Really, the high point of my visit to France each year, besides hanging out with my friend David Raccah for a week tasting wine and eating good food, is getting to spend quality time with Menachem Israelievitch, head winemaker for Royal Europe. It’s not just that he’s a consummate professional, managing dozens of productions at wineries throughout France. It’s not that a huge number of those wines each year invariably end up at the top of heap in terms of best wines released during the year. It’s really not about the wine at all. It’s that in spite of all of this, he’s a consummate mensch and all around great guy. It is just an absolute pleasure to spend time with him. He opens up his home each year to David and me, and we usually spend a full day taking over his house drinking through the releases. This year we did about 30! The man is just awesome, and I really do appreciate the time and effort he puts into to making sure these tastings are so excellent.
As I mentioned in my last post, there are a couple of there are a couple of things about the 2020 and 2021 vintages that we learned this trip:
- 2021 was a very difficult vintage for reds. Again, you don’t really see that in the below wines. Part of the reason is that rather than produce wines in a way that Menachem couldn’t guarantee proper staffing in Burgundy for the harvest, he simply chose to not produce burgs in 2021. Period.
- The great wines of 2020 are simply the most approachable that I can remember in a quite some time (likely due to the hotter than usual vintage). This is very true for almost all of the Royal releases in this category. That should make some of these wines VERY attractive for higher end alternatives that require less cellaring than usual to enter their drinking windows.
One other thing which is true specifically for Royal – there are some EXCELLENT buys here in the mid-range category – especially as the high-end wines have had price increases across the board. Some of the mid-range scores are through the roof and really provide incredible value. Not to spoil things if you want to read things in order – but if you are looking for THE best value – stop what you are doing and order some of the 2020 Pavillion de Poyferre and 2020 Chateau Montviel – incredible wines (94 and 93 points respectively) at relatively reasonable prices. And that’s the other story, prices have gone up – and this has nothing to do with kosher. Simply put the 2020 vintage was MUCH more expensive than the 2019 vintage. And so, if you are looking for “deals” on the 2020 vintage – these wines are where it’s at. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
Here are the wines we tasted in order:
2021 Chateau Roubine, Cru Classe, Lion & Dragon– 13% abv – Organic, handpicked, with manual sorting of grapes on sorting tables, fermented in barrels and then aged, this wine hit the market in July. On the nose, strawberry, raspberry, and stone fruit. Very nice in the mouth – VERY balanced – lots of fun, with the flavors basically following the nose. The acid is not overwhelming but is fully present – makes this an elegant very food friendly wine that could be enjoyed with any fish or fowl-based meal and not just poolside in the summer. 91
This year Royal is putting out three of its Les Marronniers Chablis. All of them are minimum intervention wines with natural/spontaneous fermentation and minimal sulfite addition.
2021 Les Marronniers, Chablis – (Mevushal) – 12.5% abv – Apple and pear on the nose and in the mouth – not much else. Acid is adequate. This is a pretty basic Chablis. Nothing special overall. Not bad, but nothing to write about (literally). 88
2021 Les Marronniers, Chablis Premier Cru– 12.5% abv – Much tarter on the nose. Green apple, brighter, lemon curd, cream. When experiencing this wine back to back with the last, you get the sense that perhaps the bishul hurt the last wine. In the mouth, you get some really nice apple mixed with funk, slate, and a bit of quince. Really nice and a much more serious Chablis. 91
2021 Les Marronniers, Chablis Grand Cru, Valmur – 13.5% abv – This has a ton of minerality and cream – but less fruit presence on the nose, though the profile is still classically Chablis. In the mouth, you definitely feel oak presence with a ton of cream. The rest of the wine follows the standard profile. The acidity is there, though it really is masked by the cream. I am going to guess that when the oak influence finally integrates, we will see a better showing for this wine, as it definitely has the potential. Need to check back in a year or to – but for now, 90
2021 J. de Villebois, Sancerre, Cuvee Terroir, Silex – 12.5% abv – Silex means flint – as this is the terroir in which it grows. I would never guess Sancerre from the nose. It is a flint and mineral monster. The floral characteristics that are usually found are just buried there. It almost presents as a Pouilly Fumé more than Sancerre. In the mouth, though, you are in for a treat. That flintiness is there on the open, but the mouth develops first towards a bit of crème fraiche and then finally into orange blossom and tangerine, mixed with all that came before it. It really finishes better than most other Sancerres out there. Bravo. 91+
