Wednesday, August 20, 2014


GEEKING OUT to truly great wine by Amy Dixon CSW

One of the MANY things I LOVE about wine is its ability to challenge me on an intellectual level.  The wines I remember most over my 20 year career are the ones that give me great pause, and I take about 15 minutes before ever even bringing the glass to my eager lips.  Wines where every wonderful waft produces another stimulating scent.  Layer upon layer of spices, fruits and earth that keep challenging my mental ‘scent wheel’ to identify WHAT it is that I’m about to consume.  Having tasted thousands and thousands of wines allows me to have great fun in identifying wines in my mind’s Rolodex to see which wine I’ve historically tasted that reminds me of the one currently in my glass.  I like to call it, “Wine Detective Work”, which on many levels, it truly is. 
Honestly, when I did my homework before an impending supplier appointment to taste this property, I was biased.  I thought to myself, ok, here’s yet another example of an over-priced wine from some obscure region that a famous winemaker (Domaine Leflaive) is doing ‘for fun’ as a sort of artistic experiment;  relegated only to those wineries that have great fortunes and wads of income to indulge their every whim to grow wine in odd places with bizarre grape varieties.  I was happily mistaken.  God bless Leflaive for taking a ‘flyer’ and producing the three wines I had yesterday.  They are game-changers. 
The cool thing about Clau de Nell, Domaine Leflaive’s new Biodynamically farmed property in the Loire Valley, is that EACH WINE is SO different from one another.  Of the three wines I tasted, they each presented a unique education in the glass.  An experience unlike most others.  I got giddy, and eagerly held my glass out for the next wine, and the next.  I am SO excited to share with you my geeky side.  The side I only get to share with fellow retailers and sommeliers.  But I adore you all so much, these wines are too cool NOT to share, so here you go.  I took 3 of each for myself.  You should too.

Just to give you a ‘taste’ of the quality in each and every glass, the wines are from 30-90 year old vines in Anjou, and  the yields in these vineyards are LESS than 2.2 tons per acre (GRAND CRU Burgundy level yields), meaning they DROP a lot of fruit on the ground to keep the quality at its absolutely utmost.  ONLY 18 BOTTLES EXIST IN CT and I HAVE THEM! Oh yeah, only 250 cases made- SUPER TINY. 

Clau de Nell Cabernet Franc 2011- $55- 15% off a 6-pk
Depth rarely found outside Bordeaux from one of my favorite all-time grape varieties.  Chewy, structured, and Very, very focused with freshness that keeps it from bogging down on your palate in any way.  It persists without being rounded in any way.  This is a study in angles of wine.  Overwhelms the nose with cola and cherry (Dr. Pepper?)   Hard to believe that Cabernet Franc can have this much stature and structure, but then I start thinking about Margaux and Graves, and I realize that yes, this is how good Cabernet Franc really is supposed to taste.  Drinks like a $200 bottle of great classified Growth Bordeaux. 
Clau de Nell Grolleau Noir 2011- $55- 15% off a 6-pk
This grape varietal is traditionally used to produce Rose d’Anjou.  Here, it BLEW MY MIND.  125 delectable cases are made of this insanely good wine.  The nose takes precious time to come around (remember this is geeky stuff, so patience is required).  It AMPLY rewards you by starting off from tar and super- WEIRD petroleum power, then moves into grilled steak au Poivre.  It just kept changing, and I loved every second of the journey this wine took me on.  I literally couldn’t figure out WHERE this wine was taking me, but I sat back and totally geeked out over it for an entire hour.  You should too. 
Clau de Nell Grolleau Noir 2011 MAGNUMS (1.5 Liter)- $110 (3 available)- YAY YAY!  Lucky me!

Clau de Nell Violette (Cab Franc/ Cab Sauv) 2011- $55- 15% off a 6-pk
Hello baby!  The most powerful of the bunch.  Less than 2 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon grows on this estate, and the yields are TINY.  Almost HALF of the yields from Bordeaux’s Pessac Leognan region.  What does this tell me?  This could be the next GREAT region for high quality Cabernet, albeit very, very small in production.  Alas… This has the deftness and agility that is Loire valley Cabernet Franc, with the powerful structure and mouth-coating tannins of great Cabernet Sauvignon.  Yet, NOTHING is clumsy or heavy about this wine.  I really, really makes me happy and hopeful for more of this wine in the future.  Although I believe it’s just a fun labor of love for the Leflaive family, so I doubt we will ever see production in the thousands of cases.  So I will grab it right now.  This is a wine to watch!

Call Nicholas Roberts Wines for these wines- 203-656-9463- we ship almost anywhere and free CT Delivery.  

Amy Dixon CSW

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Vacation Wines

HERE’S the mixed case  I’m taking with me on vacation next week for PERFECT summer wines! 6 wines under $30 that will make up the perfect balance for all the lobster, burgers, tomato-mozzarella salad and fried calamari I’m about to consume…….

