Read wine labels carefully to distinguish top level from second

September 24, 2018

Chateau Olivier is a Pessac Leognan (Graves) wine producer that excels with both its flagship red and its white, known as Chateau Olivier Cru Classé de Graves Pessac Leognan Blanc. These have rated 89-90 points as long as I can recall, going back to the 2005 91 McD beauty. Look for the 2015 or ‘16; James Suckling loved the ‘15 at mid-90s. JR and Jeannie Cho Lee low-balled it at 16.5 and 86, respectively. It’s produced from 75 percent SB, 23 percent Semillon and 2 percent Muscadelle. The nose is almonds and citrus. On the palate, bright acidity supports lime and unripe apple flavors. Acidity continues through to a mineral close. Buy under $40.The ‘16 is better. Same blend but a bit riper and more body. Add some honeysuckle and tropical fruit flavors, 92 McD under $40.

There are half bottles out there for aggressive shoppers. A great way to acquaint yourselves.

By comparison, the big names are going to run you $100 or more. If you want to look at one in this range, I suggest 2010. The Smith Haut Lafite Blanc is killer and drinking perfectly now. Expect to pay $150 for this 94-point beauty. Blend of 90 percent SB, 5 percent Sauv Gris and Semillon, aged on lees with stirring 12 months and fermented in oak barrels, half new and half used once. As one would expect, this shows toast aromas plus ginger and roast nut aromas. On the palate, rich, full body, crisp acidity and evolving oak-driven flavors. Julia Harding mentioned some orange but I missed it. The finish is long, clean and slightly herbal. By comparison, the 94-point Chateau Haut Brion Blanc 2010 runs $1,400-$1,800/bottle. It pays to shop! Other great entry-level wines from Pessac Leognan are these 2014s: Chateau Carbonnieux about $35; Chateau Bouscaut; Domaine du Chevalier; Couhins-Lurton, Villenave-d’Ornon Blanc, and Chateau Latour-Martillac Blanc $40/2015. Compares favorably to 2010 for cellarers. Just opening its window. Gooseberry, lime and fumé nose, medium body surprised me, since many of the likely suspects described a “lightweight” vintage. Lees stirring shows up here, providing a creamy smooth mouthfeel. There is pronounced acidity to carry the wine and provide a food-friendly finish. 

Magrez-Fombrauge Blanc 2015 from St. Emilion is a winner at $35. Blend of 40 percent Semillon, 30 percent Sauv Blanc, 30 percent Sauv Gris, excellent with sword or mahi. Long ago, St. Emilion produced scads of white wine. St. Emilion appears in Henri d’Andeli’s 13th century poem, “La Batailles des Vins,” which lists the best white wines chosen for King Philip Augustus. After dropping the line in 1998, they reintroduced Le Petit Cheval Blanc in 2014. The juice came from newly acquired La Tour du Pin Figeac vineyard, across the street from Cheval Blanc. Produced from 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc, it was aged for 20 months in 50 percent new oak. WS wrote, “92 points. This has a lovely feel, with a light shortbread frame around a core of white peach, honeysuckle and quinine notes, and shows both blanched almond and thyme flavors through the finish.”

The 2015 was just released; it opens to white peach, fresh-mown hay, honeysuckle, orange zest and bread aromas. The fruit is supported by vibrant acidity through a long, clean finish.

Although it was quite good, some reviewers waxing eloquent rated it as high as mid-90s. I think Cheval Blanc is trading on its reputation with this new release. At $120, it gets 91 McD. Chateau Cheval Blanc red goes for $600 in a bad year like 2017 or ‘13. Of course, a “bad year” stills gets them 92 points. The 2015, 97 points, is north of $800. Regarding the Blanc, I’d much rather see you buying a 2014 or ‘15 Latour-Martillac, a Bouscaut and a Carbonnieux. You’d still have enough to give the clerk a $10 tip.

Who knows, maybe get your stuff carried out to the car? By the bye, read the label carefully. Chateau Cheval Blanc is the Grand Cru red wine; Chateau Cheval Blanc Le Petit Cheval is their second-label red, and Le Petit Cheval Blanc is the 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc white. Domaine de Chevalier Blanc is a very nearby neighbor, consistently ranked above 92 points. It is usually about $20 cheaper and comparable. The 2014, 93 McD and ‘15, 95 points, are worth the money. The ‘15 is a classic and especially appealing to like-minded winos who love flinty mineral whites and a dozen ahrsters. Hold the cocktail, hot sauce and lemon, please!

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