2015 and 2016 – are Royal years indeed in Bordeaux

Bordeaux, the cradle of the modern wine revolution, for both the kosher and nonkosher worlds, is a beautiful realization of the past and present coming together to build a fabulous future. The world of true kosher wine, started before Hagafen, before Herzog, though maybe not before Carmel, who made a beautiful kosher wine in 1901 and then again in 1976, one that I tasted, but one that is now a shadow of its former self. Still, before Carmel’s rebirth, there were kosher wines being made in the 1970s, and those were the first kosher wines, that were not sacramental wines. Koenig was making kosher wines in the 1960s, and there were kosher Bordeaux wines being made in the 1970s as well.

The story of Carmel starts with a wonderful man, whose philanthropic desires led to the largest outside investment into the former Palestine in the 19th century, and his history is deeply intertwined in the world of kosher wine, since the 80s. Winemaking in Israel had enjoyed a long and successful run in biblical times. Wine presses used thousands of years ago are still visible today. However, during the Roman conquest of Judea in 70 A.C., many vineyards were destroyed, and the remaining vines were destroyed during the period of Muslim rule that began in 636 C.E. The Muslim rule led to a 1,200-year halt in local wine production. Wine production returned to Israel in 1882, when Baron Edmond de Rothschild funded the creation of vineyards and a few wineries – one of which we know today as Carmel. However, after the massive success of Carmel’s Cabernet Rishon (#1) (where it won a Gold Medal) at the Paris World Fair of 1900, Carmel winery went into a long and deep slumber. It re-awoke for a brief moment in 1976, and then again in 1979 when the Carmel Special Reserve wines again made history.  The shocking fact is that the Baron spent less money in France to buy Lafite (4.4 Million Francs), than he invested in Israel, a shocking 11 Million Francs. His shocking generosity was not lost, even if Carmel did fade for almost a century, it was his rallying cry to not forget our brethren, who threw caution to the wind to rebuild Israel, that helped bring focus to their need and was the first true power behind the future land of Israel! In many ways, he was one of the founding father’s of present day Israel.

Kosher Wine

Seeing how close Bordeaux touches the life of all kosher wine drinkers, one has to stop and ponder what if? What if Baron Edmond (Benjamin) de Rothschild had simply made Lafite kosher instead of investing in Carmel? Does that question offend you? I hope it does! If you track the sheer amount of money that has been invested into Carmel, it is staggering! Mind blowing! Is this post about Carmel? Of course not! What I am offering is a clear reminder that kosher wine, is a three-legged stool of complexity. Please look at my post about the myriad and complex web of kosher winemaking requirements to refresh yourself. But as a reminder, the main three-legged stool, is Religious Jews touching the wine, kosher for Passover ingredients, and the hardest one of them all, the one that should be clear, but one that is often forgotten, these two restrictions, and all of the other ones, start from the very beginning. Meaning that if you walk up to a winery and taste their wine and like it – that means the EARLIEST you can make a kosher version of that wine is next year (unless you taste an earlier vintage and it is still before harvest).

I have spoken about this subject before, really, when talking about Flam, and others that have moved from the non-kosher market to the kosher market in Israel. The issue here is that it is a minimum of a three-year investment for good reds before you see the money. If it involves vineyards, then that is a minimum investment of 6 years for good reds in Israel! You could make them inside of four years, outside of Israel, but really? Who would want wine from a two-year-old vine? Not many! Throughout my time in Bordeaux, the terroir was a common theme, an obvious one of course, but one that shows itself more in wine than in the conversations. Why? Well, most people already know that the land of Bordeaux is hallowed ground for great wines. People make yearly pilgrimages to the storied En Primeur, where the likes of Robert Parker used to cast his shadow, and where Neal Martin till does, along with many of the top Negociants who come to set up shop for the three-day event.

Kosher Bordeaux Wine – the state of affairs

A side topic about the state of kosher Bordeaux wine. People often wonder why there is not a kosher vintage of the most famous chateau every year? Why did we miss out on the famous 2009 Leoville Poyferre? Why is there no 2009 Malartic? Sadly, the answer is that as much as French kosher wine is growing in popularity, it is not that popular.

The issue lies around the cost to make these wines, the knowledge that people have of them, along with the fact that they are well, old world! Also, there is the supply and demand vector that I will keep throwing in along the way.

So let’s start with the last and go backward, old world wines are what I crave, and many of the wine nuts I know. However, it is NOT what the wine drinkers crave in the kosher wine market. OK, cue broken record, ok it is on, the kosher red wine palate is punch drunk on sweet overripe wines, wines that I abhor. Look at the average kosher wine tasting event, one that has french wines, and you will see that the table fills up quickly, and then is empty as the night progresses. Why? Because French wines are a curiosity to the kosher wine palate, and not much more. Now that is a gross oversimplification, yes I agree. Still, it is far closer to the truth than many are making it out to be.

Look, it is simple math. Ask the wine stores and the wine distributors, ask them to give you hard data, like I have. The numbers do not lie, high-end French and Italian kosher wines do not sell well. Sure, there has been a large upswell in interest, more on the impact of that in a moment, but an upswell of 10% of the market makes it 12 or 13%, that is a huge upswell, but it pales to Israel and California Cabernet love. Now wait! The left bank is Cabernet-based you ask? Yes, it is, yes indeed, but it is also old-world. Given the chance to taste a mineral bomb or a fruit bomb, fruit wins every time. So, where does that leave the average kosher wine shop? Ask them! They will tell you that the wines sell, for one of two reasons. Either as a bragging right – yes bringing over a 70 dollar bottle of wine is a very east-coast way of channeling your bragging bravado. The other one is the smaller and less consistent reason, the person likes old-world wines, and is buying them for himself. The most recent release of the 2014 Chateau Montviel, sold quickly, mostly because there was very little of it made, and it was one of the newly released post-2013 wines out there to the kosher wine market. My opinion can be argued, go ahead, I do not care, what I am stating is fact – to a very large degree, at least from what I have been told over and over again.

Which leads us to the next issue – supply. Why is there such a low supply? Well, actually there is NOT a low supply at all! Wait what? Exactly, there is still a very nice supply of 2005 Leoville Poyferre out there, just at a high cost. Same with many of the vintages of Haut Condissas, Lafon Rochet, and Smith Haut Lafite. So, why is this the case? Well, remember back to my statement above, for the most part, high-end French wines are all about bragging rights, or in a more PC way of saying it, showcase wines for their wine cellar. Now, there is nothing wrong with that, that is the entire business that high-end shops conduct for their well-heeled clients. Both in the non-kosher (where it is far more prevalent) and in the kosher market as well, where it is a bit more of a very small niche, but the players are out there. So, with decent supplies of older high-end wines out there, what is the motivation of Royal, and others to make more high-end kosher wines? Royal sat on the Leoville Poyferre wines (1999-2005 minus the 2004 vintage) for a very long time. Why? Well, that was a confluence of many issues, including too much supply, the horrible financial years of 2008 through 2010, which hit NYC the hardest, where the high rollers live, those that buy these trophy wines.

Mind you the mindset of the kosher wine consumer has also changed deeply, in the past 10 years. In 2006 when many of the Leoville wines were out there, they were available for a very reasonable price, especially if you include inflation, which has been almost zero over the past 10 years. However, back then, the kosher wine buyer was not going to plunk 70 dollars down for a bottle of French wine, which they did not understand or appreciate. They would buy the 2006 Castel Grand Vin long before they bought a Leoville. The mindset is both a cost factor and French hatred factor. America created freedom fries, do you remember those days, in 2003? Combine, the hatred for France that grew from 2002 till it culminated in 2006, add in the Financial meltdown that hammered NYC, the largest and most affluent kosher wine-buying population, and the lack of respect for French wines (France hatred aside), and you have a toxic mix that set back the kosher french wine industry for almost a decade!

From 2005 till 2012 the number of high-end french wines that were made, and sold here in the USA, were well paltry in comparison to pre and post 2012, that is for sure. That is also not a coincidence, French wine became en vogue again, once the toxic brew blow over – which was pretty much in 2010 to 2011. Throw in the previously stated multi-year time frame till kosher wine comes online from thought to release, and you find yourself at 2012 being the new bootup year for kosher French wines. So with the high supply, from 2000 to 2005/2006 and low demand post-2003, you had a toxic mess. One which was not as much cleaned up, as much as it was minimized to the point, where folks were willing to once again invest more capital into France, beyond the basic 25 dollar bottles of Bordeaux wine.