Clos des Rochers Auxerrois- $17- this awesome white variety stems from Alsace, where it is a close cousin to French Chardonnay.  With a touch of Pinot Blanc added for interest, it has all the lush, round components of well-made cool-climate un-oaked Chardonnay, with even MORE interest on the palate, with peach and melon.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE this wine and it’s a dangerous bottle to have around the house come cocktail time!

Charles Gonnet Chignin $20- This neat region in Savoie grows a grape known as Jacquère. It is SUPER clean, minerally and fresh, with a delicate nose.  The ultimate in refreshment, delicacy and balance.  Really 5 times better than most Sauvignon Blancs.  Cool wine!

Chavy Chouet Bourgogne Blanc les Femelottes- $30- This is hands-down my LOBSTER wine! Rich, buttery, opulent White Burgundy.  Mostly sourced from the village of Meursault and St Aubin, so REALLY a steal for the $.
Gobelsburger Rose- $18- Our #1 selling Rose in the store.  From the Zweigelt grape in Austria, this has a lovely note of spicy wild strawberries, white pepper, and a richer building crisp finish.  Lovely and a great porch sipper!
Peillot Bugey- $25- We all went NUTS for this Pinot Noir from the village of Bugey in France’s Savoie region.  It has laser-like precision and extremely focused cranberry fruit with a super-clean, fresh finish.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE this wine.  My go-to summer red.

Chateau de Corcelles Brouilly- $20- It’s no secret I love Cru Beaujolais.  This month at the store, we’re having fun with our Wine of the Month clients ‘Debunking Wine Myths” including the preconceived notion that Beaujolais is some fruity Thanksgiving-only red wine.  As you can see by this single estate wine from Brouilly, this is pretty serious wine indeed, with bright tart cherries and just a touch of fine vanilla to soften the tannins.  Delicious and refreshing red.  

Amy Dixon CSW
The Blind Sommelier
Nicholas Roberts
Office: 203-656-9463

Saturday, April 26, 2014

WEIRD and fun White Wines

This time of year is SO busy for family households. The beginning of outdoor sports activities after school, school plays, proms, holiday breaks and packing to visit out of town relatives, the list goes on and on. It’s simply exhausting. Picking your ‘Hump Day’ wine shouldn’t be. In keeping with our April theme, “Let’s get Weird”, I've found some off the beaten path white wines that are not only sensational, they are sensational values for everyday drinking (Like when you just HAVE to have that glass (or two) of wine after wrangling the kids into bed). These wines are guaranteed to put a smile back on your face after a tough day of juggling kids, work, and holiday schedules. Come on! It’s 5 o’clock somewhere. Time to get weird with me! Enjoy!

Amy Dixon CSW


Domaine Ehrhart Pinot Auxerrois-
In keeping with our ‘let’s get weird’ theme in the month of April, I decided to focus on one of my favorite regions for cool climate white wines, Alsace. This unique clone of normally ‘pedestrian’ Pinot Blanc, called Auxerrois, is quite special indeed. It has naturally low yields, and therefore starts with a much higher quality and concentration than other Pinot Blanc, AND the berries have thin skins, allowing a greater juice to skin ration, further intensifying the fruit. Domaine Ehrhart dates back to the 1700s, with their tiny 21 acres of vines, located at the top of the valley with the perfect eastern exposition on their steeply sloped site. 100% organically farmed, with beautiful tropical notes, a silky medium body that hints at oak (although this wine is 100% stainless steel fermented) with gorgeous balance, and peach blossoms delicately wafting from the glass. I fell in LOVE all over again. An insane value.

Finca Antigua Viura-
Tasting this wine blind was the perfect choice. I do enjoy Viura, but oftentimes find it devoid of character and interest- sort of an innocuous dry white from Spain’s Valdeorras region. Looking back at my notes from that fun evening, I was delighted to see, “leesy, rich, juicy, layered and persistent.” It’s hard to believe that came from this lovely modest little white wine. Tickled? You bet I am! This wine is harvested at over 2500 feet of elevation, preserving that wonderful natural freshness and acidity one comes to expect from high altitude serious white wines. A no brainer for a case!

Wine Advocate
The 2011 Finca Antigua Viura offers a fragrant, floral bouquet with honeysuckle and jasmine scents mixed with a touch of vanilla pod. The palate is well-balanced with a touch of dry honey on the entry, leading to a lovely apricot, peach and marmalade-tinged finish that is a real treat. Excellent. Drink now.
Score: 91. —Neal Martin, April 2013

Tilia Torrontes-

What’s weirder than Viognier? Torrontes! It’s like the Southern hemisphere’s answer to this awesomely aromatic grape variety. Torrontes is a tropical, floral cornucopia of flavors and aroma from Argentina. When I’m looking to step up my game from ‘plain Jane Sauvignon Blanc’ this is where I go. Yes, it’s weird, but tres chic! This wine is wonderfully rich, with a freshness of the finish and simply cannot be beat under $15. Be hip. Be Cool. Try Torrontes and you’ll never turn back!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Guess which wine had me on the floor?

