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Bored of Bordeaux? A Pauillac Themed Dinner

July 30, 2010

BORED OF BORDEAUX? A PAUILLAC THEMED DINNER – Lupa Trattoria, San Francisco, California (7/26/2010)


L to R: Sang-Mo, Richard, Chris, Eric, Christianne and Keith

Keith, who was deprived of wine during a recent month-long trip to Nepal and neighboring countries, organized a few wine dinners with his buddies on his return to slake his wine thirst. For the one this week, he pointed out to us in the headline of his email that “We Never Drink Bordeaux Anymore!” It’s basically true. We tend to schedule Burgundy, Rhone, Italian and Riesling themed events, roughly in that order, and Bordeaux tends to be an afterthought. Since I’m always up for variety, and am fond of older Bordeaux, even though I don’t go out of my way to drink it much any more, I quickly said yes. Others did too, but when the day came, we were down to 6 people, out of 12 or more who had initially indicated interest. Even the guy who suggested the Pauillac theme bailed. (BTW, we normally have about a dozen on hand for any of our dinners, unless we purposely limit them to 10, or sometimes 8.) A few had last minute work conflicts, but we never get that many last minute cancellations for a Burg or Rhone themed dinner. Was it the Bordeaux effect? Are we bored of Bordeaux? I’m starting to think so. And the way our wines showed at this dinner isn’t likely to inspire more Bordeaux gatherings in the near future, either.

When I was a baby wine geek in Southern California, it was one Bordeaux gathering after another. I had to collect a pretty substantial set of Bordeaux to be able to attend these dinners. Next most common in terms of themed events was Chateauneuf du Pape, and then Italian, but Bordeaux definitely dominated. Looking back, I think many of us were heavily influenced by Robert Parker’s Bordeaux-centric view of the wine world, since he was the major critic we were reading, and the one whose scores and recommended wines were trumpeted by the wine retailers we frequented. Eventually I got turned on to Burgundy and Riesling too, and started to seek out fellow Burg and Riesling lovers, but most of the events I attended down there were still heavily Bordeaux dominated.

Speaking of Parker, I’ve written before that I think he and his fondness for oaky, fruit bomb concoctions have had a very negative impact on the making of Bordeaux, especially in the last 10 years or so, and I regularly find a lot of younger wines from the region to be too oaky and overly extracted for my taste. And I often find that the Bordeaux he rated most highly are ones I can barely drink, while I most enjoy the ones to which he gave only middling scores. Okay, so I think I’ve met my Parker bashing quota for this piece. 😉

I only rarely eat a big steak or heavily beefy meal anymore, where I might want a Bordeaux, and am just as likely to enjoy a Rhone or a meritage-type blend from elsewhere (SuperTuscan, Vega Sicilia) on the rare occasions that I do eat something like that. I’ve still got a fair amount of Bordeaux sitting in my cellar that I just don’t get to very often, and at current prices (and winemaking style), I’m not in the market for any more young Bordeaux.

I also think Jancis Robinson got it right when she wrote, “An engagement with bordeaux is a cerebral business. With burgundy it is an affair of the heart.” That was certainly the case with our Bordeaux on this particular evening. I enjoyed some of them from an intellectual standpoint–it was interesting to compare the different vintages of Lynch-Bages, and I think Grand-Puy-Lacoste got it quite right in ’95, and it was nice to taste that relatively unappreciated Chateau. The wines went well enough too with our excellent pasta and steak dishes. The joy that we get from drinking great Burgs, and the enthusiasm and delight we experience when downing lovely Rhones, however, were very noticeably missing from this dinner. The last time I got a real thrill from drinking Bordeaux was at our exceptional Cheval Blanc gathering in early April that I posted about here. And it was months before that–our end of the year gatherings for Jonathan Dinh’s birthday to be exact–that I’d had another memorable Bordeaux. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t great Bordeaux to be enjoyed, but the price point, compared to other wines that give us great pleasure, has to be considered. We tend to have a much higher proportion of hits to misses when we do Burgundy and Rhones than we do with Bordeaux, and the very top Bordeaux with substantial maturity on them that give the most pleasure are increasingly pricey when compared to our usual favorites. So yes, I think I am bored with Bordeaux, and will be even more selective about the Bordeaux tastings I attend in the future (sorry K&L).

For more detail on the particular wines we tasted and how they showed, see below.

Champagne starter

Sang-Mo asked if we were interested in starting with Krug. It sounded like a trick question to me. When would one not want to start with Krug? This was one he’d been hanging on to for at least five years, so it showed a little more maturity, in a good way, than your average Grande CuvĂ©e.

  • N.V. Krug Champagne Grande CuvĂ©e Brut – France, Champagne
    Light golden yellow color; marzipan, very autolytic, ginger, nutty nose; yeasty, nutty, tart citrus, baked lemon palate with refreshing acidity; medium-plus finish (bottle was at least 5 years old) (93 pts.)

Marcassin Chard

Eric was kind enough to share a Marcassin Chard with us. I was surprised at how youthful and tight it still was, as most Marcassin Chards I’ve tasted have been on a faster evolutionary path. This was quite tasty and refined, but still needs more time.