So, that takes us to the next subject, the evolution of the kosher wine palate. Go and check the lines around the French wine tables at kosher wine events, the average age, is surprisingly young. Which is not a conclusion I would have immediately jumped to! Still, the Millennial and the X generations have a bit more free capital to spend on these wines, than say the baby boomers. Why? Well, that comes back to the state of the economy, the sandwich situation/generation, and the fact that it takes money to change your palate, which brings us back to our original point. The younger generations are looking for new experiences, new ideas, new things, and that includes France. Even if you think that the stodgy old-world wines, would appeal to the older generation more than the younger ones, you would not be wrong. Yes, there are a few baby boomers buying French wines, but it is a matter of percentages, and the larger percentages are younger. They have capital to spend on experiences, and they are interested in new things, even if many of them still have no palate to appreciate these wines. That will come with time, and it is that very theme upon which we need to talk about the looming issue, that I think will not end well, for some of the players out there.

So, to recap, the early aughts were tough for the kosher wine market, because there was too much supply. The late aughts were tough because there was no demand at all. Add in the dislike for France and the financial collapse, and you have an unhappy state of affairs. Still, like much of the world economy, today, the Generation X and Millennials are the answer, and it is on them, that most have started created more French wines.

They are the new engine that is driving spending in our current economy, and it is that same push that is driving the creation of more kosher French wines than we have ever seen before. The 2014 vintage will sell well, very well, even if I did not care for some of them, it will sell well, because the supply is low and, currently, the demand is high. Following the 2014 vintage, will come the 2015 and 2016 vintages. These will not, for the most part, hit our shores for another two to three years, and there will be a TON of it! The difference is, that while in the past there were far too much of the same label, here there will be smaller batch sizes, but far too many of them, for the current demand. That is where we find ourselves today. We are staring into the abundance of 2015 and 2016, behind a rather shallow 2014 vintage, in comparison. What will be the outcome of that is really not clear at this point. A lot of that depends on where the actual world economy goes. It also depends on how resilient the Millennials are going to be. For now, they are the lifeblood in this recent uptick in economic futures. Will they keep spending? The theme says they will. Also, the real question is – is there too much kosher wine out there? Forget France for a moment. Look at the number of 70+ dollar bottles of wine out there. Way too many! Really, too many, and then throw in the wines coming online from France and you have to start wondering. Add into that, the price of the 2015 and 2016 French wines, an average of 25% increases, for each year compounding, and these costs are sunk costs, there is no way to get out of them, and you start to see the concern.

So, am I exaggerating the issue? Is my concern a siren call or a child crying wolf? Only time will tell, and one that I truly hope will not sting as badly as the last decade. The sting was the impact that caused the drought of great wines for some 7 years, especially the miss of the 2009 vintage (yeah there were a few including Chateau Tertre Daugay Grand Cru, but not epic like the 2009 Leoville Poyferre). The hope is that we will not see that happen again. The smart producers are the ones who create controlled number of wines, with small/niche number of bottles. Why? Because they can weather the impending storm, if it does indeed come. Of course, if you also have a large portfolio of kosher or non-kosher wines to buffer you, then you are OK. Those producers should come out of whatever is coming our way, beautifully. If however, producers created a bunch of wines, at escalating Bordeaux vintage costs, I hope they have 6 to 7 years of money to stick around. Some, from what I have seen and heard so far, may well not have that kind of backing, and it may not end well for those people.

To the final question, why does kosher French wine costs so much more, than their non-kosher counterparts? I addressed this question in my past post about kosher french wines. I may have glossed over a few issues, but for the most part, I think the points are still appropriate, but I may have minimized the actual costs that kosher supervision brings along with it. Throughout my time on this visit, I saw first-hand the costs of kosher supervision. There were a lot of young men running around the wineries, a lot. Now, of course, there are far more at peak season than later in the year. Meaning, that from harvest till press, the number of men doing actual work, is pretty high, and that cost is compounded because they need a place to sleep, eat, and move around. Yes, that cost comes down once the wines are placed in a barrel, drastically actually, but there is still a constant need for humans in Bordeaux throughout the year, and the number of barrels to the human cost, is a higher percentage than I wrote in the last article. The cost could actually be more dollars per bottle, than pennies. Still, some producers can flatten that cost structure, if they can distribute the costs across more bottles. Meaning the higher the number of bottles you can sell, the lower the overall costs become. Which brings me to the final issue, the increase in kosher French wines production over the next two years, are not just sunk now, they will continue to sink more, as the wines need constant supervision, sometimes at a high cost, if you depend on people that are not your actual employees. In the end, the costs increase, and sadly I fear, the rich will become richer, and the poor, well you know what happens to them. I really hope I am wrong, and only time will tell. For now, I will just enjoy the increase in kosher French Bordeaux wines and ignore any potential issues that may or may not arise, as I have no skin in this game – in any way. The industry will be interesting to watch over the coming years.

Just a reminder, the original heydays of kosher French wine, were the 1995 to 2005 vintages, with the highest concentration in the 2001 or 2002 vintage. In that ten year span, the number of kosher wines and their quality were impressive. Still, the 2015 vintage will crush the 2001/2002 in terms of wine count, quality, and yes – sorry price! You heard it here first – LOL!!

The final question many have asked – why are there no new Pontet Canet kosher wines? The answer is simple, Robert parker is 100% to blame! Oh wait, I meant Robert Parker 100 scores are to blame. In 2009, and then again in 2010 Robert parker bestowed upon Pontet Canet, his hallowed 100 point score and that pretty much closed all hopes of a kosher Pontet Canet ever again. Why? Because even before, the 100 point scores, Pontet Canet was already getting incredibly expensive, in the non-kosher market. Add in the overhead, and game over for a marketplace in the kosher wine world. After the two 100 scores, kiss whatever filament of imagination was left from most people’s blown minds. Sadly, all we have, are the remnants of the incredible 2002, 2003, and 2004 vintages.

Kosher White wine bigotry

A total aside, and maybe an aside that does not belong here, officially, but such is life. Royal and most of the kosher wine importers from France do not bother with white wines, other than sparkling wines of course. Why? Simple, Jews do not like white wines, and so they do not sell. Why make wines you cannot sell, right? It took Royal and Bokobsa SIX YEARS to sell the 2007 Sancerre Chavignol! Six years!

How messed up is that? Things are getting better, the 2012 Sancerre Chavignol sold in three years this time, but there was also much less of it made. Look at the wine portfolios of any French kosher wine producer, drop out the sparkling wines, and what do you have left? Sauterne? They are selling poorly, even in the non-kosher market! What about the beautiful and intoxicating whites from Bordeaux, forget about them, they do not sell. Sure, there is the Herzog Bordeaux selection whites, they are passable wines, which happen to be mevushal, which is why they truly sell. They do not sell on their own right, they sell because they are one of the few white mevushal wine options in France.

Am I being a bit harsh, sorry, that is my opinion! So, why do Jews not like white wines? I have asked many of them, seriously, I have. Most say, they are too subtle and they do not get what they are tasting. Look around, outside of France, at the kosher white wines, and the vast majority of them are – Chardonnay. Look at my list of white kosher wines, there are few options, outside of Chardonnay, from anywhere other than Israel. As I state in that post – GOD BLESS Israel’s new found love for whites. Sadly, the 2015 vintage was such a disaster, I did not see the need to post anything about whites for this year. Sure, there are some chardonnay wines from around the world, and a few other option, like the lovely Grenache Blanc wines from Hajdu and Vitkin, but really, the options were so thin, I saw no need to post it.

So there is the issue – plain to see. Other than Israel and a few in California, there are no great whites being made. Why? The consumers of whites are not there, in the kosher wine market. Rose, has picked up, which is good, and there were really few good options this year, again because 2015 was such a disaster in Israel. God Bless the 2015 vintage of the Chateau Roubine Rose.

Anyway, back to the subject, white wines do not sell well in the USA, to the kosher consumer. Why? Mostly I hear, they are too subtle, they are boring. I also, hear, why waste my calories on wimpy wines? That is why we are seeing Chardonnay wines that are far more oak driven and fruit driven! Sadly, chardonnay is going the way of red sweet wines. Why? Because the palate of the kosher wine consumer is not “getting” these lovely ethereal white acid packed wines. They do not live in super hot areas, outside of a few months of the year in NYC. Israel has woken up to the need for bright wines, as the temperatures there are high eight months of the year. Same goes for Miami, where whites are actually selling quite well, including Elvi Wines beautiful InVita wines.

So, until global warming turns NYC into a desert, or the kosher wine palates of America evolve along the true path, we will be stuck with drinking lovely tart and bright whites in Israel, and fewer options here in the USA. Heck, the beautiful Dalton Semillon could not sell in Israel, what hope does a wine like that have here in the USA! I loved it, but it does not sell. Sadly, all that does sell, are the fat, overoaked, fruit bombs that led to America’s uproar of ABC in the late 1990s. While the world has moved from those terrible days, sadly, the kosher wine market is embracing it with all the fervor of a Chassid on Yom Kippur.

