collective instincts as to what we know to be correct, delicious Bordeaux. As Pete mentioned in last weekend’s offering, we have several new arrivals from 2009 that each in their own way merit consideration.  I happened to settle upon Chateau Moulin de la Grangère as my pick because I find that at barely above $20, you can begin to enjoy the elegance and refinement of graceful Bordeaux with this Saint-Émilion Grand Cru. 


The chateau is near the town of St. Christophe-des-Bardes east of the village of Saint-Émilion and enjoys south-facing vineyards. The vineyards are planted to Merlot mostly with additions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and have an average vine age of 30 years. That round voluptuous, sumptuous texture of Merlot grown on clay soils is what dazzles the palate. The 2009 Chateau Moulin de la Grangère shows a hint of mintiness when you first pop the cork but soon moves into deep plum laced with cedar and warm toast notes. With some aeration, the wine gains weight and complexity. The tannins slide smoothly over the tongue and mouth, making it all too easy to consume a glass without giving it a second thought. 


I have been drinking wine long enough now to include myself into that group of wine drinkers who will begin a lament with something like, “I remember when (high-scoring wine) only cost (insert ridiculous low price)!” Well the wine world has changed and first growths are not going for $100 any longer. But if you like to drink Bordeaux, I mean really enjoy a well-made, quality claret, the good news is if you look beyond the usual names and perhaps take the advise of a wine merchant who has over 30 years experience in the Bordeaux business (like TWH!!!), there are delicious options. A good place to start is the 2009 Chateau Moulin de la Grangère with its dark red fruit flavors, dusty cedar notes and perfectly balanced structure for drinking tonight or putting a case aside to revisit every so often.

I have already bought several bottles of our newly arrived 2009 petits chateaux. And instead of satiating my taste for Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, I want more. Too much of what I brought home has been carelessly consumed while watching sports on the flat screen in the late evening with my husband. What I really would like to do is defrost those lamb shanks I’ve had in the freezer and slow-braise them till they fall off the bone and ladle them atop stewed white beans and drink a glass of this fabulous Saint-Émilion, the 2009 Chateau Moulin de la Grangère! Sunday dinner, planned! —Anya Balistreri