Wow- There are few tastings as focused and full of quality from top to bottom than the Skurnik Wines portfolio tasting. I was so excited to dive in and check out the new releases, from recently disgorged Grower Champagnes, to vibrant, fresh Rose' wines, zippy German and Austrian white wines, and a plethora of American, Italian and Bordeaux reds. I'm ready for a nap!

To kick off spring, I began with the beautiful wines at the 'Pink' table, celebrating all the wonderful Rose wines of the world. While I'm a traditionalist at heart, and truly adore the racy, brisk style of Provence, it was two wines from Portugal and Greece that stole my attention. The KIR-YIANNI Akakies 2013 had a hot pink color with lots of zippy, fresh grapefruit notes, and had a juicy mouthfeel. LOVED it. Then, the VERA VINHO VERDE 2013 equally impressed at an incredibly attractive price. It had super strawberry that made me super happy!

Then I moved to the Finger Lakes, one of my happy places (I have a lot of them in the wine world, as you'll see) and had the Charles Fournier Riesling Gold Seal Vineyard 2012, which stole the show for a bit with its bright apple freshness and beautiful rich texture. And I forgot how GOOD Upstate NY Cabernet Franc can be! This was the perfect balance of lightness and up front acidity, and intense flavor that persisted without being cloying. Really nice. Like a perfect Chinon without the weighty price tag. Under Twenty bucks too! Kind of HAS to come home with me....

Then I landed in Bordeaux, with some pedestrian wines, and one really awesome value that blew my doors off for under $15 called La Courdraie 2012. It is my perfect blend of 60% Merlot, and 20% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. This drinks like a $40 California Meritage with CLASS. Yup- I said it!

My 'go-to' grape variety these days is Chenin and I FORGOT how AWESOME this wine can be when done well. If I were to find the PERFECTLY balanced white for drinking with absolutely everything in my cupboard, THIS would be it. Domaine de L'enchantoir Saumur Blanc 2011 has the complexity of good White Burgundy, the acidity of top notch German wines, and the elegance of a fine Champagne. AND the truly best part? It's $15!!!!

Then I scooted over to Italy to taste one of my favorite white wines in the world year in and year out. This insanely cool white wine from the Italian Alps is known as Kerner. It's a wild cross between the local Schiava and dry Riesling, with loads of peaches, apricot and white flowers on the nose and palate. And yet, it is DRY! Impressive length, and the subtlety hits you like a heart attack, as wave after wave of complex flavors waft over your lucky lucky palate. I could easily see paying $40 for this, and yet it's $25. This is COOL.

Oh how I DO love bubbles! If there is a greatest area of strength in a portfolio, I'd have to say it's in Michael Skurnik's unparalleled Grower Champagne selection from Importer Thierry Thiesse. Ok, I have a bread problem. I'll explain. When I smell brioche, there is a sort of visceral response that immediately makes me hungry and crave it intensely. The Pierre Gimonnet Brut Selection Belles Annees makes me do just that. It smells like glistening with butter, fresh from the oven, perfectly toasted, like baked brioche. I literally sat down in the middle of this busy wine tasting and got cozy with this gorgeous glass.

And finally, the grape variety that I 'cut my teeth on' as an excited teenager traveling throughout Europe that got me INTO this whole wine mess to begin with; RIESLING! It is not a coincidence that this noble grape is considered the king of all white wine. It is by far the most versatile thing you can put in your glass. Good German Riesling can be laser-like and super high in acid, causing your mouth to literally pucker in recoil at its lime-laden sour tartness. And then the very same wine from further up the slope or in a different valley can be honeyed, unctuous, rich, full, silky, and super duper long and sweet. No two are remotely the same!

So I was TICKLED when one of my favorite Mosel Riesling producers (next to Dr Thanisch), Johannes Selbach Oster came out with a KILLER value Riesling that really takes your palate to the stratosphere. With a name like INCLINE, that is an ENTIRELY appropriate description! From the Mosel's steep slopes, this is juicy with green and red apple, lime and spritzy, fresh acidity, and a lip-smacking medium body that has beautiful length. Yup, for $14, he NAILED it!

So, I'd bill the Skurnik CT Spring tasting as time well spent. There is something for everyone here.

Amy Dixon CSW and
Guiding Eyes for the Blind Elvis

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Wine Shopping- the benefit of supporting small shops

One of my favorite pastimes as a wine educator and buyer is to find the cool local shop when I'm traveling to a new city or country. You won't find me hitting the likes of Costco, (America's LARGEST wine seller by far), Trader Joes, or Whole Foods to get what I'm looking for. And honestly, even I don't know exactly what I'm in the mood to buy until I get there!

