Young but Promising Bourgogne Rouge

Today’s Story: Domaine Méo-Camuzet

Domaine Méo-Camuzet is a very highly regarded domain in the Côte-d’Or of Burgundy, situated in the heart of the prized Vosne-Romanée appellation. The domain was established by Étienne Camuzet, a political figure who represented the Côte-d’Or as mayor of Vosne-Romanée and an MP in Paris. Étienne purchased the Château du Clos de Vougeot in 1920, but due to his political commitments did not live there or farm the vineyards and instead leased it out to tenant farmers. Though he sold the château in late 1944 (it was heavily damaged during the war), 20 hectares of vineyards went up for sale and he retained 3 hectares for himself. Upon Étienne’s death in 1946, the holdings passed to his daughter Maria Noirot and she kept the tenant farming system in place. Having no heirs of her own, with Maria’s death in 1959 the domain passed to her nephew Jean Méo who was in General de Gaulle’s cabinet. Jean Méo took over the domain with help from his parents, but kept to the tenant farming system with the legendary Henri Jayer being one of them. In 1981, the domain was named Domaine Méo-Camuzet, domain bottling and labelling commenced with the 1983 vintage, and Jean Méo proposed passing the reins onto his son Jean-Nicolas in 1984.

Jean-Nicolas took several years to pick up the task, immersing himself in the domain in 1989 following education at the University of Burgundy to study oenology. He also studied at the University of Pennsylvania to build his business acumen. As he was nearing retirement in 1988, Henri Jayer agreed to coach Jean-Nicolas alongside Christian Faurois, a son of another highly regarded tenant farmer. As Jean-Nicolas learned, grew, and experimented with new techniques at the domain, the Méo-Camuzet wines gained great appreciation around the world, particularly in the American markets where Jean-Nicolas used his business savvy to his advantage. By 2008, all tenant farmers had retired and Jean-Nicolas took complete management responsibility over the vineyards. As he struggled to keep up with demand, he and his sisters established the Méo-Camuzet Frère & Soeurs négociant business to expand their portfolio into wider and more accessible bottlings. Today, Jean-Nicolas runs Méo-Camuzet with his wife Nathalie and they have three children who will perhaps one day carry on the family legacy. Christian Faurois remains a right-hand-man as well.

Domaine Méo-Camuzet today consists of 14 hectares of vineyards which include holdings in a range of villages, 1er Crus, and several Grand Crus. Practically all viticulture is organic, though the domain does not seek certification so in their most difficult vineyards or vintages they can react prudently if needed. For instance, some of their sites that are difficult to farm may need small amounts of occasional herbicide or anti-rot treatments. Harvesting is completed entirely by hand, and sorting first occurs at the vineyard level where fruit deemed below quality standards is dropped to the ground. Fruit is sorted again and destemmed at the winery, before fermentation begins in concrete vats with temperature control only ensuring the temperature doesn’t cross over the critical 95 degree Fahrenheit level. The wines mature in new oak barrels, ranging from about 50% new for the lower level wines up to 100% new for the Grand Crus. Come bottling, the wines see no fining or filtration.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Bourgogne Côte-d’Or Cuvée Étienne Camuzet

100% Pinot Noir; 13.5% ABV

The 2018 Bourgogne Côte-d’Or Cuvée Étienne Camuzet is pale to medium ruby in color and transparent. This took a good hour to open up in the glass, eventually showing aromas of medium intensity. The nose showcases notes of ripe red cherry, cranberry, black raspberry, red rose petal, leather, dried herbs, crushed rock minerality, and a hint baking spice. Meanwhile the flavors on the palate are also of medium intensity, displaying notes of black cherry, red plum, crunchy cranberry, brambly black raspberry, anise, tobacco, cola, stony mineral, clove, and a touch of smoke. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. Overall pretty complex for its youth and very well-balanced. Purity and freshness of fruit here is gorgeous, as is the minerality.

Price: $65 ($40-50 in Europe). Given where the pricing of Burgundy has headed, I think this is actually pretty decent value. I certainly think this drinks about the regional Bourgogne level, and should only improve with several more years of bottle age.

