If you travel to any of the right-bank properties featured in this sampler, hoping to see grand estates or castles, you will be disappointed. “Château” features in the names of most Bordelais domaines, but, except for a few properties, it is meaningless, the vestige of a historical naming system. The more agrarian, less aristocratic “domaine” would be more helpful in understanding the work and lifestyles of the vignerons at Gombaude-Guillot, Bellevue, and Moulin Pey-Labrie, who for years have been on the vanguard of progressive, organic agriculture, which is still uncommon in this renowned region. Their buildings are modest, and the families who work in and outside of them are focused, above all else, on agriculture and making Merlot-based reds that speak to their specific terroirs. This sampler features one older and one newer vintage from each of the three families behind these domaines, and the three different appellations they represent. Although all lie within a mere twenty-mile radius, each bottling diverges from the next. They range from Gombaude-Guillot’s classic, mineral, and generous Pomerol, with notes of black currant, truffle, and cocoa, to Château de Bellevue’s chiseled, restrained, age-worthy Lussac Saint-Emilion, which evokes bright, red berries and might be the value of the decade. Even the two Canon Fronsacs from markedly different plots owned by the Hubau family are entirely distinct from each other—the 2015 giving a lithe, juicy rouge and the 2010 a dense, savory wine, a meal unto itself! With this sampler, you will realize that vibrant, terroir-driven wines from small family domaines are just as essential—if not more—to Bordeaux’s identity as those imposing, picture-book châteaux.
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.
When buying red Burgundy, I think we should remember:
1. Big wines do not age better than light wine. 2. A so-called great vintage at the outset does not guarantee a great vintage for the duration. 3. A so-called off vintage at the outset does not mean the wines do not have a brilliant future ahead of them. 4. Red Burgundy should not taste like Guigal Côte-Rôtie, even if most wine writers wish it would. 5. Don’t follow leaders; watch yer parking meters.
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