Sunday, January 27, 2019

Quality & Value in 2015 Côtes de Bordeaux

Vineyards in Blaye. Credit: Côtes de Bordeaux
Expressive Bordeaux in the sub-$30 range can be hard to find. I love Bordeaux, but can’t really afford what I love to drink, at least not very often. On the other hand, I’ve been turned off by inexpensive Bordeaux — too much acidic, bitter or just plain boring wine has made me hesitant to take a chance on a random $30 bottle.

But, over the past few years, I’ve found Côtes de Bordeaux wines can fill an interesting niche. They offer entry-level accessibility to consumers who want to explore Bordeaux without spending a lot of money, and they can offer something delicious and distinctive enough to make Bordeaux fans happy.

Côtes de Bordeaux is composed of five appellations: Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon, Francs and Sainte-Foy. Four of them joined together in 2009 to form the Union des Côtes de Bordeaux, while Sainte-Foy joined in 2016. These largely noncontiguous areas are spread out along the right banks of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Blaye, the largest, stretches east from the banks of the Gironde river; Cadillac follows the east bank of the Garonne; Francs and Castillon produce wines from vineyards northeast of Saint-Emilion.

Most of these vineyards are planted on rolling hills with lots of clay and some limestone soils. The wines are almost all red, almost all Merlot-dominated, with some other Bordeaux varieties sprinkled in. Collectively, the five appellations produce about 5.3 million cases of wine, which is about 10% of Bordeaux’s total production.

I’ve written about these wines a few times before, and found a lot of good quality and value. So, knowing the hype about the 2015 vintage in Bordeaux, I figured a few Côtes de Bordeaux wines from this vintage would have a lot to offer. I was able to gather up 10 sample bottles, nine from 2015, with one 2014 ringer, and I blind-tasted them. 

Aross the board, these wines really deliver in the 2015, generally showing plenty of ripe fruit, with some velvety tannins and moderating acidity. A few wines really stood out.

And it sort of amazes me that these wines cost between $12 and $25. They can be fun to enjoy young, but some of these have the structure to improve with years in the cellar.

My notes on the wines I tasted are below.

2015 Château Suau - France, Bordeaux, Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux
SRP: $25
Bright purple color. Nose boasts black cherries, blackberries, roasted figs, along with scorched earth, graphite, mint and dark chocolate. Plush texture on the palate with velvety tannins and medium acidity, this shows juicy red and black currants and cherries but stays vibrant throughout. Notes of violets, clove, leather and mushroom play well with the cedar and coffee notes. Very accessible now but could hold for a few years. 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. Located on the highest part of Cadillac (which is only 330 feet), aged 12 months in French oak. (89 points)

2014 Château Lamothe de Haux Première Cuvée - France, Bordeaux, Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux
SRP: $15
Light purple color. Nose shows tart red and black currants and plums, along with tar, forest floor, coffee and clove. Vibrant acidity, strong tannic backbone, but the edges aren’t too harsh, this seems young but also lively. Tart red and black currants mix with lots of tobacco, clove, cedar, coffee. Concentrated and a bit tight, but impressive depth. This stood out from the 2015s as it doesn’t seem as velvety or silky, rather seems a bit tighter and more reserved, but still very nice. (88 points)

2015 Château Lamothe de Haux Première Cuvée- France, Bordeaux, Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux
SRP: $15
Pretty aromas of juicy red and black cherries, saucy plums, lots of roses, violets, rhubarb, with some pepper, leather and coffee grounds. Velvety on the palate but nice grip, fresh acidity, lovely balance herein. Cherries, currants, suave but tangy fruit, and I get a complex mix of grilled herbs, roses, violets, tar, pepper, black tea. So vibrant yet structured and age-worthy, too. Exactly what I was hoping to find in this tasting: insane 2015 vintage value from the Côtes de Bordeaux. 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. (90 points)

2015 Château Puygueraud - France, Bordeaux, Francs Côtes de Bordeaux
SRP: $18
Gorgeous nose of chilled black cherries, red and black currants, lots of violets, black tea, dark chocolate, anise and clove. Lovely balance on the palate with dusty tannins, crisp acidity and plenty of red and black cherries and currants. Complex nots of violets, clove, black tea, along with leather, forest floor. Clove, anise, cedar and coffee notes woven in well. Packed with fruit but also fresh and vibrant, this will age nicely over the next four to five years or so. 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec from clay and limestone soils, aged 12-16 months in about 40% new French oak. (91 points)

