Chateau Ampelia Castillon-Cotes de Bordeaux 2011

W Ampelia 2011Bordeaux Red Blend, St. Philippe d’ Aiguilhe, Castillon-Cotes de Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France

95% merlot

5% cabernet franc

13.5% alcohol

Purchased: 24 April 2014 – $17.99

Opened: 14 Feb 2018

els: 8.9/10

Wine Enthusiast: 92

Cellar Tracker: 89

Wine Spectator: 88

The Despagne family has been making wines in the Saint-Emilion AOC  for more than 200 years. Today Francois, a seventh generation descendent of the Despagne family, is currently manager, since 1996, of Grand Corbin-Despagne winery and founder of the Chateau Ampelia in 1999. Breaking with family tradition the new winery and vineyards are located to the east, and adjacent to Saint-Emilion in the Castillon-Cotes de Bordeaux appellation 1.5 miles west of Saint-Philippe-d’Aiguille, and a little more than 4 miles north of the Dordogne River. This AOC was upgraded from Bordeaux Superior in 2008 and the area includes about 230 families working, on average, 25 acres of vines; predominately Merlot (70%), but also Cabernet Franc (20%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%).  Vines in this area date back to at least the 2nd century AD when the Romans planted Vitus Biturica, an ancient cousin of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Merlot, the most planted grape in France, in known for its mellow and rounded flavors and is often blended with its close cousin: Cabernet Sauvignon and or its parent: Cabernet Franc, to soften them up. Cabernet Franc is a black skinned grape that imparts a peppery character to Bordeaux blends.

The grapes are harvested and sorted twice, once in the vineyard and then again at the winery. They are crushed, de-stemmed and fermented in temperature controlled, concrete and stainless steel tanks.  The post-fermented juice is racked into French oak barrels, one-third which are new, and allowed to age for 12 months before being blended and bottled.

The wine has ruby-red color with a garnet rim. A bouquet of cherries, plums and cedar with a hint of pepper. On the palate the wine is medium-bodied with soft tannins.  It has a pleasant, medium lasting, and soothing finish. Not overly bold but a refreshing wine.

A good wine but hard to find and a little expensive for the quality. Pair with a snack of soft cheese and berries.  Drink now, but should last for another year or two.  Decant and aerate for one hour before drinking.

$22.37 wine-searcher.com (limited availability)

 

Pierre Dupond La Renjardiere Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2015

W Dupond 2015Rhone Red Blend from Southern Rhone – Cotes du Rhone, Rhone, France

60% grenache

20% syrah

10% mourvedre

10% cinsault

14.0% alcohol

Opened 17 Jan 2018

els: 8.6/10

Tastings: 88

The Cotes du Rhone wine region stretches along the Rhone River, beginning at Vienne in the north to Avignon, 125 miles to the south. The Central Massif defines the western boundary and the foothills of the Alps, the eastern boundary. The region is designated with 4 levels of distinction: at the bottom and the most basic are the Cotes du Rhone wines, this wine falls into that category, followed by 95 Cotes du Rhone-Villages, then, with another step up there are the 18 Cotes du Rhone-Named Villages and finally at the top are the 17 Crus. Cotes du Rhone wines must contain at least 40% Grenache as their main grape, followed by a minimum of 15% from the secondary grapes: Syrah and Mourvedre.  Accessory grapes, such as Cinsault, can not provide more than 30% of the total.

The La Renjardière is a 300 acre+ vineyard, just north of Chateauneuf du Pape and the city of Orange. The vineyards reside on the right bank slopes of the Rhone with soils consisting of sand, clay and limestone with round pebbles which make walking without shoes difficult, but provide a wonderful assist for drainage. The vineyard’s Mediterranean climate has growing season temperatures ranging from the high 40s at night to the low 80s °F during the day.

The wine has a dark ruby-red color with a nice garnet rim. It exhibits a medium but distinct nose of  cherry and strawberries. The tongue tells me that plums and black fruits are nearby. Tannins are easy, acidity isn’t overpowering, or in other words a balanced, mild wine with a medium to long finish, reminiscent of a young woman with small, but invitingly round breasts. The wine should be good for a few more years.

