It's been months since New York Times' wine writer Eric Asimov publicly suggested that Bordeaux was becoming irrelevant among the next generation of wine drinkers. Pricing themselves into obsolescence, as it were. And while I don't entirely disagree -- I'll likely never be able to afford a first or second growth Bordeaux unless something catastrophic happens in the wine market -- I don't really care that much. And it's not because I think Bordeaux is irrelevant, it's that those pricey, classified wines represent just a small percentage of what's made in Bordeaux. To overlook the more affordable wines of the region, which Asimov acknowledged in a later article titled the "Soulful Side of Bordeaux," is just as much a sin as over-valuing the others.
Entries in Cantemerle (4)
Robert Parker recently called Château Cantemerle, “A property on the rebound,” in the Wine Advocate, and he couldn’t be more spot on. Finally recovering from the decades of neglect that preceded its purchased by a French insurance group in the early-1980s, Château Cantemerle produces exceptional Old World Bordeaux that have earned it the reputation as one of the best values in in the region.
This isn’t to say that everything made before the purchase of this 90-hectare Haut-Médoc estate is forgettable. There are some fabulous old Cantemerles—1949, 1961 and 1981, in particular—but the wines really started getting good in the late-1990s, according to K&L’s co-owner and Bordeaux buyer Clyde Beffa Jr. K&L has been visiting the property, which was designated a fifth growth in the 1855 Classification of the Médoc, since 1985, watching its evolution and enjoying its rustic, Old School, rough-and-ready wines all the while. Director Philippe Dambrine, who also works with Château Greysac, Château Haut Corbin and Château le Jurat, joined the Château a few years ago (see our interview with Philippe), and under his direction the wines have really begun to show elegance and finesse. In fact, Clyde says the 2006 Cantemerle ($29.99) is the best ever from them and, by the scores, it seems Robert Parker agrees (90-92 points). Spicy ripe fruit with fine middle richness, sweetness and mouthfeel. K&L’s Alex Brisoux describes it as having: “Sweet, spicy red fruit with cocoa and tobacco undertones, good structure and elegant, long finish. The best young Cantemerle I’ve ever tasted.”
The Château is planted to 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 5% each Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, varietals that appropriately struggle in the silca-gravel soils created by the erosion of the Pyrenees by the Garonne River centuries ago.
In addition to the 2004, 2005 and 2006 vintages we describe on page 22 and above, K&L also currently has Cantemerle’s second wine, the 2004 Les Alles de Cantemerle, Haut-Médoc ($19.99), in stock. Ready to drink now, this has the same personality as the grand vin, with hints of chocolate, pencil lead and cassis that fill the palate and the nose. We are also offering the delicious 2007 vintage ($28.99), which Ralph says is sweet and herbal with a long finish that’s even better than their 2005! Don’t miss them!
Describe your winemaking philosophy?
Modern-Classic. A combination of technology, cultural roots and strong feeling.
What wines or winemakers helped influence your philosophy?
Emile Peynaud is my choice! I had the great opportunity to meet and talk with him for a full afternoon back in 1985. I asked him many questions about his own philosophy and he very kindly answered all of them. This was a new start for me, of which I still feel the boost.
How involved in grape-growing are you? Is there a particular vineyard site that wows you year after year?
Running the vineyard is the key. If you don’t understand the vines you won’t be able to make wine. There is always an amazing spot in the vineyard. Whatever the season, when you walk in it, you know that everything is going well.
How do you think your palate has evolved over the years? How do you think that’s influenced your wines?
My palate is much more selective than it used to be. This may have influenced my way of working. I hope for better results.
What kinds of food do you like to pair your wines with?
I like to play with the temperature of the wine. I can do a young second wine at low temperature with all kind of grilled fishes. Otherwise I drink top wines with my main course. I don’t spend much time with cheese and only with white wines … I love chocolate with old reds!
Any changes planned for coming vintages?
I would love to tell you that we found a way to speed up the aging of our vines.
Is there a style of wine you think appeals to critics that might not represent your favorite style? How do you deal with it?
There is a style of wine that seems to appeal to all kind of critics. I call it the “Spherical Wine Syndrome.” It is like having a big bowl in the mouth. It’s very impressive at first, but the second shot is pretty hard to swallow. Most of the critics are just tasting and spitting when they judge a wine. They obviously give the highest rating to this style of wine. Sometimes I dream to force one of them to finish his glass…
What do you drink when you are not drinking your own wine?
It’s like leaving home for a holiday. You have to change your habits and be more relaxed. That’s what I feel when I taste wines I don’t make.
Do you collect wine? What’s in your cellar?
Sorry but I’m a very poor wine collector. Being in the wine business give me so many opportunities to enjoy great wines from all over the world that I always forget to put wines away.
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing the wine industry today?
Education is the biggest challenge on our part. We are small individual growers who are facing a world wide market. It’s quite hard to explain our philosophy to consumers that have been recently introduced to wine drinking.
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