Sleeper Vintage From a Storied Bordeaux Estate

Today’s Story: Château Haut-Bailly

Château Haut-Bailly is a historic Bordeaux wine estate, established during the 1530s by the Goyanèche and Daitze families in the Left Bank appellation of Pessac-Léognan. Haut-Bailly remained in the Daitze family until 1630, when it was purchased by Firmin Le Bailly and Nicolas de Leuvarde who were two wealthy Parisian bankers. It was Firmin Le Bailly who provided the estate with its name, still in use to this day. The Le Bailly family invested significantly in the improvement of the estate and its wines, passing it from generation to generation until 1736 when Thomas Barton came along. Barton, who was an Irishman, used his business savvy and connections to trumpet the quality of Haut-Bailly wines and helped spread them to England and Ireland where they became highly regarded. In 1872, Alcide Bellot des Minières purchased the Haut-Bailly estate and constructed the château which remains to this day. des Minières was also a gifted winemaker, adhering to precise and science-backed philosophies that further improved the wines and, in pricing terms, put them up with Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Margaux, and Château Haut-Brion. Unfortunately, phylloxera took its toll on the estate during the very late 1800s and Haut-Bailly entered the 20th century under a sense of turmoil.

During the first half of the 20th century, Haut-Bailly changed hands multiple times, new and questionable winemaking practices occurred, and the reputation faltered. In 1955, however, Belgian négociant Daniel Sanders purchased the estate and commenced a renaissance for both quality and reputation. Daniel and his son Jean renovated the vineyards and the winery, while also increasing the rigorous quality standards set in place to select fruit for the Grand Vin. By this point Haut-Bailly was a classified Cru Classé in the Classification of Graves in 1953 and 1959, and the wines certainly lived up to it. During the 1970s, however, the wines did take a slight dip once again as Daniel remained reluctant in his old age to give up control to his son Jean. With Daniel’s death in 1980, however, Jean fully took the helm and resumed the rise in quality. Haut-Bailly shifted into the hands of its current owners in 1988, when American banker Robert G. Wilmers purchased the estate. Jean Sanders remained on the team which later included fourth generation Véronique Sanders in a general manager capacity. Though Robert unfortunately passed away in 2017, Haut-Bailly remains in his family’s care with the same dedication and passion to this great and historic estate.

Château Haut-Bailly today consists of 30 hectares of vineyards situated in prime sandy and gravelly soils in the heart of the Pessac-Léognan appellation. The vineyards are planted to 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 3% Cabernet Franc, with the plots undulating and at times reaching 20 meters higher than other plots around them. Haut-Bailly also maintains 4 hectares of century-old vines planted by Alcide Bellot des Minières, and while largely planted to Cabernet Sauvignon these special vineyards have plots of Carmenère, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot as well.

Harvest and winemaking at Haut-Bailly follow the philosophy of gentleness and minimal intervention. All plots are harvested individually by hand so fruit is picked at optimal ripeness for each variety. After initial sorting in the vineyards, the fruit is destemmed and sorted by hand again before transferring directly into vats for fermentation. Each plot is vinified separately as well, allowing the winemaking team a plethora of blending options to showcase the varieties and terroir in the best sense possible vintage to vintage. Following time in concrete vats, the wines age in French oak barrels for 16-18 months before they are bottled.

To view the source of the information above, please check out the Château Haut-Bailly website here. You can also view pictures of the estate and peruse their portfolio which interestingly includes a Rosé.

Today’s Wine: 2001 Château Haut-Bailly

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot; 12.5% ABV

The 2001 Château Haut-Bailly is opaque deep ruby in color with deep garnet variation at the rim. This required a good 1.5 to 2 hours to decant, but it blossomed beautifully. The nose is of pronounced intensity, showcasing classic aromas of crème de cassis, redcurrant, violet, cigar box, black truffle, scorched earth, graphite, pencil shavings, black pepper, gravel, and a touch of vanilla. Meanwhile on the palate I get flavors of pronounced intensity including blackberry, black plum, cassis, licorice, violet, dried tobacco, mushroom, a hint of green bell pepper, dried green herbs, clove, and charred cedar. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high but very fine-grained and luxurious tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. Gorgeous right now but certainly has the stuffing to develop further for at least another decade.

Price: $120. 2001 is a sleeper vintage in Bordeaux, and selection can sometimes be difficult. However, this 2001 Haut-Bailly is firing on all cylinders and offers very solid value in my opinion given its complexity, performance, age, and promise for the future. Well done.