A good everyday red at a good price.  Serve with cheese, lamb, or pork.  Decant and aerate for one hour before drinking.

$12.99  wine.com

Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Reserve Speciale Bordeaux

W Lafite 2015Bordeaux from Bordeaux, France

60% merlot

40% cabernet sauvignon

12.5% alcohol

Opened 30 Nov 2017

els 8.5/10

Decanter 86

Reserve Speciale Bordeaux is from a family of wines created by Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) to provide, in their terms, “wines ideal for everyday drinking and more accessible than the Grands Crus” which they brand as “The Collection”, and includes the Legende, Saga, and Reserves brands; all three of which, bottle both Bordeaux reds and whites.

The family name of Lafite can be traced back to a Pauillac French monastery in the 13th century but the legendary winery took root with the planting of the vineyards by Jacques de Segur in the 1670s. Londoners, surprisingly enough, where the first to sing the praises of Lafite wines, which made their way to that city by way of British corsairs seizing the French merchant ships and confiscating their wine in the early 1700s. French nobility took notice of Chateau Lafite’s wine after Richelieu introduced it to King Louis XV; quickly becoming the “Kings Wine”; served at the tables of the 18th century French aristocratic rich and famous. After the French Revolution the Chateau changed owners several times until Baron James de Rothschild purchased it in 1868 and it has remained in the family ever since, with the minor exception of a German expropriation for a short time during WWII.  In 1995, the winery began selecting grapes for their “accessible” line of wines from  the region’s Bordeaux, Medoc, and Pauillac family, and non-family owned vineyards; to become part of the Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), “The Collection”.

The Reserve Speciale Bordeaux is sourced mainly from vineyards in the Entre-Deux-Mers (between two tides) wine region; situated between the tidal rivers Garonne and Dordogne. This is the largest sub-region of Bordeaux but less than half the acreage is planted in vines with the rest being generally forested.  This region produces only white wine that can carry the AOC Entre-Deux-Mers.  The reds are sold under various Bordeaux labels.

This wine has a clear ruby-red color, redolent of red berries and spice. Very smooth, not bold, with a quick finish.  A nice, inexpensive table wine that doesn’t overly impress but will pair well with cheese and friends.

A good wine. Decant and aerate for at least one hour.

$10.00-16.00  wine-searcher.com

Chateau Francs Magnus Bordeaux Superieur 2014

W Francs2014Bordeaux Red Blends from Bordeaux, France

Proprietary red blend

13.5% alcohol

Opened 11 Nov 2017

els 9.0/10

James Suckling 91

From the winery and vineyards of Arnaud Roux-oulie, complete with limestone quarries and Gallo-Roman silos.

This wine has a clear garnet to ruby color, redolent of plums and dark berries, with a touch of licorice. A medium body and finish, with smooth and easy tannins. A nice, unpretentious everyday wine, enjoyable with simple fare such as pizza or cheeseburgers. Decant and aerate for at least one hour.

$11.99 wine.com

Chateau d’Agassac 2014

W D'Agassac 2014Bordeaux Red Blends from Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux, France

Proprietary blend of  cabernet sauvignon and merlot

Opened 14 Oct 2017

els 9.0/10

James Suckling 92

Wine Enthusiast 91

Robert Parker 83

Chateau D’Agassac, a Haut-Medoc winery, purchased in 1996 by the French insurance conglomerate, Groupama, is located in the village of Ludon-Medoc, less than 10 miles north from the center of Bordeaux, and less than 3 miles west of the Garonne River. TheW Chateau d'Agassac charming, fairytale Chateau located at the winery, complete with turrets and moat, is known to have existed as far back as 1238 AD, under the lordship of Gaillard de Gassac, vassal of King Edward I of England. The vineyards, originally swampland, around the Chateau, were  not known to exist prior to the French Revolution in the late 18th century, when the area was drained.

The vines are grown on a young alluvium cover, deposited from the nearby Garonne River during its flood stage. In the western vineyards the soil consists of a  gravel, up to 10 feet thick, and produces refined and elegant wines. Sandy gravels in the middle vineyards, produce subtle wines high in tannins. The eastern most vineyards, closest to the river, consist of clayey gravels, with rounded stones the size of ping-pong balls, reaching 20 feet thick, and produce full body wines.  The vineyards encompass 106 acres, planted with 50% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Cabernet Franc; the grapes are harvested from, on average, 25-year-old vines.

