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Louis-Fabrice Latour of Maison Louis Latour

October 30th, 2017

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A third memorable event at the IWFS Baltimore Festival weekend earlier this month was a dinner of top Burgundy at the Four Seasons Hotel with Louis-Fabrice Latour of Maison Louis Latour. Excellent menu choices were made of serving halibut & monkfish matching so well for the whites and Cornish Game Hen & Veal Osso Bucco with the reds – all Grand Cru! Maison Louis Latour is an important family owned and run negociant-eleveur in Burgundy with 120 acres of vineyards (half Grand Cru the largest holding in Burgundy) dating back to 1797 representing 11 generations now overseen by the 7th Louis Latour. Fond memories of Louis-Fabrice’s father Louis Paul Latour who passed away on April 5, 2016. So many wonderful lunches at his home in the seventies and eighties always with a choice magnum or two of old Corton- Charlemagne still showing freshness and that amazing complexity. Remember vividly their 200 year anniversary celebrations in 1997 where the last magnums of that special vintage 1959 Corton Grancey red shone very brightly at 38 years! Louis Paul expanded into the Ardeche since 1979 with Domaine de Valmoissine in the Haut Var and since 1999 Louis-Fabrice has continued this expansion adding Simmonet-Febvre in Chablis & Henry Fessy in Beaujolais plus extensive renovations at Chateau Corton Grancey. Appreciate how they are following an organic path with a priority for letting the terroir express itself fully in the wines. November 15, 2017 issue of Wine Spectator is very bullish on their new releases with high marks for 2015 whites ranging from 95 points for Montrachet to 90 for Meursault Chateau de Blagny. The 2015 reds too are similarly lauded with 95 for Cortons to 90 for Santenay. Certainly the wines served here showed very well indeed with some brief comments:

2009 Corton-Charlemagne Magnum: Over 11 prime hectares with a choice south-easterly exposure resulted in a fatter grilled almonds easier more forwardly expression from this warmer vintage. Louis-Fabrice offered that Burgundy production was 60:40 red to white just 5 years ago but now has changed to 2/3 white to 1/3 red. He wants to see more red pinot noir made.

2008 Corton-Charlemagne: This was exquisite. Still so young but fresh well balanced vibrant acidity with pure elegance. Should be a long distance runner (hopefully no pre-mox) with bottle aging. Their old style usually seemed to have more new oak with riper fruit while this new mineral style is preferred by this scribe. Louis-Fabrice confirms that earlier picking of the grapes and less time (8-10 months) in new oak is delivering a fresher more mineral style.

2010 Batard-Montrachet: Served a bit too cold but a sensational white vintage that still seems tight here. Rich apricots opened somewhat as aired and warmed. No rush. Louis-Fabrice says it still too young. Needs time.

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2005 Chateau Corton-Grancey: Classic showing lots of earthy cherry fruit, acid, tannins still not totally together. Used 35% new oak nicely integrated with an impressive future ahead of it.

2003 Chateau Corton-Grancey Magnum: Big rich powerful more spicy Corton from a uniquely hot year. Yet has cooler fruit with only 13.5 alcohol and balance in this big format. Louis-Fabrice states their aim is to pick fruit that will show finesse and charm in the resulting wine. Property just 10 metres from the recent DRC acquisition in Corton.

2009 Romanee-Saint-Vivant Les Quatre Journeaux: Remember Louis Paul visiting Vancouver in March 1982 and serving the 1964 of this wine which he described as “elegance yet power and strength but with round finesse”. Owners since 1898 but now only .8 hectares of distinctive iron based clay. Outstanding site only a few metres from the famous Romanee-Conti vineyard. Very fruit driven year of 2009 shows an earlier accessible style with wonderful so called “feminine” finesse. 100% new oak blends with the classy terroir aromatics and that unbelievable velvety smooth texture already starting to emerge. Great wine here!

Recommend you check out Maison Louis Latour portfolio. Some lovely wines. Do you have a fav appellation?