2020 Chateau Malartic Lagraviere, Blanc, Grand Cru Classe, Pessac Leognan – 14% abv – (Sem/SB blend) – On the nose, you get sweet oak and not much else. With vigorous swirling, it opens to more mineral, a bit of cut grass, and straw – but just on the edges. In the mouth, this is crazy dense with an incredibly rich mouthfeel. You need to dig through the oak to get at the rest of the profile. The oak here thankfully is balanced by screaming acid. This cuts through the oak, making this not only dense and complex but also super bright. Ultimately there is great potential here – it’s just very young. We went back to this wine 2.5 hours after and WOW – it turned SO expressive. With wonderful gooseberry, pineapple, funk, golden plum, with an incredible waxy mouthfeel – this wine easily has 15 years of development ahead and is in the running for the very best white ever produced. 95+ (yup – not a typo)
2021 Chateau Signac, Pilocene, Côtes du Rhône – 14% abv – Very ripe on the nose with the same basic profile as last year. While the nose is scary ripe, in the mouth, you have much less ripeness but still missing a bit of acidity. Still a very nice effort, even if it is a slight step behind the 2018 or 2020 versions. 88
2021 Chateau Trijet, Bordeaux – 13% abv. – Merlot 70%, Cabernet Sauvignon 30% – This wine fits the 2021 profile pretty much all the way. Very green with ripe red notes. While I have not posted notes on our hotel tastings yet, that has been the theme of all of the 2021 Bordeaux wines. Still, this is better than most, as I get less of the tinniness, and there is more balance here. But what can you do – this is the vintage. 88
2021 Chateau Les Riganes, Bordeaux – 12.5% abv – Now here there is a decent wine out of 2021. I think the oak here really saves the wine (some barrel, some tank, and some staves). Plus, Menachem has upped production there, which gives him a lot more control over selection of plot, tanks, and barrels. In terms of nose, here we get milk chocolate and some nice earth. In the mouth, you get some beautiful, controlled ripe fruit. Much less of the green notes. Just nice crunchy red fruit. A hint of earth and mushroom. There is a slight hole in the middle – but overall, Very nice. 90 (Note – in the US this is mevushal, and from what I understand is NOT at all the same, though I haven’t personally tasted).
2021 Chateau Les Riganes, Reserve, Bordeaux -14% abv – Only 5000 bottles made. All of it will be non-mevushal – even in the US. Here it is all barrel aged for 9-10 months. Here the red fruit is front and center. The floral notes hit you. The wine has the same basic profile as the non-reserve label – but there is no hole in the middle. And the flavors pop a bit more. It’s a slightly better wine. 91
2020 Chateau Mayne Guyon, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux – (Mevushal) – 13.5% abv – On the nose, there is red fruit and something a little savory in the back. In the mouth, you have a solid wine here. Good clean controlled red fruit and a bit of smoke – very clean, very nice acidity. Not for long holding but a really excellent mevushal option. 91.5
2020 Les Lauriers des Barons Edmund & Benjamin de Rothschild, Montagne Saint-Emilion– (Mevushal) – 14.5% abv – Merlot 80% and Cabernet Franc 20% – On the nose, you get blueberries, violet, and some nice concentrated herbal notes. In the mouth, more blueberry and on the start with more of that flowery flavor – violets I guess, but then we move into the concentrated toasted herbs, and I actually think that carries the wine. There is some nice lead that threads through the wine. Overall, nice stuff. 89.5
2020 Chateau de Parsac, Montagne Saint-Emilion – (Mevushal) – 14.5% abv –Almost a carbon copy of the preceding wine but it is missing that concentrated herb on the finish. It is MUCH more floral than the Rothschild. For me, it misses the mark. 87
2020 Chateau de Laurets, Pusseguin Saint Emilion – 14.5% abv – 80% Merlot/20% Cabernet Franc – Rothschild bought this property about 10 years ago. In French oak barrels for about 15 months, 50% new. Again we have floral notes on the open with some sweet oak, some black cherry, and some fresh herbs. In the mouth, you get that violet up front, nice dark red fruit, also some blueberry, nothing overpowering, very balanced. Nicely structured with gripping tannin and good balancing acid. Nice lengthy finish with good minerality, some nice leather, and again some more herbs. This will probably show even nicer in a year and cellar comfortably until the end of the decade. Really nice stuff. 91.5
2020 Chateau Larcis Jaumat, Saint Emillion Grand Cru – 14% abv – 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc – I tasted this wine twice over my trip, once here with Menachem, and the day before blind with David (though I haven’t posted my blind notes yet, David has) and once back home in Israel. The scores were slightly different each time, this being the best, but ultimately the scores are within two points of each other from high to low. I will use the relevant score to its tasting. Not sure what happened here, but this wine did not do it for me at all. The wine feels both very ripe with candied red fruit – plum and raspberry – while also displaying green notes. The acid is nice enough here, but not enough of it to save this wine. 86.5