The temperatures of Ludon-Medoc reach their peak during August, with highs near 80 and lows hovering around 60. August is the driest month of the year, still producing, on average, about 2.5 inches of rain over those 30 days, with the remaining growing season, before and after August, producing 3 to 3.5 inches of rain each month. The gravels release their sun-acquired heat at night, protecting the vines’ roots from extreme temperature variations during the growing season, and especially during the harvesting of the grapes. The loose gravels also drain away the rain water quickly, keeping the grapes in peak condition.

This Bordeaux needs decanting and aeration for at least 2 hours, 4-6 hours, even better; if not, the acidity and tannins will overpower your senses, infusing your soul with utter regret that you even came to purchase this bottle of fermented grape juice. I opened this bottle after 3 years but in hindsight I should have let it set for at least 2 more years.  With that said, and with proper aeration, this is a good wine; an incredibly dark ruby-purple wine, redolent of plums, prunes and raisins. Full-bodied, dry, and intense with an excellent and protracted finish.

An outstanding wine.

$19.99 wine.com.

Chateau Peymouton 2012

W Chateau PeymoutonBordeaux Red Blends from St. Emilion, Bordeaux, France

65% merlot

25% cabernet franc

10% cabernet sauvignon

13.5% alcohol

Opened 9 Oct 2017

els 8.9/10

Wilfred Wong 92

Wine Enthusiast 90

The Beaumartin family winery, approximately 2 miles east of picturesque St. Emilion and 23 miles east-northeast of Bordeaux, on the right bank of the Dordogne River, consists of 2 vineyards; the Chateau Laroque, covering 150 acres, and the Chateau Peymouton, covering 76 acres, both growing predominately Merlot, with lesser amounts of Cabernet Franc, and minor acreage devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, all from vines planted in the early 1960s.

The vines of the Saint Emilion area spring from clayey limestones, with growing season temperatures ranging from the low 50s at night to the mid-80s during the day, receiving as little as a half-inch to as much as 4 inches of rain per month with the harvest season usually being the driest time of the year.  Cabernet Sauvignon vines generally do not grow well here, due to dampness of the soils, thus Merlot and Cabernet Franc vines dominate.

St. Emilion wines are reclassified every 10 years, vying for the elite, but limited award, Premier Cru Classes, and the lesser, but still good Grand Cru Classes, judged and assigned by two different tasting panels. The recent year’s reclassifications, 2006 and 2012, are hopelessly tied up in legal dramas by Chateaus that have lost their Cru Class. Chateau Peymouton is rated below the Grand Cru Class as a generic grand cru, although it is still a very good wine.

A dark, ruby-red wine, aromas of dark berries, smooth tannins and acidity with a nice balance and moderate finish.  This wine will go well with red, fatty meats.

A good wine.

$21.99 wine.com

Chateau Bel Air Haut-Medoc 2012

W Bel Air.jpgBordeaux Red Blends from Medoc, Bordeaux, France (Domaines Joel Irigaray)

55% cabernet sauvignon

45% merlot

12.5% alcohol

Opened 7 Oct 2017

els 8.9/10

Hailing from the St. Emilion area on the right bank of the Gironde, Chateau Bel Air, Joel Irigaray Domaines, is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  St. Emilion is blessed with wonderful mix of vine growing soils of gravel, clays and limestone, coupled with an oceanic climate of hot summers, and warm autumns, with just the right amount of rain when needed. The vineyards around St. Emilion and the Bordeaux region date back to at least the Roman plantings in the 2nd century AD; proving that good things do last.

A good, solid, dark, purple to ruby-red wine, redolent of cherry fruits, smooth tannins and acidity.  Serve with a juicy rib-eye and enjoy its balanced and long finish.

A good wine.

