Top o’ the vineyard to ya!

The Connemara Irish Pub in Bordeaux, France

Wine for St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day can be more than Guinness and Jameson (not that there’s anything wrong with those!). Wine can be a part of the holiday too if you celebrate the Bordeaux‘s Irish heritage. True enough: The Irish, sea captains and Napoleonic generals as well as wine lovers and developers, have long been active in Bordeaux estates and shipping. The most famous are the Lynches, as in Lynch-Bages and Lynch-Moussas, plus Mr. Barton of Leoville Barton. Then there’s Chateau Kirwan, Phelan-Segur and more. And how about Haut-Brion? …Maybe the French couldn’t spell O’Brien?

Lafite, the China trade and Love Potion Number 8.

Everyone knows that winebuyers from the new class of Chinese millionaires have  displaced the Japanese as the big money in the Bordeaux market: three bottles of 1869 Lafite just sold for a  quarter million dollars each in Hong Kong. So much so that La Tour will place the mandarin character for 8 on its 2008 labels to underscore the good luck (and big fortunes) of those who buy a bottle. And Mouton Rothschild’s labels  will feature the work of a Chinese artist.

Unless you were among those who could buy Lafite or Latour before the China price inflation arrived, it’s not a big loss.

2005 Chateau Pape Clement, Pessac-Leognan
2005 Chateau Pape Clement, Pessac-Leognan

Why? Because the Chinese market is in a bidding frenzy only for most famous of the first growths and not mustering much interest in the other great first growths which are  not yet famous enough to be prestige gifts in China.  So far.

That leaves plenty of other great reds just in Bordeaux, say the 2005 Pape Clement, 98 points and perhaps the best ever at the chateau ($199.99)  Or if you have the patience and prudence to wait for futures, you can get labels of the rich and famous AND superb wines without a bidding war in the thousands. For only $300 you can invest in futures for wines that are top  growths in B21’s book (95 pts and up):  Ch. Palmer, Ch. Angelus, Ch. Pavie, Leoville Las Cases and Cos d’Estournel are each only $299.99.

P.S. Futures make hassle-free holiday gifts. No wrapping needed, just  say “Don’t open until 2012.”

2009 Bordeaux: Great vintage fits all

Don’t let the hype and panicked competition about the newest vintage of the centry scare you. It is “the best young vintage I’ve tasted in years” as Bob Sprentall says and it’s a future that fits all palates and wallets starting as low as a $7.99 half bottle of Fronsac merlot that Roberts (Sprentall and Parker) rate as a 90. 

2009 Chateau Beausejour Duffau-Lagarrosse
2009 Chateau Beausejour Duffau-Lagarrosse

Certainly a world of big-spenders have pushed the first growths to astronomical levels. Let them have at it. Remember that a vintage good or bad, is a years worth of weather and climate and covers a large area not just single prestigious vineyards. The sun shines and the rains fall on all the neighbors too, the just and the unjust alike. (Indeed some wise buyers argue that the great properties’ geography, viticulture and winemaking stand out most in bad vintages.)

Finding the best Bordeaux outside the show-off Chateaux everyone knows is a specialty of B-21. Bob has gone to Bordeaux every winter and spring for years scouting the properties for each vintage. He and Rhett Beiletti have been in the tranches repeatedly this year to assess the vintage and have come back with a terrific set of futures in all prices and sizes.

B-21 offers more than 150 futures of 2009 Bordeauxs, many of them $50 to $60 and well north of 90 pts. Given all the talk about thousand dollar prices, a find of Bob’s like the 2009 Chateau Beausejour Duffau-Lagarrosse is as impressive for it $134.99 price as its 96 pt score. 

They come in half bottles, 750s and magnums, and whatever the price, they will not arrive until 2012. 

Which makes Bordeaux futures a fine no-wrap, no hassle holiday gift: Just drop a note to your recipients that a future bottle has their name on it.

2008 Bordeaux, the last value vintage: The futures are nearer than you think

If the 2009s seem sky high and the 2007s tres cher themselves, where‘s a frugal Bordeaux fan to go?

2008 Cos d'Estournel
2008 Cos d'Estournel $99.99

The 2008 vintage of course. Not only are prices more accessible but you‘ll get them a year sooner, some this fall, while the posh crowd is still waiting for the 2009s.

Many merchants here and around the world are bidding up the 2009s; the smart few bought into the 2008s.

The vintage of 2008 got less hype, but it is not truly a lesser vintage. Dozens got ratings in the mid to upper 90s, yet they remain neglected and at bargain prices, often less than half the price of 2005, 2007 or 2009.