You can see the obvious parallels, and so for the time being, we will have to be happy with the few whites we get here in the USA from France and Israel. The hope is that 2016 will bring a new Sancerre Chavignol, along with some lovely white wines from Israel. That will have to do, throw in some great roses that are coming, and the sparkling wines and that should cover us here in the USA. If you want more, go to Paris, where you can find many more options, or Israel, where I hope you will find great 2016 options as well.

Mother and father

Before you read on, please read my previous post on French wine and its regions and the such here. Throughout the yearly wine invitational, there are the highs and the lows of Bordeaux. You see, Bordeaux may well have terroir, but it still exists on planet earth, which is run by mother and father! Mother earth has been very kind to Bordeaux over these past three years. The 2013 vintage was an absolute disaster, in almost every way, cold, wet, and miserable. Sure, you talk to the winemakers, in my horrible but workable French, and what you get is a sell job. They are quick to change the subject to 2014 and on. They are short on talk in terms of the 2013 vintage, and rightly so, it was bad for Bordeaux, really bad. Of all the kosher 2013 wines I have tasted, only two wines exist that I would think of buying, the 2013 Château de Valandraud ‘3 de Valandraud’, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, France, and the 2013 Château Leoville Poyferre Château Moulin Riche, Saint-Julien, France.

It was not the winemaker’s fault, they just did the best they could with the hand that mother nature dealt them. Sure, the outcome was not the best, but that is the very point of Bordeaux, it is hard to hide from reality. Wine is not Budweiser, it cannot be replicated, no matter how hard you may try. Each vintage gives and takes in different ways. Some years have too much rain, at the worst of times, like in 2013, or not enough at all. Interestingly, while the 2013 vintage was really bad in Bordeaux for reds, it worked fine Sauternes, with the 2013 Chateau Piada being a GREAT example! With the 2013 horror behind them, the wineries love to talk about the plenty instead of the famine, in this case, the vintages of 2014, 2015, and 2016! For a great report on the 2013 vintage, please read the WineSpectator’s report, very thorough indeed.

I was in Bordeaux to taste through the kosher world of wine, from Royal’s point of view (more of that in a bit), and I can say that Mother has been kind to Bordeaux these past three years. I have been slowly tasting through the 2014 vintage, and they are nice, not epic, but solid, though I have yet to taste the top line wines. I did taste the 2015 wines from barrel, and they are impressive, truly so! I have had the famous Château Grand-Puy Ducasse from the 2013 vintage a few times now, and it continues to not impress me, which is fair, it was 2013. However, tasting the 2015 vintage, gave me a far better appreciation for what this Chateau can truly create, and what a joy it was.

Three years is quite a showing, given how poorly the other regions, have been battered and flooded, like Languedoc in 2014, Chablis in 2015, throw in two very small crop years in Burgundy – 2015 and 2016, Champagne is down as well. Really, no regions have been spared the mother’s wrath outside of Bordeaux, over these past three years, a true blessing. Mind you, this is not a concept I came up with, EVERY SINGLE winery said this over and over again. Whether, we met with the winemaker, director, cellar rat, or marketing manager. They all blessed mother earth and wondered aloud how much longer their luck can hold up. They all wondered if 2017, will be the year that the mother turns the tables on Bordeaux, only time will tell.

Proper Wine Aging versus storing

Of course, mother nature is not enough, you also need father time. I can speak from personal experience, I have tasted wines through their life, from crush day, to release and beyond, and what I can say, is that time heals some issues, but not all. If a wine shows VA (Volatile Acidity), it will be there throughout, but it may not be overly apparent until you give it more time. Time can damn a wine and it can also bless it, it all depends on what mother gave it, and what the winemaker did with those ingredients. We clearly drink our wines too early, I personally age my wines, but of my non-geek friends, it is clear they drink it when they get it.

A theme I would like to talk about now is thought I have been having for some time, we clearly drink our wines too early. I personally age my wines, but of my non-geek friends, it is clear they drink it when they get it. Four Gates Winery is a great example, here is a winery whose wines are so acidic, that at times it can be plain rude! But who cares, I love rude wine, with the acid in your face and tannin that burns and almost chokes you, as you enjoy every sip! Time, of course, mellows such wines, brings all the components together, and makes it what mother nature meant it to be, so many years ago, when it was just a set of components. Sadly, the kosher market, buys the wines, and sucks them down, like water, well harsh waters, almost acrid, in some cases. Why? Because we are a nation of impatient and petulant children, and we have no real vision of what will happen if we wait! Which is a shame! Please try to buy a Four Gates wine, or an Elvi wine, Capcanes, Hajdu, Shirah, Castel, Tzora, and age them, give them a shot! Why? Because while you may well like what you taste now, you will love what they taste like in 5 years.

Can all wines age? NO! Please do not try to age a Baron Herzog Cabernet. Now, before you people send hate mail (you know who you are), yes, I have tasted Baron Herzog wines from 1998, and earlier! SO WHAT? They have NOT improved! They have stayed the same, which is still cool, but that is not aging wine, that is storing wine! In the case of the previously mentioned Baron Herzog, that wine was stored for a ridiculously long, but absolutely cool amount of time. There is a HUGE difference between aging and storing. First of all, the vast majority of the wines on the market are not built to store or age, heck they are not made to drink! Still of the wines on my yearly list, most of them are for storing, and many of them are of the aging variety. Storing simply means, keeping wine around so you do not need to run to a store when you want some wine. It means building your own wine store, from wine you buy at your local area wine shop. No, we are not cutting out the wine stores, we are simply buying in slightly more bulk so that you do not feel compelled to drink every last bottle you have because you have nothing else! Think Costco buying for wine.

Wine, is made to be enjoyed, and sure some of that wine can be enjoyed early on, and for the next few years, those are the storing wines. The rest of wines my list are the aging wines. Does that mean you cannot enjoy them early – well sure you can! Just ask YC or YH, they both buy so much wine, that they get the chance to try every bottle once and then age the rest if it is an aging wine. The point being, we drink our age-able wines too early, and it is a real shame. Try one wine at a time, kind of like stock investing. In the world of investing, you should buy index funds for the majority of your investable funds, but once you have enough money set aside, you can start adding in a stock, ONE at a time. Same thing with wine. You should be buying wines you enjoy, wines you love to drink and drink now! Then start buying more of one wine, say a Four Gates, or an Elvi, etc. and instead of drinking it right away, hold some. Buy 6 instead of 2, and hold four, taste them every couple of years (or whatever variance it is meant to last), and see how they change over the years. Then add another to the aging carousel, and so on. It will take longer, but this way, you are doing it on your time and schedule, not on someone else’s.

Bordeaux Trip with Royal

My trip to Bordeaux was made possible by Royal Wines and Menahem Israelievitch, the Managing Director of Royal Europe. I flew into Bordeaux, and met Mr. Israelievitch in the airport and from there we made our way to the first of many left banks wineries, Chateau Malartic. A clear disclaimer here, the wines I tasted and the wineries I visited were all made possible by Mr. Israelievitch and Royal Winery. Therefore, the wines highlighted here are Royal’s wines. We did make our way to Domaine Roses Camille (DRC), on the day we visited the Right bank, but we were in a rush, and I really did not get the time to properly taste the wines. Of course, no one paid for me to go, and I am receiving nothing for this article. The trip for Mr. Israelievitch was partially oversight that he needed to do, checking the work being done in the wineries we visited during the end of harvest season. Still, it was mostly tasting wine, and the amount of driving he did was truly incredible, from my perspective. My wife laughed about it, saying Mr. Israelievitch was a beast behind the wheel. No, she did not join me on this trip, as you all know, she is not a huge wine fan, LOL, but my stories to her brought out that comment. The roads in Bordeaux, are essentially one lane roads, that wind through mile after mile of vines. People say Napa is like Bordeaux, but they have clearly never driven those roads. I live close enough to Napa, the roads there are not filled with suicide-driven killing machines on a single track road. My many thanks to Mr. Israelievitch for doing all the driving and logistics, a true treat!

My final disclaimer, my likes, and dislikes are mine and mine alone, and will always be, to the best of my abilities without bias, that is my promise always.

Basic Wine Making Process

When I arrived in Bordeaux, the 2016 wine season was slowing down and also speeding up. The harvest was already completed a few weeks earlier, and now those wineries were all extremely busy and in varying stages of the winemaking process. Most wineries still had wine and must in the tanks, with some wineries already past the pressing stage with the wine in the barrels. The winemaking process is so interesting, at times you can be super busy, like on harvest day, where you crush (most wineries do, some do whole cluster fermentation), and press (for white wines), and then you wait – a lot! Sure, you need to do some work for pump overs, where you press down the cap, which is the must that rises to the top that is held aloft by CO2 that is coming off the wine as part of the fermentation process. You want the must to stay wet, so you either punch the cap down, like they did in the old days, or you mechanically (or via a pump), pour the wine over the cap. Either approach makes sure the cap is wet throughout the fermentation process. Some do a cold soak before they start the fermentation, and many just do a cold soak, and let the wine ferment on its own, with native yeasts that live on the grapes.

