The SOMM Journal

December 2014/January 2015

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 106 of 119

{ }  107 de By—at less than $50—and Haut Condissas at less than $75, are qualitatively above the $1,000 Château Margaux? Rather than answer that, I think these comparative tastings tell a different story. Since the 1970s, the wine world has experienced a trans - formation not unlike that of the agrarian to industrial period, and California has played a profound role in that change. In Europe, vineyards were interspersed with farm animals and crops, contributing one part of the family's subsistence, and winemaking techniques evolved over centuries as one generation past it to the next. Not so in California. In the 1960s and 1970s, California received a stream of highly educated individuals and wealthy professionals want - ing to make wine. They applied the discipline that made them successful in other endeavors to their new tasks of vineyard management and winemaking. In place of generational knowledge, they studied winemaking or hired graduates of wine programs from the University of California at Davis and other California institutions. And they stressed hygienic practices throughout the winery and bottling line. This collaborative effort of science and talent with American entrepreneurial spirit brought cleaner, fresher and better-balanced wines. European wine families and compa - nies took note and began sending their children and staff to California wineries and schools. In the September tasting, all the wines were properly made; that would not have been the case prior to 1980. Back then—despite the classified châteaux's better vine - yards, equipment and winemakers—poorly made wines were common. Today, the classified châteaux and Domaines Rollan de By employ scientific analysis of their wine and vineyards, sort- ing tables, temperature-controlled fermentation tanks, new barrels and professionally-educated winemakers and wine consultants. In short, the playing field is much more level, with Bordeaux taking its cue from California. These changes have obliterated the sanctified and archaic 1855 Bordeaux classification that is the pillar of Bordeaux pricing, and the only reason that Château Margaux and the other First Growth Bordeaux wines cost four figures. At least Saint-Émilion's system of re-evaluating its ranking every ten years reflects the present. So back to the question: Are these wines that were ranked nearly 160 years ago worth 20 times Château Rolland de By? Differences remain, yes, but they are matters of taste and style. One might enjoy or not Château Rollan de By's obvious black fruit and new oak influence; another might prefer or not Château Margaux's elegant and delicate texture, which required more aeration than the other wines in the tasting. Then there is the consideration of pocketbook. But quality is not an issue. Today, consumers can buy wines with a quality assurance that our grandfathers never had. And this tasting showed that preparing a wine list or recommending a wine to a customer is much easier because wines such as Châteaux Rollan de By or Haut Condissas show that rank is no longer privilege. Ranking Bordeaux's Old & New Guard In both vintages, Château Rollan de By displayed a toasted smoky nose and upfront black fruit taste; the wines were immediately gratifying. Its sibling, Château Haut Condissas shared the same aromas and upfront black fruit flavor, but had more minerality and a gravelly finish. The 2006 Château Canon's aroma and flavor diverged: the black olive and chocolate that was in the nose was MIA in the mouth; black fruit with noticeable tannins and acidity took over the palate. Flight No. 1 rankings: 2006 wines 1. Château Rollan de By 2. Château Haut Condissas 3. Château Canon The 2004 Cheval Blanc's blend of toasted oak, vanilla and blackberry aromas were matched with blackberry and gravel traits on the palate; medium body and a balanced finish concluded its harmonious presentation. 2004 Château Lagrange was more black fruit–scented than the other major châteaux, and its black fruit flavor was nicely balanced with a gravelly backbone. 2004 Château Margaux's integrated black fruit and new oak aromas reap - peared in its elegant texture of vanilla and blackberry flavors; not as boister- ous as the other wines. Its refinement required more time in the glass. Flight No. 2 rankings: 2004 wines 1. Cheval Blanc 2. Rollan de By 3. Haut Condissas 4. Château Lagrange 5. Château Margaux Château Rollan de By is the flag- ship property of Domaines Rollan de By, which also owns several other estates in Bordeaux, as well as branded wines. Jean Guyon created Haut Condissas in 1995 with the intent of rivaling the classified crus of Bordeaux. The vintner likes to refer to it as his haute couture cuvée.

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The SOMM Journal - December 2014/January 2015