During the first week of April, I had the great honor and privilege of returning to Bordeaux as a jury member for the 2019 edition of the Millesima Blog Awards. Once there, we had the opportunity to greet the award winners and share a truly special evening together at Chateau Cos d’Estournel – more on that in my next post.
My visit coincided with en primeur, the much-anticipated annual event where Bordeaux producers offer a preview of the most recent, and largely unfinished vintage – in this case 2018. Journalists, merchants, and critics descent upon Bordeaux each year to assess the quality of the vintage. You can learn more about en primeur here.
After attending and experiencing en primeur during last year’s 2017 preview I was looking forward to see how the latest vintage would measure up. After three days of extensive tastings from Saint-Julien to Saint-Emilion, I’m excited to share my impressions. In my next post, I look forward to taking you behind the scenes at two prominent Bordeaux producers.
The 2018 Vintage – Powerful Yet Playful
2018 didn’t begin as a terribly promising growing year, with six months of very damp weather creating mildew problems while isolated hail storms resulted in losses for some producers. But mother nature warmed up beginning in July, and Bordeaux enjoyed three months of unusually warm, dry weather that resulted very ripe, concentrated fruit. Due to the heat, soils eventually struggled for water, resulting in small berries with thick skins and lower yields of roughly 25% for many producers.
The result: 2018 Bordeaux is proving to be quite promising with generous, ripe fruit, intense concentration and fine tannin quality. It’s both powerful and playful, age-worthy and approachable in its youth, with very consistent quality.
Discover Puglia | Primitivo Finds its Footing in the Heel of Italy
As you make your way toward the southern reaches of Italy, you’ll find the sun-drenched region of Puglia in the heel of Italy’s boot. Surrounded by crystal clear waters on three sides, summer months have long attracted droves of tourists in search of a laid-back atmosphere, fresh seafood and pristine beaches. In other words, a uniquely Puglian respite.
But agriculturally, it’s historically been most notable for its olive oil and bulk wine production, which has been used to blend and bolster wine from more established regions, primarily northern Italy.
Despite wine having been produced for hundreds of years in the region, its only been in the last 20 years that Puglia has attracted recognition for its unique terroir and dry, sunny maritime climate. Today, a new wave of winemaking talent has recognized the potential of this oft-overlooked region, and its most noble wine: Primitivo di Manduria.
Buy Recommendation | Zaca Mesa Syrah Santa Barbara
I realize that I haven’t shared as many individual wine recommendations on my site lately. For that, I apologize, but the main culprit is that I just don’t have the time to write about every wine that might deserve the recognition. For that, I recommend following me on Instagram and checking out my stories. The other issue, is that I haven’t tasted many wines priced under $30 that have managed to win me over as much as the 2013 Zaca Mesa Syrah recently has time and time again.
I visited Zaca Mesa this past February when I did an in-depth tour of Santa Barbara Wine Country. I featured them in my coverage, so for the sake of brevity – let’s just say that Zaca Mesa’s history of pioneering the cultivation of Syrah in Santa Barbara may have some bearing on their ability to produce such an expressive, well-balanced, varietally correct and utterly delicious Syrah from entirely estate-grown fruit at just $28.
To say that Australian wine is suffering from an image problem would be a gross understatement. No other country suffers the same level of stigma that’s befallen Australia, as its practically become fashionable for oenophiles to discredit it as merely capable of producing big jammy Shiraz, lavishly oaked Chardonnay and mass-produced, bargain-basement grocery store wines.
These styles have fallen out of vogue with many of today’s consumers, as a movement embracing freshness, restraint and sense of place forces producers around the world to adapt and evolve their winemaking styles. As regions respond, consumers are rejoicing in response to exciting wines that are both expressive and well-balanced. Yet Australia seems to still be left behind, relegated to the abyss of abject winemaking – and it doesn’t deserve to be there.
Today, the Rothschild Foundation continues to build on that tradition with the semi-annual Prix Clerc Milon de la Danse, a ceremony which recognizes and celebrates the talents of the prestigious Bordeaux Opera Ballet and honors the memory of the late Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, who had forged a deep connection to the Ballet during her lifetime.
Château Mouton Rothschild | Embracing Change and Leading The Way
It appeared nothing could possibly be out of sorts upon arriving at the beautifully set table in the private dining room of Château Mouton Rothschild. Me and my fellow Millésima blog award winners were in for a very special afternoon, as we were about to enjoy lunch with not one, but three members of the prominent Rothschild family: Camille Sereys de Rothschild, Philippe Sereys de Rothschild and Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild.
After carefully examining the table for our seat assignments, we were about to sit down for what was sure to be one of, if not the most memorable lunch of our lives when Philippe intervened – announcing that a great deal of thought had been given to each seat assignment. He then effortlessly rearranged several assignments, seating me next to him. (My fellow writers were also strategically seated so as to have a chance to comfortably converse with a member of the family.)