After the wine completes fermentation, it is removed from the tank, barrel, egg, shell, or god knows what other material the wine is fermenting in. The first thing they pull is the free run wine, the wine that is not contained in the grapes anymore, it is the wine that has separated from the grapes, whether as part of the crush or fermentation, or both. After that is completed, what is left are the grapes and now we start with pressing, which needs to be done with great care. The more you press, the gnarlier the juice gets. Having done this many times in the past, with Benyamin Cantz, and my own wine this past year, it is shocking. The first of the press wine, is lovely, really intense, a bit astringent, and very expressive. The more you press the less lovely it becomes. Now I am talking red wine here, white wine and rose, like a bit more press, but again that happens early on before the fermentation process even starts.

Current state of wine in Bordeaux

Bordeaux is at a crossroads, as explained before. and it is also leaving the Robert Parker era – of super high alcohols, and moving back to the middle, the golden rule. The wines are gaining more balanced and showing better decision making than in the 2009 vintage, the very vintage Bordeaux tried to become Napa Valley, and shed its history, to its own detriment, IMHO. Sure, the vintage was the 100 point season of seasons, but it was also the vintage where many in Bordeaux lost their way in search of that elusive 100 point wine. In spite of their history, their heritage, they went for what they were told was perfection, and found that while they sold their wines, the prophet was a false idol. Proof can be seen in the alcohol levels and the sanity that has been restored in the past few vintages.

The 2013 vintage was a disaster, and whatever they could get out of it, they did, damn the alcohol levels. The future can be seen in the 2014, 2015, and 2016 vintages, wines that have returned to the normal 13 to 14 percent alcohol levels (or so), and wines that show far more character, while still not tasting like green bell pepper juice. This fusion, was the original vision of Robert parker before the whole darn thing went off the deep end. Look at Israel, yes I know I have railed on this too much. They went from making wines at 13% alcohol levels to 15 and higher! At the same time, much of Napa was already stopping the alcohol madness, and blessedly, Bordeaux has once again taken the lead in balanced wines with class, terroir, and lineage.

Winery Notes

With that said, I will now start talking about each of the wineries we visited. I was honored to meet many of the winemaking staff and managing directors along the way. I will try my best to relate what I saw and of course what I tasted. With that said, I will not have scores for the 2016 vintages I tasted, these wines are far too young in the process, many were not even finished with fermentation, as such, I will wait till my next visit to talk about that vintage. Still, from what I did taste, it is very clear that the vintage will be as good or maybe even better than the 2015 vintage, which is a superstar already.

Chateau Malartic

Of all the wineries we visited that are more than 20 years old, this has to be the highest tech winery of them all. It is insane. They do not crush, they ferment whole clusters in tanks. Well, wait for it, how do they get the grapes into the tank, you ask, right? Well, the answer is, lifts. They fill metal baskets with grapes, then the baskets are lifted up with pulleys, and then they are inverted and the grapes go into the tank, whole. From there they cold soak the grapes, after which they ferment and the rest of the process goes on, but all of it is gravity based. The tanks are above the barrel rooms, the press machines can be rolled under the tanks and then the grapes can be released into the press. The liquid flows down to the barrel rooms below.

This is not new technology in any way, but 20 years ago, it was very new. You can see the video of the Chateau here. The Malartic family bought the Bordeaux vineyard in the late 1700s. In the 1850’s, the chateau changed their name to Chateau Malartic Lagraviere. The name change was to honor the family’s famous son, Comte Anne-Joseph-Hippolyte Maures de Malartic, who was a well-known French colonial Governor and French Navy Admiral. That is why the winery shows a lovely boat on the center of its label. We arrived late in the day because my flight was delayed, but on our way in we met with Veronique Bonnie-Laplane, one of the owners of the Chateau.

The Chateau has three labels; Chateau Malartic Lagraviere (red and white), La Reserve de Malartic (also red and white), both of which are made at the Chateau Malartic Lagraviere. They also own the Chateau Gazin-Rocquencourt (which is a different winery in the Pessac Leognan wine region).

In 2014 and in 2016 Royal made a kosher Chateau Malartic Lagraviere red, and in 2015 they made some of the Chateau Gazin-Rocquencourt red, the first time ever for this vineyard. Previous to that, they made kosher Chateau Malartic vintages in 2003, 2004, and 2005. The 2014 Chateau Malartic vintage should be in shops already or very soon.

My notes are below:

2016 Chateau Malartic Lagraviere – Score: NA
The wine went through 12 days cold soak. Then 10 days of extraction, followed by fermentation using native yeasts. The wine has exited the fermentation and is truly impressive. Ripe blackberry and cranberry, tart plum and spice, showing earth and herb, with great structure and fruit. Lovely tannin structure, soft yet firm really special. Long and earthy finish with ripe black currant and dark forest berry.

2015 Chateau Gazin-Rocquencourt – Score: A-
Impressive nose, lovely crazy herb, with ripe black fruit and sheer elegance, showing green notes, mineral, graphite, earth, and loam. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is mouth coating and elegant, with balance and great focus, showing great mineral, with bell pepper, foliage, mushroom, and leather with elegant mouth coating tannin, and tar on the long finish. Nice!

L’AS de la Pizza

If you frequent Bordeaux as much as Mr. Israelievitch, you are a frequent visitor to the sole kosher establishment in the Southwest City of France. That establishment is called; L’AS de la Pizza, and it is a very nice place, IMHO. Look when it comes to pizza, I am not looking for YC food. Still, to me, this was a solid place to eat, and many thanks to the owner: Franck, for being so accommodating and pleasant.

The hechsher to this establishment is given by the Chabad Rabbi of Bordeaux, and he is looking to have a meat restaurant also open, in the next many months. Maybe on my next trip, I will get the chance to eat there as well.

Day 2 in Bordeaux

Well, after a quick visit on the left side of Gironde, on the previous day, Mr. Israelievitch had to go back to the home of Cabernet Sauvignon. I always laugh, because to me Merlot crushes Cabernet Sauvignon if you get the wine from the correct place, like Four Gates, or DRC. Still, Cabernet is Cabernet, and it is still the king, but the easiest way to remember which side is which, is simple for me, at least at this point in my palate education. Right bank of the Gironde is Merlot, simple because merlot is “right” 🙂 That may change one day, but till then, I am set.

Well, day 2 started in complete darkness. You see, if you want to hit all the places we went to, you have to start early and go late, all of which is fine with me. Pitch black and one lane roads, thank goodness Mr. Israelievitch was driving.

Chateau Leoville Poyferre

Our first stop, to me, is one of the best kosher wines from the Left Bank, Chateau Leoville Poyferre. We arrived and for some time Mr. Israelievitch was busy with the cellar rats, and after that, we went to Chateau Le Crock, another winery owned by the Cuvelier family. It was actually the first winery they bought, in 1903, before they consolidated Leoville and Moulin Riche into their wine portfolio, in 1920. After some more cellar rat activity, we picked up some samples, and off we went, back to the beautiful Leoville Poyferre.

Throughout this initial interaction with Leoville Poyferre, we met the winemakers and cellar managers of both Leoville Poyferre and Le Crock. They are all very professional and very kind people, who are happy to share, talk, and interact on all things wine and politic related (yes it was the day after Trump won the election, and the French were more than happy to share their opinions about that with me, once they heard I was American, behind my broken but workable French).

It is at this point I must remind everyone, what I discussed in my French wine post from last year. Please remember, these wines are kosher, sure, but they are also wines with the labels from highly acclaimed French wineries, who have huge pride, and a ton to lose if the product does not track to their standards. Meaning, just because the wine is kosher, does not mean that the winemakers are not all over these wines. Yes, Mr. Israelievitch is the man on the spot for wines made in France and Europe, as a whole, but as long as the label is someone else’s – that wine will be driven by that winery, which is just what we kosher wine drinkers want, of course! We want to be drinking a very close approximation to Leoville Poyferre, not a royal wine made in France.

Also, Leoville, along with Malartic, are clients of the world famous, flying wine consultant Michel Rolland. Before the final kosher wine blends are blessed, he will taste them and he will make notes on them, just as he does for the larger and more complicated blends of the non-kosher.

When I said how impressed I was with Chateau Malartic’s technology above, Leoville, is not far behind. As we were talking with the head cellar master at Leoville, Didier Thomann, I was shocked with what I saw. The tanks are all different in shape, each and every one of them. I asked why? He was quick to reply, we built this winery based upon the vineyards needs. Awesome! Of course, if you have a bumper crop, like in 2015, things move around a bit more than normally. Still, given the average yields, the cellar fits the needs of the vineyard to a T.

