The quest for an aperitif

I’m not sure why, but for a couple of weeks, my wine taste buds were off. Not horribly off, but just acting difficult. Visiting my parents for a week in DC, I wanted a glass of white wine while we were preparing dinner, as usual. We opened a bottle of the Roger Lassarat Macon-Vergisson La Roche 2007. I love this wine – it is a fantastic Burgundian Chardonnay with wonderful mineral character and subtle fruit. Alas, it was corked. But mildly. So mildly that others happily drank it, but the muted fruit and slightly-off smell was too much for me. So I tromped down to the cellar for another bottle of white. I found the Château de Reignac Blanc 2005, a wine I had ordered and sent because I so wanted to try. Done & done – I love white Bordeaux. We threw it in the freezer for 5 minutes (which did nothing) and gave it a try. Sadly, I was disappointed in this wine, too! At first I though it was too warm, but even after it was chilled a bit more, not something I enjoyed. Which I admit, made me sad, because I very much wanted to like it – the fruit, however, just seemed too extracted and at the same time, dull. I love the lighter, mineral lift you get from a white Bordeaux and I felt this was lacking. Again, everyone else was perfectly happy with it. But I still wanted a good glass of white before dinner! So back to the cellar I go and fetched another wine sent by me – the Adegas D’Altamira Brandal Albarino 2007. I know this wine, I’ve had this wine, I was ready for this wine. I poured myself a glass and it was… good. Just good, not great, but good. It was crisp, almost like a Sauvignon Blanc for me, but something was missing in the aromatics. Again, tasting delicious for my parents and sister, who by this point just wanted me to stop opening more wine.

I settled for having a bit of the Albarino, but by this time dinner was ready and it was time to move to a red wine. I’m not sure what was off on my taste buds for the evening. I wasn’t sick and I assured my mother that I was not pregnant either. Maybe it was just an off day… or week, since I had trouble finding a red I liked later that week, too. Or maybe the wines were not good – obviously I’d normally not drink a corked wine, but the white Bordeaux and Albarino should have surely pleased my taste buds on any other day.

I was surprised at how frustrating it was, because at the end of a long day, you just want a good glass of white to refresh your plate and ease your mind. Alas that joy was out of reach for me that evening. And again on a few other evenings. Perhaps wines taste different on the east coast.

By the time I left, there were quite a few open bottles my family would have to get through, though I believe they were up to the task.

The Wine Influence of TV

Last week, while my husband was in Bordeaux, drinking enough for the both of us, I went on a sabbatical from wine. Mostly to make sure I still could. While I managed the no alcohol policy for 9 months, that was over a year ago, and I've gotten well back into the swing of the wine world. And let's be honest, in the wine profession, it's easy to be 'over-served,' particularly in a household where both of us work in wine.

I aimed to make it a week, and was doing fine the first 4 nights, until I sat down with my sparkling water after dinner to watch a recorded episode of Cougar Town, the new show with Courtney Cox that comes on Wednesday nights, right after Modern Family – would never have thought to start watching this show, but since Modern Family is our new favorite, we've occasionally seen the first 10 minutes and I'll admit, I'm now hooked – it's programmed in the DVR. The episode to which I am referring had to do with wine. More specifically, giving up wine. While watching an entire half hour of people pouring, drinking and talking about wine, there comes a point where you REALLY just have to have a glass of wine.

It got me thinking about other movies and TV shows that have centered themselves around wine. I recall watching Sideways in the movie theatres and wishing I could flag down an usher for a glass. One of my favorite movies, French Kiss, is such a great movie about wine, making you also want to sip a glass in a vineyard in France. There's also A Good Year, with Russell Crowe, which, while not my favorite, does have a decent "garagiste" wine element to it.

TV shows for are out there, too – Frasier had quite a few wine references – Niles loved a good glass of Sherry and they did talk snooty wine talk occasionally – and the West Wing also had political (and relationship) talk over wine (or so I'm told – I admit I didn't watch it much). And now, there is Cougar Town, where Jules (the main character) pours her glass to the top and slurps the first sip with no hands. Classy stuff.

But now I'm curious. Can shows and movies be this tied to our cravings
for wine? It makes sense as marketers do it with commercials all the
time – from beer to sugary cereals, they are using images and dialogue
to spark our cravings.

So did I make it through the show without a glass of wine? Sadly, no. I succumbed to the urge and had a glass. But, knowing it would be just one glass, I went all out and had a big 'ole Pinot glass full of Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. It was quite good and totally worth it. You tend to want to drink better wine when you are limited to less consumption. And I was able to continue abstinence another 2 nights with no wine-oriented shows! 

And now I want to know what else is out there urging us to drink wine – are there any shows or movies that have sparked your craving for a glass? Or more? 

Tasting the 2009 Vintage in Bordeaux



I have just spent three amazing days in Bordeaux tasting over 300 wines from the 2009 vintage. Mike and Rich joined up with Patrick Baugier and myself to see for ourselves what this much heralded vintage is all about. In a word it is AWESOME.

