Thursday, August 28, 2008

Good Things Come in Small Packages

1998 Chateau Reignac
I was able to purchase some "half" bottles (375 ml.) of a Bordeaux wine that I discovered about 8 years ago. I had found the 1998 Chateau Riegnac online at $9.oo/bottle. FYI, that is a screaming deal!!!
In Bordeaux as it is in the rest of the wine world, the quality of the fruit has the largest single impact on the quality of the wine. Typically soil and micro-climate or as the French call it: "Terroir".
The problem in Bordeaux is that in 1855 just before they hosted the World's Fair the Chamber of Commerce for the City decided to actually put together a list of the quality producers of wine. At that time price was generally perceived as the measure of quality. I don't think that anyone would have an issue with the wines that were selected as part of the 1st Growth:
Chateau Latour
Chateau Lafitte Rothschild
Chateau Margaux
Chateau Haut Brion
Chateau Mouton Rothschild (re-classified from a 2nd growth in 1973)

The real issue is that since that original Classification in 1855 there have been exactly two chateau's who have either been added or bumped up the list. The first wine added was Chateau Cantemerle. That winery was added in 1856. The next revision was for Chateau Mouton Rothschild which after decades of lobbying and a tremendous amount of money spent by the powerful and influential Phillpe de Rothschild they were granted 1st Growth status in 1973.

Today the quality of winemaking has improved in Bordeaux just as it has in the rest of the world. Much more is understood about weather, grape clones, vinification and what constitutes true "ripeness" in grapes.
There are only 61 wineries that have what is called a Cru Classes designation. By all accounts there are probably an equal number who make quality at or above that of the Cru Classe wines. At stake is the sales price of the wines on the list. There are 5 growth classifications and the prices drop steadily from the 1st Growth downward. The quality level from Ch. Latour (1st Growth) to Lynch Bages (5th Growth...but widely considered to be 2nd Growth quality) is very small, but the price differential is almost 10 fold. The 2005 Ch. Latour is retailing at around $1900.00/per bottle. The 2005 Lynch Bages goes for just over $100.00/btl. Keep in mind that the 2005 vintage was spectacular and coupled with the 2000 vintage (the vintage of our lifetime and the best since 1961) we are experiencing a "tipping point" with these wines. Due to the world demand and also to their limited production, the prices on the creme de la creme wines are going to continue to go up.

Chateau Reignac is one of the wines that has no classification and really no pedigree. The winery Reignac is the poster child for a modern-styled, "better than its pedigree" Bordeaux Superieur. The wines high quality is a testament to the exceptional commitment demonstrated by proprietor Yves Vatelot. This large (125 acres) hillside vineyard, planted in gravelly/clay soils, is composed of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is aged on its Lees and it ages in new French Oak ($1000 per barrel) for 22 months. Yields are often lower than many classified growths (1.8 tons per acre). It is typical for quality wine producers to thin or "green harvest" the number of clusters they allow per vine. The magic number is somewhere around 2 tons per acre. Grapes left to grow untended will easily produce 3 to 4 times that amount of fruit. For table wines, yields that high may be acceptable, but for the highest quality producers the decision to reduce yield and concentrate fruit and flavors is to the benefit of the drinker. Wines like Chateau Latour see this yield reduction rewarded with release prices in the $600-1000/bottle range. Chateau Reignac who puts all the care of a Cru Classe wine into its production sees their wines selling in the low $20's /bottle.
The winery has also employed as a consultant the internationally acclaimed Michel Rolland, what does that mean? It means that unless you are Bill Gates or Warren Buffett (Bill drinks Pepsi) you should be spending your hard earned dollars on stocking up on wine like Chateau Reignac. Personally, I don't know how they can spend this much money in the vineyard and in the winery and sell wine in the American market for $20-30/bottle. Take advantage of the prices and the quality of this wine.

1998 Chateau Reignac
Deep garnet with just a hint of brickish color. Complex nose of black cherries, cedar, tobacco and baking spices Medium to full bodied with ripe black cherries and dark chocolate with the slightest hint of vanillian(oak) Lush and concentrated with quite a long finish. Can cellar for 10+ years.