France Trip 2019 – Part 1 – Intro + Paris & Royal Wines

After NY, I flew to France for 4 days of wine and really, nothing else. I didn’t have a chance to visit the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre or anything else for that matter. If I wasn’t travelling (to or from wine) or eating (with wine) then I was sleeping (passed out from drinking wine). Why did I not have time to do ANYTHING else? Well, I didn’t take this trip with my wife or family. Had I done so, the itinerary would have been vastly different – and I would have been lucky to have visited anything wine related at all. But really the reason that this trip was able to be so jam packed can be summed up in two words – David Raccah.

Way back in February at KFWE-LA, after lamenting that the current wine excursion was coming to an end, Menachem Israelievitch, Royal Wine’s chief winemaker in France suggested that I come out with David on his next trip to France. Well, that sounded great to me – and after some crazy planning and taking off way more time from work than I should have, I made this happen. What I didn’t understand – even from reading about David’s various hectic trips to France — was just how insane these jaunts are from a logistical sense. We wanted to hit Paris to taste through all of Royal’s upcoming releases (easy as we were both landing at De Gaulle – though David was landing four hours later) and go to Alsace/Strasbourg to taste through all of the Koenig releases – most of which are unavailable outside of France. AND while there to meet up with Nathan Grandjean of Yavine to taste his new Vin de Vienne releases as well as taste through a number of other hard to get wines. Finally, Roanne which is where Taieb is based. Roanne, depending on train schedules, is a good 4-5 hours away from either Strasbourg or Paris – and always via Lyon. That meant that traveling to and from Roanne could not happen on the same day. So we decided to break that up and spend the third night in Lyon. So my trip went like this:

There is no way I could have made heads or tails out of something that complicated by myself. Coming with David really made it an incredible experience.

More on all of that in various upcoming posts. This post will just deal with Day 1. After meeting up with Menachem for lunch, we proceeded to the apartment where he had set up for the tasting – which I will describe in detail in a second. After the marathon (6 hour) tasting, we had dinner at one of the best French kosher restaurants L’Atelier Deli where we met up with a surprise guest – Pierre Miodownik who happened to be in Paris visiting and who joined us for dinner. Dinner was excellent (you need to get both the charcuterie platter and the Foie Gras plate if you go – out of this world) and capped off a great day.

But back to the tasting. Menachem had the wines laid out in in the order we would be tasting. I rarely get to experience wines so professionally presented. It certainly adds to the experience. In a nutshell, on the White front there are some excellent 2018’s coming out soon – including a first ever kosher Premier Cru Chablis from Côte de Jouan (unfortunately the sample that Menachem asked to be sent over was prepared incorrectly and was not drinkable – David stayed for the weekend after I left and was able to taste – see his complete notes here). With the  Reds, even with the challenging year that 2017 was in Bordeaux (frost meant that some vineyards had low/no yield), Menachem and Royal managed to produce some really nice bottles. Having said that, frost issues aside, 2017 in Bordeaux was not 2016 or even 2015. From what I could taste, it was somewhere between 2014 and 2015. Now 2014 was VERY good – and that’s what you have, some very good wines of the 2017 vintage. My fear is that that from a pricing point, we are not going to return to 2014 prices – but time will tell.

As a reminder – as opposed to my friend David who has the capacity to give pinpoint ratings even when tasting through 30 bottles at a time, I refrain from doing so, as I don’t trust myself to be 100% accurate unless I can spend some quality time with the bottle in question – as the wine changes, especially when young or not ready. [Even then, I do not use the 100 point scale but rather my own 5 point system which takes into account things like cost. Etc. – you can find that here]. So below are my impressions of each of the wines we tasted – without any formal scores:

Whites

2018 Les Marronniers Chablis (Mevushal) – This wine used wild yeast only and had minimal intervention/additives (small amount of sulfites) – On the nose, apples, a touch of lemon cream and mineral in the back.  In the mouth, this by FAR the best vintage of this wine yet. I mean the acid is the through the roof. Beautiful mineral. Lemon, acid, apple, pear, with even more mineral. Finish is baked apple and baking spice. Mouth feel is near creamy. This is the most serious Les Marronniers yet –and likely can hold for 4-5 years. Stock up!

