France Trip 2019 – Part 3 – Strasbourg & Lyon

After Koenig, we headed back to Strasbourg for a quick dinner and then to Nathan Grandjeans’s house for what was to be a mega-tasting of about 30 wines. David had pre-picked about 25 of them for Nathan to arrange, and as I mentioned – just for fun we had stopped at a local kosher grocery where we picked up about another half dozen bottles. The method that I like to use when I taste wines in order to fully score them is to sit with a given bottle for a period of up to 24 hours to see how the wine develops and give it the opportunity to show itself in the absolute best light. When doing a large-scale tasting, the best I can do is get an impression of a wine and then move to the next. David who is a good 10 years ahead of where I am in terms of experience can accurately score a wine just based on the 1-2 minutes he spends. So for David’s ratings and his impressions of this leg of the trip, please see here. Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself (or too easy on the wines as the case may be here, for some of them were absolutely horrible) and should just score. But for now, I’ll stick to the way I’ve been doing things. In this case though, while I didn’t get 24 hours with any of these bottles, we did come back to re-taste the entire lineup a second time in the morning before leaving Lyon – so that made me happy as it is closer to what I like to do.

After we finished re-tasting the wines, we also tasted a few rums that Nathan had at home, which were all excellent (I’ll include notes for them as well), and then had to run to get the train to Lyon. Why Lyon? Because it is the closest major city to Roanne where Taeib’s office is and where we had to be the next morning at 8:30. There is no way to get to a Roanne by train from another major city without going to Lyon. But even Lyon was a 4+ hour trip from Strasbourg. So this meant that we would be staying in Lyon overnight and leaving at about 6 am to get to Roanne.

When we got off the train, we decided to hit up a local wine store for a few bottles to taste through that night (because we hadn’t tasted enough wine) and to have with dinner. We met up with Arie Elkaim of MesVinsCacher – who opened up for us even though the store was undergoing renovations and the wine was all in the warehouse – and we chose four bottles for the evening. He also came through and drove us to a local restaurant for a relaxed dinner. The food was solid, and we were able to just sit back relax, eat, and drink with nothing formal to do that night.

After dinner we headed back to the hotel that David had found us in Lyon. Until now we had stayed in standard hotels, which were more than adequate for what we needed. In Lyon, there apparently was some sort of conference going on and there was not a room to be found at a major hotel in close proximity to the train station we needed to be at 6 am. And so this is how it came to be that David booked us in the absolute weirdest hotel I have ever been in. Let me be clear – this place was NOT a dump. We’ve all been in crappy hotels at some point. This wasn’t that. It was just absolutely bizarre. It’s also really hard to describe – it was just surreal. First off, we couldn’t find it. It seemed to be on a deserted street. The Uber driver dropped us off and ran. We found that it was behind a driveway gate – and was not a hotel at all but a somehow a cross between a bed and breakfast and a hotel. OK, I know none of that sounds weird – and I’m not going to do this justice so I will just leave here a few pictures of the artwork that adorned the walls to basically represent what the place was like. Let’s just say that the proprietor absolutely fit in with the décor. Think of a French version of John Waters but in his late 70’s and not as tall – carrying around a white pocket dog of some sort. OK – enough.

We tasted through our four bottles, and those are included here as well, and tried our best to sleep in this freakshow of a room. (For David’s notes on this leg, see here.) We hustled out of there before 6 and headed for the train station where a wonderful day at Taeib awaited.

One note – what was striking to me throughout the tasting in Strasbourg and at Taieb was the disparity between price and quality from some producers – The easy target is of course the Pape Clement. To be clear – those wines aren’t bad. But, when asked to pay $200 a bottle, one would expect something that is mind-blowing – and you don’t get anything more than a nice wine. On the other hand, there are some absolute gems that you can find in France that never make it out of the local market for some reason – and these are excellently priced. This will become even more apparent in my next post about Taieb, who is producing really nice wines that are absolutely affordable.  But even here at this tasting, Nathan provided some excellent stuff – specifically, the Peyrat wines and the Marsac provide excellent value – and are sadly unavailable out of France. While the Magrez wines – with the Pape leading the pack — are CRAZILY overpriced and of course are exported. Another lesson – just because you have name recognition – and a decent score, does not mean that a wine is worth it. If you are just looking at scores and you see a 92 you might say to yourself – “Hey, a 92 is a really good score; this is awesome. And a Pape Clement – wow that’s a prestigious bottle”. But, as a consumer you REALLY need to factor in price relative to that score. Is a 92 ever going to be worth $200? NO. In order for it to be worth that money (which is more than almost any other kosher wine has been on release), you would have to be seeing universal 95 and above scores with drinking windows predicting that this wine is going to go 20 years and provide some excellent development and enjoyment down the road. Needless to say, that’s not the case here – nor is it with any of the Magrez wines from the 2015 or 2016 vintages. So buyer beware. Taste before you buy, or find someone you trust who has tasted and go with their recommendations. If you are reading a review and you are not sure if the wine is “worth” it, don’t be afraid to ask the person writing the review what they think about the wine’s value. I am usually pretty blunt about these kind of things – but NONE of the reputable people currently writing about kosher wine would steer anyone wrong and would happily tell you what you need to know if the review didn’t make it clear, myself included. In any event here are my notes on the wines:

