Monday, June 15, 2015

Bordeaux Within Reach-Second Label Wines Offer Drinkability with Affordability

Bordeaux on a Budget Need Not Sacrifice Quality

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK--The Bookmark Lounge of the cozy Library boutique hotel in Midtown Manhattan was the setting for a tasting of some exquisite second label wines from the Bordeaux region of France. Presented by the fine wine retailer Millesima the wines presented a flavorful and affordable alternative to the illustrious, but pricey wines of the famed Bordeaux.  Hortense Bernard of Millesima USA was on hand to personally pour the selection in fine Christofle stemware.  Second label wines are made by the same winemakers as their pricier cousins, but the difference is in the grapes and the aging. The vines are younger, and therefor fruitier, and the fact that they are aged less, makes them drinkable now, rather than having to hang around in the cellar for 10 years or more to achieve drinkability. With price tags well below the $50 mark (most hover in the $35 range), its a way to revel in the delights of one of the world's most coveted wine regions without taking out a second mortgage.   Some of the names may be familiar to fine wine lovers. Its nice to know that you can drive a Ferrari on a Camry budget. All of the wines presented had distinctive characteristics. All were food friendly, but perfectly delightful all on their own. Here's a rundown of the wines and my tasting notes. 

Domaine de Chevalier, L'Esprit de Chevalier Blanc 2011 ($31.99). Born in the Pessac-Leognan, a region known for both its white and red wines, this wine is a tribute to the estate's first wine. L'Esprit de Chevalier means the spirit of the knight. Derived from younger vines that are hand selected and then barrel aged, the wine is surprisingly complex for a white wine, with great balance and elegance. This was one of my personal favorites because of its pronounced fruit and silky smooth finish. Great with sushi, shrimp or a simple Dover Sole pan sautéed in brown butter, lemon and garlic and a touch of tarragon.

Another of my favorites was Chateau Sociando Mallet, La Demoiselle de Sociando Maillet 2008 ($32.99). The Chateau is an unclassified estate in the Haut-Medoc, but this wine delivers far beyond its lowly pedigree. A blend of Cabernet and Merlot, the wine is made from grapes that are all hand-harvested then fermented in stainless steel tanks and concrete takes before being aged in oak barrels. The result if a rich, full-bodied wine with a fresh, bracing taste and long finish. This is the perfect accompaniment to a Dry-Aged Prime Steak, grilled meats or sliced cold meats and assorted cheeses, or just savoring singularly. The wine is good to go now, but, unlike many second labels, it can be set down for aging, but I doubt that anyone will actually do that, its so good right now!

Chateau Talbot, Connetable de Talbot 2008 ($31.99)-This wine has a good deal of pedigree and history behind it. Produced at one of the largest estates in Haute-Medoc, the estate is perched on the banks of the Gironde, Europe's largest estuary, on the prestigious Left Bank. The estate is named for John Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsberry, the Constable-Governor (or Connetable) of Guyenne, which encompasses the Bordeaux region. The wine is very easy to drink, with some nice red berry flavors that make it ideal with summertime grilled meats, such as a marinated skirt steak or grilled leg of lamb with rosemary. It would also pair well with red sauced pastas and pizza. There's a lingering taste of cherry jam that gives it a bright finish and a hint of coffee and smoke that gives an otherwise simple wine a bit of complexity. I also liked this one with a bit of soft, ripe Blue cheese.

Chateau Prieure-Lachine, Confidences de Prieure-Lichine 2008 ($35.99). The estate is located on land that has been producing elegant wines for eight centuries. Containing mostly Merlot grapes, the wine has a sophistication and elegance far beyond its price. First produced under the direction of Alexis Lechine, the famed negoitant, this second label wine comes from the same vineyard and benefits from the same harvesting and vinification techniques as the first growth wines. Second  year barrels are used in aging, but get a little punch from aging 40% of the wine in one year old barrels. As a result, the wine is somewhat soft on the palate, but still has a great deal of complexity.  The wine is a classic blend of 50% Cabernet, 45% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. Coming from younger vines and with aging in a combination of old and new barrels damps down the flavor amps and softens  the tannins.This makes it really approachable to the casual wine drinker and an easy accompaniment for just about anything served at a summer garden party or al fresco dinner.

I saved the absolute best for last. Chateau Nenin, La Fugue de Nenin 2002. The origins of Chateau Nenin date back to the 19th Century and is a favorite of the British Royal Family. Famed consultant Michel Roland is part of the winemaking team and the wine displays his artful hand. Chateau Nenin is a real star of Pomerol on the Right Bank. The wine is young, but has character and finesse. A blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc, this is a silky classy beauty that would be welcome at any dinner party. 

 A word about Millesima.  It is Europe's leader in online sales of fine wines and their cellars in Bordeaux contain an astounding 2.5 million bottles. They also have a store in New York City. The wines are readily available. Look for them in a fine wine shop near you.
Hortense Bernard, General Manager, Millesima USA
(Above and Below) The second label wines of Bordeaux

Wanda Mann, Black Dress Traveler blog
Wine writers enjoy the wine and atmosphere at the Bookmark Lounge at The Library
The enclosed rooftop terrace at The Library
Hortense Bernard of Millesima

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