Small is beautiful: tiny production picks
The esteemed Château Lafite Rothschild makes 15,000 to 20,000 cases a year. Château Latour produces 18,000 cases, Château Haut- Brion 10,000 to 12,000, Château Margaux around 12,000 and Mouton Rothschild 20,000.
These are the great First Growths of Bordeaux and all their prices are in the four-figure numbers.
This rather shoots down a common belief that tiny production wines are usually the best, but they can be lovely and I rather like seeking them out for our company.
Let me start by telling you about two from the Right Bank, or the northeast side of the Gironde river in an area known as St Emilion.
It is here that merlot and cabernet franc dominate, as they tend to ripen earlier than cabernet sauvignon.
This allows them to be harvested first and before the cold winter winds arrive from the east with the danger of fruit-splitting frost. It is here that the garagiste wine movement was launched in France.
Château Les Grandes Murailles 2014 St Emilion Grand Cru has just arrived and this small three-acre vineyard is planted to 100 per cent merlot with an annual production of about 600 cases.
It is managed by Sophie Fourcade who gave up a promising career as an attorney to make wine. Vineyard management practices include de-leafing as deemed necessary and green harvesting.
The fruit is able to be picked in a single day, which allows the grapes to be gathered at a perfect level of ripeness.
Remember that leaves are removed so that sunlight can fall directly on the fruit, and green harvesting involves cutting off some of the green, unripe bunches.
The latter assures that more vine “goodies” are shared with less fruit and thus complexity is upped. The Wine Cellar Insider rates Grandes Murailles 91/100 and calls it soft and elegant. $82.55.
The next story goes like this: an Englishman sells his engineering business for a good sum, buys property in Bordeaux with the aim of taking it easy for a little while then dips his toe in the wine business, likes it and the rest is history.
The history happens to be that of Jonathan Maltus who moved to Bordeaux in 1992.
Fast forward to 2019, where he heads a sprawling network of vineyards in Saint Emilion, producing seven world-class single-vineyard and blended wines.
Jonathan says: “When Robert Parker came, his view was, I don't care whether your dad was a count or whether the property has been in your house for 400 years. If I like the wine, I'll rate it, and therefore that changes everything.”
The proof is that a Maltus wine called La Dome recently scored a perfect 100/100 from Parker.
In 1998, Jonathan purchased a small property from a local blacksmith and he appropriately calls it La Forge.
This vineyard is now planted with 92 per cent merlot and 8 per cent cabernet franc and we have the La Forge 2014 St Emilion Grand Cru that is “fresh, soft and round with a nice sweetness in a black raspberry, chocolate and mocha tinged finish”, to quote The Wine Cellar Insider who scores it 89-91/100. $58. Between 1,500 and 2,000 cases are made each year.
If we move to Tuscany, we can try the Castello di Volpaia 2015 Balifico.
One thousand cases of this organically certified 65 per cent sangiovese and 35 per cent cabernet sauvignon Super Tuscan are made each year and it is a beauty!
Parker rates the 2015 94/100 and writes: “2015 Balifico is yet another protagonist of a vintage that has been extremely kind to Tuscany's blended red wines. That lasting summer heat and sunshine has shaped a full-bodied red with ripe tones of blackberry, cherry and spice.” $52.50.
Friends dropped by a few days ago for some wine and cheese and the red that I opened was Six Sigma 2015 Diamond Mountain Cuvee that is a blend of 39.6 per cent tempranillo, 33.5 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 16.8 per cent malbec, 6.8 per cent merlot, 1.7 per cent syrah and 1.7 per cent petit verdot.
It really was exceptionally enjoyable and the winery notes say: “Shows notes of dark chocolate and minerality on the nose, and the palate immediately showcases flavours of dark chocolate-covered cherries, with the perfect amount of earthiness keeping it grounded. Full- bodied, well balanced and multifaceted, complete with a prolonged juicy finish.”
I explained to our guests that Kaj Ahlmann and his family own Six Sigma, that is in Lake County, north of Napa Valley. I added that Kaj could be a candidate for most frequent visitor to Bermuda, due to his ties with international reinsurance. Only 1,700 cases were made in 2015 and it sells for $34.85.
Our ultimate tiny production wines are even more rare as they are made in Paso Robles in California for Bermuda only. Huw and Dale Morris lived here for about 25 years and their annual supply of Wild Hogge Cabernet Sauvignon is about 300 cases.
Think about it: 3,600 bottles and 7.8 billion inhabitants on our world, or about one bottle for every 2.2 million people.
The fruit for this 2012 cabernet sauvignon is a blend of two blocks of grapes which give the wine a rich tapestry of ripe fruit from the hilltop vines with the well-structured tannins from the cooler valley vines.
The resulting blend is a well-balanced cabernet sauvignon with a broad range of fruit and tannin flavours.
Wine Enthusiast rates it 90/100 and describes it this way: “Black plum and baked red cherry notes meet with concentrated purple flowers and exotic Middle Eastern spices on the nose of this bottling. The palate starts with sour cherry, then dives into richer kirsch, tobacco, leather and coffee flavours, finishing on a dry, sanguine note.” $47.55.
Whether you call them boutique, garagiste, limited production, micro-wines, artisan or just small, they are fun to enjoy while thinking how fortunate we are to be able to taste them.
• This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George (York Street, 297-0409). Visit wineonline.bm