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L to R: Louis Fabrice-Latour & Sid Cross


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Ask Sid: Chianti vs. Chianti Classico

October 25th, 2017
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chianti vs chianti classico

Question: Is there difference between Chianti and Chianti Classico?

Answer: Yes indeed. Confusing similar names but they are 2 distinct and separate DOCGs with 2 different sets of production regulations, production zones and consortiums for the protection of the wine. Chianti is from a much broader far reaching planting area in Italy while Chianti Classico is focused on a very specific zone of 70,000 acres between Florence & Siena. Chianti has lower minimum alcohol levels of 10.5 (annata) & 11.5 (riserva) of 70-100% Sangiovese and up to 30% authorized red grape varieties but still allowed to use up to 10% white grapes. Chianti Classico has minimum alcohol of 12 (annata), 12.5 (riserva), and 13 (gran selezione) using 80-100% Sangiovese with up to 20% authorized red grape varieties but white grapes no longer permitted. Only Chianti Classico is entitled to be identified with that historic Black Rooster symbol on the bottle.


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Madeira Masterclass

October 23rd, 2017

Madeira wine tasting

One of the highlights of the IWFS Baltimore Great Wine Weekend was a brilliant Madeira tasting held on October 13 conducted by knowledgeable expert Mannie Berk of wines supplied by his Rare Wine Co. plus some priceless gems from the private cellar of generous moderator Andrew Jones. Just entering the Four Seasons ballroom with those pre-poured glasses was a fantastic sensory explosion of seldom experienced excitement. Madeira is a fortified wine influenced by heat in either vats (estufas) or slow aged in barrels (canteiro method) produced from grapes grown on terraces of steep mountains on the volcanic island of the same name. Most grapes 80-85% are of the more herbaceous higher yielding Tinta Negra variety (277 hectares or 684 acres) but 10% are the noble varieties from driest to sweetest: Sercial, Terrantez, Verdelho, Bual, and Malvasia (or Malmsey). Our 10 treasures in the tasting compared two wines made from each of these grape varieties. Andrew Jones wrote a scholarly review on these 5 grape varieties (with some of his learned comments included in the tasting notes below) and the present shippers. What was once over 150 producers has now consolidated into 8 of which 6 are shippers for export: Henriques & Henriques is still the only producer to make wine from its own grapes; Madeira Wine Company (MWC) now 90% owned by the Blandy family but marketed under brand names of Blandy, Cossart Gordon, Leacock & Miles; Justino’s (VJH) plus Broadbent Selections label; family owned Pereira D’Oliverira; Vinhos Barbeito; and H M Borges. The wines:

1. SERCIAL 1940 VINHOS JUSTINO HENRIQUES

2. SERCIAL 1937 PEREIRA D’OLIVEIRA

Good comparison of the relatively scarce low yielding Sercial variety here. As of 2010 just 20 hectares (49 acres) cultivated in north region up to 2500 feet altitude. High natural acidity is the key with intense expressive aromatics in a very dry style. Both browning in colour but 1937 with deeper tones. 1940 was released in the 1980s & bought by Andrew Jones at Christies auction in 1996 & 1998 at low market price of 24-25 GBP (now 300-400) but shows flatter style lacking purity with notes of caramel (added). Much prefer the 1937 vibrancy with nutty classy drier balanced power. It should be noted this 1937 spent longer in cask because not bottled till 2003. These wines had been stored standing up and were double decanted the weekend before by Andrew Jones as they need air to open up (and don’t oxidize further). All Madeira wines were served at room temperature but Mannie Berk says some consumers do prefer Sercial slightly cooler. Excellent first pair. Good as an aperitif or with fish like smoked salmon.