2020 Les Roches de Yon, Saint Emillion Grand Cru – 14% abv – 81% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot – The FIgeac name apparently is much contested and to clear up any confusion, this wine has dropped the Figeac from the name totally – which is unfortunate, as within kosher circles it was simply known as “the Figeac,” the only Figeac we had (with I think a single exception many years ago). In any event, on the nose, much less mushroom, but nice earthy notes, with good dark red fruit, nice herbs and a hint of smoke. In the mouth, the wine is dark – again a bit of a departure from the previous couple of vintages (17,18), as unfortunately there is none of that crazy mushroom, which for me has defined previous vintages. Still it is a very good wine. 92
2020 Chateau Montviel, Pomerol – 13.5% abv – 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc – For the most part this is in line with past vintages – which means it’s awesome and a QPR winner. The nose is dense with concentrated red and blue fruit, incredible earthiness, and mushroom. In the mouth, wow, talk about layers, first the beautiful red fruit – tart red raspberry and plum, followed by dense moist earth, mushrooms and some herb and some near sweet spice. There is a perfect balancing acidity. Nice tannin – this wine is going to go the distance – excellent minerality. The finish is long and elegant with sweet tobacco, toasted herb, and more earth. Really incredible stuff. This is absolutely one of the wines to stock up on from the 2020 vintage. 93+
2019 Chateau Greysac, Medoc – (Mevushal) – 14% abv – 65% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot – Menachem already tasted this with us last year. The notes haven’t changed in terms of descriptors, except that surprisingly (or not – it’s mevushal) the wine is much more open and is ready to drink now, making this a super attractive buy! How many wines that are ready and mevushal score a 92+!
2020 Chateau Clarke, Listrac-Medoc – 13.5% abv – 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon – The nose here, as on the previous two vintages, is ripe – much riper than the mouth with dark red, black, and blue fruit, and some nice mineral. In the mouth, things are much more controlled, with excellent minerality, crazy graphite, which really drives the wine, nice juicy blueberry, plum, more graphite, and some chocolate. Great mouthfeel, almost silky. The acid keeps the wine in check and zippy. Overall it’s definitely a little better than the 18 (which was not bad at all, just riper in the mouth), but perhaps a quarter step behind the ‘16. 92.5
2020 Chateau Fourcas Dupree, Listrac Medoc – 12.5% abv – 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon – Bright red fruit on the nose, some violet notes, and a hint of mushroom. Mouth-draping tannin and great acid – so basically the structure is what hits you first – which only speaks to how well this wine will age. In the mouth, there is some nice eucalyptus, followed by some raspberry, rhubarb, some tar, and graphite. I guess it could be a little light on fruit here – but what it lacks there, it makes up for in elegance. This is a very well made, well-structured wine – just could use a little more focus on the fruit. 91.5
2020 Pavillon de Leoville Poyferre, Saint Julien – 13.5% abv – 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot – The nose here is intoxicating. There is great minerality that is right up front, followed by rich dense dark red fruit and a touch of smoke at the back. Really nice. Another beautifully structured wine, with incredible acid and mouth coating tannin that sits with you for a bit. The red fruit comes up front with raspberry and plum and follows with great tar, pencil shavings, and a bit of menthol. The finish is super long and elegant and just keeps on going with nice herbs, tobacco, menthol, and earth. Really, really excellent. Great value. 94
2020 Chateau Le Crock, Saint Estephe – 13% abv – 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc – On the nose, you have dark red and blue fruit, ripe with some floral notes around the edges. In the mouth, this is the most ready/accessible Le Crock I have ever tasted. There is dark red plum, some violet, some nice mushroom. The body here is medium plus, with nice acidity and enough tannin to support the wine. Overall a nice easy drinking wine. 91.5
2020 Chateau Bellefont-Belcier, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, Grand Cru Classe – 14.5% abv – Merlot 72%, Cabernet Franc 18%, Cabernet Sauvignon 10% – This is a new addition to the Royal portfolio, coming from a very well-known property on the southern slopes of Saint Emillion. Very ripe with bright red fruit and mineral on the nose. In the mouth, you get darker red fruit like plum and black cherry, milk chocolate, sweet cedar, with baking spice like nutmeg and allspice, and some tobacco in there at the finish. The wine is full bodied with nice tannin. Where it is slightly lacking is in the acidity department. Don’t get me wrong, the acidity is there, but with this kind of profile, it needs a touch more to really put it over the top. Now it could be that in a year from now this wine will trim some baby fat, at which point the score might move up (as this is the first kosher release, I really have no idea how this wine will behave), but for now it’s a 90.5.