One of our favorites (and Parker’s too is the Pomerol of Michell Rolland, the 2008 Chateau Le Bon Pasteur (WA 93-96 ,$69.99) in which he cut the production down to his finest parcels. Parker calls it “the finest Bon Pasteur since the 1982. Probably the most complete and potentially complex and concentrated Bon Pasteur ever made, it offers sweet berry, mocha, caramel, and flowery characteristics, gentle but substantial tannins, and sensational concentration. There is no hint of aggressiveness. Bravo! It should drink well young, but last for three decades.’’

Beats chasing ‘09s for me. And there’s much more.

Consider Cos d’Estournel at $99.99, Pichon-Lalande at $79.99, Larcis Ducasse at $69.99 , Smith Haut Lafitte at $49.99, and Lynch-Bages at 59.99.

Remember that in years when many wines are average, great crus shine.

What a sweet future: 2009 Sauternes

2009 Chateau Suduiraut (Sauternes)
2009 Chateau Suduiraut (Sauternes)

D’Yquem is the essence of indulgence, and I’m glad I had the privilege long ago and not so far from the chateau itself. My budget won’t allow a repetition, but I am delighted there’s a raft of lovely grapes from nearby and all the way to Monbazilliac.

I discovered that half-bottles of non-d’Yquem, especially Suduiraut was the sweetest way to spend $25 or so. A perfect gift that few have tried and almost everyone likes, and it lasts several nights.

That was then. Now, come the 2009s where Sauternes may be the best of Bordeaux’s best in years. The Spectator’s already thrilled about the 2009 Suduiraut: “Lots of sweet fruit and a long, spicy finish. Racy, layered and beautiful.” 94-97 Points.

And Parker’s reaching for 100, “one of the outstanding successes of the 2009 vintage, this may surpass the superlative 2007… mellifluous finish that is beautifully defined and sensuous. Fabulous. 97-99 Points.”

Your tongue can wallow in that in a few years if you order a 375ml now for $47.99.

A sure winner.

- Chris Sherman, The Blogging Nibbler

But what about 2009, really? C’est vrai.

The French emissaries who did arrive had no doubts about the 2009. Mais oui, the Americans make a big fuss over famous vintages and ignore others. This time the French agree that this is the big one.

How does Emilie, who grew up in Bordeaux feel about 2009?  “Exciting,” she says with a big smile.  She returned to Bordeaux for Christmas with her parents and tasted the vintage when it was three months old.  “It already tasted like wine, fantastically balanced, it is never like that.”

“Wonderful” was the word from Coralie de Bouard from the great Chateau Angelus, her eyes widened with surprise.  How could I not know or did I somehow doubt.  Again, she cited the balance in the wines en primeur; yes they have strong alcohol but they do not taste so.

2009 Chateau Lilian Ladouys (St. Estephe)
2009 Chateau Lilian Ladouys (St. Estephe) 19.99 (Futures)

The explanation is in the weather, of course, which Jeffrey Davies explains was optimal in all aspect and exceptional in one — cool nights, “We turned the air conditioning in our house on only twice.”  The Bordelaise and their grapes enjoyed long hot days and slept in refreshingly cool nights, giving the vintage more hang time and long slow ripening.

Davies cautions that not all the wines will be terrific and require careful selection but, “The best of them will be the best of my career.”

I’m happy that our selection is in the hands of Messrs. Sprentall and Bieletti, who have already scouted out three smart buys including a rare rosé of merlot from Larcis Ducasse ($9.99) to Ch. Lilian Ladouys in St. Estephe, a spicy cabernet James Suckling calls “a gorgeous young wine”, 92-95 points ($19.99). That’s a a bet I’m happy to make.

- Chris Sherman, The Blogging Nibbler

More Bordeaux 2009 reports: Jancis uses a four-letter word.

The word was … Napa. Not usually a term of endearment in La belle France. Yet Jancis Robinson, the eminent British critic invoked it repeadtedly, “I have never written the word ‘Napa’ so often in my tasting notes. Come to think of it, I had never written the word Napa at all,” during spring pilgrimages to sample the primeurs in Bordeaux.

Jancis Robinson
Jancis Robinson

“Napa” in those precincts means means over-ripe, heavily extracted, and high alcohol. That’s not just a style choice, but a near impossibility for most of the left bank. On the western shore of the Gironde, Cabernet Sauvignon wines can be thin and pale at first. This year Ch. Haut-Brion will hit 14 percent alcohol, in what Robert Luxembourg told me may be the best vintage in 200 years.

While approving, Robinson took a nuanced stance outside the general exuberance. In her analysis the driving force in the rich 2009 vintage was not an overextraction conspiracy or trend-jumping, but the weather and site, as it should be. In this case, good weather, lots of warmth and proper rain, but so much warmth it was a challenge. Top vineyards handled it in Bordeaux form but in some vineyards grapes were overripe with flavor and sugar, but underdeveloped in tannin.