Leoville Poyferre has a few red wines in their portfolio, starting with the Grand Vin of Leoville Poyferre, last made kosher in 2005, until 2015, a ten-year hiatus. Before the new vintage, it was made in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and the aforementioned 2005. The next label down the line would be the Pavillon de Leoville Poyferre, another new wine for Royal’s kosher wine line, that they started to make kosher in 2012 and then carried on in 2104, 2015, and 2016 (perfectly missing 2013). The 2014 Pavillon should be available in the USA very soon, if not already available by now.

Officially, the Pavillon de Leoville Poyferre is a higher label than the Moulin Riche. However, in my humble opinion, I have yet to truly find the joy of the Pavillon in comparison to the Moulin Riche, again IMHO. The Moulin Riche was made in 2011, 2013, and 2015. Finally, there is the Chateau Le Crock, a wine that they have been making kosher for some time now, of course as always, off and on. The Le Crock, was most recently made in 2012, 2015, and 2016, it was also made in 2001, 2003, and 2005.

After we returned to the tasting room, we were met there by Isabelle Davin, the head winemaker of Leoville. She was actually not officially on the schedule, as she had a few other appointments that day, but she was very kind to sit in and taste through the entire lineup of wines that Royal is currently doing with the Cuvelier wine portfolio.

Leoville makes about 400,000 bottles a year, and for many years now they have been really putting immense effort into the vineyards as well. With all the technology they have implemented in the winery and the control they exert on the vineyards, it is no surprise that the wines are as wonderful as we experienced. They received the coveted 100 point wine score, for their 2009 Leoville Poyferre from Robert Parker, who was the wine taster for Wine Advocate at that time. Sadly, no kosher Leoville Poyferre (the Grand Vin) was made between 2005 and 2015.

In the end, the wines I tasted continue the fortify the overall feelings I have for Leoville and its portfolio of wines. The Grand Vin of Leoville Poyferre is epic, along with the lovely Moulin Riche. The Pavillon and the le Crock are nice wines, but I would stick with the first two if I had limited space.

The wines notes follow below:
2016 Chateau Le Crock – Score: NA
Lovely nose right now, but since it was tasted from the tank, it showed in the nose. Ripe fruit but controlled and rich. The 2016 vintage is really impressive, the tannin structure and fruit structure show immense potential. Layers of tannin, with crazy salinity, rich mineral, layers of fruit, intense extraction, this will be a fun wine to watch.

2015 Chateau Le Crock – Score: A-
Not the final blend. What a nose, showing ripe fruit, with green notes, sweet dill, great herbaceous notes, with blackberry, cherry, and red forest berry. Showing a medium body with nice extraction, all controlled, with tobacco, lovely earth, and dirt, with great green notes, foliage, showing impressive minerality, charcoal, pencil, with saline and impressive fruit structure and focus. Long and tannic finish, with leather and herb giving way to chocolate and green tea. Bravo!

2015 Chateau Leoville Poyferre ‘Pavillon de Poyferre’ – Score: A-
Dirt, earth, tar, and graphite, with a bit of fruit, is how to describe this nose, impressive. The mouth on this medium to full body starts to talk fruit, with cranberry, blackberry, dark cherry, giving way to incredible focus and structure, showing shocking salinity and black olives, that grab your attention, with mouth draping and elegant tannin that give way to incredible mineral notes and spice with green foliage abounding. The finish is long and green with mineral notes taking the focus but showing great fruit and leather, with coffee and saline lingering long with lavender, earth, and tar.

2015 Chateau Moulin Riche – Score: A- to A
This wine is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. The nose on this is vastly different than the 2011 or 2013 with more fruit than mineral. Showing herb galore, lavender, with tar and blackberry giving way to smoke and dark forest fruit. What a lovely full-bodied mouth, with generous attack and mouthfeel, that is rich and unctuous, with saline and tar giving way to chocolate, and green notes, black fruit galore and insane elegance, crazy. Finish is long and green with elegance and great menthol, smoke, tar, and chocolate. This is a wine that has great potential.

2015 Chateau Leoville Poyferre – Score: A
Wow, so cool to taste from the entire lineup of Leoville, from Pavillon to the grand Vin. The nose is floral with cedar, and incredibly smoky, showing mineral, graphite, with fruit galore and green notes, herb and a perfume of sheer redolence. What a mouth, full bodied, with elegance, that is shocking, showing an elegance that transcends its youth, with beautiful acid and tannin that drapes, showing saline and umami, with earth and loam, that shows potential that is incredible, one of the best yet. The finish is long and green, with mineral galore, graphite, tart fruit, tart raspberry, elegant small plum, giving way to chocolate, hints of smoked animal, and herb and spice galore. What impressive potential. BRAVO!

Chateau Clarke Edmond de Rothschild

Half way through this post, the story comes full circle (hey I never said I was Pulitzer prize writer, ok!), with the Baron. Baron Edmond, was one of the largest financiers of Israel, in its infancy. His Grandson, Edmond Adolphe Maurice Jules Jacques de Rothschild, would continue his legacy is so many ways.

First, the late Baron Edmond was a first rate financier, and though he continued his grandfather’s legacy in that aspect, he separated himself from the rest of the Rothschilds and wanted to go it on his own. He was massively successful, even when France was nationalizing banks of his cousin’s banks, his little bank was left alone, as he was outside of the Rothschild spotlight. Ironically that little bank would eventually become the go-to bank in France for rolling back all of Mitterrand’s nationalized businesses.

Though he went out on his own, he was very much interested in the business of his family, and always invested when the opportunity arose. Same goes with his wine investments. He held shares in Domaines Barons Rothschild, which owns Chateau Lafite-Rothschild in Bordeaux, and Chateau Rieussec in Sauternes, as well as parts of wine properties in Portugal, Chile, Argentina, and California. But it was his wineries that he felt the closest, including Chateau Clarke and Chateau Malmaison, which adjoins Clarke.

Of all his storied family, including the original Baron Edmond, he was the first, and only to create kosher wines in France! Sadly, we never got a kosher Lafite, at least not yet, but thankfully, starting in 1986, Chateau Clarke started pumping out kosher wines to the delight of all of the kosher wine world. At that time, it was created under the auspices of Pierre Miodownick, before he joined Royal, in 1988. The name of the kosher wine, Barons Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild, bears the names of Baron Edmond and his son Benjamin.

Mr. Israelievitch has added the lovely rose – made from fruit of another Baron Rothschild vineyard, Montagne Saint Emilion, and a red from Chateau de Laurets, both go under the name of Herzog Selection Les Lauriers des Rothschild Rose and Herzog Selection Les Lauriers des Rothschild (red). There are also kosher vintages of Chateau Malmaison, the adjoining winery, that were made in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2014, and 2016. The 2014 vintage is for sale now in the USA. Finally, there is Champagne that was released last year, a nice wine, very minerally and earthy, but that is an entirely different wine region :-).

Sadly, eleven years after the first kosher vintage was made out of his winery, Baron Edmond Rothschild was laid to rest near his beautiful home in the center of the Chateau. We met, Helene Combabessouse, the General Manager of the winery, by the beautiful new modern winery building, but it was going under redevelopment, so we moved from there to a very unique and special location, the late Baron’s home.

The home is old world and beautiful, just like many of the wines we were honored to taste, including the new 2014 and 2015 Baron Edmond which were lovely. Still, the 2010 was insane, really, I was honored to taste it there, and I drank the rest of it while eating Pizza that night at L’AS de la Pizza. The wine notes follow below, and my many thanks to the winery for letting us look around the beautiful home and hosting the tasting inside it, and my thanks as well to Royal Wines for sharing some lovely old wines with us.

1999 Barons Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild – Score: A-
Wow! What a nose, dirt, barnyard, earth, with black fruit, cedar, and smoke. Lovely fresh wine, smoke, with pencil, and graphite, with mineral and acid balance showing dark fruit, raspberry, fresh tilled soil, tannin that grips and lingers, showing chocolate and more mushroom and forest floor. Long and fresh and dirty finish, with chocolate, earth, and mineral focus lingering long. Drink in the next three years.

2004 Barons Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild – Score: A-
Another Smokey earthy nose, with great barnyard and dirt, with dark fruit, and red forest fruit and garrigue. Lovely mouth, with great saline and mineral, showing nice earth and dirt, good focus and earth, with tannin that is still searing and not yet integrated, with mineral, graphite, showing nice mushroom and great balance with lovely acid, rich herb, green notes, and black fruit. The wine carries its age quite impressively, showing age for sure but still young at heart. The finish is green and showing barnyard with chocolate and green with tar and earth.

