Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – July 21st, 2018

A Tour de France
By John Szabo, with notes from David Lawrason and Michael Godel

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report features France, the home and native land of fine wine. While we work tirelessly (and happily) to find the latest and greatest wines from undiscovered sources, it’s also critical to keep up with the classics. This gives us context and relativity, the ability to place lesser-known wines in some kind of world hierarchy of quality, price and style. And French wines are still the go-to paradigms against which so many other wines are measured. So here the WineAlign crü picks out some regional classics from the particularly France-rich July 21st VINTAGES release, which will help re-calibrate your wine-o-meter and enlarge the context of your preferences. You might even have fun. Take a Tour de France this week.

The Context of Greatness

At WineAlign we spend a lot of time travelling around planet wine and tasting as broadly as possible to bring to light those lesser-known little vinous treasures, rare indigenous varieties, forgotten regions, and future hot-spots for quality and value. These are the wines that nourish a wine lover’s curiosity and replenish enthusiasm; finding a new brilliant wine is as big a thrill for us as I imagine it is for an astronomer to discover a new galaxy (and thankfully it happens more frequently). But to find a new galaxy you must know what you’re looking for. In the wine universe, that means knowing the classics, the standards against which all new discoveries are measured, either consciously or subconsciously.

Liberty School Chardonnay

Wine quality is, after all, highly relative: greatness doesn’t exist in a vacuum. To say a wine is great implies a comparison to some other wine that is equally great, or less great, to some degree. And it’s the depth of those relative comparisons that essentially separates opinion from expertise. Everyone has an opinion. Somewhat fewer have the experience to put it into a relative context and articulate the differences, while fewer still have the considerable knowledge and experience spanning, in the case of wine, vintages, grapes, places, producers and techniques, which is required to make ever-finer assessments and evaluations of style and quality. That’s not pretension. It’s just expertise, as it exists in any other technical-heavy fields like cars, or Hi-Fi audio equipment, or microbial populations.

As much as winemakers in the new world have increasingly of late sought to distance themselves from tiresome and over-used comparisons to old world paradigms, they’re nonetheless always there, lurking in the background, forming the subtext, creating the context of discussion. And France remains the number one source of these comparatives, her grapes the most well-travelled and widely diffused. Indeed, the world’s currently most planted red and white varieties, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, claim their origins in France. And peering back at these original paradigms from other parts of the world is as natural and inevitable, and wise, as double checking your mental arithmetic on a calculator.

I’m not suggesting that the goal is to emulate or reproduce a facsimile of someone else’s work, but neither can you create something different if you don’t know what the original looks like. It’s all part of the context, and the more the merrier.

This week we recommend examples from Burgundy, ground zero for chardonnay and pinot noir, a representative of the cabernet blend genre from Bordeaux’s right bank, archetypal rosés from Provence, an original cool climate sauvignon blanc from the Loire, and benchmark examples of syrah and GSM blends from the northern and southern Rhône, respectively.

July 21st Buyer’s Guide

French Whites

La Chablisienne 2015 Montmains Chablis 1er Cru AC, Burgundy ($34.95)
John Szabo – Quite tightly wound at this stage, surprisingly, this Montmains offers considerable reductive-leesy character (smoky-flinty), with a backdrop of wood spice, the ensemble still yet to fully integrate. The palate however indicates the future: flavour intensity is high and balance is impeccable. Best 2020-2027.
Michael Godel – The Left Bank Montmains near Vaillons is one of Chablis’ great sun-worshipping exposures for Premier Cru and La Chabliseinne has long worked the magic from this Kimmeridgian stone. The cru and the fruit from these vines will never be as openly fruity, generous and just plain delicious as it is in 2015.

La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2015Le Fils Des Gras Moutons Muscadet Sèvre Et Maine Sur Lie 2016

Le Fils Des Gras Moutons 2016 Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie, Loire, France ($14.95)
Michael Godel – Mollusc shell comes in straight away, as does the classic by the glass aromatic funk you’d expect when ordering Muscadet at an old-school walk up French oyster bar. Acidity and texture conspire for exact expectation. Not the finest but at the baseline surely the dictionary entry for melon de bourgogne.