2015 Château de Pitray - France, Bordeaux, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
SRP: $15
Nose shows tart black currants and dark plums, with coffee, dark chocolate, roasted chestnut and violets. Structured tannins, vibrant acidity, the balance is really nice with the tart black currants and black cherry fruit. Notes of clove, cedar, roasted chestnut, library dusty, with some mineral and graphite elements. Plush and ripe fruit, but it’s crisp and quite complex already. Should be more so in a few years. 75% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec. The Merlot sees 12 months in French oak, while the other wine is aged in stainless steel. (90 points)

2015 Château Hyot - France, Bordeaux, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
SRP: $15
Nose shows fresh red cherries, currants and plums, along with rose petals, oregano, pine forest, mushroom. On the palate this shows strong tannins, tart acidity, and some concentrated, tangy red fruits (cherries, currants). Notes of pine, forest floor, mushroom add complexity. The tannins here need a few years to mellow out, and then this should turn into a smooth, tangy, super earthy and savory wine. 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon from sandy clay soils, aged 20 months in oak. (87 points)

2015 Château Le Grand Moulin Grande Reserve - France, Bordeaux, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux
SRP: $13
Tart cherries and currants on the nose, lots of tobacco, mint, black tea and earthy, charcoal notes. Velvety on the palate, medium acidity helps balance out the medium-strength tannins. Tangy plums and black cherries, juicy and ripe fruit, a little less focus on the secondary notes here, but some subtle violets, loam and earth. Accessible stuff right now, but this could age for a few years at least. 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec from sandy gravel soils, aged 12 months in cement. (87 points)

2015 Château Gigault Cuvée Viva - France, Bordeaux, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux
SRP: $19
Nose of tart red currants, deep black cherries, a nice mix of cedar, loam, coffee, tobacco, mint and leather. Nicely balanced on the palate with velvety tannins and fresh acidity. Juicy cherries and plums yet the fruit has a tangy edge, accented with violets, cedar, coffee grounds. A really cool earthy/mineral quality here, and the wine is lip-smacking and accessible, yet built to improve in the cellar for a while. Delicious, impressive blend of 90% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc. (90 points)

2015 Château Cailleteau Bergeron - France, Bordeaux, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux
SRP: $20
Waves of dark plums, currants and cherries on the nose, backed up with mint, coffee, clove, cedar, a warm and inviting aromatic display. Vibrant acidity on the palate, solid tannic backbone, combines with suave fruit with a tart edge (black cherries, red currants). Notes of violets, earth, charcoal, graphite, blended nicely with some cedar and vanilla. Vibrant and expressive but should age nicely. 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. (90 points)

<85 points
2015 Château Couronneau Bordeaux Supérieur - France, Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur
SRP: $19
Nose shows juicy black cherries, sweet raspberries, with clove and vanilla. The palate is where things go off the rails a bit. High acid, astringent tannins with some green edges, some nice tart cranberry fruit and black cherries, but there’s a bitter, fruit pit element. Notes of pencil lead and graphite. Not faulty, and air helped smooth it out a bit, but it was still disjointed, even 24 hours later. Perhaps a few years might help but I’m skeptical. 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon.

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Wine Reviews: Grenache & Syrah from Spain & France

I’m a big fan of Grenache, both as a varietal wine and it’s classic place in blends with Syrah and other red Rhone grapes. This week, I have a handful of diverse Grenache wines from Spain, and a Grenache Gris from the Roussillon region of France really wowed me.

I also tasted a few Syrah-focused wines from the Southern Rhone appellation of Costières-de-Nîmes, whose wines I’ve really enjoyed in the past. The value can be excellent, too.

These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Bodegas Aragonesas Garnacha Coto de Hayas Centenaria - Spain, Aragón, Campo de Borja
SRP: $15
Medium purple color. Nose of dark cherries, black currants and raspberry jam, with cocoa, vanilla and mint. Full and saucy on the palate, a chewy, fleshy style with mild tannins and medium acidity. Juicy black cherries and blackberries, mixed with vanilla, cocoa and earth. Smooth, fun, pleasant, good stuff for near-term drinking. (87 points)

2016 Bodegas San Alejandro Garnacha Las Rocas - Spain, Aragón, Calatayud
SRP: $12
Bright purple color. On the nose, spicy red and black cherries, raspberry jam, with black licorice and raspberries in dark chocolate notes.Full and chewy on the palate, juicy and fun with some light tannins and medium-low acidity. Plums, raspberry and blackberry jam, the fruit is backed up with anise, cola and dark chocolate. Fun, fruity, but well-made and solid for the price. (86 points)