2020 Chateau Malartic Lagraviere, Grand Cru Classe de Graves, Pessac-Leognan – 14% abv – Red plum, sweet oak, and a bunch of milk chocolate as it opens. In the mouth, there is a ton of oak influence here – but before you get scared off, know that the acid is healthy enough to hold things in check. The profile here is milk chocolate, red raspberry, espresso, toasted herbs, with excellent acidity and nice mouth coating tannin. The finish is long and elegant, with milk chocolate, espresso, and smoking tobacco. This is another bottle that is much more accessible than previous vintages. Still an excellent wine. 93.5
2020 Chateau Giscours, Grand Cru Classe en 1855, Margaux – 13.5% abv – On the nose, there is a lovely floral profile of violet and some jasmine, tons of black and dark red fruit, lead pencil, and nice minerality. In the mouth, this wine is a total win. Incredible extraction, wonderful mineral, excellent raspberry, blackberry, plum, and nice thread of lead that runs through it with some excellent leather and earth to round out the package. The acid and tannin are perfectly balanced. An absolute beauty of a wine. 94.5
2020 Chateau Lascombes, Grand Cru Classe en 1855, Margaux – 13.5% abv. – 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot – On the nose, we have violet, soy sauce, savory aromas, smoke, and black fruit. In the mouth, this wine is crazy. Incredible umami saltiness hits you, followed by dense black fruit with crazy extraction, blackberry, black plum, and nice smoke. Wow. The acid here is almost bracing and tannin is mouth coating. The finish is excellent with mounds of earth and mushroom, saline and wisps of smoke, some roasted animal, and a little bit of toasted herb. This is perhaps the best Chateau Lascombes we have seen to date. Really excellent and a must have which will easily cellar for another 15 years. 95.5
2020 Chateau Leoville Poyferre, 2d Grand Cru Classe de Medoc en 1855, Saint Julien – 13% abv – This bottle celebrates the 100 year anniversary of the Cuvelier family owning the Leoville estate. The front label is printed directly on the bottle rather than on a sticker and shows a map of all of the plots of vineyards. The first kosher vintage was 1999. First, this wine is actually the least accessible of the 2020 wines we have tasted until now. The nose is closed tight. With some vigorous swirling, things start to open up. The wine is dark with forest floor, dark red near black fruit, and great minerality. In the mouth, this is a picture of elegance – with black plum, bramble, graphite, tar, and a bit of anise – really this is a beautiful wine that really needs a ton of time to open and will not be approachable until the next decade. It will also last for a VERY long time into the future – like into the 2040’s. The finish is near endless with black fruit, tar, a little smoke, baker’s chocolate, and dark roasted coffee beans. What a beauty [but get ready for some sticker shock]. 96
2020 Chateau Pontet-Canet, Grand Cru Classe en 1855, Pauliac – 13% abv – On the nose, again we move back to a more accessible style for this vintage. With smoke, bittersweet chocolate, toasted oak, dense black fruit, and some soy, clay, and lead. In the mouth, you get much of the same, blackberry, blueberry, some nice herbs, a little smoke, and even a little barnyard. There is a deep dense mouthfeel, with rich extraction and great acidity and mouth coating tannin. I’m really surprised by just how open this wine feels. The finish is long and layered with nice earth, mushroom, graphite, a bit of tar and toasted herb. Really excellent [but will be super expensive]. 94.5
2020 Chateau Piada, Sauternes – 14.5% abv – The nose is nice but ripe, with tons of tropical fruit and candied apricot with some nice funk in the back. In the mouth, very nice, sweet, candied apricot and melon, with some balancing tart acidic citrus and pith. The finish is nice and plush with nice funk mixed in with the apricot and some floral notes. Overall very nice. 92
My thanks again to Menachem Israelievitch and Royal Wine Corp for sharing these excellent wines (and so much of his valuable time) with me and David. Already looking forward to next year!