The 2015 release of Chateau Le Puy's flagship, "Emilien" has been been in my cross-hairs for a long time now. The hype of the vintage may be a tad overblown for some addresses, but for Le Puy this is the dynamite combo of wild concentration and length I've been waiting for.
Unfortunately, the secret is out on this Bordeaux estate that exemplifies the rare farm-first mentality of the region. Quantities are limited today to 24 bottles only. The New York Times' Eric Asimov's excellent piece shined the spotlight on this chateau which, in one sip, makes abundantly clear it's the real McCoy.
In college, it was a Médoc that ended up being my epiphany red wine moment. In just one sniff my growing fascination in wine shifted from California to France. Truth be told, when an unfamiliar Bordeaux is poured for me it brings the most hopeful sense of anticipation. Regrettably, those thrilling experiences via Bordeaux don't appear often. The point-chasing, over-extracted, and ripe-beyond-recognition style set in motion in the mid-80's has changed the region for the worse. Yet, terroir-driven producers do still exist.
It's no surprise the greatest of all the recent Bordeaux discoveries has come from importer, Neal Rosenthal. With names like Fourrier, Carillon, and Paolo Bea under his belt I'm always excited to taste new arrivals. When introduced to the new Bordeaux in the lineup I was transported to a time long ago.
Chateau Le Puy is in its 14th generation of management by the Amoreau family. Situated in between Pomerol and Saint Emilion on the 2nd highest point along the Gironde estuary, this is home to the Bordeaux that's rooted in sensibilities more commonly found in Burgundy. The finesse, dead-serious-focus, and downright drinkability of Le Puy is worlds apart from the stylistic norm. It embodies that sense of place that so few do today, while not shortchanging on the regal qualities that are rightfully associated with Bordeaux.
“It’s the best Burgundy wine from Bordeaux”, proclaims the head of production, Steven Hewison. The son-in-law of the estate's owner is referring to the precision and ease of drinking that calls to mind the farm-first mentality of its sibling to the east.
Since 1610 these vines have been farmed free of chemicals, and today full biodynamic practices are employed, with work being done by horse. The soil is an amalgamation of red clay, silex, and limestone. Plantings are 85% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, and small percentages of Malbec and Carménère.
Emilien is the main wine of the chateau. Initially aged in 5,000-liter foudres (many over 115-years-old), and then into neutral 228-liter Bordeaux barrels. In personality it shows a sturdy frame like that of Saint-Emilion, but with silken tannins and elegance that neighboring Pomerol is so revered for.
Duc des Nauves sits at the lowest elevation on the property on a sandy limestone parcel. The wine is fermented and aged exclusively in cement. The 2015 and 2016 offered today show a great juxtaposition. 2015's lean toward blue and black fruits and saturating texture. 2016's have more brightness, verve, and red-fruited notes.
Bartélemy comes from a single parcel of old vines known as "Les Rocs" planted on deep limestone. This is the most age-worthy wine of the estate. Élevage is in 228-liter barrels, of which less than 10% are new. The structure, saturating texture, and persistence of Bartélemy rivals those under the region's two famous classifications of 1855 and 1955.
Rose-Marie is a rosé in the style of Chateau Simone, offering transformative, age-worthy qualities that few rosés do. Produced by the "saignée" method where juice from red wine vats is "bled off". Fermented and aged in neutral oak barrels, bottled without filtration or the addition of sulphur. 30 cases were imported to the US.
Le Puy takes me back to a different era of Bordeaux, one where a sense of authenticity and traditionalism reverberate through the wines. With a lineup covering four distinct cuvées this is the prime chateau to reacquaint yourself with the region.
*Quantities are very limited.
2015 Chateau Le Puy "Emilien" Côtes de Bordeaux
$54 per bottle.
2016 Duc des Nauves Côtes de Bordeaux (Chateau Le Puy)
$24 per bottle.
2015 Chateau Le Puy Emilien Rose-Marie Rosé
$79 per bottle.
2010 Chateau Le Puy Bartélemy Côtes de Bordeaux
$164 per bottle.
The garagiste movement in Bordeaux has drawn a lot of attention toward more minimal intervention, terroir-focused wineries. While small-production doesn't always equal success, in the hands of the most attentive the results show a very different side of a region most commonly associated with $100+ price tags. No domaine has taken this approach to the extreme as perfectly as Domaine de Galouchey. Its one hectarevineyard located just west of Saint-Émilion has delivered a masterpiece of Bordeaux, a bottling aptly named Vin de Jardin (Wine of the Garden).
Marco Pelletier had worked as the sommelier at 3-Star Michelin, Le Bristol in Paris before joining with friends, Jean Terrade and Gérard Pantanacce. They had a dream to produce the style of Bordeaux that they themselves wanted to drink, and tend the land with the most precise care possible. Top quality Bordeaux can regularly produce 7,000 bottles per hectare, but the trio took it further limiting yields and producing only 3,600 bottles. This means sorting at the winery is surgical, with only the grapes going into the vat they would want to eat.
My first opportunity to taste the wine was a pivotal moment in how I think of Bordeaux. Freshness and drinkability had not been synonymous with the region in my mind, and yet that's what stood out in Vin de Jardin first. There's a seamless texture and bright fruit quality that begs to be consumed. Each sip I'm connected to the raw materials of the vineyard, something that all great wines should deliver.
The quintessential tobacco, dark chocolate, graphite, and wild herbs that make Bordeaux so distinct are met with vivid floral notes and ripe, pristine fruit. The complete picture is one that reminded me why Bordeaux is always worth a closer, to search for hidden gems like this. And at $36 per bottle I was shocked to find a wine behind that tag which hit every mark.