2013 Las Moradas de San Martín Senda - Spain, Madrid, Vinos de Madrid
SRP: $15
Light purple color. Rich and dark on the nose with roasted figs, black cherries, along with anise, magic markers and coffee. Full-bodied, medium tannins, medium-low acidity. Dark plums, currants, saucy fruit mixed with spiced black tea, anise, charcoal and cedar. Bold, forward but built well. Calls for a big cut of grilled meat. 10 months in French oak. (87 points)

2015 Bodegas Ignacio Marin Ballad - Spain, Aragón, Cariñena
SRP: $20
Light purple color. Classic, sweet, rich Garnacha aromas of raspberry jam, plum sauce, with some vanilla and dark chocolate. Fully, velvety, soft tannins, low acidity, this is all about the sweet plum cake and saucy raspberry fruit. Some coffee, chocolate and vanilla accents as well. Fun, chewy, rich, crowd-pleasing dessert wine. (86 points)

2016 Domaine de la Rectorie Banyuls Cuvée Thérèse Reig - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Banyuls
SRP: $33/500ml
Deep purple color. Saucy blueberries, roasted figs, along with clove, toasted coconut, vanilla and coffee grounds. Full and bold on the palate with quite strong tannins but medium acidity, plenty of sweetness, but the balance is aligned very nicely. A warm compote of blueberries, blackberries, roasted fig, laced with charcoal, clove, graham cracker, cinnamon. Complex and evocative already, this is an excellent Banyuls with many, many years ahead. I’d love to bury this for 20 years and hope I’m alive to taste it. (92 points)

2015 Domaine Jones Grenache Gris - France, Roussillon, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes
SRP: $28

Deep yellow color. Love the nose: deep yet bright, with apricot, lemon curd, lime, salted almond, sea breeze, crushed chalk. Plump texture, a fascinating depth and waxy element, but tangy too, and the balance is lovely. Lemon, orange pith, apricot, with lots of sea salt, chalk, mountain stream, minerals, as well as honey, white tea and olive oil-like elements. Complex, vibrant, gorgeous. (91 points)

2015 Ferraton Père & Fils St. Joseph La Source - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, St. Joseph
SRP: $32
Light purple color. Aromas of plums, juicy black cherries, topped in roasted herbs, espresso, campfire smoke and black pepper. Medium-bodied with medium+ tannins and moderating acidity, nice grip but the wine is fleshy and lively, too. Tart black currants and roasted figs and plum cake topped in charcoal, espresso, some black olives. Nice depth but also quite vibrant and ready to drink, although this could easily be cellared for a few years. (88 points)

2017 Château de Campuget Costières-de-Nîmes Rosé 1753 - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Costières-de-Nîmes
SRP: $16
Medium copper color. On the nose, an explosion of peaches, apricot, topped in nettle, honeysuckle and tropical flower petals. Plump texture on the palate but fresh acidity. Loads of white peaches, cantaloupe, apricot and lemons. I get notes of chalk, sea salt, lots of spicy floral and tea elements, some pepper and herbs. Juicy and fruity but vibrant and quite complex. 80% Syrah and 20% Vermentino. (89 points)

2015 Domaine de Poulvarel Costières-de-Nîmes Les Perrottes - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Costières-de-Nîmes
SRP: $32
Light purple color. Dark and saucy on the nose with black cherry compote, loaded with violets, black pepper, coffee and charcoal. Full-bodied, solid grip from the tannins, medium acidity. Darker, Syrah-dominated fruit (blackberries and black cherries) mixed nicely with elements of pepper, cocoa, dark chocolate and earth. Big and dark but showing some good complexity, but I think this will be more expressive in two-to-four years. 65% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 5% Carignan. (89 points)

2014 Michel Gassier Costières-de-Nîmes Nostre Païs - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Costières-de-Nîmes
SRP: $20
Medium ruby color. Lots of aromas of pepper, sage, leather, grilled lamb, along with raspberries, cherries and plums. Full but fresh on the palate, the velvety tannins provide backbone while the acidity keeps the wine lively. Cool cherries, plums and raspberries laced with pepper, leather, chewing tobacco, grilled meats, and notes of earth and minerals as well. Showing very well now but this could hold for at least a few years. 35% Grenache, 25% Carignan, 20% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, 5% Cinsault. (90 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Conegliano Valdobbiadene: Step-Up Prosecco

Conegliano Valdobbiadene vineyards (Source:
For the past five to ten years, I’ve read countless articles on the rise of Prosecco. It’s a less expensive alternative to Champagne, it’s gaining in popularity with millenial drinkers, sales keep growing, etc. And, today, Prosecco is indeed the world’s best-selling sparkling wine by volume — while Champagne brings in a whole lot more revenue.