It's the same reason I can get lost for days in a fabulous tiny book store. I'll sit on the floor in a corner with my guide dog, and stack interesting titles beside me, perusing the inside jacket of each carefully bound piece of literary treasure, hoping to find the book that really 'speaks' to me. Wine does that for me when I venture into a small wine shop where the proprietor has personally tasted and selected each and every bottle on the shelf.

I feel like I'm being hosted at someone's HOME when I hit these stores. The retailer reflects his or her personality and style through their thoughtful selection of some of their favorites from across the globe. It's like looking at a Shutterfly Album of someone's travels. Proudly atop each shelf or section is a photo of the proprietor with the vintners, farmers and vineyard owners that share their wines, and their lives with us through the power of the bottle.

So when I walk in, to be greeted by the owner himself, or his or her fellow oenophile and right-hand gal, I get a flutter of excitement to see where they're going to take me. It's like a guided tour of their palates, and the lovely thing about this experience- NO TWO ARE THE SAME. I love that I can get to know this person almost immediately on a very intimate and personal level- their style and their passion.

I try to go in with no preconceived notions, with the exception if I have a specific meal I'm shopping for. While I've tasted tens of thousands of wines over my 18 year career, there are still hundreds of thousands of new wines for me to discover and get excited about that may or may not come across my desk. Venturing into a boutique retailer is truly the best way to 'discover' and learn about new wines, or regions that I'd perhaps long forgotten about in my focus on my personal 'go-tos' as we can sometimes do.

While shopping in a big discount store may be impressive in stature and sheer volume of their selections due to a big buying budget, a lot of the more interesting and smaller wineries simply don't land on those shelves. A) they can't supply enough wine to fulfill a giant store needs to properly stock their shelves on a national or state-wide level and B) there is a lack of educated staff to properly explain the wines and what makes them exciting. Big box stores want to keep you drinking the same thing, year in and year out. New is not how they build a successful business model. Safe staples is what they do, and certainly they sell them at rock-bottom prices.

While I love saving a buck or two just as much as the next person, sometimes spending an extra dollar is worth the price of admission. One, I don't have to fight for a parking spot in some giant, scary parking lot, where I need to dodge crazy drivers and wayward shopping carts. Two, I want to meet the owner or the buyer and make sure they know ME and what I like to drink. I want to be welcomed into the store by a friendly, "Hello Amy! How was that Sancerre you took home last week?"

I want the salesperson to go "OOOH! I'm so glad you came in today! I snagged three bottles of Bergstrom Pinot Noir and stashed them in the back for you, because I know it's your fave." I want to walk in and taste some wines they have open or are featuring. I want to be invited to upcoming winemaker dinners at my favorite local restaurants, tasting alongside friends and other loyal customers. I want to feel special.

One of the other benefits of stumbling upon a great local merchant is the level of personalized service. Will Whole Foods donate a basket of wine for your local Lion's Club Fundraiser? Would Total Wine deliver that special client gift that just HAS to go out today before they leave the office? I don't think so. Will the salesperson spend 30 minutes with you explaining the different styles of Riesling throughout the various regions of Germany? I think not. Will they spend time carefully gift wrapping 120 individual bottles of wine at Thanksgiving to give out to all of your clients? Definitely no. And when your daughter gets married, who is going to be sure that you have all the ice, vodka, Champagne and soda for the occasion, even throwing a last minute addition into their station wagon as guests arrive? I can assure you it's not the 'BIG guys'!

So you can spend $12.99 on your Kendall Jackson Chardonnay at Total wine, and be a faceless, nameless statistic, or with your $13.99, be greeted by name, learn a little each time you shop, be assured the wines have been perfectly vetted and stored, and be treated like family, with a real connection to your personal tastes. PLUS you can receive free delivery each week of the wines that you are 'in-the-know' about that NONE of your jet-set friends has even heard of. All of this from a family business and a guy or gal who knows you, appreciates you and wants to make you happy. Shop Small. It pays!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

THE BEST Champagne for New Year

I drink Champagne on a weekly basis with sushi and pretty much anything, so it's not an anomaly for me to grab something really fantastic to ring in the New Year. I stay away from the likes of Moet, Veuve Clicquot, Nicolas Feuillate and the other 'NM' (Negociant Manipulant) Champagnes, which are commercial brands sourced from less than perfect vineyard sites, with the sole goal of making the SAME EXACT style from bottle to bottle, and year to year, not necessarily trying to make the BEST they can, EVEN if that means deviating from the 'house style'. This is where RM (Recoltant Manipulant), aka GROWER Champagnes come into play. In the biz, we like to call them 'Farmer Fizz'.