In effect she told 2009, “you’re no 2005,” but couldn’t help grinning:  “Overall this vintage can offer more sheer pleasure than any I can remember and may well provide delicious drinking throughout its life while we wait for the 2005s to emerge from their tannic corsets.”

And so it went through many reports from the hundreds of wine writers, merchants and critics, from Suckling to Tanzer. Great vintage, but how great – and in the months to come, the bigger question, how much?

For now this vintage shapes up as both delicious and highly-debated, a double treat for the tongue.  For more insights on the 2009 Bordeaux vintage, don’t miss this weekend’s tasting and seminars with the likes of importer Jeffrey Davies, consulting wizard Stephen Derenoncourt, Angelus proprietor Coralie de Bouard and more.

They should know.  You will too.

And B-21 will have a full stock of 2009 futures, so be ready to place your bets.

- Chris Sherman, The Blogging Nibbler

2009 Bordeaux Barrel Samples: Taste them yourself!

C’est vrai! The vintage everyone is talking about will come to Tampa Bay next month so B-21 fans can have a rare advance taste of the Bordeaux buzz. 

We knew great names of the Bordeaux wine trade and great wines were coming to Aprils Grand Bordeaux Tasting and Sale. As a bonus they are bringing 2009 barrel samples of the likes of Haut Bages Liberal and La Confession to taste at our two grand wine dinners Saturday April 17th.

Jeffrey Davies of Signature Selections, Photo by Eric Millette
Jeffrey Davies of Signature Selections

This year we will hold two dinners, one at Currents in Tarpon Springs and the other at the new Seasons 52 in Tampa, and each will feature a 2009 barrel sampling plus a multi-course meal paired with seven top French labels from recent vintages, and a chance to meet the great names and faces of modern Bordeaux. 

Jeffrey Davies, negociant extraordinaire, will headline the Bordeaux and Beyond Dinner at Currents, our intimate, favorite, close to home base in Tarpon. Davies will be joined by Jean-Christophe Meyrou of Chateau Le Gay and Francois Villars of  Gruaud- La Rose. They’ll pour an exciting range from St. Emilion, Minervois, Fitou, Bergerac and the south of France, including Davies’ own 2007 Chateau Rigaud. Reception and barrel sampling begins at 4 p.m, dinner at 5 p.m.; cost is $65 per person, all inclusive.

The Bordeaux Revealed Dinner will be held at Seasons 52, the sleek wine-savvy restaurant at Westshore Plaza. Here our stars are a trio Bordeaux of innovators, consulting wizard Stephane Derenoncourt, wine grower Jean-Phillipe Janoueix and negociant/vintner Christophe Reboule Salze. The wines will come from their own properties and also Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. Reception and barrel sampling is at 6:15 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m.; cost is $85, per person, all inclusive. 

What a choice. I‘d love to be at both, but duty summons me to Seasons 52 (and it’s closer to home). I’ll see some of you there.

Either dinner and barrel sampling is a lot closer than the quais on the Gironde. 

And if your Saturday night’s booked, all our guests will be at the Sunday tasting and sale ($25) in Tarpon with the addition of Coralie de Bouard of Chateau Angelus and La Fleur de Bouard.

De Bouard will preside over a bonus tasting, a rare vertical of Angelus, four years of great St. Emilion: 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. A real flight of fancy with Angelus providing the wings. 

Reserve a spot now at

– Chris Sherman, The Blogging Nibbler

2009 Bordeaux: The wows keep coming.

HRH Prince Robert of Luxembourg, Bill Blatch, and now James Suckling from Wine Spectator, all agree the 2009 vintage was perfect conditions and beautiful wines already. Suckling reports he’s tasted first-growths throughout the Medoc, all excellent and the Latour and Mouton Rothschild “amazing.”  This follows a good decade and the great vintage that kicked off the millennium; 2009 is apparently the most intense wine in decades.

As always, B-21’s own exceptional palate, Bob Sprentall, will be in Bordeaux shortly for barrel sampling and will to report direct to us on this exciting vintage. He and our French correspondent Rhett Beiletti left for France on Friday, March 26, to find the best. This is a vintage you’re going to want to buy in futures that we’ll have in soon. Then you’ll want to hold on.

But, if you can’t handle the wait, we’ve got plenty of the gorgeous 2005’s on hand.

P.S. Monsieur Parker gives pretty fine marks to the 2008’s as well, especially Pomerol, so keep an eye on them.

– Chris Sherman, The Blogging Nibbler

Day 1 & 2: Margaux & Latour’s 2009 Second Wines are Remarkable

Cellar of Latour
Cellar of Latour

March 28:

Leoville Las Cases backyard renovation
Leoville Las Cases backyard renovation

Comparisons to 2000 and 2005 so far seems unfounded after tasting 100 or so 2009’s today. 