Tinel-Blondelet Génetin 2015 Pouilly-Fumé AP, Loire ($28.95)
John Szabo –  “Like light without heat, as in the springtime” is British writer Andrew Jefford’s brilliant description of Loire Valley whites, and this wine is just that: a sauvignon of class and character, fragrant, floral-fruity and stony, with terrific presence on the palate. I love the salinity, the ripe acids, the perfectly pitched, mid-weight framing, and the fine length. Lots of finesse and complexity, and vibrancy, without heat.
Michael Godel – Quite rich for the category while mitigated, or elevated I should say by quite a flinty strike on wet metal. Really tastes like a lick of salt-crusted slate and yet there is great orchard fruit with a squeeze of gooseberry, passion and lime. The upscale nature and smoky overtones are succinctly Pouilly-Fumé and really set a different tone for sauvignon blanc.

Tinel Blondelet Génetin Pouilly Fumé 2015Vinicole De Hunawihr Vieilles Vignes Gewurztraminer 2016

Vinicole de Hunawihr Vieilles Vignes Gewurztraminer 2016, Alsace, France ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Nothing if not classic old school gewürztraminer here with rich and zaftig fruit, just slightly oily and expectedly imbued with a bitter phenolic notability. It’s not the most widely appealing wine in the world but the old guard will love it’s loyalty and I can promise it will age gracefully into something you’ve never tasted or likely enjoyed before.

French Rosés

Hecht & Bannier 2017 Bandol Rosé AC, Provence ($27.95)
John Szabo – By many accounts, the mourvèdre-based rosés of Bandol overlooking the Mediterranean are the finest in France (the rest of Provence and parts of the southern Rhône would argue). You can decide for yourself. This fine example from dynamic négociant duo of Hecht & Bannier is perfectly savoury-fruity, and stony-herbal, offering impressive aromatic complexity. The palate, too, is impressively concentrated, with solid structure, and most importantly, depth and length.
Michael Godel – More Appellation Bandol Contrôlée as the battle cry is heard, especially at this time of year, with Rosé. Quite a rich and full extension of fruit comes with this from H & B, from strawberry and rhubarb to cherries and lime. ABC from this part of Provence delivers the goods.
David Lawrason – This very pale Provencal styled rose is blend of mourvedre (the mainstay of the Bandol appellation) with some grenache and cinsault. It has subtle, reserved and pretty nose of pink roses, grapefruit and watermelon. It is medium weight, fleshy yet firm and dry, with more character than the pale colour suggests.

Hecht & Bannier Bandol Rosé 2017Château Léoube Rosé De Léoube 2017Château Des Muraires L'excellence Rosé 2017

Château Léoube 2017 Rosé de Léoube AC Côtes de Provence ($28.95)
John Szabo – Notwithstanding what I said above regarding Bandol, THIS is really France’s classic rosé. From the organic vineyards of Léoube, also overlooking the Mediterranean, and made by Romain Ott, one of the most respected names in rosé worldwide, this is a stellar example. It’s fragrant and delicate, very classy, composed of a typical Provençal mix of grenache and cinsault, with some syrah and mourvèdre added for good measure. The palate is soft and gentle, almost creamy (Léoube does full malo on their rosés), with excellent flavour intensity and length.

Château des Muraires 2017 L’Excellence Rosé, Côtes de Provence ($39.95)
David Lawrason – This is a very pretty, super polished and well balanced, pale rose. It’s a bit hard to see the $40 advantage when there are so many other good Provencal styled pinkies for much less, but this does have impressive palate presence and length. Very subtle, slightly peppery, cherry and jasmine aromas pick up steam on the palate. It has mid-weight, fleshy, enveloping and warming feel.