If you haven't gotten your hands on a beautiful bottle of grower Champagne, it's WAY past time. If you have, then KUDOS to you! These wines are hand-harvested, typically organic or biodynamic in their production, and come from Premier Cru and Grand Cru Champagne Vineyards. They are tinier in production, and come in an infinite variety of styles, from full, toasty, rich and yeasty, to elegant, delicate, perfumey and refined. I have something for every palate and every budget posted below at Nicholas Roberts Fine Wines in Darien- available for free delivery if ordered by 10am on Monday. See why every Sommelier refuses to drink the mass-produced stuff, and swears by RM bubbles in their restaurants. If you insist on that iconic orange label on your bottle this New Year, I DO have a can of spraypaint at the ready...... ;)


Champagne in Stock:

Chartogne Taillet Brut- $45 60% Chardonnay/ 40% Pinot Noir- you find yourself asking how a wine’s flavors can possibly come from grapes!) Ultra-juicy and palate- as well as saliva gland-massaging, the finish here left me licking my lips in anticipation of the next sip. What’s more, this cuvee is among the most versatile at table of any in Champagne- 92 RP, 91 WS

Gouturbe Brut Premier Cru $60- 100% Chardonnay- it’s just loads of hay and hawthorne, an old-school
Champagne as rendered by an elegant lithe lady with a warm soul. What we love about
this wine is the mingling of firmness and generosity. 91 BH, 90 WS, 90 Tanzer

Vilmart Grand Cellier- $77- 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir. VERY fine and has laser-like precision. Our store best seller and a HUGE review from Parker, Spectator, and Tanzer! Vibrant, finely cut acidity structures this seamlessly integrated version, with layered flavors of poached apple, quince, honey and candied ginger- 95 WS

Henri Billiot Cuvee Laetitia- $110 Wow, this is the best Laetitia I’ve yet tasted; it extends the silky transparency of the ’04
into even more raciness and incisiveness. Really by now and in the last few years this
wine swings between outstanding and stellar according to time on the cork, but this
1/10 disgorgement is stunningly good, with fine measured power and high fluting brilliance. 92 Rp, 93 BH, 93 Tanzer


Pierre Peters Cuvee Reserve- $60- 100% Chardonnay- Light gold. Highly perfumed bouquet of yellow apple, pear skin and quinine, with a smoky mineral overtone. Spicy orchard and candied citrus fruit flavors are complemented by notes of sweet butter and anise and gain weight with air. 92 Tanzer, 91 RP, 91 WS

Duc du Romet - $36 75 % Pinot Meunier, 25% Pinot Noir- A fine, creamy mousse defines this elegant version, underscored by a chalky note of minerality and offering subtle notes of patisserie apple, blanched almond, fresh ginger and a hint of crystallized honey- 91 WS

Varnier Fanniere Grand Cru $58- Green-tinged yellow. High-pitched aromas of candied orange, yellow apple, white flowers and ginger. Smoky mineral and white pepper notes add lift and refreshing bitterness to ripe citrus and orchard fruit flavors. The mineral note repeats on the sharply delineated, long finish, which features a subtle anise quality- 91 Tanzer


Gaston Chiquet Brut NV- $48 ******AMY'S FAVORITE****- Bollinger lovers rejoice! This big, rich, toasty Champagne has LOADS of fresh baked bread aromas, and a long, silky mouthfeel. Sexy!!! 91 Tanzer, 91 BH, 92 WS

Marc Hebrart Premier Cru $47- 81 % Pinot Noir- Apple and lime laced with cilantro and garlanded in bittersweetly perfumed iris make for a fascinating aromatic display that presages the juicy, metaphorically cool, herb- and flower-tinged, mouth-coating palate impression. Soothing, sustained, and subtly interactive, the finish offers a fine sense of transparency to nuances including the chalky sort.91 pts RP, WS, BH

Andre Clouet Brut- $53 Primarily Pinot Noir from the region of Bouzy with layers of hazelnut, pear, spice and dried flower aromas. This rich, creamy wine impresses for its balance and sheer richness. I loved it. RP 90

Marc Hebrart Special Club 2008 Vintage Magnum $245- Pear, Ranier cherry and apricot tinged with frangipane and licorice render the satisfyingly soothing, metaphorically cooling, buoyant and refreshingly persistent Hebrart's 2008 Brut Special Club irresistibly luscious today; but a sense of firmness underlying its leesy patina as well as of myriad mineral nuances only beginning to shimmer, suggests the likelihood that this will merit following for another 3-5 years. 93pts RP

Chartogne Taillet Rose- $58- From Montagne de Reims- 60% Chard/ 40% Pinot Noir; A crowd-pleasing rosé, this offers finely tuned, mouthwatering acidity paired with fruit-forward flavors of candied cherry and black currant, macerated plum, pastry dough and spiced nut. Displays lovely texture and a lingering finish. Drink now through 2020. 185 cases imported.- 93 WS, 92 RP, 91 Tanzer
Here's a great quote by the world's leading importer of Artisan Grower Champagne:

