Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Brad’s Top Ten Wines of 2009

I was lucky in 2009 to get to visit Bordeaux, and so my first three wines remind me of that trip and the serious culture of winemaking over there. The culture starts out serious, anyway, and relaxes during a tasting. The wines aren’t in order of greatness—that’s just too difficult. Here are the first two with more to come.

1. 2005 Château Franc-Cardinal, Côtes de Francs, Bordeaux – Thanks to friend Peter Holdorf (see next wine) Bethany and I got to meet winemaker Philip Holzberg, who gave us an extensive tasting of his château’s wines. Franc-Cardinal is on the eastern edge of the wine-growing area of Bordeaux, not far from St. Emilion and Pomerol. In this area, Cabernet Sauvignon is planted much less often, and Philip’s vineyard is mostly merlot, with cabernet franc and malbec to support the blend. Philip’s wines bear little resemblance to the maligned merlots of California, except that they do have deep black, blue, and red fruit aromas. Aside from the differing terroir, the Franc-Cardinal has a good upbringing in a variety of oaks that define its final character. Philip has accomplished local coopers to choose from as well as a few Burgundian coopers he also likes. One of his local coopers makes him an NAV barrel with alternating staves from Nevers, Alliers, and Vosges. (He could just blend three barrels together, right? I suppose that would defeat the purpose of knowing local coopers.) The 2005 stood out as a strong vintage that wasn’t only ripe, but interesting, yet all his past vintages were wonderful in their own way. Franc-Cardinal is well-priced and I would highly recommend buying a case if you can find it.

2. 2005 Château Peter Holdorf, Peter’s Garage, Petit Palais, Bordeaux – Peter was our host in Bordeaux in June. He manages to make a great wine with no knowledge of SO2, no destemmer, and really no modern winemaking equipment at all. He uses old barrels, and I think he tops them up every once in a while, though we did notice that a common practice there is to tight-bung a barrel and turn it to 2 o’clock and leave it for a year. I don’t remember what he uses for yeast, but I’m going to imagine that he uses indigenous yeast and lets malolactic fermentation happen naturally—probably a lot easier in Bordeaux than Burgundy because of the heat. The wine is rich and layered, though it doesn’t have the oak contribution of the rest of Bordeaux’s boutique wines. I was left wondering why his wine tasted better than so many other bottled Bordeaux, and I think it might be because Peter picks his grapes by hand. He has a good relationship with his neighbors, and they allow him to glean their vineyard after the mechanical harvesters drive through and bash the grapes into their hoppers. One more point for natural winemaking.

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