2010 Barons Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild – Score: A- to A
Very young with smoke and earth, showing dark fruit, with earth and mushroom coming later. Full body and crazy attack, focus galore, with dark fruit, blackberry, herb, with a deep core of mineral and graphite, lovely body, dark with dark chocolate and searing tannin that gives way to crazy mineral. The finish is long and mineral driven with spice, cloves, menthol, and spicy oak. Bravo!!!

2014 Barons Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild – Score: A-
Lovely fruity and herb driven wine, very spicy, with cloves and all-spice, showing black fruit and herb. Very different mouth with spice, but you can see where this wine will look like the older brothers with time, showing a full body with crazy spice and searing tannin, a mineral core of graphite, and spice with great acid balance, black and red fruit with time showing a draping tannin velvet. The finish is long and herb, with chocolate, leather, tar, and smoke.

2015 Barons Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild – Score: NA
Different blends that were quite lovely – as the blend for the wine had yet to be finalized. The wines were very austere and rich, and quite lovely.

Chateau Giscours

Chateau Giscours is one of those bragging wines, a Grand Cru that has rarely disappointed, other than in 2013 when blessedly there was no kosher vintage. The wine was made kosher in 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2012, and 2014 (that will be released soon in the USA). The 2015 vintage is in barrel, and the 2016 vintage is in a tank waiting for oak, though it is probably in oak by now, as I was there a month ago. This will be the first time Royal will have ever made Giscours two years in a row, let alone three years in a row! What great years to triple down!

It is a wine that is richer, and more full bodied than other Medoc wines, but well balanced as well. By the time we arrived at the winery, it was very late, so we made our way to the barrels, and Mr. Israelievitch had tank samples of the 2016 vintage, ready in small bottles as well. Wine notes follow below:

2016 Chateau Giscours – Score: NA
Lovely potential with dirt and mineral and crazy dark and red fruit. Really impressive full bodied wine, with great focus and attack, but nice elegance and rich extraction, followed by spice, earth, cloves, intense spice, with blackberry, blueberry, and tart summer fruit, with forest floor, herb, and more spice. The finish is acidic and extracted with spice, dark fruit, and earth. Bravo!!

2015 Chateau Giscours – Score: A- to A
Lovely nose of blueberry, blackberry, cherry, beautiful smoke, elegance but powerful with graphite and mineral galore. What a wine, full bodied and extracted with impressive focus and attack, showing great elegance now but with much more to show, with dirt to start, deep inky structure, rich tar, ink, black and blue fruit with tart cherry in the background, wrapped in menthol and spice galore. The finish is long and rich, lingering long, never really going away with tart fruit, tobacco galore, rich coffee, smoke, and spice. Bravo!!

Chateau Fourcas Dupre

I have screamed this from the roof tops many times now, that Chateau Fourcas Dupre is the BEST QPR French wine out there, end of the story! Even the 2012 vintage is solid, though it is a step back from the epic 2010. So, when we had the chance to swing by and see the winery, I was super excited, to say the least. The poor Winemaker and owner, were not quite ready for an energetic version of me, even after a long and exhausting day (mind you I did no driving, so I am not sure why I was so exhausted, it could have been related to staying up to watch the election and my jet lag).

We met Patrice Pages, the owner, and Gilles Bergerot the winemaker, late into the evening, and they walked us around the winery, which uses a fair amount of cement to ferment the wines, instead of stainless steel vats that command most of the space in wineries today. Fourcas Dupré was started in 1843 by Jean-Baptiste Dupré, attorney of the Court of Bordeaux, upon the site of an old vineyard originally established in the middle ages, and crossed by the ancient Roman road known as “la levade”. In the early 20th century it was a “Premier Cru of Listrac”. Sadly, in 2006 many of the wineries in the area, lost their classification, and they were forced into the “simple” Cru Bourgeois. This resulted in the best Crus Bourgeois wineries leaving the classification in favor of the Union des Grands Crus which currently includes 85% of the classified growths.

In the end, this classification absurdity allows for all of us to enjoy a great wine for a solid price. What I love about this wine, is that it is not pretentious, or all high and mighty like the grand cru wines of Bordeaux. It is a wonderful wine, that deserves the attention it gets. It is a wine, that even with its “lower class” upbringing still requires aging in the bottle, and is absolutely a cellaring wine. The 2010 vintage is barely there now, while the 2012 vintage is just getting drinkable because it was a more accessible wine from the start. Royal made kosher vintages of this wine in 2003, 2007, 2010, 2012, and the yet to be released wines we tasted.

I have blogged about how much I love the Fourcas wines, and the 2015 wines are not going to disappoint. I just wish they had made 2016 wines as well. There will also be a new wine being made kosher in 2o15, the lower label, called Hautes Terres, (or “High Ground” in English). It is a special Cuvée from the estate which is made of 80% of Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a rare blend in Médoc, where wines are normally dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. In the USA, the wine will be mevushal, from what I understand. Of course, my notes below are before any mevushal process. The wine notes follow below. Many thanks to the winery for letting me talk so much about my love for all things Fourcas, and putting up with me!

2015 Chateau Fourcas Dupre – Score: A-
This wine is lovely, ripe, round, with tar, great herb, and mineral. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine, is ripe and round, tart with scraping tannin and mineral, showing herb and graphite, with English lavender, cherry, blackberry, garrigue, lots of black olives and saline, with lots of forest floor to start that will change over time to show lovely barnyard and mineral. The finish is long and green with foliage galore, mint, menthol, with tobacco and coffee. The tannin is searing and the acid is crazy good. Bravo!

2015 Cuvee Hautes Terres de Chateau Fourcas Dupre – Score: A-
The wine is a more approachable wine than the Fourcas Dupre. The nose on this wine is packed with fruit and smoke, lavender, and garrigue and nice dark fruit. The mouth is medium bodied, with good acid and nice softer tannin core, with nice mineral, showing saline and herb, with spicy oak, blackberry, red currant and dry roasted herbs. The finish is long and herbaceous, with mouth coating and mineral galore. A really nice Fourcas with a softer tannin approach.

Day 3

Well, day 3 took us to the hallowed grounds of all things sacred in Bordeaux, IMHO, that being Merlot and Cabernet Franc. You can find Merlot on the left bank, but it shines and is home! That being the correct bank of the river, also known as the right bank of the river! Cheval Blanc, one of the most awe-inspiring wines of the right bank, is majority Cabernet Franc. Some wineries on the right bank, do grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petit Verdot as well, but the unique soil of the right bank, are not really made for the big bold Cabernet and Malbec fruit.

I was up early, as it was going to be a very long day, so Mr. Israelievitch picked me up early and we were off to the home of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, two grapes I love dearly. Now, as I stated before, I cut my teeth on the tasting tables of Cabernet Sauvignon (Gan Eden 80s and 90s wines made by Craig Winchell), and as lovely as they were, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc have always been my fruits of choice. Thankfully, I was equally influenced by the wines from Four Gates, including many of the early and never released wines, as they were more homemade wines than commercial ones. The Cabernet Franc with its perfume and spice captivated me from the get-go. Merlot attracted me early on, but NOT because of what caused the USA love afair that culminated into the disaster that was sideways. That said, Merlot did not take it on the chin like many think, yes it was affected, but it still remains impressively popular, for the same reason it was loved in the 90s. Why? Because people fear wine, and as the old saying goes, “You never get fired for choosing IBM”. That applies to wine as well, you will not get a “Miles stare down” if you choose Merlot, for most people. Please remember, that if you are reading this blog, you are not the common wine drinker, you are one of the snobs. Snobs may incorrectly look down at Merlot, because of Sideways, but the common man thinks nothing of it.

In the Sideways movie, Miles (the movie’s protagonist), proclaims his hatred for Merlot and his love affair for Pinot Noir. While this has been spoken about ad nauseam by many, what has been glossed over is the hammer blow that Miles delivered to Cabernet Franc. In the very same movie, Miles is poured a glass of Cabernet Franc, he smells it, sips it, and ceremoniously pours out the glass into the spit bucket, while dropping an anvil on all Cab Franc fans, as he states “”I’ve learned never to expect greatness from a cab franc, and this is no exception”. “Ouch!” This is the exact kind of snobbery and lack of appreciation for the varietal’s unique qualities, mentioned earlier, that has kept the masses away from Cabernet Franc. In the end of the movie, we find Miles drinking his vaulted and prized bottle of 1962 Cheval Blanc, which is composed of 66% Cab Franc, 33% Merlot, and 1% Malbec!  We do hope that the irony is not lost on you, as it was certainly not lost on the producers, but sadly it was lost on most wine snobs that watched the movie!