Henri Billiot Rose- $60 Billiot’s Rose is a rich, broad-shouldered wine with plenty of intensity and vinous depth. This edition is 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay- 92 WS, 91 RP, 91 Tanzer


“You should drink ‘farmer-fizz’ if you’ve forgotten that Champagne is WINE. You should drink ‘farmer-fizz’ if you’d rather buy Champagne from a farmer than a factory. You should drink it if you’d rather have a wine expressive of vineyard, and the grower’s own connection to vineyard, than a wine ‘formed’ by a marketing swami who’s studied to the Nth-degree what you can be persuaded to ‘consume.’ You should drink grower-Champagne if the individually distinctive flavors of terroir-driven wines matter. You should drink it because it’s honest REAL wine grown and made by a vintner—by a FAMILY just like yours—by a ‘him’ or 'her,' not by an ‘it.’ You should drink it because its price is honestly based on what it costs to produce, not manipulated to account for massive PR and ad budgets. You should drink grower-Champagne because, like all hand-crafted estate-bottled wines, it is not a mere Thing but is indeed a BEING, expressive of where it grew and who raised it. In drinking it you help protect DIVERSITY, and diversity leads to VITALITY.”

- Terry Theise, James Beard award-winning importer of grower champagne

Amy Dixon CSW

The Blind Sommelier

Nicholas Roberts Group

Office: 203-656-9463

Mobile: 203-981-9304

Monday, January 21, 2013

Bordeaux 2010- showstoppers and hype

The Unions des Grands Crus de Bordeaux Tasting was the place to be this chilly Martin Luther King Day at the Marriott Marquis. Hordes of somms, retailers, importers, and restauranteurs line the ballroom and hallways of this great tasting. The room layout was identical to the previous year, much to my chagrin. While I appreciated starting with Graves/ Pessac Leognan, particularly with their always invigorating whites, I did not appreciate the incredibly inconvenient placement of the spit buckets a good ten feet away, behind throngs of other tasters, waiting patiently to get near the bucket. This log-jam caused a lot of people to become inebriated, as they gave up spitting a good ten minutes and 15 wines into their tasting.

Starting with the White Graves, I noted screamingly high acid, rendering many of the wines out of balance. Very few contained the pleasant waxiness I adore in Semillon, and even less saw the support of wood to frame out the wines a bit. Even the perennial standout, Carbonnieux was a disappointment. Wines of note were no surprise- Pape Clement Blanc, Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc, and the sleeper, De Fieuzal, which had the most balance. Domaine du Chevalier was ok, with some detectable Semillon and a better, softer balance, but at its high pricepoint, I wouldn't bother.

The forward focus of many red Graves made me smile with my 'instant gratification' meter going a mile-a-minute. Haut Bailly, had a wonderful complexity with a briary note, a lush, rich texture, and incredible concentration. Both Larrivet Haut Brion and Latour Martillac had a serious streak of graphite running down the center, with a tannic mid-palate and incredibly density. The Latour Martillac had a more chewy style with distinctive red fruit, while Larrivet Haut Brion had noticeable black fruits in its core and distinctly on the fresh nose.

My personal favorite values are always Malartic Lagraviere and Olivier. The Malartic hit the 'sweet spot' with lots of lush dark fruits, and well integrated, finer tannins. The Olivier however, was quite closed with a grittiness of texture and structure, with some sweet dominant tannins. Backward? Yes. Out of the running for good value? Time will tell- this needs to come together undoubtedly.

Winners of Graves? Pape Clement with a linear, laser-like focus framed by a hint of smoke all in an elegant, beautiful balance. Very nice indeed! And for the modernists, look no further than my staple, smith Haut Lafitte, with a long, long, finish, chewy tannins, and loads of cassis.

Onto the Right bank with the St. Emilions, which I found incredibly inconsistant, with an over-dominance of wood in some otherwise well-made wines. I mean, what were these guys thinking? It's like clubbing a duckling- Over-kill! Well, onward and upward I guess! Chateau Canon was a lovely intro to the region, with a pretty and gentle styling, framed by a hint of soft rose petal and a long, silky finish. Not one for the ages, but a lovely wine nonetheless.

Canon La Gaffeliere was incredibly forward with a profound mid-palate that was really fabulous and shocking at the same time. The roundness really works for this wine beautifully. The disappointment? Ugh- Figeac. SOOOO much wood buried this beloved wine in a wall of wood tannin so impenetrable, I couldn't bear to go back for a second sip. Clos Fourtet was disjointed as well, with a lush palate, spicy wood, and rock hard tannins, followed by ripe fruit, and s whiff of greenness. Hmm...

Winner? Oh Berliquet? How I could have danced with this lovely wine all day! Simply incredibl with lush balanced, layered fruits. Seamless. Truly. A pleasant surprise was the Larcis Ducasse. Folks looking for something to drink now, grab this sleeper. Really nailed it- Lots of fresh fruit, a long finish, bright acidity, chewy tannins, and a ripe plum nose. Very good indeed!