2018 Domaine Ternynck, Les Truffieres, Bourgogne (Mevushal) – Baked apples and jasmine on the nose. Really perfumed.  in the mouth, apple, saline, and pith. (Listen – it’s hard to measure up to the Chablis  – this wine should have been served first, but was not cold enough, so it needed a little extra time to chill). There is some nectarine in the middle – which is better than peach for me – but I am not a stone fruit guy.  A little uni-dimensional but at this price point, that’s what they are going for. This is a nice entry level well balanced Chard.  Ultimately though, it’s not a style I personally enjoy.

2018 Chateau Les Riganes, Blanc, Bordeaux (Mevushal) – 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Nose is 100% Cat Piss which I simply cannot stand, but in the mouth, it is not at all offensive. There is of course gooseberry, citrus, passionfruit – and tons of saline. Really nice here and I don’t like SB –and I don’t like the nose – but the wine works. And at the price, it’s going to be killer.

2018 Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt, Blanc, Pessac-Leognan  (Tank sample dated November 8).  This is made of 100% Sauvignon Blanc and is barrel (as opposed to cement or steel tank) fermented – They only use the heart or middle part of the press (discarding the juice that flows first or what is at the tail end), in other words only the absolute best part). The oak is very prevalent on the nose. In the mouth, the acid is there.  A touch of fruit on the open – primarily lemon – and then you have all of the oak  butteriness. Then comes pine with some beautiful spice and then the oak again – which for now is where this is at. You actually have tannin here. Which likely comes from the ridiculously slow/light press (allowing for more skin contact) and of course the barrel.  Obviously, this is super labor intensive to make. I am really interested and excited to see how this one turns out [should be released around February 2020] and progresses over the years….

2018 Ramon Cordova Albarino – On the nose – crazy peach – which is not necessarily for me. In the mouth, there is such a healthy amount of acid that the peach is totally balanced out. Very nice. Keeps you coming back for more.

Reds

2018 – Chateau Signac, Pliocene, Cotes du Rhone – A blend of 70 % Grenache and 30% Syrah – Wild yeast only. No oak at all. On the nose – bright red fruit, followed by smoked roasted meat. In the mouth – a touch of red, then it turns dark, almost black fruit with a ton of roasted smoked meat. There is some excellent warm spice. Hit of tannin, hit of acid – nothing overpowering. In a word balance. This is my kind of wine – Really nice, Will go a couple of years. Excellent every day Red. That is likely a QPR superstar.

2018 Chateau Trijet, Bordeaux – Fruit is sort of flat. Has tannin. Really lacking acid as well. Pass.

2018 Chateau Les Riganes, Bordeaux – Earth, mushrooms, and tart red fruit in the nose. In the mouth, you have dark red fruit, which lightens up on the mid palate with some herbs and a ton of earth, which continues into the finish with tobacco and lead. Really nice!

2017 Les Lauriers Des Domaines Edmond de Rothschild, Montagne-Saint-Emilion (Mevushal)– Merlot 80% Cab Franc 20% – Violets followed by red fruit and berries. In the mouth, it is really nice profile-wise – with smoked and roasted meat, some toasted  herbs, tobacco, and then the hit of red berry. The only negative here was perhaps a slight dip or hole in the mid-palate – but this presents really nicely overall and is worth checking out!

2017 Chateau de Parsac (Mevushal) – Montagne-Saint-Emilion – Physically, this is located very close to where the Les Lauriers is taken from. Blend here is similar but 70/30 instead of 80/20. On the nose, sweet tobacco and overall very green. In the mouth, the nose follows through and there is candied raspberry. There is great structure here. And the wine is young. I happen to like this overall. The wine is ripe but balanced overall – even with the candied raspberry. I really liked it – perhaps even a touch more than the Les Lauriers.