Whites

2013 Elvi Invita – We saw this at a supermarket and had to pick it up to taste. Unfortunately this wine is either finally showing its age or it was not kept very well. The wine tasted like it was on its way out. Not horrible – but way flatter than I remember it being. Pretty sure it sells for about 6 Euro….. No big deal either way.

2017 Francois Bohn, Grand Cru Sommerberg, Riesling – Petrol and honeysuckle and nice citrus on the nose.  In the mouth, some funk and with a big and oily mouthfeel. But ultimately it goes flabby in the mouth. Not holding together and it has almost a sweet and salty profile, – but it comes back at the end with a nice long citrusy finish. Ultimately, if you are looking for a Grand Cru Riesling from Alsace, stick with the 2018 Koenig Grand Cru Riesling Frankstein.

2016 Chateau Fombrauge Blanc, Bernard-Magrez, Saint Emilion, Grand Cru Classe – – Only funk on the nose. In the mouth – basically all you have is a lemon finish with not much else. I was expecting so much more based on what I had heard about the 2014. This was the first sign that something was up with the Magrez wines of 15/16….

2014 Chateau Fombrauge Blanc, Bernard-Magrez, Saint Emilion, Grand Cru Classe – Here is a great version of the same wine we just tasted. You have an excellent nose – with all of the things you taste in the 16 – funk flint fruit – and in the mouth it fires on all cylinders – mouth feel is full with oiliness, great fruit, and excellent acid – really all you would want in a Bordeaux white – (Semillon, SB, and Sauvignon Gris). When tasted the next day, there was a slight deterioration – so this is not something I would hold for the very long term but should be fine for the next couple of years.  

2015 Chateau de Grand Barrail, Blanc, Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux – Really nice nose with some flint quince and then some floral notes. In the mouth, there is some sweet melon and nice citrus with a hint of the flint. Overall, it’s pretty basic and a little sweet, but at 6-8 Euro a bottle I would be drinking this all of the time – but of course it’s only in France.

Budget Reds

2014 Chateau de Grand Barrail, Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux – Oxidized and undrinkable.

2018 Chateau de Grand Barrail, Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux – Red and blue fruit on the nose. In the mouth rather unidimensional. Plenty of acid and tannin in the mouth. Overall you end up with a flat projection of very dark red fruit. Pretty boring. As opposed to the white – I would pass this even at the 10 Euro price point.

2014 Chateau de Grand Barrail, Cuvee Prestige, Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux – Oxidized again – stay away from the 2014 Grand Barrail wines I guess…

2015 Chateau Vieux Lavergne, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – Absolutely disgusting. I mean oxidized red barnyard cherry juice. Yuck.

2016 Chateau Meilhan, Medoc – Nice enough nose with red and black fruit and a little bit of smoke. But in the mouth, you have red sweet ripe round crap – with a ton of acid and tannin, just used to try and cover up the absolute lack of skill at winemaking, which it can’t.

2015 Chateau D’Alix, Pessac-Leognan – Nice nose – a bit of barnyard and dark red yet tart fruit. In the mouth though, this is really ripe. To a point where it actually is overwhelming. The acid and tannin fight valiantly to keep it in balance – and ultimately fail. The next day this actually improves – graphite comes out to balance the dark red fruit, which is no longer projecting as SO ripe. Makes this now much more drinkable, but not enough for it to be much more buyable – eh.

2015 La Demoiselle D’Haut-Peyrat, Haut-Medoc – A very solid wine. On the nose, beautiful smoke and flint with red ripe fruit and graphite. In the mouth, really nice balance – between bright red tart fruit, (NOT overripe) – with smoke flint and tannin that does not overpower. The finish is even better – mineral driven with bright red fruit, some green, with nice tobacco at the end. Really nice – and best of the night so far. And the crazy thing is it goes for about 18 Euro in France!