  • 2002 Marcassin Chardonnay Three Sisters Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Light golden yellow color; maturing, lemon, refined oak, lanolin nose with a touch of honey; youthful, creamy textured, ripe lemon, almond, ripe citrus palate, a little tight yet; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)

Lynch-Bages Flight


1994 was the best of the bad years (’91-’94) in Bordeaux, so I wasn’t expecting much from our first bottle, and I wasn’t disappointed. Christianne reported to us that Jean-Charles Cazes (the current family member in charge of Lynch-Bages) told her, at the K&L Bordeaux Fete in January, when she sat next to him, that ’94 is the vintage he’s drinking now. They probably ended up with quite a few of them since they didn’t sell well, and there’s no reason to sit on them. It’s a perfectly adequate drink with food, but nothing worth collecting. The ’95 and ’01 were much better. I really enjoyed the pencil lead on the nose of the ’95, and it’s in a good drinking window now.

  • 1994 ChĂąteau Lynch-Bages – France, Bordeaux, MĂ©doc, Pauillac
    Very dark red violet color; cedar, camphor, olive nose; silky textured, camphor, herbaceous, tart cassis palate; medium finish 88+ pts. (88 pts.)
  • 1995 ChĂąteau Lynch-Bages – France, Bordeaux, MĂ©doc, Pauillac
    Very dark red violet color; musty nose initially, that changed to pencil lead and cassis nose; velvety textured, tasty, tart cassis, herbaceous, mineral palate with the beginning of some maturity; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 2001 ChĂąteau Lynch-Bages – France, Bordeaux, MĂ©doc, Pauillac
    Dark red violet color; espresso, olive, herbaceous nose; espresso, herbaceous, pencil lead, olive palate, drinking fine now; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)

Grand-Puy-Lacoste and Pichon Lalande


Grand-Puy-Lacoste is a very solid Bordeaux producer, and the ’95 was my WOTN. The ’96 might have been a flawed bottle–I was wondering if some low level of TCA, which wasn’t detectable on the nose, was sapping the palate in some way. It just didn’t perform as well as reviews would suggest.

The ’90 Pichon-Lalande has been a controversial wine ever since Parker gave this wine from a great year, from one of Parker’s usually favorite chateaux, an extremely low 79 points. I hadn’t had the wine for years, but remembered enjoying it at verticals with representatives of the Chateau in L.A. This bottle was disappointing, however, and Parker seems to be right that it wasn’t built to last. It wasn’t a 79 pointer, but it certainly was one of the weaker wines of a not terribly exciting evening wine wise. Good thing the company was top notch, and the food very good.

  • 1995 ChĂąteau Grand-Puy-Lacoste – France, Bordeaux, MĂ©doc, Pauillac
    Nearly opaque red violet color; nice cassis, blackberry, slightly herbal nose; tasty, plush, blackberry, cassis palate; medium-plus finish (94 pts.)
  • 1996 ChĂąteau Grand-Puy-Lacoste – France, Bordeaux, MĂ©doc, Pauillac
    Very dark red violet color; herbal, green herb, a little murky on nose; tart black fruit, camphor, herbaceous, lead pencil palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 1990 ChĂąteau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande – France, Bordeaux, MĂ©doc, Pauillac
    Medium dark red violet color; herbaceous, olive, tobacco, mature nose; maturing, herbaceous, plush black fruit, tobacco, olive palate; medium-plus finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. keith Goldstein permalink
    July 30, 2010 3:58 pm

    RJ- I confess I am having trouble calibrating your scores with your tasting notes (and my own impressions of these and other wines we have shared). If you are using the 100 point system in the same manner as TWA and WS, then a 90 point wine is “outstanding, terrific”. Yet, you describe the Pichon (which you gave 90 points) as “one of the weaker wines of a not terribly exciting evening wine wise”.
    Now, I know you are a very kind and compassionate man, but I think you need to review your scoring system.
    BTW- the only wine (besides the Krug) that I would have scored 90 points was the 95 GPL.
    All said and done, Thanks for the amazing job you do in composing and compiling these notes.

  2. N. LEDUC permalink
    July 31, 2010 1:43 am

    I agree. From my perspective, with such a diverse world market, price to quality plays a major roll for me when purchasing wine in this economy. I’ve had so many wines from all over the world that have provided plenty of interest and pleasure, at a fraction of the price of many Bordeaux. And since wine is subjective anyways, it just takes understanding regions, styles and vintages (and most importantly, understanding your own palate) to find wines that are enjoyable, without the high price tags; such as Bordeaux futures. Clearly top Bordeaux house’s are unconcerned about alienating their long time buyers and seem to be simply aiming for the highest bidders. Although, I could careless, it’s a free market and there’s plenty of other good wines out there.

  3. July 31, 2010 10:30 am

    Richard, I pretty much share your sentiment on Bordeaux (and Napa Cabs), as I’ve expressed the Iron Chevsky blog in the past as well. On occasion, it makes sense and I enjoy, but the region for me lacks excitement somehow, especially with the stupid prices, and the wines, frankly, tend to be boring

  4. Conrad permalink
    August 1, 2010 7:59 am

    Richard, I seem to recall the 90 Ausone we had at the Alexander’s steak dinner in April didn’t suck. Nevertheless, I plan to visit the Bay Area this fall and I will bring a few bottles to defend Robert Parker! I will be in touch with Rebecca to organize.

    • August 1, 2010 9:10 am

      Conrad,
      Thanks for the reminder. The ’90 Ausone was sublime. It transcended regions. It was pretty much perfect. I knew I was forgetting something. 😉 I look forward to your return to the Bay Area. I was also persuaded by John Gilman’s response to this same post on WineBerserkers that a problem with our dinner was that virtually all of our wines were from too recent vintages. We need to return to the 60s and 70s for Bordeaux that moves us (and Ausone, of course).

      • August 6, 2010 8:21 am

        Please change my mind too!

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