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We recently spent a few long rainy days in Bordeaux, happily visiting old and new friends who are bringing great organic farming and more natural winemaking methods to this land of stuffed-shirts and Chateaux. And of course we managed a visit to Jean-Pierre Boyer at Bel Air Marquis d'Aligre, whose delightfully old-fashioned Margaux offer a delicious glimpse into the past. We tasted the 2015 and 2016 from large cement foudres, as M. Boyer, who doesn't like to describe his methods, offered a steady stream of anecdotes and stories. Most importantly he said "de boire mes vins jeunes est de couper le ble en herbe." Roughly translated as "to drink my wines young is to harvest the wheat when it's green" - this is something to bear in mind when opening any bottle of BAMA, as even the 1995 needs many hours of aeration and the younger wines are often best if opened the day before. We've just received a new shipment of these beautiful wines - including the lovely 1998 and the very ageworthy 2009, both of which will certainly cellar well for another 20 years and more.
One of our favorite examples of Biologique (organic) Bordeaux is Didier Michaud's tiny estate in the northern Medoc, Planquette. From old vines of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 20% of an old variety of Petit Verdot, this is a brilliant natural wine that is deep, well-structured and beautifully complex making it delicious to drink now or after ten to fifteen years of cellaring. The wine spends a minimum of two years in old barrique, and the malo sometimes takes one to two years. Interestingly, M. Michaud attempts to limit the presence of wild yeasts in the cellar, preferring that his wines ferment as much as possible with yeasts found in the vineyard. Only a few cases are left of the lovely 2015 vintage, but barrel samples of the 2016 and 2017 showed beautifully, and with the better harvests we hope to have more quantity over the next few years.
Chateau Coutet in Saint-Emilion has been farming organically since the 1950s and has remained relatively unknown, though surrounded by famous neighbors such as Grand Maynes, Beauséjour and Angelus. The estate's vines are 60% massale selection Merlot Queue Rouge, with 40% Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot; an old press is used due to the small grapes and the fermentations have always been with wild yeasts. Coutet is one of the only Bordeaux estates to have extensive woods and hedges around the property - they like to hunt - and this helped protect them from the terrible frosts of April 2017. New releases from Coutet will be at a much higher price, so lovers of real Bordeaux should consider the lovely 2012 on offer today.
A trio of our favorite values in Bordeaux are now back in stock, from Château Peybonhomme-les-Tours, Château Cru Godard and Maison Blanche - they are outstanding wines and great accompaniments to winter cuisine - and they will pair well with grilled foods this summer, so stock-up!
The wines of Jean-Pierre Boyer at Chateau Bel Air-Marquis d'Aligre, are made in the lighter "claret" style of the 19th century. The 1995 shows a light red/garnet slightly mature color with pretty aromas of sweet red-currant, cassis and prune with sous-bois, licorice, tobacco, citrus and spice. The palate is delicate and silky, with a firm core of red currant/cassis fruit, framed in firm acidity. Very earthy with fruit liqueur, smoke, mint and minerals in the long finish. Decant a few hours in advance to enjoy this very unusual and beautiful Margaux. Another 5 to 10 years of cellaring would be interesting. David Lillie
Jean-Pierre Boyer makes Margaux that resemble the wines of the distant past. His 2000 shows a slightly maturing red/black color with bright aromas of red currant, cassis and raspberry with cedar, rose, citrus and earthy sous-bois notes, really lovely and complex. Relatively light for a Margaux, the palate is deep and velvety with firm tannins under lovely blackberry and cassis fruit with earth, licorice and mineral flavors. It's delicate and powerful at the same time and very long. Delicious now with three to four hours in carafe or after another ten to twenty years in the cellar. David Lillie