Reds Above 25 Euro

2015 Peyrat-Fourthon, Haut-Medoc – Nice earth and bright red tart fruit, followed by earth and then some herbs. In the mouth, the fruit is much darker with dark cherries primarily, followed by some ripe plume and really nice earth and mushrooms. There is a crazy amount of tannin here, but it presents evenly in the mouth in a way that doesn’t feel overpowering (though, I actually took a minute afterwards and some extra water just to relax). The finish here might be the best part – there is some beautiful herb, excellent fruit, baker’s chocolate with mushroom and earth at the very end, with a thread of lead that brings even more balance. This wine is incredible and sell for only about 30 Euro in France. Why it’s not being imported anywhere is beyond me. Just a beautiful wine.

2014 Chateau Marsac Seguineau, Margaux – This wine is beautiful and very typical of Margaux – Tons of black fruit, mushroom, rich earth with a little barnyard on the nose. In the mouth, a crazy amount of acid that totally balances out the rich black fruit – which is then oddly followed by some green notes (bramble?). Tannin is really assertive here – the core of this wine is great. The finish is beautiful with the acid there to balance out rich leathery notes with tobacco and mocha. When we discussed after tasting, the one word that came to everyone’s mind was balance. It doesn’t get much better than that for me. Another wine that is not imported anywhere – and is a great buy in France at about 40 Euro.

2011 Chateau Moulin de la Clide, Saint-Emilion –This is the second time I have had this wine this year, and it just speaks to me. Pencil on the nose followed by roasted meat and umami and then red fruit. In the mouth, the fruit is darker with blackberries, and black cherry with excellent rich earth and lead pencil that becomes more pronounced on the finish, where you have loads more earth and nice typical chocolate, leather, and tobacco. There is wonderful mouth coating tannin and great acid that is supporting this wine. It has absolutely improved since the last time I had it in February and may yet keep on developing. What’s cool is that the next day the core was even MORE assertive! I think this wine has plenty of time ahead of it, and I can’t say why, but while the Marsac might be slightly better (and better priced) – if I had to choose one, it would still be a tossup for me. Every once in a while, it really just comes down to purely subjective issues. The mushrooms here are what did it for me. Just lovely – and with such clear layers. Like I said, this one is a little on the pricier side near 50 euro – but it’s well worth it IMHO.

2017 Domaine Chantal Lescure, Pommard – Nose on this excellent wine is barnyard and menthol, with some beautiful green notes, mushroom, earth, and finally some red fruit. The mouth here is like cutting a slice of seven layer cake and eating the layers one by one – with all of the flavors you would want in a Burgundy – neatly presented – with beautiful typical cherry, followed by tart raspberry, then moving into darker – like black raspberry before you get into the earthiness and mushrooms. Midway there is this menthol, which colors the descent. The tannin here is mouth coating and really needs time to integrate – this wine is super young. The finish is wonderful – with a smokiness that goes so nicely with the barnyard and lead pencil. Skipping the 2016, which had some bottle variation, I would put this even above the absolutely stellar 2015 – it is too soon to tell but it might be on par or better than even the 2014. (Just to be clear – each of those vintages is excellent and is worth buying and laying down what you can.)

Bernard Magrez Reds

2015 Chateau Fombrauge, Saint-Emilion, Grand Cru – The nose here is tons of near black very ripe fruit and oak with some earth lurking in the background. I mean it’s so ripe I was afraid to drink it. The mouth is much more interesting – yeah, there is very ripe fruit – mainly plum, and it is very up front and goes well with the chocolate that follows it. There is also some nice earthiness. It also has some very nice structure. The fruit is layered and the tannin and acid are really nicely supportive. The problem here is the finish – which moves into the way too sweet range turning from plum to prune – and the ripeness finally is something that is overwhelming – and that’s what you are left with – an overwhelmingly ripe sweet wine in the mouth. Too bad, as it had potential….

2015 Chateau La Tour Carnet, Haut Medoc, Grand Cru Classe – Excellent nose with toasted herbs, tons of mushrooms and earth with nice dark red fruit. The mouth here doesn’t really live up to the nose, but it’s OK. Fruit is darker, almost black and very ripe but is followed by the mushrooms and earth. Acid is nice and coats the tongue. Perhaps it could have used a touch more acid just to break up the fruit, especially on the finish where it almost again is overwhelming – but it does have that mushroom with some excellent pencil and great tobacco there as well. So sort of a mixed bag. The next day, the wine tasted far less ripe – but it was really, really flat – again making me wish there was more acid here to have given this wine more of a core. Another one that had potential that didn’t really come together.