Yes, I was being driven to the land of Cheval Blanc, but sadly there is no kosher Blanc, which kills me! If there was one wine that I think would fit my palate to a T, it is the hallowed Cheval Blanc! Come on, Mostly CF, with lots of Merlot and a drop of Malbec, enough said! Still, we were heading to the land that is everything to me, other than Burgundy, so I was super excited. After a quick stop at DRC, which I wish we had more time to really appreciate, we made our first stop at Chateau Montviel.

Chateau Montviel

Chateau Montviel is a winery that many do not know, it is not unknown because it is poor or an under-producer, it is unknown because it lives in the shadow of its bigger brothers, Chateau Le Gay and Chateau Violette, literally and figuratively. Now to be fair, the famous and highly underappreciated Lady of Pomerol, the late Catherine Pere-Verge (there is not even a Wikipedia page about this great and highly single-minded woman), never thought of Montviel in that way. Actually, it was the first winery she bought, but that did not last long at all. She bought Montviel in 1985 and quickly bought Chateau La Graviere in the Lalande de Pomerol appellation. When she bought that winery, it had only at  2 hectares of vines, before she was done buying vineyards around it, she ended up with some 7 hectares. All along, she added vineyards for Chateau Montviel and invested incredible amounts of money to bring the vineyards and winery up to date. That did not happen overnight, and throughout the time that it took to bring her winery up to date, her high energy approach did not work well for the male-oriented and self-ordained Pomerol land owners. She was known for her passionate attention to detail, she oversaw everything in her vineyards herself, from pruning and harvesting to blending and selling the wines. ‘I’m the carbon copy of my father,’ she liked to say. Her father started Cristal D’arques International one of the most important glass manufacturers in the world.

Her next purchase came in 2002 when she bought Chateau Le Gay for 25 million dollars. Once again, she added to the winery and the vineyards, adding some 3 plus hectares, on land that was not being used. But her piece de resistance was the purchase of Chateau Violette in 2005, and once again went to work adding vineyards and pulling up Cabernet Franc, and planting all new Merlot. Most of the grapes go to the famous Violette wine, a wine that scored a 100 in 2010 from Robert Parker. But some of those grapes also go into the Chateau Montviel wines.

The winemaking group is all the same for the entire Vignobles Pere-Verge. The winemaker is the famous Marcelo Pelleriti, a man I was honored to met for a bit of time, along with Michel Rolland, who along with his wife Dany were dear friends of Catherine. Sadly, in 2013 Catherine passed away. Her passion and her success go hand in hand, and that can be seen in her wines and in her family. Her son, Henri Parent is now managing the estates.

The grapes that go into the Montviel are of higher quality and are very close to the hallowed Pomerol Plateau. The grapes that go into the Chateau Royaumont, come from the Lalande De Pomerol. Those grapes come from the Pere-Verge’s Chateau La Graviere vineyards. The wines that Pere-Verge make, come from either Chateau Montviel or Chateau Le Gay wineries. The grapes from the vineyards of Lalande and Chateau Montviel are made in the Chateau Montviel winery. The higher end wines are made in Chateau Le Gay, including the 100 scoring Violette. The score was something that the late Catherine really pushed for, and it was not long after she realized her dream, a dream that was some 30 years in the making that she passed away.

Royal has had a very long and successful relationship with the late Catherine Pere-Verge and with the current team today. The first kosher wine to come out of Chateau Montviel was the 2002 vintage, they also made a Chateau Royaumont that year, as well. They were both made again, in 2003 and 2004. After that Chateau Royaumont, from the Lalande De Pomerol, was made in 2005. After the 2005 vintage, there were no kosher wines from Chateau Montviel until 2011. At that point, Royal made a 2011 and 2013 vintage of the Chateau Royaumont. After that, they made a 2014 vintage of both the Chateau Royaumont and the Chateau Montviel. The 2014 vintage of Chateau Montviel has already been released to the public market, and may well be sold out, so if you find some, get it! I am not sure if the 2014 Chateau Royaumont has yet been released, but I tasted it and while it was nice, it needs a lot of time till it comes together. Finally, the 2016 vintages of both Chateau Montviel and Chateau Royaumont, are just now in oak.

So, to repeat, Royal made kosher wines from Chateau Royaumont in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and then in 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2016. They made kosher wines from Chateau Montviel in 2002, 2003, 2004, and then in 2014, and 2016.

My many thanks to Chateau Montviel and Le Gay wineries for spending the time to let us see the inner workings, which are beyond incredible at Le Gay for the Violette. We tasted the kosher wines in the Chateau Montviel Winery with Vincent technical manager and Florient the cellar master.

2016 Chateau Royaumont Lalande De Pomerol – Score: NA
Very fruity and earthy with rich spice, showing black and red fruit. This wine has incredible potential for the price, which will be higher in the 2016 vintage, as stated before.

2016 Chateau Montviel Pomerol – Score: NA
Lovely and extracted wine with rich black and red fruit, showing incredible structure and fruit, with intense mineral and a green note focus, with lovely tobacco. Truly special, a wine with real potential.

Chateau Yon Figeac

The first thing you must remember is that this winery is NOT Chateau Figeac, yes both of them are in the Saint Emilion wine region, but that is where the comparisons end. First of all, Figeac is massive, some 40 hectares, the largest winery in Saint Emilion. Next, it has a very unique blend of grapes varieties, consisting of 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc, and 30% Merlot, making it more of a Medoc style wine than Merlot-driven wines of Saint Emilion. Finally, Chateau Figeac is a Premiers Grands Crus Classés B, akin to Chateau Valandraud, while Chateau Yon Figeac is a Grands Crus Classés
wine. Actually, there are some 150 plus wineries in France with Figeac in its name. Chateau Yon Figeac is actually one of those.

The original Chateau Figeac originates from an ancient estate that traces its roots back to the 2nd century when a Gallo-Roman villa was built on the estate and named after the ruler Figeacus. In the late 18th century, the property was close to 200 hectares (490 acres) in size but was sold and subdivided several times in the 19th century until 1892, when it was bought by Henri de Chevremont. The many Figeac wineries in the Saint-Emilion region, carry the name Figeac with them, but each has an added a twist here and there. Chateau Yon Figeac was most recently purchased by Alain Chateau in 2005.

Chateau Yon Figeac may only be a Grands Crus Classés wine, but that is nothing to look down at. The winery has two labels, the Grand Vin, called after its name, Chateau de Yon-Figeac, and the second label, Les Roches de Yon-Figeac. They make 100K bottles a year, and the vineyards consist of sand, clay and iron deposits, with plantings of 86% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot.

Royal has had a long term relationship with Chateau Yon Figeac, starting back in 1995! Back then, they made a kosher run of Yon Figeac, the Grand Vin, and followed that up with vintages in 1997, 1999, and 2001. It was not till 2012 that the relationship was rebooted, with the new owner, with the second label Les Roches de Yon Figeac, followed up by the just released 2014 vintage, the 2015 vintage, which I tasted in barrel, and the 2016 vintage.

My wines notes follow below. My many thanks to Aurélien Perdriau, the Operating Manager, who took us around the winery, and tasted the wines with us.

2016 Les Roches de Yon-Figeac – Score: NA
This wine is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. The wine is a full-bodied beast, with great focus and attack, nice mineral and really nice fruit, nice firm tannin, showing nice lavender and green herb.

2015 Les Roches de Yon-Figeac – Score: A-
This wine is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. Wow, what a nose, really impressive spice, spicy oak that gives way with time to green and lovely floral notes, with dark fruit in the background. Nice full bodied wine, showing great focus, great attack, nice and smoky, round and nice extraction, with blackberry, dark currant, cherry and nice mineral, graphite, mouth coating tannin, with herb and dirt, really nice. Coffee, smoke, and roasted animal on the long linger.

Chateau Larcis Jaumat

To be honest, I do not have much on this winery, as this is the first year that Royal will be working with them. The winery is family owned and consists of four separate wineries. The Dumas Estate Wines (the site is currently down – I used the way Internet Wayback machine to see the site), consists of Château Petit Sicard, Chateau du Calvaire, Chateau Larcis Jaumat, and Chateau Les Religieuses. The 81 or so acre estate is located in the heart of the Saint-Émilion jurisdiction. The vineyards are made up of gravel and limestone soil and have an ideal exposure to the south. The wines are made 50% in steel and 50% in oak. The 30 or so year old vines are 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.

The wine notes can be found below. My many thanks to Grenier Didier for showing us the winery and tasting the wines with us:

2016 Chateau Larcis Jaumat – Score: NA
The nose on this wine shows great fruit, impressive spice and herb, dense and rich, with nice balance, impressive. The mouth on this full bodied wine shows blackberry and spiced plum, with a nice fruit focus, showing mouth drying and draping tannin, with nice spice, impressive. The finish focuses on dirt and mineral with floral notes, lavender, and rose hips. Really elegant and pretty good potential.