Finding Value in Fifth Growth Bordeaux

Today’s Story: Château d’Armailhac

Château d’Armailhac is a historic Fifth Growth Bordeaux estate located in Pauillac. Though the estate traces its roots to at least 1680 and brothers Dominique and Guilhem Armailhacq, the first solid record of vines on the property came later in 1750 and included 15 to 16 hectares of vineyards. By the end of the 1700s, the estate (called Mouton d’Armailhacq) benefited from the rapid growth of vineyards in the Médoc and grew to 52 hectares under vine, though the wines were not very highly regarded. The team spent the next several decades working tirelessly on improving the quality of the wines and were ultimately rewarded with higher prices and classification as a Fifth Growth in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Later, in 1931, Baron Philippe de Rothschild became a minority owner in the estate and took full ownership in 1933. Château d’Armailhac is tightly woven together with Château Mouton Rothschild, with the former holding all technical and agricultural equipment for both estates in their outbuildings. In 1956 the estate was renamed Mouton Baron Philippe, then Mouton Baronne Philippe, and finally Château d’Armailhac in 1989 when Baroness Philippine de Rothschild elected to restore the estate’s original name.

Today, Château d’Armailhac’s vineyards total 70 hectares in northern Pauillac and they are planted to roughly 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. The estate’s vineyards are made up of the appellation’s famous deep gravelly soil which is perfect for producing wines of character and elegance. Come harvest, the process begins when the same team of Château Mouton Rothschild deems the fruit ready and all picking is done completely by hand. Each variety and each parcel moves to the winery separately, the grapes are entirely destemmed, and young vine fruit is vinified separately from old vine fruit. The wines age in 25% new oak barrels, with some coming from the Grand Chai of Château Mouton Rothschild, and they are run off every three months until fining with egg whites. Each vintage is only bottled when the winemakers and cellar master deem the wine is ready, so there is no strict formula or timeline for barrel aging.

Previously, I wrote about Château d’Armailhac when I reviewed the 1978 Château Mouton Baronne Philippe. If you care to read about how these wines can age, I encourage you to check out the tasting notes at the link above.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château d’Armailhac

50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot; 13.5% ABV

The 2014 Château d’Armailhac is opaque deep ruby in color, showcasing its youth. When I first pulled the cork, I was nervous this wine was an off bottle showcasing some pronounced nutty and oaky characteristics. However, given three hours to decant my worries were unwarranted and the wine blossomed beautifully. On the nose, which is of medium intensity, I get aromas of crème de cassis, redcurrant, black plum, violet, leather, graphite, cigar box, black pepper, clove, and cedar. Meanwhile the palate, which is deeper and more pronounced in intensity, showcases notes of redcurrant, blackcurrant, black cherry, red plum, licorice, tobacco, dried green herbs, green pepper, vanilla, and clove. This dry red is full-bodied with high acidity, high tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $60 (I paid 49). I think this wine offers decent value for Pauillac and the greater Left Bank, especially at the sub-$50 price I found it for. While I would like a bit more intensity out of the nose, I still get all the classic Pauillac aromas and the overall balance of the wine is quite good. 2014 Bordeaux is really starting to show well, and I think this is a great effort from d’Armailhac.

Family-Made Chablis at an Excellent Value

Today’s Story: Domaine Vocoret et Fils

Domaine Vocoret et Fils is a family-owned and operated domain, established in Chablis in 1870 by Edouard Vocoret. Today Domaine Vocoret is under guide of the fourth generation of the family, and their holdings are quite impressive at around 40 hectares of sustainably-farmed vineyards. Of these holdings, roughly 16 hectares are Village level, 17 hectares are 1er Cru, and 4 hectares are the Grand Crus of Les Clos, Blanchot, Valmur, and Vaudésir with the balance Petit Chablis. Though Vocoret invested in modern and high quality winemaking equipment, the production of their wines remains very traditional for Chablis. Grapes are hand-sorted before heading to the pneumatic press, and after fermentation the wines head into stainless steel for aging to preserve their fresh fruit and vibrancy (though the 1er and Grand Crus do see some new oak which is becoming more popular in Chablis today).