Feeling humbled and frankly a bit surprised, I mentioned to Philippe that I was honored to sit with him. His fantastic response set the tone for the remainder of our afternoon, when he jokingly quipped: “Let me know if you feel the same way after lunch.” As one of France’s noblest families, the Rothschilds possessed an unexpected humility and sense of humor, somehow managing to make us feel right at home at their table.
During lunch, we sampled Aile d’ Argent 2015, Château d’ Armailhac 2009, Mouton Rothschild 2005 and Château Coutet 2001
Bordeaux 2017 | Impressions From A Challenged Vintage
While my affinity for the wines from picturesque Northern California has been well-documented, it was actually Bordeaux that first stirred the soul of the budding oenophile within me. I devoured the pages of books like Noble Rot and Billionaires Vinegar, which shed a glimmer of light on this prominent yet mysterious region that’s been cloaked in tradition for hundreds of years.
Despite being a geographic challenge for a young wine lover, it was one of the first wine regions I visited. When my spouse and I took the opportunity to tour Europe, Bordeaux was an absolute must – and our short stay there, consisting of just a few days, was one of the highlights of our trip.
We explored the unexpectedly cosmopolitan city center and booked a tour which afforded us visits to Château Lynch-Bages, Château Ferrière and a stellar lunch at Château Camensac, paired with beautiful, mature wines from their cellar. I quickly realized we should have budgeted more time, but the visit still managed to cement my appreciation for Bordeaux’s compelling, age-worthy wines.
And so after ten long years, I write this having just returned from attending en primeur in Bordeaux as the recipient of the Millésima Wine Reporting Award for 2018. I am deeply grateful to Millesima for the nomination, and to my incredible readers who rallied behind it in support of me. It was incredible to get back to this region that I love so much, and I want to share some impressions from the challenging 2017 vintage.
Tasting through Marguax at Chateau Siran | Photo Credit: Frederic Lot
Enter the Rodney Strong Master Blender Sweepstakes
Those who have been fortunate enough to experience the stunning natural beauty of Sonoma County and everything it has to offer are sure to warmly greet the opportunity to return. For those who have never experienced its verdant, mesmerizing landscape, world-class wines and incredible farm-to-table cuisine – this is your opportunity to win an all-expense-paid wine country getaway to the charming town of Healdsburg, California.
If you’re following along on my social media channels (Instagram, Twitter and Facebook) then you’re probably aware that I was recently hosted by Rodney Strong Vineyards for a two day mini-preview of what the two winning couples will receive and to help spread the word about their generous sweepstakes grand prizes.
Family-owned and operated and a pioneer in Sonoma County Winemaking for more than 50 years, Rodney Strong couldn’t be better equipped to show the two lucky couples the very vest of what Sonoma County has to offer. Below you’ll find the highlights from my trip – and don’t forget to enter! There is no cost or purchase necessary to enter, and the only benefit to me when you enter is the satisfaction of one of my loyal readers winning this amazing trip!
What Winners of the Rodney Strong Master Blender Sweepstakes Can Expect
Historic Charm Melds With Modern Luxury at the Santa Ynez Inn
The Santa Ynez Inn takes its name from the quaint town of Santa Ynez, where it’s located at the entrance to Santa Ynez Valley’s scenic wine country. Not only is its location incredibly convenient should your stay include plans to explore Santa Barbara Wine Country, but each guest of the Santa Ynez Inn also receives one of the best amenities I’ve ever experienced: an exclusive Tasting Passport, entitling them to complimentary tastings at nearly twenty local wineries. How apropos!
Modeled after the very first hotel in Santa Ynez, The College Hotel, which was tragically lost during a fire in 1935, The Santa Ynez Inn was newly constructed in 2001. Yet despite being built so recently, I so enjoyed how the Santa Ynez Inn elegantly combines the charm of an old Victorian inn with the luxuries and modern conveniences of a new hotel. And however unexpected it may be as you pull up in your Tesla, there’s even a charging station at your disposal!
Overall, an air of understated elegance undeniably defines the entire operation, from the exquisite furnishings to the soothing jazz music you’ll find serenading you as you settle into your luxuriously appointed room. From the moment you check in, guests are pampered with a surprisingly generous list of amenities that are completely included in your stay (read on for the full list).
The hit 2004 film Sideways put Santa Barbara’s Wine Country on the map. After the success of the film, audiences were treated to a snapshot of what this stunning region has to offer – awe inspiring vistas with endless rolling hills concealing a patchwork of windy roads and charming towns possessing a distinctly old western feel.
And lets not forget the authentic examples of cool-climate Pinot and Chardonnay, or the fact that in just a short two hour drive from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles one can quite literally escape to this otherworldly paradise that’s seemingly frozen in time.
But dig a little deeper, and the plot thickens. After spending a week in Santa Barbara Wine Country, I feel it’s the regions unexpected diversity, tightly-knit community of passionate farmers and winemakers and its unique topography directly exposing it to the harsh cooling influences of the Pacific Ocean that tell the whole story. Oh, and even Miles might be surprised to find that not only is there such a good thing as great Merlot, but there’s even great Santa Barbara County Merlot!