2015 Chateau Larcis Jaumat – Score: A-
The nose on this wine is really ripe and spicy, with earth, and sweet oak, really showing beautifully. The mouth on this medium bodied wine shows nice layers, nice spice, green notes, foliage, cloves, black pepper, with dark cherry, blackberry, currant, lovely tannin in the back, really nice with mineral, lavender, pencil, and saline in the background. Impressive with coffee and mineral lingering long. Nice!

Chateau Fontenil

Well, if you have not yet realized it yet, Royal wines has an affinity for all things Michel Rolland! Besides being a consulting winemaker at Chateau Malartic, Chateau Leoville Poyferre, Chateau Montviel, Chateau Laurets, Chateau Lascombes (more on that below) he actually owns Chateau Fontenil, well he and his very hands on wife Dany.

It is situated in the commune of Saillans and overlooks the River Isle and the picturesque town of Libourne. The vineyards (85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon) are predominantly south-facing and planted on soils rich in sandstone, limestone, and clay. The grapes are hand harvested at optimum ripeness and are totally destemmed before being fermented, whole cluster, in temperature-controlled, stainless steel tanks. The wine is then aged in oak barrels (50% new and 50% one-year-old) for 18 months.

This is another new winery that Royal has started to work with, and hopefully, they will continue it given how lovely the wine is. My many thanks to Gerald Chambfort for meeting us at the winery, and tasting the 2015 vintage with us. The wine note follows below:

2015 Chateau Fontenil – Score: A- to A
This wine is 100% Merlot. Lovely nose of mineral, spice, black fruit, really nice herb and green notes. Impressive mouth, full-bodied, really focused with lovely cedar, blackberry, cassis, showing searing tannin, impressive structure, lovely extraction, with dark forest berry, massive fruit structure, with great spice and mineral, saline galore. Lovely finish, with coffee, herb, leather galore, with tobacco and graphite that scraps and is yet to integrate.

The old city of Saint-Emilion

With just a few minutes to spare, we rushed through the old city of Saint-Emilion, took pictures and bolted! Thanks so much to Menachem for convincing me, that we needed to visit the city. All I wanted to do was taste more wine, but in less than 10 minutes we were in and out of the city, the clouds parted for our pictures and we were back on the road.

A total aside, the drive was really cool. While we were driving, it was raining, constantly. The second we got to a winery, the rain stopped and the clouds parted. No, I am not Choni Hamagel, nor is Menachem, as far as I know. But that was how it worked it, hilarious!

Now the long road back to the left bank to see two more wineries before we call it quits.

Chateau Lascombes Margaux

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore! Indeed! Like I said a few lines above, we have left the Right bank and returned to the left bank of Bordeaux, Margaux to be exact!

Let’s start off with the simple fact – this winery is big stuff! No, it is NOT Lafite, which we drove by, nor is it Latour or Margaux, both of which we also drove by. Actually, funny story (not really), I got out to take a picture of Latour and the lady at the front gate ran me off! Talk about pretentious! Well, I guess when you have it – flaunt it!

Chateau Lascombes is old world, like 1855 old world. Leoville-like old world. This is another impressive feather in Royal’s cap to get this winery in its portfolio. Though this wine will not be cheap, but it will be well worth getting your hands on.

According to Wine Cellar Insider, in 2001, Lascombes was purchased for $67 million by US-based Colony Capital group. The new owners invested heavily in modernizing the Left Bank estate of Chateau Lascombes, which had been considered an under performer in relation to its classification. The company reportedly spent an additional $47 million on renovations to the entire estate that included a major replanting of the vineyards as well as the construction of a completely new winemaking facility that included a four-level, gravity fed vat room and new barrel aging cellars.

The large, 130-hectare vineyard of Chateau Lascombes has the biggest production of any chateau in the Margaux appellation. The winery produces 250,000 bottles of the Grand Vin and 70,000 bottles of the second wine Chevalier de Lascombes.

So after the investments, another old-world winery was brought up to speed to make it capable of making old world wines, with new world technology. Having walked through the winery with Mr. Israelievitch, it was clear to see that the winery has been updated very recently, everything looks new. However, the real investments that matter, are in the vineyards, which you cannot see with your eyes, but you can clearly see with your palate. My many thanks to Delphine Barboux who tasted the wines with us, and answered all of my questions. The wines notes follow below:

2016 Chateau Lascombes – Score: NA
What potential, what extraction, incredible inky and with a massive body, fruit, showing an incredible structure with a fruit focus, and bright ripe fruit. The mouth is full-bodied, with searing mouth coating tannin, elegant, but truly unctuous, with depth and focus, showing a great balance of acid and fruit. Mineral and dirt lingers long.

2015 Chateau Lascombes – Score: A- to A
This wine is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Merlot, and 3 to 4% Petit Verdot. Wow, a really impressive nose of sweet dill, expressive oak, with ripe fruit, earth, tar, cassis, and black fruit galore, with spice and green notes. Wow, what a full-bodied mouth, fruit focus galore, mineral galore, with graphite and lovely dill, lavender, and black fruit that is backed by intense mineral, spice, green notes, tobacco with spice and lovely elegance. What a wine, finish is long and tobacco green, with leather, and herb and dark chocolate. This will be a fun wine to watch progress

2015 Chateau Lascombes ‘Chevalier de Lascombes’ – Score: A-
This wine is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot. The nose on this wine shows lovely mineral, with spice, tar, and dirt. The mouth is medium-bodied, with dark fruit, currant, and red fruit, with great mouth draping tannin, showing mineral and nice control, with chocolate and nice finish, but not as long as the Grand Vin. Finish is tobacco focused, with graphite, and lovely green notes.

Château Grand-Puy Ducasse

Well that this point, we were running on fumes, but we had to go to one more winery. I had to see what all the fuss was with Grand-Puy Ducasse. The 2013 vintage was a real let down, and that was after they used an optical sorting table to remove bad grapes! The winery is a 5th growth in the 1855 classification.

As we ran into the winery very late in the day, it was just me and Mr. Israelievitch, but that was fine, I really wanted to taste the new 2015 vintage. Many thanks again to Royal and Mr. Israelievitch. Wine note follows below:

2015 Château Grand-Puy Ducasse – Score: A- to A
Wow! What a nose, this wine is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and a drop of merlot. The nose shows elegance, dirt, mineral, graphite, and herb. An impressive and elegant medium to full-bodied wine, with control, focus on fruit and mineral, with tannin that is searing but mouth coating as well, showing lovely potential, with green notes, tobacco, dirt that is integrated well into the wine, with blackberry, plum, and green foliage that is truly lovely. The finish is long and elegant, with soft green and black tart fruit, ripe, round, plush with chocolate and lovely with pencil and tannin lingering long. Bravo!!

Non-Kosher Chateau in Bordeaux

To close out a trip post, I must post pictures of the world famous chateaus that are not yet making kosher wines! Maybe one day! The first is Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron, the next one is the famous Chateau Lafite, followed by Chateau Petrus, and finally, Chateau Margaux.

 

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Posted on January 5, 2017, in Kosher French Wine, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Tasting, Winery Visit and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Shomer32@aol.com

    Great post, I really enjoyed it. I have been building a four gates arsenal. He really does make spectacular wine. Regarding new French wines, have you tasted the following? I have the chance to buy futures on them and wanted to know what you think. Also input on pricing. Thanks Isaac

    – Château Labegorce Margaux 2015 (red wine) Primeur package : 180 bottles, 50€ each (vat not included). – Virginie De Valandraud 2015 (red wine). Primeur package : 120 bottles, 65€ each (vat not included

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • I would not recommend either of those wines, given the other 2015 wines that are coming out. I would pass on those and save your money for the big boys, and the QPRs as well.

  2. What an amazing post. It was such a joy to get so much information on so many amazing facts and anecdotes of all the French regions, classes and new wineries to the massive Royal portfolio. Next time you plan a trip like that let me know if I could tag along!

    From what I have seen here in the states the Barons Edmund Benjamin de Rothschild wine is mevushal, was this also the case with the wines you tasted at the winery?
    I noticed you didn’t write mesushal next to any of them. I was wondering if the wines that are and will be available in the states should be the same or different than what you tasted in France.
    I would also assume that the mevushal wine we can get here would also effect its ageability and the wines we get here won’t age ten or more years as the 1999 you tasted.

    • Sorry Ezra my bad, indeed they were mevushal there as well. Though I am not sure about the 1999, the rest were. Sadly I did not take a pic of the back label on the 99.

      • That’s pretty amazing that those wines have lasted that long. I had never previously been impressed with their wines (at times tasting light bodied and dull) but it’s possible that they were just young and really could’ve developed into great A- wines.
        On an aside, what are your thoughts on the Koenig wines? I have only been able to find the whites available but they seem to get pretty good reviews; considering the price I would venture to say it may be a good QPR though I haven’t tasted it.

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