3. VERDELHO 1986 PEREIRA D’OLIVEIRA

4. VERDELHO 1851 SOLERA BERRY BROS. & RUDD

Once the most planted variety before phylloxera  but as of 2010 now just 47 hectares (116 acres) mainly at lower altitudes on the north side. Early ripening low yielding with high acidity plus higher sugar levels for a medium-dry style varying from a dry-like Sercial to a sweeter Bual. 1986 was a great vintage from a shipper famous for their Verdelho bottled in 2017 showing richness balanced by strong acidity. The Solera from 1851 continued to be topped up by Cossart only until 1953 when sold in cask to Berry Bros and bottled in 1969 & 1973 (tried here). Bought for just over 4 British pounds but now 300 odd at auction. Both interesting with such a dramatic difference in their styles. Match nicely with a soup course.

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1995 light on left & 1895 dark on right

5. BUAL 1995 BARBEITO

6. BUAL 1895 COSSART GORDON

Bual (or Boal) is Malvasia Fina with about 20 hectares (49 acres) planted on the warmer south side of island. 100 years apart here and a big difference in their colour. Not what you normally expect where usually red wines get lighter with age. However with Madeira the longer time spent in barrel turns it into a much more concentrated darker red colour with that distinctive green-yellow rim. 1995 had 20 years but 9 were warm and 11 cool (which slows down that concentration) and looks quite light in comparison as shown in the photo. Amazing. Often 60 grams/litre residual sugar in Bual but not cloying sweet because of the very high acidity to balance it off. That 1895 bottle was really spectacularly complex! What a treat.

7. MALVASIA 20 YEAR OLD BARBEITO

8. MALVASIA 1954 BARBEITO

Classics like 1920 Cossart Gordon were made from the historic Malvasia Candida but difficult to grow and now only 4 hectares are remaining. Now a newly bred grape Malvasia Branca de Sao Jorge introduced in late 1970s occupies 35 hectares (86 acres) being ideal for the sweetest Malmsey. Same shipper with their 20 year being the average age bottled in 2014 in a light elegant style with an emphasis on freshness selling for around $195. The 1954 is dark rich all butterscotch coffee mocha at $495. Was a delight served with the accompanying roasted nuts. Would be special with dessert.

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9. TERRANTEZ 1971 PEREIRA D’OLIVEIRA

10. TERRENTEZ 1960 BLANDY

Once more widely planted but always a rare bird with special aromatics placed in a respected category. Extremely low yielding and high susceptibility to oidium with now only 2 hectares (5 acres) in total. Drier towards Sercial/Verdelho style but very fine quality served last. Surprising that the oldest 1960 bottled in 1992 with 32 years in cask while the youngest 1970 not bottled till 2016 so has 45 years barrel aging. Aging process is the most important aspect of Madeira distinctiveness and prefer the younger 1971 with 13 more years in cask. They are quite similar though with both showing that unique sweet-bitter taste of Tarrantez that is so subtle and super elegant. Brought back nostalgic memories to this scribe about those marvellous 1792 & 1795 and other oldies from memorable tastings back in the mid 1980s.

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L to R: IW&FS Americas Inc. Chairman Andrew Jones & Sid Cross

Many thanks to Mannie Berk and Andrew Jones for presenting such a wonderful world class tasting. So informative and so well done with rare bottles. IWFS are to be congratulated for the organization of and depth of these wine events. Encourage more members to attend upcoming future Great Wine Weekends & Festivals. If you are not a member you are missing out and should become one.

Have you tried an old memorable Madeira?


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Ask Sid: How are wild fires affecting California vineyards?

October 18th, 2017
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California wildfires wine grapes
Question: How are the wild fires ravaging the California vineyards affecting the grapes and the vines?

Answer: Shouldn’t be a problem for those grapes that already were picked and being processed in the winery. However those later ripening varieties including cabernet sauvignon could be affected by a resulting smoke taint in the grapes which is likely to appear later on in the wine. Just a little bit of it could add complexity but a lot would overwhelm the fruit purity. More problematic is the damage to the vines. They tend to be strong and hearty but flames could burn those that were very dry after the long hot summer weather. All vineyards will require careful monitoring and the final assessment on whether or not any specific vine survived probably won’t be known till bud break in the Spring 2018.