Pavie Macquin was its usual subdued self with dried orange peel and raspberry leading to an elegant, moderately tannic finish. One to keep your eye on- all the class is there for the making of a very good wine. One to avoid? troplong Mondot. The nose was so laden with menthol that I was convinced I was in a doctor's office. The palate completely hollowed out, and all that was left was spice. Weird!

The further punish my palate, I sauntered over to Pomerol, where I prepared for the onslaught of hard tannins. Beauregard had a super-clean nose with a palate laden with graphite and a wall of hard tannins. All the fruit was there, but well hidden. I was so excited to taste Clinet after I named it my favorite wine in 2009, only to be met with an underwhelming vintage for this estate. While is had all the layers one can hope for, this wine was just so out of scale and BIG, that I couldn't truly appreciate all that makes it so very special. Was it an excellent wine? Yes. Was it an excellent Clinet? so-so. The 2009 blew the doors off of this.

Gazin was just a pleasure in a glass. Pretty, balanced, ripe and elegant- hard to believe it was from Pomerol. One of the stars of the entire day was an old-time favorite of mine, La Conseillante. A super-ripe nose, with over-the-top juicy fruit, and very soft tannins. This is one to drink and enjoy.

From the Medoc and Haut Medoc I was simply disappointed. Chateau Clarke was like licking the inside of a barrel that had been seasoned with sweet tobacco. Not pleasant. I typically like this wine and the value it represents from the Rothschilds, but definitely not this vintage. Much of the same could be said for Poujeaux, though the wood was far more restrained, and this had some elegance and a hint of orange peel to the tobacco. Long and good. Chasse Spleen had better acidity than most of the Medoc wines, with some brightness and freshness that really worked for the wine. quite nice. Citran had a very brambly/ briary style with a distinctive cherry cough drop palate and very high acid. I dont' know what they were thinking here....

Wine of the region from haut Medoc? without a doubt Chateau Coufran. Absolutely delicious and incredibly drinkable with an abundance of fruit. the Soft tannins just made it an absolute pleasure. Do your wallet a favor and skip La Lagune with its burnt wood palate that had almost no detectable fruit. La Tour Carnet was quite pretty and charming with its rosy nose and ripe fruit. This was better, but not outstanding. La Tour de By, typically a real diamond in the rough, fell just short of very good, due to its lack of a middle. The lush tannins and ripe red fruit lead to a long finish, but it leaves you hanging in the middle when you want it most. So sad!

My personal favorite region of Margaux really brought some 'game' this year. Starting with Angludet, this beauty had much finer tannins than I had seen all day, with excellent acidity and gorgeous length. My favorite quote of the day, when I asked U.S. Sales Manager Nicolas Idiart about this distinct stylistic difference?, "Some people are attracted by the dark side of the oak." I nearly fell over laughing. Yes, many from St. Emilion and Medoc went to the 'dark side' for sure!

Brane Cantenac was a 'solid citizen', lending itself more towards briary and drier tannins dominated by distinctive pencil-lead. there was pronounced Brettanomyces in the Cantenac Brown- super sweaty! While it had good structure and and elegance to the body, I couldn't get past this unclean nose. With notable complexity was Dauzac, complete with orsnge peel, high acidity, a pleasant streak of graphite with incredible length- a very good value if you can find it! Desmiril had that same pencil lead, with additional concentration and fantastic richness. One of my favorite values, Du Tertre had a nice texture, fat mid-palate, with a dense, round opulent finish with some light tannins at the back.

The massive Labegorce had chewy, chalky tannins that were super-ripe and a nose of Ticonderoga pencils. Lascombes was tight as a drum, with a severe lack of fruit or body. Malescot St Exupery had a ton of ripeness, and lots of layers of chewy, maleable tannins. I loved the texture on this. SO classic was the Prieure Lichine. This oozed breeding with its core of black fruit, fresh acidity, and its elegant, uplifting palate. A lovely 'instant gratification Margaux is the Rauzan Gassies with a sper-concentrated palate, and and easy, forward balance. Lots of density and cassis there! The wood reared its ugly head again in the Rauzan Segla, which has lovely acidity, and a brooding, complex nose, but it killed the wine for me.

OH Man! If I could have just hung out in St. Julien today, I'd have died a happy girl. These wines stole the show, knocking it out of the park with nearly every single wine. This will be a great vintage to convert California Cab drinkers over the pond to see what all the fuss is about. You need your head examined if you didn't enjoy these gorgeous reds.

Starting with Beychevelle. Like, are you kidding me? SO long, so sexy, with fruit that goes on and on in the long, silky finish. This is a WOW wine that totally makes you hungry on a visceral level. A must buy. And then BAM! Another one out of the park- Branaire Ducru- definitely one of my top five wines of the tasting. SO freaking delicious. A seamless structure, definitely dominated by Cabernet, and drinking nearly perfectly. Yum in a glass. Get Some!