Here in the States, I’ve seen a lot of Proseccos geared toward a younger American market arrive in my samples pile, and at my local grocery and wine shops. Especially around the holidays in the DC market, Prosecco was everywhere.

I’ll admit my personal bias up front: if someone gave me $100 to spend on Champagne or $200 to spend on Prosecco, I would not hesitate to snag that single Benjamin. And while Champagne-method sparkling wines are far more intriguing to me, sparkling wine isn’t a zero-sum game. And there are some good Proseccos out there.

A good place to start would be wines from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore appellation. This appellation earned its DOCG status in 2009. These grapes are sourced from the rolling hills of 15 different municipalities around the centers of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. The soils here are composed of clay, loam, sandstone and other elements, and the wines show more depth and complexity than your typical Prosecco. Some Conegliano Valdobbiadene wines carry the special designation “Rive,” which indicates wine grown from specific hilly municipalities, from a specific vintage, manual harvesting required, etc.

If you want to find the cream of the crop, check out wines from the DOCG Superiore di Cartizze. Within the Conegliano Valdobbiadene appellation, these wines are sourced exclusivley from about 100 hectares on the steep hill of Cartizze, and I’ve found these wines show interesting minerality and a lot of depth.

I recently tasted through six Proseccos from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, and gained some more appreciation for these wines, many of which show serious value. I received these bottles as trade samples and tasted them single-blind.

N.V. Sanfeletto Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore Extra Dry - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore
Pale lemon color. Aromas of lemons, green apples and melon, chalk dusty, lots of sugar cane and dandelions. Zippy, light, fine bubbles, medium acidity, some nice creaminess to the texture with sugar cane elements. Lemon meringue, green melons, lots and lots of flowers (orange blossom, baby’s breath, perfume and clean laundry). Fun, fresh, nice and crisp and pleasant. 100% Glera from the Feletto area, 13 g/l sugar. (87 points)

N.V. Le Rughe Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore Extra Dry “Rivaj” - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore
Light yellow color. Nose shows lemons, green apples, topped in honeysuckle, dandelions, sea salt, floral perfume. Light-bodied and brisk on the palate with yellow and green apples, lemons. Lots of floral perfume, baby’s breath, dandelions, some chalky notes. I get elements of apple cider and cinnamon as well. Lean but some fun elements here, and nicely balanced. 15 g/l sugar. (88 points)

2017 Bartolomiol Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore "Prior" Brut - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore
Light yellow color. Nose boasts white peaches, green melon, apricot, with honey and orange blossoms. Fresh and bright and light on the palate with a salty, mineral appeal that is more evident than in most other wines in the tasting. White peaches, green melons, nectarine, along with baby’s breath, orange blossom. Very crisp and easy-drinking but significant complexity. 8 g/l sugar. (87 points)

N.V. Valdo Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore “Cuvée 1926” - Italy, Veneto, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG
Bright lemon color. Bright aromatics with peaches, green melon, lemon curd, along with sea salt and white flowers. On the palate this is dry and bright with a salty, lemony approach, along with peaches and green melon. Perfumed, bright, with salted almond, chalky minerals, yet there’s a depth to this wine that is really attractive. (89 points)

2017 Mongarda Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore

Bright yellow color. Aromas of peach nectar and limes, with crushed chalk, hay, baby’s breath and sea salt. Crisp and light on the palate, with a zesty, tart, mineral-driven appeal. Limes, peaches, guava, topped in saline, honeysuckle and sea salt. Light but complex, lean but lively, this has a lot of mineral and some oyster shell notes that really pop on the finish. Impressive complexity. 4 g/l of residual sugar. (90 points)

2016 BiancaVigna Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore Extra Brut Rive Di Soligo - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore
Light yellow color. Lots of depth, with yellow apples, apricot, lemon curd, with chalky, bread dough and seashell notes. Brisk acidity, a bracing appeal on a light-bodied frame, with candied lemon peel, orange peel, green apples, with lots of crushed chalk, meringue, sea salt. Lots of mineral depth here, a nice salty, briny element, too on a dry, bright frame. I really like this stuff. Only 2 g/l residual sugar. (90 points)