Vin de Jardin exemplifies everything that's to be lauded and respected about the small grower-producer. This is the most excited I've ever been about Bordeaux in this price realm.
2014 Domaine de Galouchey Vin de Jardin
$36 per bottle.
Bordeaux has become an increasingly difficult region to sum up in a brief tag line. The style that endeared itself to millions of wine lovers of generations past has largely subsided. Today it's most common to find more full throttle, dark, extracted, oaky, and jam-inflected wines. Vineyards that have screamed of terroir as much as anywhere in the world have been overshadowed by power and the prized quality of a first bombastic impression. Subtlety and quiet conviction does not draw big scores.
But, this isn't a look at how everything has changed. It's a focus on what has just about stayed the same. While modernization has improved quality throughout the region these producers highlighted have remained focused on more traditional winemaking and exceptional vineyard management. These are the domaines that deserve your attention.
Moulin de Tricot was established in the 1800's on the gravel and sand soils of Margaux on the left bank of the Gironde estuary. The property is just under 5 hectares. While most of the Margaux appellation has moved towards a higher planting of Merlot to give more plump, juicy, and forward qualities to their wines, Moulin de Tricot has maintained their historic balance of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. The wines here are quintessential left bank Bordeaux, showcasing tell-tale cigar box and graphite among the array of black cherry and plum notes.
The Chateau produces two wines, the Haut Médoc (partially comprised of land outside of the Margaux appellation), and the flagship Margaux bottling. Both wines are aged in older French oak barrels. The mix of sand in the soil in Margaux gives the wines an elegance and delicacy that stand out a bit from their northern neighbors with more gravel-dominant soils. These two bottlings are the first place to turn for honest, terroir-driven Bordeaux at a price point that stands out in stark contrast to the wines coming from throughout their zip code.
2012 Chateau Moulin de Tricot Haut Médoc
$29.95 per bottle.
2005 Chateau Moulin de Tricot Margaux
$74.95 per bottle.
Château Le Puy sits on the same plateau as its famed next door neighbors Pomerol and Saint Emilion on the right bank. Le Puy is at an unusually high 350-meter elevation, offering a cooler microclimate within the region. Like most wines hailing from the right bank Merlot is the dominant variety in these blends. At Le Puy 85% Merlot is joined with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Carmenère, and Cabernet Franc.
Clay is usually the feature of the right bank, but a substantial amount of limestone exists at Le Puy. Coupled with the high altitude and minimal interventionist approach the wines here are distinctly old school. Chemicals have never been used in the vineyards, sulphur is eliminated from the equation during fermentation, and the lunar calendar has continued to guide cellar practices. These are unapologetically mineral-driven, completely authentic, and singular wines.
The Château produces two reds. The "Emilien" bottling is aged in large foudre to start, helping preserve brightness of fruit and verve. "Barthelémy" is made in minuscule quantities, and comes from a very limestone-dominant single vineyard. It is aged in smaller barrels, of which less than 10% are new.
2012 Château Le Puy "Emilien" Côtes de Bordeaux
$42.95 per bottle.
2010 Château Le Puy "Bartelémy" Côtes de Bordeaux
$164.95 per bottle.
Domaine du Jaugaret has been run by the same family since the mid 17th century. Small production takes new meaning here with a total vineyard planting of 1.3 hectares. Average age of the vines is 50 years, comprised of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon along with Petit Verdot and Malbec (from 100-year old vines). Again, the missing large component of Merlot has moved this time-honored and typical St. Julien blend to be seen as more of an outlier amongst its contemporaries.
Jaugaret is on very deep gravel soils, and this means yields are painfully low each year, but concentration of fruit and sharply defined minerality give the wines a vivacity and electric personality that is completely unique in Bordeaux. My first time tasting I couldn't help but be reminded of a sense of fluorescent saturation on the palate, met with vivid, high-toned minerality. The fruit is very much in the red and black raspberry category, met with bitter chocolate and pencil lead. There is something so very traditional about the wine that it almost seems alien in nature. Sadly, the larger appellation's move in the modern direction have made this case for Jaugaret.
2009 Domaine du Jaugaret Saint-Julien
(2009 brought a more fruit forward, round, and plush style)
$103.95 per bottle.
2010 Domaine du Jaugaret Saint-Julien
(2010 brought a combination of high ripeness and relatively high acidity. Wines with tremendous energy)
$164.95 per bottle.
Ducru-Beaucaillou is one of the great Second Growth classified chateau of Bordeaux, with original plantings at the start of the 13th century. The name translates to "beautiful stones", as the estate is comprised of round stones from its incredibly gravelly soils along the Gironde estuary. It's these very deep soils with their excellent drainage that play such a large role in the definition and concentration to the wines here.
Plantings are 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot, with some parcels going back to 1918! A rise in quality has been seen here in the last several decades as now the strict selection of grapes for this bottling has been reduced by 50% compared to what was practiced in 1982. Grapes not deemed worthy for this top bottling are destined for their 2nd label, La Croix Ducru-Beaucaillou.
The 2008 vintage was unique for Ducru. The growing season was cool with challenges throughout the summer, but a true Indian summer ended things magnificently. The vintage calls to mind the more classic wines of yesteryear where earth and floral notes played a more substantial role.
The traditionally-minded John Gilman of View from the Cellar captures things here very well,
"The 2008 Ducru-Beaucaillou is one of the top wines of the vintage...While Ducru has produced exemplary efforts in both 2009 and 2010, make no mistake, the 2008 is the finest of the troika. A great 2008!"
2008 Ducru-Beaucaillou Saint-Julien
$154.95 per bottle.