If you’re a casual wine drinker who enjoys a glass of Ménage à Trois with your pizza, you’re not likely to consider buying a first-growth Bordeaux. One bottle of, say, Chateau Lafite Rothschild will set you back $550, which is equal to several cases of cheap wine.
Domaines Barons de Rothschild realized that decades ago and launched a new collection of wines under the Légende label. Not only are the wines moderately priced, but they are focused on casual wine drinkers who are neither able to Grand Vins Bordeaux nor willing to wait decades for it to fully mature.
We recently joined Diane Flamand, who has been Légende’s winemaker for 16 years, in a virtual tasting of these five interesting wines. Each of the wines is named after regional appellations: Bordeaux Blanc, Bordeaux Rouge, Medoc, Saint-Emilion, and Paulliac.
“We saw that Bordeaux with its 56 appellations and different classifications can be confusing,” she said. “The idea (with Légende) was to make Bordeaux easy to understand and with all the qualities. Great balance, freshness, good drinkability, easy to appreciate.”
Global warming has helped Bordeaux wines in general, often allowing for red grapes to fully ripen naturally lessening the need for chapitalization or adding sugar to fermenting grape must. Chapitalization was more commonly used in the past to achieve higher alcohol levels. Riper grapes create riper, fruitier more complneedex wines, more akin to many Americans taste preference for California red wines, which almost always achieve natural ripeness.
For those who want to experience Bordeaux without the pain of lofty prices, this is a good introduction to each of the major appellations.
- Légende Bordeaux Blanc 2019 ($19). Drawing grapes from the immense Entre-Deaux-Mers, Flamand adds 15 percent semillon to sauvignon blanc. Although she has used less, she said she plans to stick with the dose of Semillon because it rounds off the acidic nature of the crisp sauvignon blanc. Grapefruit, tropical fruit and citrus dominate this fresh and bright white blend.
- Légende Bordeaux Rouge 2017 ($19). This blend of cabernet sauvignon (60 percent) and merlot from Entre-Deux-Mers sports raspberry and black currant aromas, juicy blackberry flavors, a hint of coffee and ripe tannins. Late season frost destroyed much of the vintage, but this wine is balanced and simple. Serve it with pasta, pizza, burgers and the like.
- Légende Saint-Emilion 2016 ($40). Known for its merlot, Saint-Emilion produces approachable wines in their youth and this is no exception. It was our favorite. A little cabernet franc is added to provide some elegance. Juicy and fresh cherry fruit character with earth and truffle aromas.
- Légende Medoc 2016 ($26). From the Left Bank of the Gironde River, Medoc is famous for its complex red wines. There is more tannin and structure in this wine than the others. Expressive pepper and spice nose with ripe cherry and strawberry flavors. It is a blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon and 35 percent merlot.
- Légende Paulliac 2016 ($55). Domaines Barons de Rothschild puts its best effort in this full-body wine by using some grapes from its two Paulliac estates and aging 40 percent of it in Lafite barrels for 12 months. Although it can improve with further aging, it’s still approachable now. Complex aromas of spice, tobacco and mint with black fruit flavors and a long finish. Cabernet sauvignon (60 percent) is blended with merlot.
Landmark’s bargain pinot
It’s becoming impossible to find a decent pinot noir under $50. Oregon and California producers are making pinot noirs that rival the cost of premier crus in Burgundy.
Greg Stach, long-time winemaker at Landmark Vineyards, thinks his hand-crafted Landmark Vineyards Hop Kiln Estate pinot noir could sell for $50 a bottle, he’s happy to get it into the hands of more consumers at $40. He admits that is still a lot of money for some people, but these wines are a relative bargain.
During a virtual tasting of a three-year flight of these pinot noirs, Stach waxed praise on the Hop Kiln project. The historic Russian River Valley property once used to dry beer hops has been restored as a tasting facility. Stach says they were looking for “a landmark for Landmark” and he couldn’t be more delighted to tap into its soil.
Landmark sources grapes – mostly chardonnay and pinot noir – from Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara counties. But it has been making pinot noir from the Hop Kiln Estate, planted in the late 1800s, for only three vintages.
Several plots around the kilns and along the Russian River have been planted to 93 acres of vineyards. Located in what is called the “middle reach” of the valley, seasonal temperatures here swing from 50 to 90-plus degrees – ideal conditions for pinot noir.
Stach says he wants his pinot noir to be pretty and a “window into Burgundy.” He finds cola flavors to be common in all the pinot noirs made from this part of the valley.
We know Landmark more for its stellar chardonnays, but the Hop Kiln pinot noirs are pretty impressive.
The brand was purchased in 2011 by Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of Fiji Water, Pom Wonderful and also Justin Winery and Vineyards. They added Hop Kiln Estate in 2016.
The 2016 and 2017 pinot noirs reflected the vagaries of the vintages. Stach believes these wines can be cellared for decades, although they are hard to resist in their present development. The current vintage – the 2018 Hop Kiln Estate pinot noir ($40) – is well-balanced with classic Russian River Valley character, fresh raspberry and cherry cola flavors and floral aromas.
- Enrico Serafino Gavi di Gavi “Grifo del Quartaro” 2018 ($17). We loved this delicious Piedmonte wine made entirely from cortese grapes. Surprising complexity with apple and pear notes, good acidity and lingering finish.
- Alma Rosa El Jabail Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay ($48). Once this wine came to room temperature, it was teeming with pear and melon aromas. Citrus and apple flavors with a touch of spice and mineral.
- Domaine Gayda Flying Solo Grenache Syrah 2018 ($16). From the massive Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, this gem is light enough to enjoy by itself or alongside pizza, burgers and pasta. No tannins, just a lot of fresh fruit character. The name is a tribute to the flyers who flew from Toulouse using the region’s Tree of Moscu as a key reference.
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Tom Marquardt (email for questions) and Patrick Darr have been writing a wine column since 1985. They’ve traveled extensively to vineyards in France, Spain, Italy, Greece and the U.S.
Tom lives in Florida with his wife, Sue, where he conducts wine tastings. Patrick is in the wine retail business in Annapolis, Md.