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IWFS Baltimore Festival: Château Pontet Canet Vertical

October 16th, 2017

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Some remarkable wine and food events were held this last weekend at the IWFS Festival in Baltimore. Highlights included a Madeira tasting, a Burgundian dinner featuring the top wines of Louis Latour, and a final dinner of the last ten vintages of Château Pontet Canet. Your scribe will review only the later function here (and hopefully the other two in subsequent postings).

Quality focused owner Alfred Tesseron was in attendance to lead this grand tasting at the scenic Centre Club with excellent most appropriate food courses of mushroom risotto, duck breast, and long braised Angus short rib successfully matching his excellent wines. True visionary Alfred together with his nieces Melanie & Philippine and the conscientious regisseur (estate manager) Jean-Michel Comme have embraced organic and biodynamic methods allowing that special Pauillac terroir to really sing. They now have 8 horses working 50% of the 81 hectares (planted roughly 65CS, 28M, and 5CF & 2PV) in 2 blocks with the front section of 50 on very gravelly soil. Authorization received for a stable of 20 horses will allow the whole vineyard to avoid the compacting earth factor of tractors but it takes time to integrate each horse into an expanding group one at a time. They also recently purchased the Pym-Rae large property in Napa Valley from the Estate of the late Robin Williams and Alfred was disturbed by the fact he is unable to get any news whether or not it has been damaged by the current wild fires ravaging the area. Also Robert Parker was scheduled to attend but during a physio session this month he badly dislocated his hip requiring immediate surgery so was not able to join us with comments on how these super wines are developing including his two 100 pointers of 2009 & 2010. Therefore here are some insights from Alfred Tesseron and my brief impressions on the vintages as served from oldest to youngest:

2005: First year of organic and biodynamic production shows this excellent vintage to advantage. Lighter than expected but so classic with a minerally delicious balance of fruit, acid and tannins just beginning to come together. Be patient. No rush. Excellent.

2006: Alfred says rain at harvest so maybe didn’t pick at the perfect time but feels in a few years it will open up and show more. Found it a bit backward as slightly tough, harder, and drier presently.

2007: Difficult year with humidity and Spring mildew which required chemicals for one week to rescue. Alfred said he should have sat back and enjoyed one of his fine Cognacs and waited a week to see what happened first. Second guessing himself.  Nevertheless the wine is elegant and approachable quite stylish but leafy showing better with food.

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2008: First year used 3 horses and learned a lot about what was best for keeping the soil alive to give a better wine. Previously found this vintage smoother with mocha but more backward this night even though decanted at 2:30 that afternoon. Found it opening up and flavours much better with the succulent duck dish.

2009: Weather changed in June and a great year resulted. Softer but ripe lush easy big fruit almost drinkable now but concentration impressive for the future.

2010: Certified 0rganic-bio by Demeter in 2010. Tesseron family proud of being the only property to get 2 consecutive 100 point ratings by Parker. Your scribe very impressed by the classic structure here with real vibrancy to the intense cooler fruit. Classy Pauillac with an unlimited future!

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L to R: Alfred Tesseron & Sid Cross

2011: Pressure on them after 2 perfect vintages. Different growing conditions gave a clean but leaner simpler profile here.

2012: Started using some amphora (30-35%) in the cellar and less new oak decision because don’t want to hide their good fruit. Solid for a less hearlded year with some spices.

2013: Extremely difficult conditions with nearly everything seeming to go wrong. 20 years ago the vintage would have been a total disaster. Rescued a good crop by strict selection (only used 1/3 of the crop) that Alfred feels is more Burgundian than Pauillac in style. Found it quite herbaceous presently.

2014: Back to normal quantity for them and a vintage that will be pleasant for many years on. Found it clearly best of the last 4 with full fruit and good depth. One to buy now. Also keep a eye out for the 2016 highly recommended!

Have you tried an excellent wine from Château Pontet Canet? Which Bordeaux vintage to you rate highest since 2005?

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