Both ’00 and ’05 had extraordinary level of homogeneous success; that is, all levels of wine participated in the success of the vintage.

This was apparent while tasting the wines of Fronsac where 00, 03 and 05 superior at this point. Moulis wines topped by Chass-Spleen did not share in the success of 00 or 05. From Margaux stunners Lascombes, Brane Cantenac and Rausan-Segla are certainly at the level of 05 and the latter two probably exceeding their  excellent 05’s. However with many other Margaux this was not the case.

St. Estephe disappointed although Cos Labory is excellent.  The ’00, ’03 and ’05 St. Estephe are superior of the wines tasted.

Walking through Chateau Margaux
Walking through Chateau Margaux

Most samples were drawn from barrels on Friday the 26th. I am looking forward to tasting other sample lots to corroborate.

March 29:

Two remarkable successes of the 2009: 
Second wines of both Margaux and Latour. Both Pavillon Rouge and Forts de Latour exceed any of their predecessors.
- Bob Sprentall, B-21 Proprietor

En route to Bordeaux – Day 1

Bob Sprentall & Rhett Beiletti en route to Bordeaux
Bob Sprentall (B-21 Proprietor) & Rhett Beiletti (B-21's France Correspondent) en route to Bordeaux

En route to Bordeaux now; my third trip to France in as many months.

Temperatures 20 degrees warmer than February.

Arriving Bordeaux – St. Jean at 1:15pm today. First appointment at 3:30pm.

The annual Union de Grand Cru or UGC takes place all over the Bordeaux region each year where the global wine trade is presented barrel samples of  the previous harvest.

We know the quality of 2009 is very high based on previous samplings.

Reviews are starting to pour already.  Honestly, we may see 110 point wines with the all the hype.

Prices have yet to be established for the openings and what the initial quantity releases will be so Curb Your Enthusiasm if you possibly can.

From Bordeaux it’s on to the Rhone Valley, then to VinItaly. Every wine maker or vineyard owner in Italy will be in Verona for VinItaly, literally thousands of wineries hawking their wares.

I will attempt to report highlights.

- Bob Sprentall, B-21 Proprietor

Bill Blatch: 2009 Bordeaux is Best year of the best decade.

Bordeaux FuturesThe vintage reports of Bill Blatch on Bordeaux are the most trusted in the business, frank, witty and informed by years of tracking the good bad and ugly in southwest France. He reports to top buyers and wine merchants that the warmth of 2009, wet springs and dry summers made for unprecedented concentration and balance. Blame/credit global warming and shifting air currents over the Atlantic.

Blatch’s headline is plain:The first decade of the 21st century goes out in a blaze of glory

“A decade with no off-vintages – Bordeaux has never experienced that before – even those all-time great decades, the 1920s and the 1840s had a few misses. In this first decade of the new millennium, all have been successful, …each receiving more acclaim than the previous one. That is a total all-time record.”

“And this final one has turned out to be the most concentrated of them all. In 2009, we seem to have reached the extreme limit of Bordeaux concentration”

“In 2009, there were no extremes, just good regular heat at the right times, with everything coming in the right order… As a result, it functioned perfectly, creating sugar levels in the grapes that we have never seen before, together with a build-up of massive but gentle tannins for the reds and a complexity of flavours for the whites…. 2009 is in an altogether gentler, softer, fatter style, something in the ilk of 1970 or 1982.”

Red wines: “The high alcohol levels are of course the main defining feature of the vintage. These are strong powerful wines, stronger than any Châteauneuf-du-Pape and as strong as any Oz Shiraz.”

Tannins: “The tannin levels are extraordinarily high, often registering at well over 100 pts on the IPT scale, sometimes as far as 135, especially on the Médoc Cabernets. This is way more than we have experienced in any previous reported vintage.”

Lifespan:  “The 09s seem to have a ‘togetherness’ that will make them at once approachable in their youth but also probably, as for the ‘29s, unexpectedly long-lived. The wines are far too young to be sure of that but certainly that is the impression they give right now. They will be lovely young and certainly lovely old.”

Dry whites:  “These are totally different wines from last year. The ‘08s had been steely and citrus flavoured, whereas these ‘09s are fat and rich with a roundness of peachy fruit, as one would expect after such a summer… expect more Sémillon in the final blends.”

Sauternes:  “This is indeed a great vintage: The extreme richness is nicely balanced by acidity, with final blends typically at 14° alc, 7 to 9° of residual (sugar) and a refreshing 3.8 or so g/l total acidity. …The aromas are already very interesting, with beautiful complex flavours of all sorts.”

Blatch confirms B-21’s first barrel tastings of 2009’s in France earlier this year. We’ll be back soon reporting from the tranches and posting futures on offer on the website. This is a vintage for the future.

-Chris Sherman, The Blogging Nibbler