Today’s Wine: 2018 Chablis

100% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV

The 2018 Chablis is transparent pale gold in color. Given some time to blossom in the glass, the aromas are of pronounced intensity with the nose showcasing notes of crisp green apple, lemon, unripe pear, white florals, flint, gunsmoke, wet river stone, and dill. Meanwhile on the palate, which is of medium intensity, I get notes of green apple, lime zest, quince, white peach, chalk, dried green herbs, and white pepper. This dry Chablis is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $25. This offers very, very good value for Chablis and Chardonnay as a whole. There is a beautiful and crisp purity of fruit here for its young age and price-point, and the lip-smacking acidity is gorgeous. I’m excited to try more of the Vocoret wines in the near future.

Historic Pomerol Estate Showcasing Solid Value in an “OK” Vintage

Today’s Story: Château Certan de May

Château Certan de May (fully Château Certan de May de Certan) is a relatively small but historic wine estate situated in the Right Bank appellation of Pomerol in Bordeaux. The estate was established by the de May (Demay) family, who were Scottish settlers in France during the Middle Ages and received the land by royal decree during the 16th century. It wasn’t until the 18th century, however, that the de May family started producing wines which were well-regarded and products of this excellent terroir. To provide you an idea, the estate once included what is now Vieux Château Certan and Château Certan-Giraud but was divided up following the French Revolution. When the last member of the de May family passed away in 1925, the estate passed to the Barreau-Badar family and they own it to this day under Jean-Luc Barreau.

Relatively small in size, Château Certan de May consists of 5.5 hectares of vineyard land planted to 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon with an average vine age of 35 years. The vineyard soils are made up of clay and deep gravel, in turn yielding grapes and wines that are powerful and structured, yet elegant and complex. All of the fruit is hand-harvested and the winemaking style is quite traditional before the wines age in 60-80% new oak barrels for 16-20 months. From the mid to late 1980s until the mid to late 2000s, quality was hit or miss but has been drastically improved since then. Annual production sits around 2,000 cases per vintage, and pricing generally isn’t too “terrible” relative to many other wines in the appellation.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Château Certan de May

Merlot dominant proprietary blend (vineyards planted to 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon); 13% ABV

The 2011 Château Certan de May is opaque medium ruby in color. This certainly requires decanting, and I found it showing beautifully around the three hour mark and it only got better from there. The aromas are of medium intensity and include blackcurrant, black raspberry, plum, anise, violets, cigar box, forest floor, black truffle, grilled green herbs, and crushed rock. Meanwhile the flavors on the palate are of medium intensity and showcase black cherry, plum, blackcurrant, dried tobacco, earthy mushroom, chocolate, cola, cracked pepper, green herbs, and cedar. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $80. I was pleasantly surprised with this bottle, and I believe it offers very solid value given the “ok” vintage. For instance, the incredible 2009 and 2010 vintages sell for closer to $120 or $130. This is a very strong effort.

Entry Level to a Northern Rhône God

Today’s Story: Domaine Jean-Louis Chave

Domaine Jean-Louis Chave is one of, if not the most, highly regarded northern Rhône domains and it was established by the Chave family in 1481. Still family-owned and operated to this day, Domaine JL Chave produces arguably some of the greatest Hermitage and Saint-Joseph wines on the market. Though initially winemakers in the Saint-Joseph appellation, the Chave family started buying vineyards in the Hermitage appellation during the mid-1800s and moved there entirely by the end of the 19th century as phylloxera ravaged their vineyards in Saint-Joseph. The domain revitalized these holdings, however, during the early 1990s when 16th generation Jean-Louis joined his father Gérard and replanted the vineyards there. Today, the domain is one of the largest landowners on the Hill of Hermitage with about 14.5 hectares planted to vine, though the Saint-Joseph bottlings are nothing to snooze over.

Jean-Louis and Gérard are staunch traditionalists from the way they farm their vineyards to the way they make their wines. In the vineyards this means unyielding attention to detail, very small yields, and full ripeness. In the cellar, they typically destem the grapes before fermentation in stainless steel, cement vats, or old open-top French barrels then age the wines for around 18 months in minimal new oak. The entire process is minimally invasive and all wines are bottled unfiltered following blending.