A TOTAL class-act and back to its hay-day is Gruaud Larose. The best in years, with a balance of cassis and elegant structure that is so distinctly Gruaud at its finest. I am pleased as punch. The only dog? Lagrange- seriously like drinking a smoothie made of bell peppers. What the heck were they thinking? Sad. Langoa Barton and Leoville Barton upped the ante for me, with the surprise winner being Langoa! WOW! Fresh roses on the nose, with dense black fruit on the palate, and a long, lush finish. The Leoville had that distinct creaminess that is Leoville Barton, but was much more closed down today and difficult to assess. Nonetheless, all the 'stuffing' is there for another excellent vintage at this estate.

Everyone was buzzing about Leoville Poyferre. Again, classic in style, and back to its roots. Beautiful balance, great structure and excellent length. Nothing exciting, but very 'complete'. Lastly, Talbot rounded out the region with a surprise. This Talbot was VERY forward, delicious, and laden with graphite and thirst-inducing acidity. Very, very good.

The chalkier side of tannins dominated Pauillac, which had no shortage of stars. Batailley had a distinct glycerin component that made it very modern, complete with soft tannins and a long, lush fruit-laden finish. Clerc Milon had an almost candied Boysenberry nose. The palate was gritty and peppery in its tannic structure, and I really feel there is a lot of potential in this wine. A sleeper and one I intend to purchase. D'armailhac had a surprising profound coffee and chocolate nose and palate with graphite, sweet tannins and impressive length. No slouch, and another knock-out value.

Ever-so-pleasant was Grand Puy Ducasse with imcredibly chalky tannins and sweet fruit. I certainly enjoyed it. Even more impressive was the Grand Puy Lacoste with its raspberry, lush, elegant palate that finished round and plump. Gorgeous! One of my top wines of the day was Lynch Bages. I finally appreciate the high price tag it has demanded the past 5 vintages. This wine absolutely deserves every ounce of hype thrown its way. INCREDIBLE concentration, with super-fine chalky tannins that were so linear, you'd swear the wine was filtered a million times. By far the best structure of any wine today.

Lynch Moussas was like drinking your way out of a garden- briars and green peppers. Neither of which I find pleasing. Pichon Longueville was classically balanced, with the appropriate amount of cassis, and some lovely chalky tannins and a hint of rose petals. Pichon Comtesse de Lalande was a stunner. Vanilla covered blackberries leap from the glass, all shrouded in silky tannins with a brooding nose and a lush palate. Totally a class act, and spot on as usual.

St. Estephe was plagued by the same dominance of oak that troubled the Medoc. Phelan Segur was a terrible disappointment, while Lafon Rochet was MUCH better, loaded with plush, chewy tannins and better acidity.

Finally the stickies! How I DO love Sauternes! Climens was excellent, and mostly balanced, with the exception of a bit of heat on the finish. Coutet had apricots galore and was super rich but balanced. The BEST by far was de Fargues- OMG- I MUST get this right away! Tropical pineapple, brilliant fresh acidity that invigorates with each delicious sip, and just the perfect length. Really amazing wine. Doisy Daene was a "Doisy Don't", with a very light body and high alcohol and no complexity. Guiraud wowed with tropical fruit, white pepper, a rich texture, but a hint of alcohol on the finish. Latour Blanche had better balance and was more elegant with noticeable apricot. Lafaurie Peyraguey was pretty, spicy and long, but nothing struck me as exciting. Lastly, Suduiraut, the perfect way to cap this glorious tasting. GOR-GEOUS! This had structure- YES, structure in a white wine- sounds nutty, but true in this case. Apricots, super rich and long, with just enough alcohol to keep it lighter on its feet. Another great vintage for this knockout producer of stickies.

After 123 wines, purple teeth, long trips to the spit bucket, and my guide dog getting stepped on constantly, I can honestly say it was well worth the trip. For those producers that were smart with their barrel treatment of this incredible vintage, the results spoke for themselves. Graves was great, Margaux the most pleasurable and easy to understand, St Emilion the most inconsistent, and the wines of St. Julien being real 'show-offs'.

I'd say that a good deal of the hype surrounding 2010 is well founded. I think some great values will stand the test of time in the cellars of patient folks, and the big boys are going to be surprisingly drinkable in the short term. The acidity is not really there for the Sauternes to be long agers, but instead look to Pauillac for your grandkids to enjoy. There's something for everyone, and sadly I have not seen the quality in Medoc or St Estephe that I was hoping for. HOwever, that being said, I've tasted dozens of Bordeaux Superieur that will delight the wallet and palate of many savvy shoppers. 2010 as a whole- definitely a winner. Two thumbs, and Two Labrador Paws UP!