$13.99

Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2014

W Bila HautRhone Red Blends from Languedoc-Roussillon, France

Proprietary blend of syrah, grenache, and carignan

14% alcohol

els 9.2/10

Wine Advocate 92

Wilfred Wong 91

Wine Spectator 90

Occultum Lapidem, in Latin, a hidden stone, wine birthed in the valleys and terraces on the northern flanks of the Pyrenees in southern France, about 25-30 miles from Catalan Spain, and 20-25 miles from the Gulf of Lion in the Mediterranean Sea, near the small villages of Latour and Lesquerde; not far from the path of Hannibal’s army and elephants around 218 BC, marching towards the heart of the Roman Empire. The Pyrenees’ rock layers, jumbled, and thrust together in towering, reaching for the heavens, jagged waves, by the cataclysmic joining of the Iberian peninsula subducting beneath southern France, supply the building blocks for the vineyards’ difficult and cantankerous soils.  The soils, composed of gnarled gneisses, and pressured schists, both from the Devonian (maybe Precambrian gneisses), along with Jurassic chalky carbonates, impart diverse and distinctive, but obviously, as noted below, delicious and enticing flavors to the wines.

This Rhone red blend has a dark garnet color, extolling pleasant aromas of blackberries, cherries and plums, spicy and full-bodied with very balanced tannins and acidity.  Beautiful finish.

An outstanding wine.

$26.99 wine.com

Arnoux et Fils Vacqueyras Seigneur de Lauris 2012

W Vacqueyras 2012Rhone Red Blends from Vacqueyras AOC, Rhone Valley, France

70% grenache

30% syrah

14.0% alcohol

Purchased:  12 July 2017 – $19.99

Opened:  29 August 2017

els:  9.0/10

Vinous:  93

Stephan Tanzer: 93-91

The Wine Advocate:  90

 

Cellar Tracker:  88

Gilbert and Gaillard:  87

France is the 2nd largest producer of wine in the world, just behind Italy and  ahead of Spain, representing about 21% of the global wine market.  The country is responsible for creating some of the most recognizable old world wines on the planet, from the bubbly Champagnes in the cool north to world-class Bordeaux along the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers to the GSMs in the warm Mediterranean south. There are 17 major wine-producing regions in the country along with another 28 smaller areas, all growing 96 varieties of predominate grapes with Merlot and Grenache the most common. Reds account for almost 70% of the 2 million plus acres planted in vines, with whites accounting for the remainder. As with the other major European wine producers, France’s vineyard acreage has been shrinking over the last couple of decades due to less demand from their home population and increased market pressures from new world producers.

The Rhone Valley wine region of southern France, extending 155 miles along  both sides of the north-south river, situated between the Massif Central to the west and the Alps to the east, produces some of the truly great red blends in the world. The wineries in this valley have practiced and perfected their craft since the Greeks came to Massilia (modern Marseille) and planted their vines in the 4th century BC. The Romans, knowing a good thing when they see it, defended Massilia from the Gaul’s in the second century BC, protecting and expanding the Rhone wine trade throughout the Mediterranean. The wines, especially from the right bank of the Rhone, have been the favorites of kings and popes since the Latin and Greek Churches parted company in 1054. In the 14th century the Latin Popes set up residency on the right bank of the Rhone at Avignon and controlled the area until the 18th century, all the while extending and perfecting the local vineyards.  In the 20th century, Rhone wineries were instrumental in codifying French laws, AOCs, to regulate the type and quality of wines produced.

Today the Rhone Valley is France’s second largest wine-producing region of over 5300 growers and producers spread over 250 communes, containing 28 appellations, and growing 27 varieties of grapes. Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre red grapes are the most common by acreage planted. In 2016 the region produced 80 million gallons and sold 372 million bottles of wine, produced from 175,000 acres of vines. More than 80% of the wine produced is red. A little less than a third of that wine is exported, mainly to the UK, Belgium, and the US.

Vacqueyras AOC, located at the foot of  Dentelles de Montmirail, is 14 miles east of the Rhone, 8-9 miles east of Orange, and 60 miles north-northwest of Marseille. The AOC sits along the left-bank of the Ouveze River, a tributary of the Rhone. Vacqueyras’ history goes back to the Romans in the 2nd century BC with first written proof of wine making recorded in the 15th century AD tax rolls. In 1937, Vacqueyras was added to the Cotes du Rhone area. In 1955, it became a Cotes du Rhone Village. In 1967, it became a named Cotes du Rhone village. Finally, in 1990, it obtained its AOC status. The area has 3500 acres of planted vines with red grapes comprising 97% of all grapes grown. Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre account for 90% of all vines planted. The area produced 12,000 gallons of wine in 2016. The soils are generally alluvial and glacial, sandy-clay with pebbles. The area enjoys a Mediterranean climate with growing season temperatures ranging from 50-80°F and rainfall ranging from 2.0-2.75″ per month.

