Posts Filed Under overachiever wines

Once More, with Precision (Château Lilian Ladouys Gets Serious)

Château Lilian Ladouys vintages

“I think… we’re now more precise.”

According to manager Vincent Bache-Gabrielsen, that’s the secret behind the revitalization of Saint-Estèphe’s Château Lilian Ladouys.

If Bache-Gabrielsen’s name feels familiar, it’s because he also manages Château Pédesclaux, the Pauillac property that the Lorenzetti family purchased just one year after picking up Lilian Ladouys, and which their team also revitalized. If you’re sensing a theme here, don’t congratulate yourself, because, bluntly stated, the theme is pretty friggin’ obvious. And – spoiler alert! – the results are basically the same: an ailing Bordeaux producer weaned off of life support, and now celebrated as doing the rarest of all Bordeaux wine tricks: over-delivering for its price point (you can find their main red for well under $40/bottle).

Backtracking for a bit of history: the Château Lilian Ladouys property dats back to the 1560s, and was revitalized once before in the late 1980s. Like skinny ties and jams shorts, that `80s endeavor was ill-fated, as Ladouys found few buyers for its at-the-time much-elevated prices. Periods of what Bache-Gabrielsen called “irregular quality” followed, until the Lorenzettis saw potential in Ladouys’ Saint-Estèphe terroir and decided to buy it, with the understanding that to turn things around “we have to work!”

While 2009 saw immediate improvements that Bache-Gabrielsen termed “interesting,” it wasn’t until the soils began to really improve in 2010 that the team felt that Ladouys was turning the corner. They’ve since been engaged in the selling an acquisition of various plots in the region, replanting to maximize proper rootstock usage, and favoring gravelly soils over limestone in an effort to significantly up the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in their blend. About 2/3 of their property has since been exchanged in some form or another, and as of 2018 they now have about 80 hectares of vineyards from which to draw, with half of it devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon (the rest being Merlot, Petit Verdot, and a tiny portion of Cabernet Franc), and 80% of it on gravelly soils.

“It’s really different from Pauillac,” Bache-Gabrielsen told me during a live video tasting, “the subsoil is the same, but you have more clay here, and the limestone is much deeper in Pauillac.” This suits their new house style, which is focused on taming extraction and emphasizing aging potential. “We tend to make epicurean wines,” he explained, ” approachable young but that cab age well. We try to balance the power of Saint-Estèphe with freshness….”

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Quadrinity of Trinities (Israeli Wine, Part 2)

North Israel
An imposing landscape, in most senses of the word

It’s in Israel‘s north, along the borders with Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, where you realize that you’re definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto, viticulturally-speaking. Actually, let’s correct that – it’s not just viticulturally-speaking, it’s just-about-everything-speaking.

Certainly the rocky hills in the Golan Heights and Galilee speak to Israel’s unique location as a transition zone between the Sahara and Europe, with the requisite variations in soils (from volcanic, to terra rossa, to chalk, to te dessert-like Les), climate, and elevation; you know, the standard grape-growing stuff.

But while that sort of geological and climatic scene is mirrored in many wine regions across the globe, there aren’t many that are surrounded by imposing barbed wire fencing, dotted with even more imposing signs warning of land mines, and sporting the occasional airfield patrolled by very imposing drones.

Welcome to wine-growing, northern Israeli-style. It wouldn’t be for the faint-hearted even without the explosives.

As a wrap-up finale on Israeli wine, here are highlights from my not-so-recent media tour there, which culminated in trips to some of the most promising producers in the Golan Heights and Lower Galilee…

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2 Legit 2 Quit (The Revitalization of Château Pédesclaux)

Vinted on June 13, 2019 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, overachiever wines, wine review
Château Pédesclaux lineup

Ah, good old, dependable Château Pédesclaux.

Well, for those in the know when it comes to Bordeaux, this Pauillac producer was dependable for decades… in that one could usually depend on it to under-perform.

Established back in 1810 by the wine broker who gave it its name (Pierre Urbain Pédesclaux), Pédesclaux rose to prominence rather quickly by Bordeaux standards, being classified as Fifth Growth in 1855. The 20th Century saw successions of ownership and neglect; at one point in the 1950s, the estate was tagged for demolition.

In 2009, Pédesclaux was picked up by Françoise and Jacky Lorenzetti (owners of Chateau Lilian Ladouys), who, according to current manager Vincent Bache-Gabrielsen (with whom, through the miracles of modern technology, I had a nice remote online chat) set about to “legitimize” the estate. This started with the vineyards, which were replanted, reworked, expanded, and eventually given a treatment so detailed that they are now classified into nineteen different terroirs (ranging from gravel to limestone to clay), vinified into 116 different tank fermentations, and aged in barrels from nine different coopers, all to make about 270,000 bottles of just two wine labels.

The aim now is to surprise with a bit of over-performance, even at the $50/bottle price tag. Bache-Gabrielsen put it this way: “The idea is to have freshness, tannins that are just mature, and to make you salivate and want another glass.” Pédesclaux now puts a borderline-obsessive amount of effort into their Grand Vin’s texture. “We want precision in our tannins,” Bache-Gabrielsen explained. He describes their harvest as “al dente” (now my new favorite term for picking ripeness).

The result? Pretty damned nice…

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Southern Rhône’s Troubled Middle Child (Welcome To Lirac)

Lirac stones
I can relate

Lirac has a bit of a troubled middle child syndrome on its hands. Being a middle child myself, I can relate.

Look at it this way: if I asked you to tell me about some killer Southern Rhône reds (which is 85% of Lirac’s output), you’re probably going to start waxing poetic about Châteauneuf-du-Pape. You might even mention Vacqueyras or Gigondas, which are offering up CdP levels of quality at about 30-40% lower prices. But Lirac? Not happening unless you’re seriously geeky.

The interesting thing is, the main difference between Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Lirac reds is… uhm… well, after touring the place on a 2018 media jaunt, I’m still trying to figure that one out.

Lirac is a small appellation of five villages that sits just on the other side of the Rhône river from its more famous older brother CdP. Like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Lirac gets a metric crap-ton of sunlight (2700 hours annually), employs nearly 15 grape varieties, uses low training for old vines (average age – about 45 years) due to the windy conditions, and sees Summer vineyard temperatures that can get into the 50s Centigrade (“every year we lose one percent of the vine” due to the dryness and heat, noted Domaine Maby‘s Richard Maby).

Lirac old vines
Old soul, *not* from CdP

The similarities are sibling-level; hell, they’re more like fraternal twins level. Saying that Lirac and Châteauneuf-du-Pape have “similar” soils is like saying that all humans have “similar” DNA. As Château de Montfaucon proprietor Rudolphe de Pins put it, “we have exactly the same soil you can find in Châteauneuf.” That would be galets, stones that are probably larger than your head.

Hell, much of the Lirac wines are even vinified in neighboring CdP (or Tavel). The fact that Lirac is the birthplace of the Côte du Rhône historical designation probably only adds to its sense of being in CdP’s shadow. If there is Lirac typicity, one could probably encapsulate it as “balance.” There’s power to the wines, but also a freshness that even CdP can lack. “We have a natural freshness in our wines,” de Pins told me. Another Lirac promoter, Jean-Baptiste Lafond of Domaine Lafond, summed it up this way: “the main difference, vintage by vintage, is acidity.” And as you know, we like acidity here at 1WD. On that note, here are my vinous thoughts on Lirac’s specialness

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