A “satellite appellation” to the noble Pomerol AOC, Lalande de Pomerol produces reds that, at their best, mimic Pomerol’s robust, earthy flavors at a fraction of the price. While there is more variation in terroir within the two appellations than between them, Lalande tends to have more gravel and sand compared to Pomerol’s heavier clay soils. Château Belles-Graves is named after the abundant gravel in its vineyards, which is notorious for holding the sun’s heat into the night. This helps the grapes (Merlot with a bit of Cabernet Franc) ripen early, giving generous wines dominated by ripe black fruit with very supple, approachable tannins. This does not preclude them from aging: this Lalande can easily be held for ten or twenty years, developing a deep complexity and aromas of black truffle and leather. Fine Bordeaux need not cost a fortune, nor does it need decades of bottle age to be delicious.
Situated in Lalande de Pomerol, just north of Pomerol, Belles-Graves produces Merlot-dominated wines with a lush, velvety texture and very fine tannins. The vineyards average forty years of age and are planted on slopes that descend to the east, south and west of the estate. Though they sit just across a small river from some of the famous estates of Pomerol, their greatness comes from their own terroir of varied clay and gravel where flint, quartz, and mica offer distinct mineral components to each parcel. The finesse and subtlety that characterize this wine are matched by its complexity and depth. It is refreshing to find a domaine, a château, whose wine is far from banal and whose price point feels comfortable.
Often considered the wine capital of the world, Bordeaux and its wines have captured the minds, hearts, and wallets of wine drinkers for centuries. For many, the wines provide an inalienable benchmark against which all other wines are measured.
Bordeaux is divided into three winegrowing regions with the city that gives the region its name in the near geographical center. The “right bank,” or the area located east of the Dordogne River, produces wines that are predominantly Merlot with small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The “left bank” is located to the west of the Garonne River and produces wines dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
The third region, Entre-Deux-Mers, lies between both rivers and produces white wines from Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle. Though technically in the left bank, it is worth noting the appellation of Sauternes, which produces arguably the world’s most famous sweet wines from Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle as well.
Though many top Bordeaux wines are sold en primeur (in advance of their bottling) and often through a middleman known as a negoçiant, Kermit has always preferred to purchase directly from the winemaker. For more than three decades he has sought out small producers, who make classic Bordeaux wines and are willing to play outside the negoçiant system. This ethic has led to longstanding relationships, excellent prices, and perhaps most important—wines of great value and longevity.
I want you to realize once and for all: Even the winemaker does not know what aging is going to do to a new vintage; Robert Parker does not know; I do not know. We all make educated (hopefully) guesses about what the future will bring, but guesses they are. And one of the pleasures of a wine cellar is the opportunity it provides for you to witness the evolution of your various selections. Living wines have ups and downs just as people do, periods of glory and dog days, too. If wine did not remind me of real life, I would not care about it so much.
Inspiring Thirst, page 171
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