2015 Servitude Volontaire de La Tour Carnet, Haut-Medoc – The nose here reeks of vanilla and oak. Very hard to get through. It was to the point that it was straight off-putting. In the mouth, the wine is round and ripe. And honestly I can’t figure out what the goal was here. It is way sweeter than the La Tour Carnet – though with a very similar profile overall – and it does have more acid to give it nicer structure. But the wine is so sweet its’s just a disaster – with the nose being absolutely worse to a point where just from smell alone I had trouble getting this down.

2015 Chateau Pape Clement,  Pessac-Leognan – Really nice nose. Dark and brooding fruit with some nice barnyard, cedar, and green notes. There IS clear ripeness throughout, but not enough to turn me off. In the mouth, the nose’s profile is replicated precisely, though it’s a little riper than the nose suggests. Still, it’s a nice wine that I would be happy to drink – but $200? I don’t think so….. I would take the Marsac or La Clide in a second. Now, this wine is very young, and it may very well be that with time, the fruit will subside. Only time will tell. At $200 a pop – it’s just not worth taking a chance on. The next day the wine did not change at all – for the better or for the worse.

2016 Chateau Pape Clement,  Pessac-Leognan – Green and dark almost black fruit on the nose. Far less ripe with nice earth thrown in, as well something very floral (violet perhaps). In the mouth, you have a much closer match to the nose. It’s again, much more balanced with the fruit not wildly overripe. The wine is also a bit less muddled, providing much cleaner lines and with excellent structure. It’s simply a better wine that the 2015. Is this one worth $200? Not even close. If someone offered it to me at $50, I would maybe think about it…. Here’s the scary part though. The next day, this wine was much flatter and less vibrant. Scary at that price.

Les Vins de Vienne

2018 Le Vins de Vienne, Crozes-Hermitage, Les Palignons, Blanc – Pre-release – This wine is 100% Marssane. On the nose – it starts off really closed. You need to really shake it up to for it to open at all – and then after a couple of minutes, it closes down again. While it’s open though you get nice bright citrus, freshly cut grass, and a touch of flinty smoke. In the mouth, very nice pear-apple and much more of that flinty smoke. The acid is a way up there from the beginning through the finish, which actually comes together nicely. I wish this wine would have stayed open longer – when I went back for a second taste it had already closed down. Looking forward to see how this develops.

2018 Le Vins de Vienne, Condrieu, La Chambee –Well I am not a big fan of peach in my wine – which makes many Viogniers a pass for me. An exception was the 2017 Condrieu, which leans more to nectarine and apricot and is a wine I can tolerate (these are personal preferences – the wine itself is really well made judged from an objective standpoint). The 2018 is MUCH better – both for me personally and objectively. There is still the stone fruit – it’s a Viognier after all – but the floral notes and excellent spice in addition to the nice minerality totally balance out both the nose and the mouth that follows. There is also far more acid here, which plays a role in not feeling the cloying nature of peach. This is a Viognier that I would really enjoy drinking (if not paying for – its 75 Euro – for me, that’s hard to justify….)

2017 Les Vins de Vienne, Saint Joseph, L’Arzelle –It’s funny, when I tasted these wines a year ago, out of the three re-tasted here, I liked this one the least. But what a difference a year makes – across the board. The nose here has gotten significantly better with nice roasted gamey lamb and barnyard. In the mouth, it is still in its fruity stage – but has calmed down there too – with primarily blue and black fruit and a nice long blueberry and chocolate finish. It is still developing and likely needs more time for the fruit to take a step back and let some of what is experienced on the nose come through.

2017 Les Vins de Vienne, Crozes-Hermitage, Les Palignons – This wine is changing as well – though not for the better at this point. In fact – here last year, sure you had blue fruit, but there was balance with the excellent barnyard and meat on the nose. Now that is reversed with it showing more fruit up front, with the more interesting notes taking a back seat. Same is true in the mouth – where this might have the more interesting profile overall with some nice menthol and tobacco thrown in there – but again the blue fruit – which presents as very ripe – is dominant. Again, I’m not too worried here. These wines are still very young and will change a lot over the next 3-5 years. Though, if you want to drink now, the St. Joseph is better at this point.

2017 Les Vins de Vienne, Cote Rotie, Les Essartailles – On the nose, it is consistent with what I previously tasted – smokier than either of the others and with an overall greener profile. But in the mouth, this wine REALLY didn’t do it for me. There is stewed plum, blueberry jam, pipe tobacco, and chocolate. Tannin is there, though not overly assertive. What holds the wine together is the acidity, which is excellent. As with the other two, I really want to re-taste this in a year and see if it’s going through a phase.