2010 Fleur Cardinale: The Decoster’s Passion

Sunday, April 7, 2013 9:34 PM

Bordeaux – 6 April 2013. It’s the Saturday before the crazy week known around here as en primeurs. The global wine press and trade have descended upon the region, and we’ll all be braving the soggy roads tasting barrel samples from the 2012 vintage. Some of the more famous writers/appraisers have already come and gone, preferring to avoid next week’s mob scene. I’ve already tasted several 2012 samples, although too few to formulate any kind of general opinion of the vintage as a whole. In many cases the harvest occurred much later than usual, and the samples are not as far along in their development as in vintages past. This has added fuel to the fire of those buzzing around Bordeaux calling 2012 a hit or miss vintage. I’ve certainly tasted some outstanding samples, but also a few that didn’t show quite that well. But I’m here. It’s nice to see familiar faces and good friends, and I look forward to new experiences and meeting new friends. It was during a lunch last year when the invitation was extended to me. And it was this afternoon when I had a most wonderful visit with Florence and Dominique Decoster at Château Fleur Cardinale.
It was with ridiculous short notice that I sent an email to the Decosters inquiring as to their availability either this afternoon or next Friday, two dates where I would be in the St. Emilion area with a car and a little free time. The response was immediate: “Please come visit us on Saturday.” Very cool. It’s great when things work out so well. I arrived right on time and Dominique came pulling up just after I got out of my car. “Have you been waiting long?” The answer was no. Florence was already inside and she opened the door, greeted me, and let us in. We all exchanged pleasantries, and then Florence showed me a map of the appellation. Of the various soil and terroir types around St. Emilion, Fleur Cardinale sits upon a vein of the exact same clay and limestone terroir that the prestigious vineyards of the plateau that surrounds the village enjoy.  She then escorted me into the tank room. 24 stainless steel vats all marked with words of affirmation … of what it takes to make great wine. No pumping is used in the facility, it is all about gravity. At the end of the tank room are the large doors, and through one of them we were able to observe the vineyards. They surround their home which is perched on a rise southwest of their facility. More vines surround the winery itself, all growing upon rolling hills. Adjacent to the vines around their house are those of Château Valandraud. Jean-Luc Thunevin is friend, neighbor, and consultant to the Decosters. Florence pointed out to me that they continue to improve their methods in the vineyard, using the least amount of chemicals that is possible. She also pointed out that growing between the vines is not only grass and such, but herbs as well. It’s been cold in Bordeaux, so we quickly headed back inside (as if a winery is a warm place) and continued to the barrel room. The Decosters use 100% French oak sourced from 6 different coopers and believe in separating their various plots into separate barrels. Of course, all fruit is hand harvested. 
Back to the hospitality area, we rejoined Dominique and resumed our conversation. As Florence and Dominique took turns speaking about their wines, I was once again struck by their collective passion for the wines they make. Their ability to speak English should not be overlooked either. Here I’ve been working on my French for months, and no one knows it. The time came to taste. Dominique had sample half bottles of both the 2012 Croix de Cardinale and 2012 Fleur Cardinale. Croix de Cardinale is a seperate property the Decosters acquired in April of 2011. It was comprised of 8 hectares that surrounded the finest parcels of the Fleur Cardinale vineyard. The finest 4 of those (with the usual red tape required) have now been incorporated into the Fleur Cardinale vineyard. The 2012 Croix de Cardinale has every reason to show stylistically similar to its neighbor, and it does. The 2012 Fleur Cardinale was a great example of a high quality St. Emilion barrel sample. Opulent fruit, texture, expression, and structure.  In harmony.


This got us ’round to talking of the 2010. I remarked of how the vintage was originally presented after we tasted the primeurs in April of 2011. We knew the wines would be great someday, but it seemed at the time that they would need a long time in the cellar. Fast forward to this past January when the bottled wines made their US debut. Still showing sturdy structure, they have begun to develop some charm as well, which suggests perhaps they don’t need as much time in the cellar as previously thought. I explained to them that we sold out of our 2010 Fleur Cardinale futures, but considering the quality, we went back to the marketplace and bought more. It cost a bit more, but it is soooo worth it. This is great wine from a great terroir made by great people! Oh yeah, this talk prompted Dominique to break out a sample half bottle of the 2010. What a treat. At different times, both Florence and Dominique told me that 2010 was their favorite. After tasting it again myself, I must agree. It’s probably going to be at its best from 2018 on, but it will be a great wine for a long time.

Sorry, brevity is not my strong suit, thanks for hanging with me this far. As I type away at 1:25 Sunday morning in my hotel room, I was happy to relive my visit with the Decosters today. They exemplify what wine is all about; and for me, what Bordeaux is all about: passion. You’ve either got it or you don’t, it’s that easy. So, easing into what is a full schedule of tastings and visits (with rain beginning Monday and lasting throughout the week), at the end of the day, the interactions I have with the passionate personalities around this diverse region is equally important as the juice they produce. That wasn’t supposed to rhyme. Look for more reports on the 2012 en primeur campaign soon. – Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about 2012 Bordeaux, passion about wine, Fleur Cardinale, or how I am enjoying the rain: peter.winehouse@sbcglobal.net

2009 Château Fleur Cardinale (Pre-arrival)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 3:18 PM


Just back from the annualBordeaux en primeurstastings, I’m happy to report that all went well; the meetings, the weather, and of course, the wines. In general terms, the vintage was a challenging one for those making red wines, though there were still some successful standouts. The dry whites of Pessac-Léognan and gold wines of Barsac/Sauternes showed amazing freshness and purity, and will be celebrated for many years to come. Stay tuned right here for further information about the wines and for our 2011 Bordeaux Futures campaign, which will be unveiled very soon!