With this in mind, however, their skill is seemingly most appreciated in the way that they blend the wines into the final Hermitage bottling. The domain never bottles single-vineyard wines, even though they own 14 different parcels across 9 vineyards and the quality of these individual vineyards or lieux dits can be immaculate. Instead, Jean-Louis and Gérard start every vintage from “scratch” and vinify every lot separately before blending them together into the final wine. Each vintage the percentage from each lot will vary, and each vintage the wines will show a unique charm. The Hermitage bottling is 100% Syrah, which is planted on about 10 hectares of the Chave family’s total 14.5. Chave also produces an Hermitage Blanc made of 80-85% Marsanne and 15-20% Roussanne, with the fruit sourced from the remaining 4.5 hectares or so. Tying into today’s post, Chave also makes a Saint-Joseph bottling from their vines in that appellation and it is 100% Syrah.

At the end of the day, when you see a bottle with the name Jean-Louis Chave on it you can expect a concentrated, elegant, finessed, and complex wine built for the ages. The Chave Hermitage typically needs 15 years to really start coming together in the bottle, though this depends on vintage and the great ones can go for 50+ years. Expect to pay around $80 for the Saint-Joseph, $250-300+ for the Hermitage Blanc, $350-400+ for the Hermitage Rouge, or $5,000-10,000+ for the ultra-rare Cuvée Cathelin which has been produced only a handful of times in miniscule quantities from the greatest vintages.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Saint-Joseph

100% Syrah; 14.5% ABV

The 2017 Saint-Joseph is opaque deep purple in color, clearly demonstrating its youth. I decanted this for two hours and drank it over the following two hours, which at this stage is quite advantageous. Aromas are of medium intensity with black plum, blackberry, blueberry, black cherry, licorice, violet, black pepper, smoke, chocolate, and cedar. Meanwhile on the palate I get medium (+) intensity with notes of blackberry, black plum, blueberry, black raspberry, anise, sweet tobacco, rocky earth, dried green herbs, black pepper, clove, charred cedar, and smoke. I am quite honestly surprised how much depth there is here at such a young age. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. Given several more years to better integrate the tannins and alcohol, I think this will be a rockstar.

Price: $80. I’ve had several vintages of this wine (fortunately some older than this bottle) but the one constant that remains is that I believe this is a very solid value. Given some time to age, these become beautifully balanced wines that showcase their terroir with remarkable depth and complexity. Plus they’re a great “middle-ground” in the Chave portfolio! If you include his JL Chave Sélection négociant wines, that is…

Deliciously Pure Champagne From a Unique House

Today’s Story: Champagne Leclerc Briant

Champagne Leclerc Briant is a unique Champagne house established in 1872 by Lucien Leclerc in the village of Cumières. In 1955, however, the house moved to Épernay following Bertrand Leclerc’s marriage to Jacqueline Briant and they formed the négociant business Champagne Leclerc Briant. Leclerc Briant helped push the boundaries in Champagne, becoming one of the first houses to adopt organic viticulture during the 1960s and bottle single-vineyard Champagnes during the 1970s. Under Pascal, Bertrand and Jacqueline’s son, Leclerc Briant started dabbling with biodynamic viticulture during the 1980s and they became Demeter biodynamic certified in 2003. Unfortunately, Pascal passed away in 2010 far too soon and Leclerc Briant fell into tough times and faced extinction for a couple years, selling off the majority of their vineyards. In 2012, however, an American couple Mark Nunelly and Denise Dupré purchased the house alongside Champagne native Frédéric Zeimett and oenologist Hervé Jestin and the team has brought Leclerc Briant back to greatness.

Leclerc Briant consists of a very small 0.6 hectare vineyard called La Croisette, which is adjacent to the winery in Épernay. They also own roughly 9.6 hectares across various 1er and Grand Cru vineyards, though they source small amounts of Pinot Noir from the Aube and have long-term purchase agreements with other vignerons who own organically or biodynamically farmed vineyards. In the cellars, Jestin practices a non-invasive style of winemaking and sees himself as an observer and guide rather than a heavy hander. The wines all go through spontaneous fermentation and vinify in INOX tank, terracotta egg, or French oak barrel before malolactic fermentation is allowed to happen naturally. After at least nine months in barrel, the wines experience extended aging in the cellars and dosage levels are minimal or at times nonexistent at all to allow the wines to showcase themselves in pure form. All the wines are then bottled unfined and unfiltered.