Grenache grapes likely originated in Aragon in north central Spain. It is the 7th most commonly grown grape in the world, planted on about 455,000 acres and producing about 4% of all harvested grapes. France is the largest grower of this grape followed by Spain and is the most common grape grown in the Rhone valley. The grape is used to produce single varietals and blends. A dark-blueish, large, thick-skinned grape that produces medium to full-bodied wines high in alcohol but with medium acidity and tannins.  It is high in dark fruit and spice flavors that mellow with age.

Syrah grapes were originally thought to have originated in Persia or Syria but recent DNA analyses has shown its roots to be in Savoy, a region at the junction of France, Switzerland, and Italy, and the Ardeche region on the eastern edge of the Rhone Valley.  The grape is the 6th most grown grape in the world, planted on about 460,000 acres and producing a little more than 4% of all harvested grapes. France is the largest producer of this grape and is used to produce single varietals and blends. A small to medium-sized grape, deep purple in color, producing full-bodied wines high in alcohol and acidity with medium tannins. The wines have flavors of red and black fruits, and spice.  The wine ages well, developing aromas of leather and licorice over time.

In 1717, the Count Francois de Castellanne, de Lauris, de Vassadel, de Gerard, Chevalier marquis of Ampuis, de Lagneroux, Vacqueyras, gave Pierre Bovis, an ancestor of the Arnoux family a vineyard. Fortunately he didn’t make Pierre name the vineyard after him. Today the estate is run by Marc and Jean-Francois. Arnoux et Fils’ winery, on the right bank of the Rhone River produces it blends from low yield vineyards as prescribed by AOC rules.

The family has 100 acres of vineyards at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail, loosely translated as lacy, adorable mountains. These mountains formed from late Mesozoic to present day tectonic uplift, causing the nearly vertical placement of the originally horizontal, Late Jurassic-Oxfordian fine-grained basinal carbonates. The carbonates are the source of the poor argillaceous, limestone soil mixed with round stones  of the winery’s vineyards. The vines are more than 50 years-old. As stated above the vineyards enjoy a Mediterranean climate with growing season temperatures ranging from 50-80°F and rainfall ranging from 2.0-2.75″ per month, with the vines and soil being kept cool and dry by the strong mistral winds coming out of the northwest.

The grapes were hand-picked, partially de-stemmed, and spent 15 days fermenting in vats. The wine is then aged 18 to 24 months in oak barrels, 2/3 new and 1/3 used.  The wine is partially aged in the winery’s underground cellar for 12 to 18 months.

This wine has beautiful clear garnet hues which just beg you to enjoy outside on a Willie Nelson “Uncloudy Day“. Powerful aromas meet your nose with hints of raspberry, currant, black cherry, and prunes.  Whispers of mushrooms and cloves add to this delightful fragrance of liquid comfort. The tannins are smooth and easy, providing a nice balanced finish now and for years to come.

Enjoy while nibbling on some small chunks of pungent goat cheese or make a meal of it and grill up a rib-eye. Smother your steak with a red wine, peppercorn sauce.  Start with a tablespoon of butter, the real stuff, 2-3 tablespoons of finely chopped onions, a tablespoon of crushed peppercorns, a sloppy tablespoon of cognac (optional), a half cup of red wine, a cup of beef stock, and a quarter cup of heavy cream. Cook the butter, onions, and peppercorns over medium heat until the onions are soft, less than 10 minutes. Add in the cognac and reduce to nothing. Add the wine and the beef stock, bringing to a boil, reducing everything by 2/3. Add in the cream and allow to thicken.  Salt to taste and serve over a hot, juicy steak.

An outstanding wine at an ok price. Drink this year but likely good until 2022-2027. Decant and aerate for one hour, or more, before drinking.

$19.99 Wine.com

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