Patrick is a Bordelais with an enormous spread of contacts throughout the region. He drove us around and made sure we didn’t miss a thing. This explains why we managed to taste close on 400 wines. We tasted through all qualities – from Petits Chateaux of the Cotes de Bourg to Ch Lafite and Ch Margaux. We also tasted some quite magnificent Sauternes and Barsac. One thing that stood out was how immediately accessible these wines are. We were spitting throughout but it was often very difficult to do so, and nearly impossible with the sweet wines!

We started off on Monday, where we tasted a selection of over 50 Petits Chateaux from earlier vintages for possible addition into the Club Claret range. We have found ten or so which you will be hearing about later in the year.

From then on, we drove up and down the Medoc, calling in on the numerous tastings of the local commune wines, the Cru Bourgeois and finally the Cru Classé. Many of these tastings were in the Chateaux themselves where the hospitality of our hosts was exceptional.

The consensus of opinion about this vintage is that we are looking at wines that compare to 2000 and 2005, perhaps a shade better than the former and tussling for pole position with the latter. What was also fascinating to witness was the powerful presence of merchants and traders from China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and even India. This is a vintage that will sell out en primeur very quickly – be warned.

The daily visit to six or so tastings culminated in some very happy evening dinners, be they in Bordeaux restaurants, private homes or Chateau environments. Here we were able not only to talk wine but finally swallow a few glasses and remind ourselves, as if we needed reminding, how delicious mature Bordeaux wines are.

I had to return to England today, to collect my car, only to drive back to France tomorrow for a few days skiing with my grandchildren in the Haut Savoie. I am not complaining, except seeing Mike, Rich and Patrick heading off in the car to Ch d’Yquem, and then on to St Emilion and Pomerol, with Ch Petrus on the menu, left me with a frog in my throat!

Over the next few days, I will be more specific about the wines we tasted. In fact we will be putting together a shopping-list of the best of the bunch for you to think about. Till then, salut!

Anthony Foster MW


An update on recent Bordeaux Vintages – Part 4


The 2003 vintage followed that incredibly hot summer when temperatures were up in the 40 degrees Celsius (well into the 100’s Fahrenheit) day after day, At Vinexpo, that pivotal wine fair held in Bordeaux every two years, iced water was the star of the show. There was very little rain and in a land where irrigation is simply not allowed, there was a severe risk of the grapes shriveling. Mercifully the rain arrived in time and good quantities of very ripe sometimes shrivelled grapes with low acidity were harvested. Some of the fruit tasted stewed, some simply luscious.

Nobody felt that the wines would be anything more than massively fruity and fairly short-lived because of the over-ripe tannins and lack of acidity. Well Bordeaux is an amazing region for great wines and the 2003’s stubbornly wanted to be amongst them and now we are seeing a surprising number of very classy wines – in particular from the Medoc – showing great complexity.

Recently I enjoyed drinking three examples of this fascinating vintage

Château Pichon-Longueville Baron 2003 Pauillac
Nice sweet, cassis nose, also chocolatey, and rich. It was concentrated, sweet and full. The palate was firm, complex and had full rich spicy fruit and firm tannins. It had wonderful balance and great length. Very special

Château Cos d’Estournel 2003 Ste Estephe
A wonderful velvety, toasty nose that’s round and powerful. It was very rich wine with plenty of ripeness and luscious fruit with a coffee edge to it. It has balanced oak and enormous concentration. A wine with enormous power and potential longevity

Château Pavie2003, St Emilion
Surprisingly from the right bank where wines were not generally as successful as those from the Northern Medoc, this wine showed great class. At once it had rich and chocolately with roast coffee notes and some very sweet dark fruits. The palate was powerful, full and concentrated with plenty of oak influence, along with the sweet fruit. Really delicious and still a keeper.


An update on recent Bordeaux Vintages – Part 3


The 2000 vintage was much hyped. Everyone wanted a great wine for such a memorable year. Seemingly they were going to buy whatever. Thank heavens it turned out to be a fine vintage in Bordeaux. Indeed now as the wines are coming round it is being considered as an even better vintage than originally thought.

Bordeaux 2000 is the story of a vintage in two parts: after a warm winter and wet spring, the first half got off to a bad start. A sultry wet winter and the biggest mildew attack since the 1870 was only brought under control by a flash of heat in June. Then July, usually the powerhouse of any vintage, was overcast and cool. At the end of July, if this had been 30 years ago, the vintage would have been lost already.

The second half was a total turn-around, and, as the long, dry days of August and September progressed into harvest time, things got better.

Picking started around 20th September in ideal conditions but rain did arrive on the 24th and picking stopped. The rain only lasted twenty-four hours and was not the downpours of previous years. Many estates delayed picking immediately after rain and some held off until October and were rewarded by an Indian Summer which produced wines of gorgeous ripeness. Some growers picked in September and their wine just missed the boat, but were still of good quality. One of the keys to this vintage is recognising this in the wines.

Quoting Jancis Robinson who emailed me the other morning: “Last week I had the great pleasure of 'looking at' nearly 50 of the more significant red Bordeaux from the 2000 vintage now celebrating its tenth birthday. This is traditionally the time at which classical red bordeaux starts to come round and starts to provide good drinking.”

Quality abounds in all regions with many wines already very accessible but clearly with the potential to live on for another 20 years or more. Even though prices opened substantially higher than the 1999’s, most of the great wines have trebled in price since release.


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