The 2010 Bel Air-Marquis d'Aligre is from very old vines and also from approximately 50 year-old vines planted by M. Boyer at 10,000 plants per hectare. There is a long fermentation without extraction, the juice remains in cuve until spring, then spends 6 months in old barrels followed by two to three years in cement vat. These are wines made in the lighter "claret" style of the 19th century, although the 2010 shows an incredible density of flavor, given the less-extracted style. Upon opening the wine shows subtle aromas of earth, red currant and cherry fruit with licorice and brown spice. The palate is deep and quite expressive with black cherry, strawberry, earth, licorice and mineral flavors, quite Burgundian in texture. The finish is very long with lingering tart cherry, sous-bois and mineral flavors. After two days open (re-corked) the aromas have broadened with prune, ripe cherry, tobacco, spice and rose and the palate is intense with red and black fruit liqueur, spice box and earth and ending with lingering red fruits and firm acidity. Delicious now with a long decant, this will be an extraordinary mature wine, best perhaps 2035 - 2050. David Lillie
A Margaux like no other, more akin to a 19th century claret than to a modern Bordeaux.The 2004 from Jean-Pierre Boyer shows a lovely deep garnet color and smoky red-currant aromas with earth, violet, licorice, spice and citrus peel. The palate is dense and mineral with firm structure, but showing velvety blackberry, cassis and red currant with earth and mineral flavors and a bit of bitter licorice. The finish is long and firm. Suspend your ideas of Bordeaux and enjoy this complex and Burgundian Margaux. Carafe four hours in advance or cellar ten to twenty years.(On day 2 the wine has deepened and softened into a lovely Burgundian Bordeaux)
Didier Michaud works 1.7 hectares in the Medoc with 30 to 100 year-old vines on limestone with thin soils of clay with sand and stones. He has old vines of Merlot Queue Rouge and massale selection Cabernet Sauvignon, farmed organically with just a little compost and shallow plowing. Vinification with wild yeasts, no extraction and usually no added sulfur. This is one of the most "natural" and deliciously old-fashioned wines of Bordeaux. The 2015 Planquette is a bit softer and more forward than usual, probably due to rains just before harvest, which makes it more delicious as a young wine, although it will certainly cellar nicely as well. The 2015 shows ripe cassis and blackberry aromas with licorice, violet, roast meat and earth. The palate is dense and supple, framed in bright acidity, with black fruit liqueur, earth, citrus and mineral flavors. The mid-palate is elegant with a core of chalky black fruit and minerals that continues in the long finish. This is a beautiful Bordeaux of terroir, unfettered by additives, over-extraction or new oak, showing lovely flavors of fruit and earth and perfect balance. Delicious now, but perhaps best 2020 to 2030+. Highly recommended and a great value. David Lillie
This is a beautiful wine from Château Coutet, a Saint Émilion estate that received its organic certification in 2012. The domaine has never used chemical treatments on the land – resulting in a unique flora and fauna not found on any other surrounding estates. Harvest is made by hand with triage. Horses are used to plough the most delicate plots. The 2012 Coutet shows a bouquet of dark berries, red currants and plums with slight herbal notes. With a refreshing minerality, bright acidity and firm tannins, the wine has a long and complex finish. Drink now or age it for several years (7+ years). Caroline Coursant
This certified organic wine is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. The wine offers a bouquet of ripe berries, plums and cherries with some light savory herbs and spice notes. This wine has a good acidity and minerality (thanks to the vineyard's limestone soil) giving a pleasant freshness and brightness to the wine. The Cru Godard is an enjoyable pairing with various dishes from grilled pork chops to the classic hamburger. Caroline Coursant
Biodynamic farming, native yeasts, wild fermentations, good value –all phrases not typically associated with Bordeaux. Yet, each year the Hubert family provides us with just that in their staple cuvee from the Côte de Blaye. The Cru Bourgeois is a blend of mostly Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and a bit of Malbec. Generously aromatic owing to the rich clay soils in which it is grown, the 2015 offers crushed violets, cassis, and rhubarb on the nose. The palate shows the warm vintage with finesse. Cascades of ripe red fruit, black currant, and spice, with supple tannins and an undercurrent of chalky minerality. This is a great addition to the dinner table alongside grilled meat or sipped on its own. Amanda Bowman
Certified organic since 2009 and biodynamic since 2013, this second label from the domain Maison Blanche is a secret to discover. Vibrant with tension, firm tannins and bright acidity, this wine will accompany many of your meals from casual to fancy. The palate is full of blackberries, cassis, plums with savory, mineral and herbal notes. The finish is long and beautiful. A great wine. Drink it now or age it for several years (7 years). Caroline Coursant