French Reds 

Château Tronquoy-Lalande 2012 AC Saint-Estèphe, Bordeaux ($57.95)
John Szabo – Attractive, lightly leafy-herbal in the cabernet, and 2012, vintage, idiom, this is inviting and complex wine, drinking really well now but surely with scope to improve further. The palate is mid-weight, succulent, mineral and saline, with fine intensity and excellent length. An arch-classic, if perhaps a little more supple and earlier maturing than ‘classic’ Saint-Estèphe. Terrific wine in any case, well worth the price. Best 2018-2027.

Château Tronquoy Lalande 2012Denis Père Et Fils Pernand Vergelesses 2015

Denis Père Et Fils 2015 Pernand-Vergelesses AC, Burgundy ($44.95)
John Szabo – Classic red Bourgogne here: bright and fresh, with red and black cherry, raspberry, hibiscus flower, licorice, old barrel spice and more – fine complexity. The palate is saturated with flavour, satisfying and deep, with moderate, ripe tannins and acids the same, all in fine harmony and balance. Length is also quite excellent. Tidy wine, and relative value, best 2020-2027.
Michael Godel – The Domaine Denis P-V is essential and upstanding Bourgogne Villages, drawn from top quality vines on pebbly-limestones slopes in surround and above the town. This represents the delicasse and charm of Côte de Beaune Villages pinot noir at its very best.

Moillard 2015 Cuvée Prestige Rully AC, Burgundy ($28.95)
John Szabo – A well-priced, classic Bourgogne from the value-rich Côte Châlonnaise sub-region south of the Côte d’Or (Rully is the village appellation), with lovely floral tones over typical ripe red berry fruit, plus some light spice, cherry fruit paste, licorice and more – terrific complexity. The palate is appealing lean and firm, with fine acids and fine-grained tannins, and very good length. This punches well above its weight in terms of appellation, price, complexity and depth. Best 2018-2025.
David Lawrason – Here’s a lovely, ripe and fragrant pinot with a sweet, floral, raspberry-cherry nose typical of the hotter 2015 vintage. Oak is very nicely played, with subtle vanilla and woodsy spice. It is medium bodied, smooth and a touch warm, with a firmer, stony finish. Tannins are quite fine.
Michael Godel – Reds make up only one-third in the Côte Chalonnaise appellation and so the rare and elusive Rully Rouge from Moillard is a charming one, ripe, generous and thoughtful. Right here you get a grip and a succinct idea of how Bourgogne can woo in this day and age at a wonderfully attractive price. Great, great value, modern and direct.

Moillard Cuvée Prestige Rully 2015M. Chapoutier Deschants Saint Joseph 2015Pierre Amadieu Les Hautes Rives Cairanne 2015

M. Chapoutier 2015 Deschants Saint-Joseph AC, Rhône ($33.95)
John Szabo – Northern Rhône syrah is among the most distinctive wines in the world, and this version from Chapoutier ticks the boxes. It’s a bit edgy, even slightly volatile, and very iron-driven, rusty and peppery – not an immediately or widely appealing wine I have to say, but authentic to be sure. The palate is tightly wound, firm, tannic, even if the tannins are fine-grained, supported by tight acids. I’d say this is still at least 2-3 years away from enjoyment, or you could hold into the mid-twenties for a fully mature expression. Best 2020-2025.

Pierre Amadieu 2015 Les Hautes Rives Cairanne AP, Rhône ($19.95)
John Szabo – Like northern Rhône reds, southern Rhône reds tend to taste like the landscape in which they are born: rolling hills and broad open skies under constant sunshine and warmth. This example adds a little more structure like the craggy, stony hills behind Cairanne, including smoky-reductive notes, bearing the imprint of mourvèdre and syrah, blended here with grenache. More typical scorched earth, baked red berry fruit, and red licorice flavours take over on the palate, alongside dusty tannins and balanced-moderate acids. A solid amount of wine here for the money, best 2018-2023.

That’s all for this report. See you around the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

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