2017 Chateau Royaumont, Lalande-de-Pomerol – on the nose – all umami mushroom and soy. In the mouth, you have tons more of that mushroom and earth with beautiful ripe blue fruit and smoke, followed by tobacco and earth. The headline here is that it is enjoyable NOW – yeah it will benefit from a couple of years in the bottle – but hell yeah give it an hour or two in a decanter and you are ready to rock. The richness is just beautiful. Finnish unfolds beautifully– you don’t want it to end. (and for a good long while it doesn’t). This is a wine to buy cases of.  Spectacular.

2017 Les Roches Yon-Figeac, Saint-Emilion – The nose is overpowering barnyard – and that is AWESOME. Once you get passed that, you have just all of the things you want in an old world wine – mushrooms, earth, some pencil shavings and excellent really dark near black fruit. In the mouth, the wine is PLUSH and rich. Everything from the nose carries through but is beautifully layered with additional herbs and smoke. Currently the wine is slightly closed – but it is absolutely worth the wait (I shook this baby up but good to get it to express). This is a stellar wine (might even be better than the 2016!)

2016 Barons Edmond Benjamin Rothschild, Haut-Medoc (Mevushal) – On the nose the wine presents floral followed dark red fruit. In the mouth, powdery tannin, with most of the nose following through adding tobacco and excellent saline, followed by earth at the finish. This might be the first (and only) vintage of this wine that I have ever really enjoyed.

2017 Barons Edmond Benjamin Rothschild, Haut-Medoc (Mevushal) – Very dark – Darker than the ‘16 and moving into blue territory. The wine is rough around the edges as well as unidimensional compared to 16. It is riper and slightly hot. I guess I’ll just stick to the ’16.

2017 Chateau Fourcas Dupre, Cuvee Hautes Terres, Listrac-Medoc (Mevushal) – Red and smoke on the nose. In the mouth sort of flat. I’m not sure what they were going for with this wine. I preferred the 2015 to this vintage.

2017 Chateau Fourcas Dupre, Listrac-Medoc – On the nose, asphalt, graphite, followed by red fruit and maybe some earthiness and umami with toasted basil.  Much greener in the mouth with that herbaciousness coming up front, followed by dark red fruit. The finish is lean green and clean. Very nice, though a slight step down from 2015.

2016 Chateau Greysac, Medoc (Mevushal) – – Bright red on the nose, with some jasmine following that and then tons of really dark fruit and tar. In the mouth more of the same, with some graphite thrown in there for good measure.  The acid keeps this really bright and the finish is long. Very nice stuff.

2017 Chevalier de Lascombes, Margaux – Ripe rich red fruit with mushrooms and soy sauce at the very back on the nose, followed by a touch of tar.  In the mouth, while ripe, it is super controlled with not a hint of sweetness.  All of that mushroom and umami is there with red fruit, perhaps strawberry and raspberry – with tons of acid and some saline. The tannin is just super mouth coating. This wine is super interesting as it also presents green up front in some ways – yet it comes back and hits you redder and riper after. Even crazier – it comes in at 13%.  Super fun wine to drink!

2017 – Chateau Giscours, Margaux – Wow! Just wanted to get that out of the way. Black and blue, deep dark rich fruit on the nose with some smoke and lead pencil shavings. There is a perfume here that is intoxicating. In the mouth, the nose follows through and is there in spades. You have beautiful earth and herbs and incredible deep layers of fruit, with a roundness that is balanced out by the excellent acid. The tannin envelopes the tongue without being harsh. The finish is beautiful with deep dark chocolate and tobacco. This wine is a rock star.

2017 Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt, Pessac Leognan – from the same family as Malartic.  Mushrooms and pencil on the nose, followed by some soy. Follows through in the mouth, with excellent dark red to black fruit, as well as some mint. The wine is still overall very closed but presents as super elegant. With time, I would guess that we are going to see great things here – and at a reasonable price perhaps…..