Dessert Wines

1998 Chateau L’Oree de Bel-Air, Cerons – I had never tasted, so when we were in the supermarket and saw this for 12 euro, we picked it up even though Nathan and David said it was well past its prime. They were not wrong – but still, I never got to taste this one, so why not? It was showing some oxidized notes – which is to be expected – especially as the cork was not in the best shape. There was some vanilla, with almonds and butterscotch on the nose. In the mouth, really flat with no acid – but the flavors did work well together. Would have loved to have tasted this one 10 years ago. Still I consider it worth 12 euro just for the experience.

2016 Clos Haut-Peyraguey, Sauternes, Premier Grand Cru Classe – Nose apricot all day long. Classic Sauternes – honey as well, of course, with even some cool funkiness. But in the mouth, this wine has NO acid – just pure sugary honey mess – with the fruit in the background – apricot and melon primarily. I mean, who can drink this? Another travesty from Magrez.

2014 Chateau La Tour Blanche Sauternes, 1er Cru classe – No change from my many previous tastings. This wine is the absolute best kosher Sauternes available – and one of the two best kosher white dessert wines (the other being the Oryah Old Musketeer. Period.

Wines Tasted in Lyon Madhouse

2014 La Chene de Margot – Really nice SB simple (12 euro) – David wanted me to taste and promised me a unique hit of acid that really worked. Sadly, this bottle was not that (but I was in for a surprise the next day) but was still very nice even with no crazy acid. Fuller body than I expected. But as this was clearly not all that it was meant to be I will hold off on formal notes here.

2015 Chateau Haut Condissas, Prestige, Medoc – Classic mushrooms and earth, layered and turning to menthol on the nose. Really nice. In the mouth shows green and then ripe but controlled red and black tart fruit. This is followed by that menthol and excellent graphite. The tannin here is off the charts, with a healthy amount of acid. I loved the finish here – which was just shooting off everywhere with typical chocolate and tobacco and earth and fruit with some good smoke – and again the menthol. As opposed to the really crappy 2016 we had two days before, this is a bottle I can get behind.

2015 Clos des Menuts, Saint-Emilion, Grand Cru – Barnyard and really ripe red and dark fruit on the nose. Full bodied but ripe – very ripe. There is a lot of dark black fruit, milk chocolate, and a little bit of graphite. Unfortunately, there is a hole in the middle of this wine. The finish comes back with green tobacco and cocoa. It’s not bad, just nothing to write home about.

2015 Chateau Cheval Brun, Saint-Emilion, Grand Cru – Barnyard and bright red fruit with some jasmine and violet at the very end on the nose. In the mouth, balanced red fruit with bright acidity, cedar, licorice, lavender, and nice loamy earth and dark chocolate. The tannin hear is crazily mouth coating – but it works. The finish is great with tobacco, toasted herbs, earth, and graphite. Absolutely refined both in nose and palate. Winner – and at 35 Euro!

Rum

Just a note here – I really enjoy good rum. I am not talking about something to mix with coke. “Sipping Rums” can be every bit as nice and flavorful as good whiskies, gins, and tequilas – all of which can be excellent (the only spirit   in vogue today that I just can’t get into is Rye. I find it like drinking a cup full of gravel. What can I say).  I was really happy that I found a kindred spirit in Nathan with the rum – even though he only likes ultra-dry expressions

Diplomatico, Single Vintage, 2004 –If you have had the standard Diplomatico, you know the profile. Vanilla, cream cinnamon, and nutmeg. It’s almost like a dessert rum. This expression is even smoother (if that’s at all possible) than the regular version. Great stuff!

MMW Wederburn, Monymusk Planation Rums,  Jamaica Vatted, Tropical Aged, 11 Year– This rum and the rum that followed were originally sold as part of a boxed set,  based on an experiment with aging rums in different climates – Same rum, blends and barrels – one aged in Jamaica and the other in England. Nathan had the tropical version. Straight up this one was a little closed and even rough. But a splash of water totally opened it up and this becomes absolutely interesting – though still bone dry. Typical cinnamon and nutmeg with nice chocolate as well. Excellent

EMB Plummer, Monymusk Planation Rums, Jamaica Vatted, Tropical Aged, 14 Year – Same story as above. This is smoother on the open without adding water and in fact – water does not improve it. Still it’s very nice. Same overall notes, though instead of chocolate or cocoa, you get some coffee and perhaps some butter cookies.  Also excellent!

My thanks to Nathan Grandjean of Yavine for all of his help in organizing the Koenig trip, and hosting the mega-tasting at his home and for schlepping us around (and to his son, who also made a great cup of coffee when I really needed it in the morning). My thanks also to Arie Elkaim of MesVinsCacher – for going the extra mile (literally) – and taking care of us that crazy night in Lyon.

Next up – Taieb in Roanne.

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