To view the range of wines from Leclerc Briant, visit the website here. There are truly some unique bottlings, including one that ages submerged 60 meters in the Atlantic Ocean!

Today’s Wine: 2009 Extra Brut Champagne

40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Meunier; 12% ABV

The 2009 Extra Brut Champagne is transparent medium to deep gold in color. On the nose, I get aromas of lemon, green apple, honeysuckle, brioche, almond, chalk, and lees characteristics such as cheese rind and baked bread. Meanwhile the palate is drop-dead gorgeous with notes of green apple, crisp golden pear, lemon zest, white florals, toast, cheese rind, roasted nuts, cream, and saline mineral. This is light- to medium-bodied with vibrant medium (+) acidity and a long finish. Disgorged in June 2017. Dosage 4 g/L.

Price: $80. I actually think this is a very solid value for vintage Champagne. The precision and vibrancy of the wine is remarkable and this is all around a beautifully pure expression of the terroir. Highly recommended.

Exquisite Loire Valley Cabernet Franc

Today’s Story: Domaine de la Chevalerie

Domaine de la Chevalerie is a small family-owned estate and winery established in 1640 by the Caslot family. Located in the village of Restigné within the Loire Valley, the domain consists of about 33 hectares of vineyards planted entirely to Cabernet Franc. A true family affair, the domain is run by siblings Stéphanie and Emmanuel who joined their father Pierre in the early 2000s. Pierre’s first task he set upon his children was to convert the entire domain to organic viticulture and winemaking, which they received certification for in 2008. By 2012, the domain transitioned entirely to biodynamics and received the Demeter certification. Though Pierre unfortunately passed away in 2014, Stéphanie and Emmanuel carry on the legacy aided by their younger sister Laurie who joined in 2018.

In their goal to produce terroir-driven wines that showcase a true sense of place, the Caslot family goes further than biodynamics alone and practices a minimally invasive winemaking style. All fruit is hand-harvested into small baskets before being sorted, destemmed, and sorted again. The grapes are not crushed, but instead transfer into vat by gravity to begin fermentation with only indigenous yeasts. After fermentation, the wines move to demi-muids and large 400 to 500 liter neutral barrels for aging. They add minimal SO2 and generally bottle the wines unfined and unfiltered.

To explore the family’s vineyard holdings, portfolio of wines, or read more I recommend visiting their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Bourgueil Galichets

100% Cabernet Franc; 13% ABV

The 2014 Bourgueil Galichets is medium ruby in color and nearly opaque. This is an absolutely gorgeous wine out of the bottle, but really needs 45 minutes to an hour of decanting to truly open up and shine. On the nose, I get pronounced aromas of redcurrant, bing cherry, strawberry, black raspberry, slight barnyard, tilled earth, crushed rock, mild chili pepper, and dried underbrush. Meanwhile the palate showcases notes of crunchy cranberry, stemmy strawberry, raspberry, cigar tobacco, scorched earth, gravel, charred bell pepper, and crushed rock minerality. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, fine-grained medium (+) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $30 (might be able to find this closer to $25). This is an outstanding bottle of wine, particularly given its price-point, balance, and complexity. A very solid value play here, and definitely worth seeking out.

Delicate and Elegant Chambolle-Musigny With a Long Life Ahead

Today’s Story: Domaine Cecile Tremblay

Domaine Cecile Tremblay has a very interesting history, partly because she did not start making wines until 2003 though her family owned vineyards for several generations. Cecile is the great-granddaughter of Edouard Jayer, uncle of the famed Henri Jayer (go Google some of his wines, and perhaps sell your car to buy a bottle). Cecile’s family inherited vineyards from Edouard, though the two generations before her leased out the land to other producers and did not make their own wine. In 2003, however, with the expiration of a lease on three hectares of vines Cecile started making wine under her own label with a plan for further growth. For instance, the Domaine owns roughly 10 hectares of vineyard land and while more of this becomes free from leasing agreements in 2021, Cecile rented or purchased land along the way in communes such as Gevrey-Chambertin.