Here we took a slight detour and blind nosed and tasted the ’17 Le Croque Mevushal and Non-mevushal.  Menachem prepared 4 glasses 2 of each wine [though it could have been 1 & 3 – we did not know up front] and we first smelled each, guessed which was what and then tasted each and did the same.  I knew that wines 1 & 4 were the same and wines 2 &3 were the same. Based on the nose I guessed that wines 1 & 4 were mevushal and wines 2 & 3 were non-mevu. In the mouth, I reversed it. I think the reason why will be apparent in the notes below. Was certainly a very interesting exercise.

2017 Chateau Le Croque, Saint-Estephe   – On the nose, there is dark red and black fruit, followed by earth and some nice spice. In the mouth nose follows through, but even riper and more pushed. While there was some nice acid, it didn’t really save it here. Ultimately not super interesting. Nothing to really get me to want to drink any more.  

2017 Chateau Le Croque, Saint-Estephe  – Mevushal – On the nose, this wine is VERY ripe, almost sweet. Dark red ripe fruit followed by earth and some nice spice. In the mouth – more of the same, but I found it less ripe than it smelled, with nice acid to balance it out and crazy tannin with some tar and pencil in the back. I liked the mevu much more than the non-mevu which was a little shocking – and this clearly explains why I thought that the mouth on the Mevu was really non-mevu. Simple bias. Those of you in the US are getting the better wine this time around.

2017 Chateau Moulin Riche, Saint-Julien– Nice red fruit with menthol, licorice, and earth on the nose. In the mouth, blue fruit with earth and roasted green herbs. There is incredible acid and nice tannin to round out the package. There is some nice milk chocolate and mocha, followed by sweet herb and tobacco at the very end. Overall really nice and interesting. Lovely wine.

2017 Chateau Leoville Poyferre, Saint-Julien – On the nose, earthy goodness with mushrooms and dark red brooding fruit. In the mouth still very-very closed. At first, mostly graphite. Swirled it, shook it, swirled some more. And it started to open up. There is tar and smoke, mixed with the graphite and dark red berry. The finish is super long once it opens. With more of the same, followed by tobacco and chocolate and finishing with an earthiness that is simply addictive.  All of that, and this is just a taste of what this wine will become. Awesome!

NV Drappier, Rose de Saignee, Champagne (Mevushal) – Made of 100% PN. No chardonnay. Rhubarb and strawberry primarily on the nose. In the mouth, bubbles are nice and aggressive but of medium size. The fruit is SO prevalent that the wine presents as near sweet and heavy mouthfeel. The wine sat on the skins for 48-72 hours, which extracted a fair amount of tannin, which balances out the sweetness and is brought into fuller balance by the healthy acid.  This is a wine that is likely NOT what you would expect out of a classic champagne – it is simply not the refreshing profile that you think is coming. It IS really nice though – – and quite frankly I prefer it to the Yarden Rosé. If anything, it more closely resembles the LP Rosé – but at a much more affordable price. I really like this.

We then tasted 4 2016 wines that were produced by Rollan de By:

2016 Chateau Rolan de By, Medoc (Mevushal) – This is REALLY ripe and red and juicy on the nose. And in the mouth – it only gets worse. It is sweet and red with nice pencil and tobacco at the end, Body is medium and elegantly structured – with a decent core that simply cannot save this wine from itself.

2016 Chateau Tour Seran, Medoc (Mevushal)  – Wine is dark red,  but presents also as sweet and over concentrated. Slightly less ripe than the de By – but very similar overall. It’s still a pass.

2016 Chateau Le Clare, Medoc (Mevushal) – Darker than the previous two, with smoke and menthol – but in the mouth it is simply a bad wine. Overpowering oak.  No finish. Tannin is disjointed, and basically the wine is all over the place.

2016 Chateau Haut Condissas, Medoc  – Red raspberry with not much else on the nose. In the mouth, it is another mess. Presenting as super-hot as well. This was the biggest disappointment of the day for me. I happen to usually love the HC… I can’t figure out what they did here.

In short the 2016 Rollan de By wines are a big pass.

My sincere thanks to Royal Wines Europe and especially to Menachem Israelievitch for allowing me to take part in this tasting. It was an absolute pleasure.

Next Stop: Alsace & Strasbourg

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