I scheduled a multitude of meetings over 10 days, and they were all informative and constructive. Ranging from negociant visits, to cocktail parties and dinners, visits to growers and chateaux, and the tastings themselves, it was great to meet many new people and greater still to see familiar associates and friends again! Though my days were fairly planned out, I still made sure I had some time to allow for the serendipitous. Alas, this tactic has rewarded me time and time again, and this year was no exception. It all started with meeting #1, first thing Thursday morning. I met with a negoce whom I’ve known for a couple of years, and at one point he asked me what our best selling Bordeaux wines are. I said that I didn’t know off the top of my head, but after giving it a little thought, I said, “Fleur Cardinale. It’s a great wine for a great price.” Ah, the beauty of calling right into someone’s hand! It turns out he is a family friend of Florence and Dominique Decoster, owners of Château Fleur Cardinale. We had a light-hearted chuckle over this coincidence (though I don’t believe in coincidences), and resumed our discussion. Fast forward to Monday, day 1 of 5 crazy tasting days. I attended le Cercle Rive Droite tasting in St. Emilion. It can be an overwhelming tasting, as there are well over 100 Merlot based samples coming from Pomerol and St. Emilion, in addition to other Right Bank appellations. It is at this tasting where I usually get the opportunity to tasteChâteau Fleur Cardinale. At large tastings like le Cercle, I tend to zone out so I don’t get overwhelmed, and take them one at a time. So when I showed up at the table to taste the Fleur Cardinale sample, it didn’t fully register that it was Florence Decoster that was pouring it for me. We had a chat about the wine and then she told me about a new property that they recently acquired. I then mentioned to her that one of her sons visited us here at TWH last year, and of my acquaintance with the family friend negociant. It was a very pleasant visit, and back in my zoned out mode, I marched on to taste more. I like to attend the larger tastings during/around lunch time, when the masses are eating, drinking, and socializing, leaving me room to fly through the wines. I can always get a small bite afterward. I forgot where I was exactly, maybe tasting Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux, but I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned and it was Florence. She asked me if I would like to join the Decosters for lunch, provided my schedule allowed. I pondered this for a moment. I had 2 hours until my next appointment. When traveling, allow for serendipity, things like this happen.


We stepped outside, I was immediately introduced to Dominique, and off we went to lunch. The only word I can use to describe lunch that day is soulful. It was. Speaking English very well, Florence and Dominique regaled me with their story of Dominique selling his famous Porcelaines Haviland in Limoges, to their investing in St. Emilion by acquiring Château Fleur Cardinale in 2001. All the while as I listened, I could feel the Decoster’s collective passion. At one point, Dominique mentioned to me that stylistically, their wine is made to suit their own palates. He explained to me that when one owns a property in St. Emilion, you drink your own wine a lot, so you better like it! All humor aside, there is truth in that. I went on to tell them how well their wines do with our customers, as they have consistently been price/quality leaders in our Bordeaux section for over 5 vintages. After tasting their 2009, it looks as if we will have another PQR leader on our hands come summer! Full body, rich structure, ripe fruit, hints of spice, earth, and cola. All’s well here. Please see The Wine Advocate’s review below. As is usually the case, time flies when you’re having a blast, so it unfortunately was time to pack it up and continue with our day. Florence and Dominique back at the tasting, and me with my appointments in Pomerol. What a great couple. What passion. I feel very lucky.

As I said, it’s wonderful to meet new people, and this year I met many. My passion for Bordeaux has again brought me there to scout out a new vintage for all of you. As prices are released, we expect to be active in the 2011 Futures market, and I will be here ready to help you choose which wines suit you best.Thanks for the opportunity! – Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments on Bordeaux, the 2011 vintage, serendipity, or English Football: peter.winehouse@sbcglobal.net

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