When Cecile took over her family’s land for her own use, the vineyards were in no standing to produce high quality wines. The producers leasing the land, for instance, used too much fertilizer for Cecile’s taste and utilized herbicides instead of ploughing. Throughout her time thus far as a winemaker, Cecile transitioned to organic farming and many of her practices include biodynamic farming measures as well. During maintenance of her vineyards, Cecile ploughs the soil mechanically and with horses while using copper sulfate to prevent mildew and other fungi.

Similar to her views on caring for her vines, Cecile is very traditional in her winemaking process. She presses her grapes with an old-fashioned vertical press and her wines see only a moderate amount of new wood during fermentation and aging. All of this effort culminates into wines that are refined and elegant, though built for the long haul.

I previously reviewed the 2011 Chambolle-Musigny Les Cabottes and 2011 Vosne-Romanée, so feel free to revisit those tasting notes if you want a more side-by-side picture.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Feusselottes

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 2011 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Feusselottes is translucent pale ruby in color with garnet hues. I didn’t decant this, but the wine took a full 1-2 hours to really open up. The very delicate and feminine nose showcases aromas of black raspberry, strawberry, cherry, a hint of plum, red and purple florals, leather, delicate grilled herbs, and gravel. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of cranberry, cherry, black raspberry, boysenberry, violets, sweet tobacco, savory green herbs, and rocky mineral. This is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, refined medium tannins, and a long finish. Similar to Tremblay’s other 2011s, I do not get the green notes prevalent for the vintage. This is a beautifully elegant wine and it has a long life ahead of it.

Price: $480 (I paid $160). The price of these wines has really skyrocketed over the past several years, and unfortunately these are at a price-point where it is difficult to discuss value. While these are phenomenal, there are better values out there. I’m nonetheless glad to have snagged a good deal of her wines from $90 to $160 depending on bottling.

A Very Solid Value Play for Pauillac

Today’s Story: Château Haut-Bages Libéral

Château Haut-Bages Libéral is a Fifth Growth (Cinquième Cru) Bordeaux wine estate located in the Left Bank appellation of Pauillac. Established by the Libéral family who were négociants and vineyard owners in the early 1700s, Haut-Bages Libéral is named for its position on the Bages plateau and in homage to its founding family. The Libéral family created a solid reputation for their wines, ultimately earning classification as a Fifth Growth in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Though the estate fell to a lower quality and state of somewhat disrepair during the wars and financial crises of the early 1900s, the Cruse family (owners of Château Pontet-Canet at the time) purchased Haut-Bages Libéral in 1960. The Cruse family engaged in widespread replanting of the vineyards and started to improve quality once again, though they sold the estate to the Villars-Merlaut family in 1982. Haut-Bages Libéral reached new heights under the Villars-Merlaut family, and Claire Villars-Lurton continues to run the estate today.

Today, Château Haut-Bages Libéral consists of about 30 hectares of vineyards planted to 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. The holdings are in great company within Pauillac, with the larger vineyard area neighboring Château Latour and a smaller vineyard area neighboring Château Pichon Baron. There is a third holding situated more inland as well. Haut-Bages Libéral practices organic viticulture as they work toward certification, though they include many biodynamic practices with an eventual goal of achieving biodynamic certification as well. Château Haut-Bages Libéral produces roughly 10,000 cases of wine per vintage, including the Grand Vin and their second wine (labeled as either Le Pauillac de Haut-Bages Libéral, La Chapelle de Bages, or La Fleur de Haut-Bages Libéral).

Today’s Wine: 2005 Château Haut-Bages Libéral

70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot; 13% ABV

The 2005 Château Haut-Bages Libéral is translucent deep ruby in color, which is still rather youthful and showing absolutely no bricking at this point. After about an hour decanting, this blossomed to showcase classic Pauillac aromas of blackcurrant, black cherry, redcurrant, pencil shavings, cigar box, tilled earth, mushroom, gravel, green herbs, and cedar spill. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of blackberry, crème de cassis, black cherry, tobacco, graphite, eucalyptus, black truffle, cracked pepper, and iron. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. Drinks beautifully right now, but has the ability to go for at least another 5 years.

Price: $80 (paid $60 a few years ago). This was a very nice value surprise, especially having paid $60 for it a few years ago. It doesn’t have the power or depth like some of the higher-end 2005 Pauillac I’ve enjoyed, but it’s a very solid wine.